“Do you think there’s a lot more violence in this country than there used to be, or are we just hearing about more of it?” my coworker asked last week.
Yet, according to a New York Times article in May, “The number of violent crimes in the United States dropped significantly last year, to what appeared to be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years.” The article goes on to give details: “Nationally, murder fell 4.4 percent last year. Forcible rape — which excludes statutory rape and other sex offenses — fell 4.2 percent. Aggravated assault fell 3.6 percent. Property crimes — including burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson — fell 2.8 percent, after a 4.6 percent drop the year before.”
So if they are not lying to us, what could possibly account for this stunningly counterintuitive reality?
The law & order people would certainly argue that our increasingly repressive criminal justice policies are bearing fruit. But that would run counter to the received wisdom of organizations like the ACLU which have demonstrated that increasing penalties does not lead to less crime. In fact, says Cal law professor Frank Zimring in the Times article, “As the percentage of people behind bars has decreased in the past few years, violent crime rates have fallen as well.”
People like Jeffrey Canada (Harlem Children’s Zone founder) would argue that it’s programs like his, Head Start and charter schools inculcating groovy values in kids at younger and younger ages which is starting to pay off.
Or is it possible that things like Alternatives to Violence Projects, Community Dispute Resolution Centers and Men Against Violence have begun to have an impact?
I’d certainly like to believe these last two possibilities, and no doubt, there is some incremental shifts that have occurred. Physical violence, known as “corporal punishment” was a staple of most households and many schools when I was growing up. Now hitting as official policy is pretty rare among parents and school districts, though there’s certainly plenty of child abuse going on. Probably fewer kids are learning at very young ages that hitting is a legitimate way to get what you want, and that probably has some little ripple effect on the society.