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Violence inequality shames America Only the wealthy can afford to defund the police

It is the poor who pay the price (Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

It is the poor who pay the price (Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune via Getty Images)


January 11, 2022   5 mins

Mahmood Ansari, a Pakistani immigrant who came to the United States four decades ago, used to own City Souvenirs along the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey. One night in April 2021, he was working late when a 12-year-old boy with a knife and 14-year-old girl decided to rob the store. After an altercation, Ansari collapsed and later died.

Following his death, I interviewed one of Ansari’s friends, who said that small business owners along the Boardwalk had spent weeks begging for more police protection to no avail. Anyone who’s spent any amount of time reporting on violent crime in America has heard a version of this story. Contrary to the claims of “police abolitionists”, residents of poor communities often want more and better policing.

This is partly because they happen to live under a far greater threat of violent crime than other communities do: organised criminal networks have a much easier time taking root in low-income neighbourhoods than anywhere else. But this also because residents of low-income communities don’t have nearly as many resources to defend themselves as upper-income communities do.

If Ansari had been rich, he could have simply hired private security to protect himself and his family business. But most Americans aren’t wealthy enough to do that — and, according to a recent paper published in the American Journal of Public Health this inequality is getting worse.

The authors examined violent crime across 13 cities in the United States between March and July in the years 2018, 2019, and 2020. They found that not only was violence much higher in poorer neighbourhoods, but that the gap between low-income and high-income areas in the prevalence of gun violence, aggravated assault, and homicide grew between 2019 and 2020.

One way to address this phenomenon would be to refer to it as “violence inequality”. Just as we track inequality on axes like income, wealth, and health care, we should acknowledge and measure the gap in public safety between the most and least dangerous neighbourhoods.

Violence inequality exists virtually everywhere in the United States, but it is particularly dramatic in some areas. The Chicago Sun Times recently analysed violent crime data across the city, describing what it calls the “safety gap”. The article notes that West Garfield Park, a predominantly black neighbourhood located in the West Side of Chicago, “has experienced a per capita rate of shootings nearly 20 times higher than downtown”. The gap in homicide rates is even more jaw-dropping. In 2021 so far, “the murder rate in the seven most dangerous police districts rose to a three-decade high of nearly 100 homicides per 100,000 residents — 30 times higher than the rate in the safest seven districts, where the rate fell to fewer than four per 100,000.”

Put differently, poor and minority neighbourhoods are reverting to historically high rates of violent crime at the same time as affluent white areas are becoming safer. The gaps are even worse now than they were in the early Nineties, long considered the nadir of America’s violent-crime problem. As criminologist Aaron Chalfin recently noted, in 1991, the least-safe communities in Chicago had rates of gun violence 13 times higher than those of the safest communities; in 2020, gun violence in the least-safe neighbourhoods was 25 times higher.

Violence inequality appears particularly pronounced when you break down the statistics by race. Homicide has long been one of the the leading causes of death for African American young men, topping unintentional injuries, suicide, and heart disease. The Violence Policy Center estimates that the ‘black homicide victimisation rate’ is six times as high as the overall ‘white homicide victimisation rate’. And yet this form of inequality is barely mentioned by the media, despite their obsession with nearly every other type of racial disparity. Why is that?

One explanation is that ordinary neighbourhood violence doesn’t fit neatly into the prevailing narrative, in which the primary problems faced by minorities are the result of systemic racism and white supremacy. Outside of the conservative media, it’s practically taboo to discuss the levels of violence that exist in parts of the United States without lengthy throat-clearing about how the real culprit is racism, capitalism or the police.

But that’s not the way people who live in these communities describe their own lives. Last summer, as progressive activists waged a sustained campaign to delegitimise the police, Gallup polling found that most African Americans wanted to either maintain current levels of police presence in their communities or expand it.

Still, the fact that addressing violence inequality is one of the most important things that the Democratic Party could do for underprivileged people must be a bitter pill for progressives to swallow (and it is almost certainly the Democratic Party’s job, as the GOP doesn’t look like winning elections in violence-plagued cities anytime soon). Addressing it would almost certainly involve more policing and tougher sentencing for people who have committed violent crimes, many of whom will likely be minorities. This would cut against the progressive project of ending “mass incarceration” and promoting alternatives to policing, and would no doubt feel to many progressives like doubling down on a racist and authoritarian system.

But tackling violence inequality can bring meaningful change to the lives of the people progressives say they care the most about. A March 2019 study published in Demography soberly noted that while homicide remains a leading cause of death for young black men, the dramatic decline in homicide rates that started in the Nineties “led to a 0.80-year increase in life expectancy at birth for African American males, and reduced years of potential life lost by 1,156 years for every 100,000 African American males”. According to the study, the drop in homicide accounted for “17% of the reduction in the life expectancy gap between white and African American males” between 1991 and 2014. In other words, tackling violent crime saved a lot of black lives.

The main obstacle to Democrats getting tough on crime is political. Much of the national media remains fixated on the drawbacks of incarceration and policing; influential political donors are now spending huge amounts of money to elect prosecutors who promise softer sentencing. Joe Biden may have written the 1994 crime bill, but he barely talks about the historic increase in homicides that took place in 2020, perhaps out of fear of alienating his base and playing into the hands of Republicans.

