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by Peter Moskos

September 13, 2016

White-On-White Crime (lots, but without homicide)

Years ago, like when I was 13, I was with my father, driving from NYC to Chicago, on a baseball road trip (he drove). Between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, we spent one night in Johnstown, PA. (Remember the Johnstown Flood!). After watching the Johnston Jonnies play baseball, we had dinner in a local bar. My father, known for being gregarious and getting along with all races, religions, and education levels, looked around at the pale depressed clientele and said to me in a hushed tone, "These are not my people." It's the only time I ever saw him uncomfortable in a crowd.

Based on my last post, I looked up East Liverpool, Ohio. It's very white (93 percent) and quite poor. The median household family income of $23,138 is about half the national average. A quarter of the population (and 35 percent of children) are below the poverty line. The population of 11,000 is down from a 1950 peak of 24,000.

East Liverpool is the biggest city in Columbiana County, which seems to straddle coal, rust, and rural. The county has a total population of just over 100,000 people and is 96 percent white. It's also poor, with a median family income of just $34,200 (but interestingly, the poverty rate is below the national average). And it's increasing Republican. It's Trump country.

What I'm saying is, kind of like Obama and Clinton, I've never felt much kin with this part of America (the Appalachian Scotch-Irish folk of southeast Ohio, northern W. Virginia, and southwest Pennsylvania). If they're more worried about immigrants, gun rights, and encroaching Sharia Law than about moving forward and letting people help them get out of poverty and not overdosing in from of their grandson, I'm inclined to let them be and not give a damn.

But here's the thing. No matter how hopeless and messed up things might be in East Liverpool and Columbiana County, Ohio; no matter how the jobs are gone; no matter how loose the gun laws are; no matter where junkies are shooting up; no matter how much crime there is; no matter how forgotten by the government and mocked by east-coast elites they might be, the good folks of Columbiana County somehow manage not to murder each other. And there is crime in East Liverpool, Ohio. In fact, if the data is accurate (and that is a big if, coming from a small place), the violent and property crime rates of East Liverpool are twice the national average.

Neighborhood Scout (not exactly an ideal academic source) puts it this way:
With a crime rate of 53 per one thousand residents, East Liverpool has one of the highest crime rates in America. With a population of 10,951, East Liverpool's [crime rate] is very high compared to other places of similar population size.
Best I can tell, this entire county of about 100,000 has maybe one homicide a year. Some years there seems to be none. Other years maybe two. (I'm basing this on Columbiana County, East Liverpool, and Salem City police departments). This homicide rate, 1 per 100,000, is about 1/4th the national average.

Meanwhile, Baltimore City has a poverty rate lower than East Liverpool. Baltimore's median household income is higher than East Liverpool. Hell, the average income even in poor East and West Baltimore is higher than East Liverpool. And yet in the past 365 days (Sep 10, 2014 to Sep 10, 2015) 329 people in Baltimore have managed to put themselves in harm's way and get killed. Now Baltimore has more than six times the population of Columbiana County. So if Baltimore were 1/6th the size, it would have 55 murders. Columbiana County has 1.

Even whites in Baltimore managed to get murdered 17 times last year. That's of course a fraction of the number of black homicides, but whites in Baltimore (fewer than 200,000) get murdered eight times as often as the good folks of heroin-addicted poverty-living can't-find-work police-are-asking-for-help Columbiana County.

What gives?

Baltimore City has more unemployment (7.4 percent vs. 5.3 percent). Yeah, sure. And there's more poverty and extreme poverty in Baltimore. I'm not saying that doesn't matter. But deep down, no. Poverty is a red herring. Culture matters. Columbiana County's unemployment could be 20 percent and the murder rate would still be lower that Baltimore City.

There's something else going on. The nexus of violence is not poverty and racism but public drug dealing and drug prohibition. I suspect addicts in Columbiana County buy their heroin from friends and family and coworkers. Not from Yo-Boys on the corner. Push drug dealers inside and violence plummets. But when police try and do that in Baltimore, the DOJ complains about systemic racism.


LemmusLemmus said...

On pushing drug dealing inside, this paper may be of interest:


Peter Moskos said...

Thanks. Very interesting. And an article I didn't have.

