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by Peter Moskos

December 23, 2016

"How much do they care?"

My previous post was supposed to be about this article by Frank Zimring from 42 years ago. But then I got caught up in the false data put out by the Brennan Center.

A friend sent me this fascinating article ("A Tale of Two Cities," Franklin Zimring, December 20, 1974, Wall Street Journal, p.14) because some of it regarding "the troubles" in Northern Ireland is blessedly dated. But much of what he wrote could be published tomorrow and considered current. (Also, I was a little shocked to learn Zimring was a professor and writing in 1974. I was three. And he's still doing well.) His point was that more people, by far, are killed in Detroit. But everybody is much concerned about violence in Northern Ireland. (By American standards, Northern Ireland was never that lethal with (3,600 killed over 32 years.) Why?:
When do people perceive violence as a major social problem, and why? What kinds of antiviolence programs will they tolerate? How much do they care?

Detroit is used to high homicide rates; most of those killed in Detroit are ghetto dwellers; and killings in Detroit are not a direct threat to public political order as it is in Ulster,
The first reason why Detroit (and her sister cities) can absorb so much violence without alarm is that Americans have had ample time to get used to high homicide.
But how is it possible to adjust to such rates of violence? In an important sense, it’s easy.
Because most of the urban body count in the United States involves the faceless young black male “non-citizens” who live and die without conspicuous outpourings of social concern. It is, in fact, misleading to talk of a single homicide rate in American cities, because ghetto-dwelling blacks kill and are killed at rates 10 times as high as big-city whites. Urban violence does, of course, affect a broader spectrum of society--small shopkeepers, street robbery victims, and men, women and children who just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. But the great majority of victims are the black poor.
And most of us are pretty safe, after all....Perhaps we can protect ourselves and accept violence as an occupational hazard of urban life for the poor?
Yet there are moral and practical problems with learning to live with violence... The moral problems lie at the heart of the American dream our national greatness is defined in large measure by what we can provide for the least-advantaged among us
Yet the prospects for constructive action are dim.... The political cant that passes for dialog on violence in this country is simply another symptom of failure to face up to our profoundly serious problems.

Even with the best of intentions, our urban body count will be hard to diminish. If we continue to adjust to bloodletting, and to view violence as a nonproblem, there is every chilling prospect we will get what we deserve.
In another 42 years, in 2058, I'd like to think this piece will no longer be timely. But I doubt it. What's happened in the past 42 years? Half of Detroit left, literally. The population of Motor City dropped from 1,513,000 to 689,000. And the homicide rate? It's right where it was, 42 year ago, just under 50 per 100,000.


Ryanaldo said...

The part of the population with the lower failure rate left.

Unknown said...

I think that a good portion of our violence acceptance is due to the bystander effect. the person who witnesses the violence may be disturbed by it but doesn't want to get involved so they see the man across the street who is holding his phone and sees the violence and thinks, "he has his phone in his hand, therefore he will call the police and i can go on with my day" where in reality the guy across the street never does a thing.