Yet there are signs that political reality is changing. During the November elections, voters in Buffalo, New York rejected the self-described police abolitionist who won the Democratic primary for mayor, voting instead for the incumbent mayor, who was forced to run as a write-in candidate. Similarly, voters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, ground zero for much of 2020’s police reform movement, shot down a referendum that would have abolished and replaced their police department. The mayor-elect of New York City is a former NYPD officer who campaigned on getting tougher on crime.

And in San Francisco, one of the most progressive cities in America, Mayor London Breed recently struck a different tone following a series of high-profile crimes. “It’s time the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it come to an end,” she said. “And it comes to an end when we take the steps to more aggressive with law enforcement. More aggressive with the changes in our policies and less tolerant of all the bullshit that has destroyed our city.”

It is too early to say whether these developments represent a turning point in policy. But one thing is clear: it’s almost impossible to address a problem we can’t even admit exists. Those who profess to care about the disadvantaged should acknowledge that violence inequality is a deep and growing problem. We shouldn’t forget those Americans who fall asleep to the sound of gunfire.


Zaid Jilani is a journalist who has worked for UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, The Intercept, and the Center for American Progress.

ZaidJilani

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Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

“prevalence of gun violence, aggravated assault, and homicide grew between 2019 and 2020.”

hmmmm, is there a time between 2019 and 2020? This is deep into the Zeno’s Paradox territory.

But the fact of the why this article is true is that inner city poor people commit most of the crime in a city. Why is this hard to say?

“Put differently, poor and minority neighbourhoods are reverting to historically high rates of violent crime at the same time as affluent white areas are becoming safer.”

If this is something the writer just discovered then he is not very knowledge about the facts of life. Having spent a good part of my life in big cities I blame it all on one thing: ‘The Welfare Trap’. Which is the ultimate ‘Perverse Incentive’, or ‘Unintended Consequence’.

First, at least in USA, it means working reduces benefits, second because how the Welfare works it often forces the father to not live with the mother as his income would be counted, and so benefits reduced. Take Section 8, the main housing benefit in USA. No one may occupy the house if they have felonies – every tenant must be vetted. As a very many of the target group for welfare, the Males mostly, have criminal records so are not allowed to move in with a woman in a section 8 house, fathers are kept away. This destruction of the family also does great harm to the men, as the primary function of a man is to provide for their family (this is baked into men from a million years of evolution, as maternal instinct is into women). The men, without this responsibility become anti-social and self destructive.

Dozens of this sort of ‘Perverse Incentive’ exist and the end result is almost all children in inner city poverty are raised by single mothers who have absolutely No ability to succeed without the benefits – and as every study ever showed – Welfare Dependence is passed from parent to child, Ouroboros like.
Also the vast majority of people in prison had fathers who had been in prison, and almost all of them were raised by single mothers. The Welfare Trap destroys families, and creates a culture of dependency and failure. This is 100% typical of all Liberal Policies. Welfare does the exact opposite of what it has been stated to achieve.

I say ‘stated to achieve’ because being a conspiracy theorist, and seeing how things really work – I think Liberals purposely create more poverty and social dysfunction, as it provides them with much of their voter base.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Unfortunately much of the politicisation of social issues relys on either lies about facts or wilful ignorance. Thomas Sowell has pointed out the destructive nature of US welfare policy for decades but has been consistently ignored because this narrative doesn’t suit the political narrative where poor blacks are victims of racism and need Democratic politicians to lift them up.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jeremy Bray
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Do the Democrats actually have an incentive for keeping people poor and dependant in order to sustain their base?
Many large cites in the UK have voted in labour administrations for decades and this is probably the cause and not the result of poverty

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago

Indeed and if there were lots of Republican academics they could write numerous papers about how Democrat policies are killing and impoverishing blacks that could be widely quoted with rather more validity than the studies suggesting it is all down to white supremacy. But there aren’t and it doesn’t seem to happen.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Correct. Any such paper today would never see the light of day. Thankfully, there are organizations such as FEE, (Foundation for Economic Education) who still exist and publish.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

All politicians have an incentive to create problems that need solving
.by them.

Mo Brown
Mo Brown
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren T

Indeed. Imagine the predicament the Democrats would be in if they had actually solved any of the problems they’ve promised to solve over the decades.

Eddie Johnson
Eddie Johnson
2 years ago

I read that the state of Washington is now planning to lessen the penalties for drive-by shootings, with the aim of “promoting racial equity.” 
Because the majority of offenders committing this crime are said to be black (who also account for the majority of victims) it has been deemed “racist” by Democrats.
This will help, surely?

Last edited 2 years ago by Eddie Johnson
Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  Eddie Johnson

Well it should promote the interests of black shooters. A rather narrow segment of Democrat supporters though.

