Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A time of crime

The Gallup opinion research outfit reports a paradox:

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Fully 71 percent of us think crime is rising nationally and slightly over half are sure that it rising locally.

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Meanwhile the Department of Justice reports that violent crime has been declining for ten years.

What's up? Gallup opines

Americans' pessimism about crime may reflect an overly negative interpretation on their part of the fact that the decline in crime has tapered off. It could possibly reflect a real increase in media attention to crime on the local and national news. Or it could reflect Americans' broader dissatisfaction with the way things are going in the country, a sentiment that extends from ratings of President Bush and Congress to the economy, as well as to their satisfaction with the direction of the country more generally.

I don't think Gallup is doing anything more grounded than indulging in speculation in those suggestions, so I'll offer a few of my own.
  • When CSI and imitators have been the preponderant content of evening entertainment for several years, is it surprising that folks believe there must be criminals under their beds?
  • When local TV news has reduced its content to traffic accidents, fires and murders, perhaps it is to be expected that people think violence is rising.
  • When the mere presence of an immigrant low wage work force is considered a crime by many people, does the growing visibility and ubiquity of immigrants lead to a belief in rising crime?
  • When local media outlets crusade for prosecution of nuisance offenses so as to lock homeless people up out of sight, is it any wonder that people feel surrounded by crime?
  • When young people in poor neighborhoods really do have to fear encountering gun play on the way to school, it's no accident that they and their parents fear rising crime.
  • When the U.S. government invades countries without legal justification, when the Republican party's entire campaign strategy is to hype fear of terrorists, is it any wonder that people think criminality is increasing?
We are living a lawless place and time -- and we know it. And we don't like it. Politics is, among other things, an argument about what a law respecting society would look like.

Hat tip to Chris Kromm at Facing South for pointing out this survey.

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