Sunday, August 20, 2006

Violence on the rise in the U.S.

In a reversal of the downward trend in the 1990s, violent crime is on the rise - even in small smaller cities and states with little prior experience to serious urban violence.

From Kansas City, Missouri, to Indianapolis, Indiana, places that rarely attract notice on annual FBI crime surveys are seeing significant increases in murder. Boston, once a model city in America's battle against gun violence, is poised to eclipse last year's homicide tally, which was the worst in a decade...
A 2005 Federal Bureau of Investigation crime report, issued last month, showed violent crime increasing for the first time in four years in 2005, up 2.5 percent from the year before, with medium-size cities and the Midwest leading the way.

While New York, Los Angeles and Miami still are enjoying drops in crime, smaller cities with populations of more than 500,000 are raising the alarm, posting an 8.3 percent rise in violent crime in 2005. Nationwide, the murder rate rose 5 percent -- the biggest rise in a single year since 1991.
And there's no link to organize crime either.
Several Midwest cities are on pace for a rise in murders this year, including Cincinnati and Columbus in Ohio and Memphis, Tennessee.

"It isn't gang or drug violence, it's just people getting violent," said Mark Williams, an assistant district attorney in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. "A lot of them are minor disagreements and people using guns to settle them."

The above-linked article mentions several possible contributing factors.

Explanations vary -- from softer gun laws to budget cuts, fewer police on the beat, more people in poverty and simple complacency. But many blame a national preoccupation with potential threats from abroad.

"Since September 11, much of the resources that were distributed to crime-fighting efforts in Boston and other major cities were redistributed to fight terrorism," said Jack Levin, director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University.

"The feds had supported after-school programs. They had supported placing more police officers in crime hot spots in major cities. These federal efforts were reduced," he said.

After the decline in murder rates in the 1990s, some cities dropped programs that emphasized prevention and controls on the spread of guns in order to cut spending. The Bush administration has also scaled back funding for the federal cops program (which was passed under the Clinton administration and placed 100,000 more cops on the streets), prioritizing defense spending and tax cuts for the wealthy, as we well know.

From the expiration of a federal ban on assault rifles to tougher restrictions on databases that identify gun owners, gun laws have weakened in the past five years, said Daniel Vice, an attorney with the Brady Center to Prevent Handgun Violence.

"The top five states with the highest gun death rates are five states with incredibly weak gun laws," he said, listing Louisiana, Alabama, Alaska, New Mexico and Wyoming.

In Miami, while overall crime is down, the use of semi-automatic weapons is growing.

"These things are dirt cheap," Police Chief John Timoney told Reuters, estimating the street price at $250 each. "We have seen these assault weapons being used time and time again by drug gangs

Look, I'm not a "gun grabber." I generally support 2nd amendment rights and oppose the more extreme restrictions that some fellow liberals would like to see (I am from Texas after all. There's a gun show somewhere here every weekend), but clearly gun policy has been allowed to go too far to the other extreme both on the federal level and especially in individual states.

The NRA, much like the religious right, has their boot on the neck of the Republican Party, and has unfortunately intimidated too many Democrats who fear losing rural voters if they support any gun control law no matter how sensible. That's why we can't mandatory safety locks on guns to protect children from accidental discharges or universal background checks to stop criminals from being able to easily acquire firearms, and it's how gun manufacturers get special immunity from class action lawsuits (usually for making semi-automatic weapons easily convertible to fully automatic ones) that few other industries have or will ever get. The national NRA organization is filled with rabid right-wing extremists like Ted Nugent who take it far beyond personal protection or hunting and oppose *any* law that has to deal with guns, period (but try getting them to accept a no-exceptions policy towards the 1st or 4th amendments!). Gun control is not an end to itself in terms of crime prevention, but it has a role.

As for the increase itself, I don't think it''s some sort of inexplicable cultural shift. I agree that like with the degredation of other public areas of our lives - education, health care, etc. - it's due to a shift in the priorities of our government that has lead to a degredation of our ability to stop crime too. As our economic policy has shifted from uplifting low-income Americans to lining the pockets of the well-to-do, poverty has risen - and crime along with it. By shifting spending from law enforcement to the war in Iraq and bad programs like the missile shield, we have cut at the knees our first line of defense. As with the gun control laws and tax cuts for the wealthy and our execution of the war on terrorism, sound policy has been traded for strict adherance to right-wing ideology. Once you look at the bigger picture, it's easy to see how these things might lead to an increase in violent crime across the country. As with everything else, only by reversing course in these policies can we hope to revert back to better times.

1 comment:

Nat-Wu said...

You know, these are the same people who support law enforcement. You'd think you could sell the idea of more cops to them.