CollegeCop said...

Every ideology has it's hang ups, because the people who think up and adopt those ideologies have their hang ups. Conservatism, liberalism/progressivism, libertarian-ism, communism, anarchism etc etc if it has an 'ism at the end, it's no different in that regard. Enlightenment comes from understand this and taking it into account.

In this specific case, it's the liberal hang up with "root causes", which IMO is deeply seated in the idea that people are generally good and smart and if there is something going wrong, there MUST be an external cause, like race, poverty, injustice, or inequality. The hang up is so severe that they believe that if you just fix the external issue (symptom), everything will fix itself. Thus the idea that you can fix a police force and ignore how really crappy the society it is serving is, and everything will be fine.

Like I said, every group has some sort of hang up, like the conservative belief that if people just get married (regardless of whether they love each other or not), kids raised in their home will be fine. We know that isn't true either lol.

IrishPirate said...

Loury and Mcwhorter discussed something along these lines earlier today.


They tend toward a cultural explanation.

I believe any complex social phenomena/pathology has dozens of different reasons for its existence. In other words my explanations and solutions are stuck between the rock of culture and the hardplace of structure.

Let's get Paul Simon to write a song.

IrishPirate said...

Another explanation is the use of guns to settle disputes. I'd guess there are plenty of fistfights outside bars in that section of OH hi O, but few of those involve idiots brandishing guns.

There is something seriously wrong in a subset of the black urban population when elderly men are being shot in broad daylight for their wallet while they water the lawn.

714ed70c-7a77-11e6-973c-1f8b836994df said...

Interesting that you opened with Johnstown, PA, which now has a fairly high incidence of murders and shootings, mostly black on black in the Moxham neighborhood. I'm a police office in a city in a neighboring county; I don't have the stats handy but Johnstown, with its rapidly dwindling population, has an amazingly high amount of violent crime, in a city which has suffered massive cutbacks in both police manpower and budget in recent years.

I definitely agree on the outdoor aspect of drugs and violence. The nearby cities of Altoona and Greensburg, for instance, have a plethora of readily available section 8 housing, which enables most of the drug selling to go on behind closed doors, which seems to have a direct effect on the number of drug related homocides.

Peter Moskos said...

Interesting comment.

You know, looking at a picture of the old stadium (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Oldpoint.jpg), I can still point to where we was sitting, 32 years ago (next-to-last blue-seat section on the right) mostly because there was a crazy and drunk man (without a full set of teeth) behind us, to the right. He was quite vocal, and my father couldn't understand him, for all the obvious reasons. But for some reason I could understand him pretty well. So as he exclaimed his wisdom, I would translate from English to English for my father. And, like with many crazy people, some fraction of what he was saying was really inciteful or related to the game at hand. At those moments my father and I would sort of nod to each other, in that "he's got a point there, this time" kind of way.

And for years I've admired the Altoona Curve from the train. But Greesburg? Never heard of it. What's its claim to fame?

But more to your real point: Johnstown had 1 to 3 murders a year, and then jumped to 7 in 2013 and 6 in 2014. That's a lot of killing for just 20,000 people. The national average is about 1 per 20,000.

And that high level seems to be holding high, based on a few newspaper headlines.

ButI've never thought of how Section 8 can change things in terms of drug dealing. Usually, especially among police (as you know) Section 8 is not looked at too favorably. I've never thought how it might push drug dealing inside, because people have private homes from which to deal.

It's tough to win an argument extolling the virtues of indoor drug dealing. But it's better than outdoor drug dealing.

All that said, it doesn't hold in Baltimore, where public housing tends to be less violent than the surrounding Section 8 areas.

What are the current illegal drugs of the choice there in the Johnstown area? And does it vary by race?

714ed70c-7a77-11e6-973c-1f8b836994df said...

Yes, it is holding high. They (Johnstown City PD) also had a fatal OIS earlier this year, which had very minimal news coverage, which these days is probably a good thing.

I don't know that Greensburg has a claim to fame. It's importance to law enforcement in this region is that it hosts a PA State Police crime lab that everyone uses.

