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The Conservative Curmudgeon
June 17, 2008

Surging Violence, Declining Family Life
by Allan C. Brownfeld

[Breaker — Addressing the Culture of Crime]

Violent crime has risen by double-digit percentages in cities across the country in recent years, reversing the declines in the mid-to-late l990s, according to reports by national law enforcement associations. While overall crime has been declining nationwide, police officials have been warning of rises in murder, robbery, and gun assaults since late in 2005, particularly in midsize urban areas.

"There are pockets of crime in this country that are astounding," said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which released a recent report. Homicides have increased 20 percent or more in cities, including Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Hartford, Memphis, and Orlando. In Washington, D.C., a fatal shooting in May 2008 brought the number of homicides to 58 this year, putting the city on schedule for the second straight year to have more killings after five years of decreases.

According to criminal justice experts, many communities may be headed into a period of sustained crime increases. David A. Harris, a law professor at the University of Toledo who studies crime trends, said: "This confirms what law enforcement has been seeing and saying on a more anecdotal level: Crime is on the way up. While it is still too early to be sure, you've certainly got things pointing in one direction."

Police officials say that arguments that 20 years ago would have led to fistfights now lead to gun fights. "There's really no rhyme or reason with these homicides," said Edward Davis, the police commissioner in Boston. "An incident will occur involving disrespect or a fight over a girl. Then there's a retaliation aspect where if someone shoots someone else, their friends will come back and shoot at the people who did it."

Chris Magnus, the police chief in Richmond, California, said he would often go to the scene of a crime and discover that 30 to 75 rounds had been fired. "It speaks to the level of anger, the indiscriminate nature of the violence," he said. "I go to meetings and start talking to some of the people in the neighborhoods about who's been a victim of violence, and people can start reciting: 'One of my sons was killed, one of my nephews... It's hard to find people who haven't been touched by this kind of violence."

Declining Family Values
One factor in increasing crime rates may well be the decline of traditional family life, particularly in inner-city neighborhoods. Married couples with children now constitute less than one out of every four households -- a share that has been cut in half since l960 and is the lowest ever recorded by the census. As marriage with children becomes the exception rather than the norm, social scientists say it is also becoming the self-selected province of the college-educated and affluent. Isabel V. Sawhill, an expert on marriage and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said: "The culture is shifting, and marriage has almost become a luxury item, one that only the well-educated and well-paid are interested in."

Out-of-wedlock births exceeded l.5 million in 2005 for the first time, representing 36.8 percent of all births in the U.S. Among non-Hispanic blacks, the out-of-wedlock birth rate reached a staggering 69.5 percent. For non-Hispanic whites, it exceeded 25 percent, a new milestone. The illegitimacy rate for Hispanics reached 47.9 percent.

The rise in unwed births is "disastrous, about as big a leap as we've ever had," said Robert Rector, welfare analyst at the Heritage Foundation. He noted that unwed birth figures leveled off and seemed to stabilize for a time after Congress passed welfare reform in l996. However, recent increases in these numbers "clearly show that the impact of welfare reform is now virtually zero, and we are going back to the way things were before welfare reform."

A recent study by the National Marriage Project shows only 67 percent of children lives in two-parent households. In minority communities, the majority of children lives in one-parent households. There is, it seems clear, a correlation between the decline in family life and the rise in crime. By 2004, federal data showed that black Americans -- l3 percent of the population -- accounted for 37 percent of the violent crimes, 54 percent of arrests for robbery, and 5l percent of murders. Most of the victims of these criminals were fellow black Americans.

Hostility to Police
In researching an article for PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE, reporter Gregory Gilderman rode along with police officer Dennis Stephens in North Philadelphia's crime-ridden 22nd district. According to Gilderman, hostility toward police and the lack of citizen cooperation are problematic: "This is one of the more demoralizing aspects of policing this city: the culture of the street hates the cops. Never mind that most of the officers are African-American and that more than a few of them grew up in this neighborhood. Perfectly law-abiding teenagers wear "STOP SNITCHIN'' t-shirts, cops are taunted for being sellouts or 'trying to be white,' and witnesses and victims won't talk at crime scenes, let alone show up at court.

"Because of this," he explained, " a vast swath of the criminal element -- muggers, rapists, even murderers -- sees charges dropped or reduced to the one crime for which a police officer's testimony alone just might provide leverage for plea-bargained prison time: possession of a firearm. This is especially frustrating for veteran officers. A dangerous police district is like a small town: Very few new faces show up, and the same career criminals are arrested over and over. They are returned to the street over and over."

Professor Pamela Smock of the University of Michigan, coauthor of a recent review of patterns of marriage, finds that class is a better tool than race for predicting whether Americans marry. "The poor aren't entering into marriage very much
at all," said Smock. She reports that young people from these backgrounds often do not think they can afford marriage. Arguments that marriage can mean stability do not seem to change their attitudes, she said, noting that many of them have parents with troubled marriages.

Breaking the Cycle
To reverse the latest trends in crime we must not only consider the role of law enforcement agencies but the culture out of which such crime emerges. One key element, particularly in minority communities, is the breakdown of the family and the increasing
out-of-wedlock birth rate. Unless current trends are reversed, the increase in crime is likely to continue.

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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2008 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is THE REVOLUTION LOBBY (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.

He is associate editor of THE LINCOLN REVIEW and a contributing editor to such publications as HUMAN EVENTS, THE ST. CROIX REVIEW, and THE WASHINGTON REPORT ON MIDDLE EAST AFFAIRS.

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