My experience is anecdotal of course when it comes to section 8 housing. Altoona and Johnstown both have mixes of actual housing projects and then just entire residential areas devoted to section 8, usually owned by persons or companies from outside the area. Shootings on the local news in Johnstown seem to focus on the named projects, like the Solomon Homes.

Open air drug markets are fairly rare in this region, however, when they do occasionally spring up in the bad neighborhoods, we see a surge in violent crime. Not specifically homicides but robberies and felonious assaults. When most of the transactions go to the interior of residences, or a quick meet outside a home, it seems that this goes down, or at least goes unreported. I'm not qualified to say there's causation there, but it seems that way to the patrol officer.

Heroin is king here, and has been for a while, due partly to the region's proliferation of methadone facilites that bring in a lot of people from more urban areas. Crack and regular cocaine are popular as well, and around 2010 or so there was a major (for the area) cocaine distribution operation in the region originating in Baltimore, which was eventually stymied by "Operation Last Call" (google will show many associated news stories). More on topic to outdoor/indoor drug dealing, in the mid 2000's a set of Bloods from NY established themselves in Altoona, and seemed to follow a more traditional network of physically occupying territory/corners to sell from, which lead to a surge in shootings even in broad daylight, which is not common in this region. See: "Operation Blood Clot".

And almost right in step with the article you posted by Mr. Winslow, right now we are experiencing an up tick in fentanyl laced heroin, and the overdoses that come with it.

714ed70c-7a77-11e6-973c-1f8b836994df said...

Forgot to add, in my experience there is not a variance in drug use by race in this area.

Thos Wallace said...

The suicide rate is quite high

From the CDC



This is CDC data for male suicides.

For county data, they use a 6 year period. The rate is 25 per 100,000. I don't think it is shockingly high.

They may not be murdering each other, but the lower income white population has shockingly shown reduced life expectancy in CDC mortality studies. My guess is that male suicides, drug OD's, and possibility drunken driving is taking a toll.

Patrick G. said...

Growing up on the edge of this area, in my youth, it was always a friend of a friend that could get heroin. The deals were made at an out of the way spot or at a guys house in a low density residential area. Never heard much gun violence related to it from what I recall. Several years after I left, I did have a classmate that was murdered and it was assumed that it was drug related. It was the first murder in town (~15,000) for 4 years.

Not to say there aren't notable homicides amongst Ohio's white population. Eight members of the same family were killed in a execution style operation at two different rural Southern Ohio locations. The police haven't announced much, but it certainly seems organized crime related. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_Pike_County,_Ohio,_shootings

Joseph Dundee said...

" Poverty is a red herring. Culture matters. Columbiana County's unemployment could be 20 percent and the murder rate would still be lower that Baltimore City. "

Sure if all you care about is murder rate. But I would bet real money the suicide, drug overdose, and drug addiction rates are substantially higher on Columbiana County. In other words, both places have serious social problems. What is the common denominator? High levels of concentrated poverty. Solve that problem, and I believe you will see the murder and drug OD rates improve as well.

Peter Moskos said...

I do care more about homicide rates. It's just my professional bias. And suicide is significantly higher among whites, for (cultural?) reasons unrelated to poverty. Certainly if we could solve poverty, I agree things would be better. But until we figure out how to do that, I'd be happy chipping away at the effects.

And you see groups of intense poverty, particularly among immigrant groups, like where I live in Queens County, NY, that lack most of the social problems we'd like to link to poverty. Not to mention other poor countries with low rates of crime and drug deaths. So what is it about American poverty that is so brutal, at least among native-born Americans?

Joseph Dundee said...

I would guess that among these poor recent immigrant groups you will see one of two things happen: either they progress out of poverty and remain with few social problems, or they remain poor and these social problems develop. I agree there is more than strict income and wealth that determines these outcomes, and those who arrive with more stable social structures and job skills / education do a lot better than those without, regardless of inital wealth or income. But those benefits will fade if they remain mired in poverty. Of course it's difficult to sort out the causes from the effects but income and wealth always seem to be the most strongly correlated with all these problems. And so I would have to see strong evidence to contrary to conclude they are not one of the root causes.

Peter Moskos said...

Correlated with most but not all problems. Suicide increases with wealth at both national and international levels.