D Ward
D Ward
2 years ago

Sorry, but I have bought the narrative that I am an irredeemable hwite sup remasist and am therefore evil. I defer to BLM on all matters now (to make sure I don’t do ”wrong think”) and I distinctly remember they told me that we need to abolish the police. In case I am in any doubt about the wisdom of this, I am reminded every sports match (football, cricket etc) that BLM is now in charge. So apologies if I don’t give a t o ss, but hopefully you will understand I must be “on the right side of history” in case I am “cancelled”.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  D Ward

Of course if you really thought you were a white supremacist you might feel that there was not currently much sign of your supremacy and perhaps it was time to increase your anti-black activity just as leftist agitators feel that when they lose an election it was because they were not offering a left enough agenda.

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

We should start a movement to take over the Ku Klux Klan so we can make everyone calling for ‘defunding the police’ an honorary Grand Kleagle of the KKK, for their services in f%$#ing over the lives of black people. L-rd knows they’ve had a lot more success along those lines than the actual KKK ever did.
Noel

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 years ago

This is hardly a new phenomenon. America’s inner cities have been like this longer than I have been alive. The recent crime surge is just bringing it back into focus again.

Eddie Johnson
Eddie Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

True, we forget that crime rates have in fact fallen considerably since the late 70s and 80s.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

Until the (black) Police ‘Loootenant’ who shot and killed Ms Ashli Babbitt during the Capitol disturbances of the 6th of January, 2021 last is arrested and prosecuted, there is no hope for the USA.
To say “we shouldn’t forget those Americans who fall asleep to the sound of gunfire”, is putting it mildly.

Last edited 2 years ago by SULPICIA LEPIDINA
Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

WOW! Amazing! What a revelation! Has the author just fallen off the turnip truck?
Might I suggest a follow up piece on the number of children who get burned by playing with matches!

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
2 years ago

Golly. Only the rich benefit from defunding the police.
Who woulda thunk it?
Could this be another form of White Privilege?

Last edited 2 years ago by Christopher Chantrill
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

Meanwhile in New York the Manhattan District Attorney, with the apparent support of the newly elected mayor, has just published policy guidance for the judiciary to avoid jail sentences for a whole range of crimes that I’d certainly deem serious.
https://nypost.com/2022/01/04/manhattan-da-alvin-bragg-to-stop-seeking-prison-in-some-cases/

Mo Brown
Mo Brown
2 years ago

I think the author would have strongly supported his premise had he stated that paying young women to have fatherless children is quite shameful and is the main driver of this “violence inequality”. As it is, the article doesn’t make much of a case IMO.

T Doyle
T Doyle
2 years ago

Good posts below. We have had nearly a hundred years of Marxist inspired policies, accepted into mainstream, delivered by the foot soldiers of the left – social workers, teachers, local governments, academia and judiciary – who have been building a dependency society for the masses. This is involves deconstructing the family unit and constructing a welfare subsistence culture. Lockdown was another tool in the box of the Marxists.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  T Doyle

yeah well that is what happens when they stop teaching real history in school – doomed to repeat blah blah – it is getting boring reading about policy making ignoramuses these days – you mean those people who who are ‘qualified’ to make decisions that effects millions of lives??? I rather hope that as their karma they reincarnate into a black ghetto the product of a drug addled mother and a soon to be deceased father……………..

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

There is a suggestion in this piece that ‘affluent white areas’ of Chicago are becoming (even) less violent, or safer as the piece has it, as a result, the piece presupposes, of their location coinciding with the seven least-violent (or ‘safest’, as the piece quotes) police districts.

I suppose if I click on the link to do with the analysis on violent crime by the Chicago Sun Times that I can find out if indeed the seven least-violent police districts of Chicago are indeed generally described as white and affluent. Are there any white, working-class districts? White, poor neighbourhoods? As there were during Prohibition times? If so, it would be good to check on the crime rates in those districts or areas. They could be by now multicultural or diverse parts of town in any case.

In the same sentence as “affluent white areas”, the piece describes “poor and minority neighbourhoods” Areas as opposed to neighbourhoods. Affluent white as opposed to poor and non-white. The impression given by this way of portraying violent America is that whites are cold and distant and lording it (at a fair distance) over the sincere yet downtrodden, humble, diverse neighbourhood folk where no white person lives. Is that the sum reality? Are not the affluent areas where affluent whites live really the most diverse parts of the city? Where the minorities are to be found, too? Maybe. Maybe not. I am ignorant. But it’s not as if never the twain shall meet. America is indeed not like other countries. And it continues to be the world’s magnet for all people who want to dream big.

I know it’s handy to compare one end of the spectrum with the other. And thus inevitably stark differences between white and black becomes obvious. Perhaps. But the whole tone of the article is one of permanent despair. Just read the last two sentences of the last paragraph. Moreover, the term ‘violence inequality’ is full of cynicism. Yes, inequality is tracked on things like income, wealth and health care because everybody aspires to have enough of those things. But hardly anybody aspires to have fairer violence. Perhaps in Canada they would call it public safety inequality or the unfair distribution of law and order. But what would a well-off and white, liberal-minded, vehemently anti-Trump resident of the magnificent seven safest “areas” of Chicago take from this piece? That he or she ought to check their white privilege?
It’s the grim subtext to everything: Americans must strive to do better! With the Dems running the country, striving is the only name of the game — there’s never anything accomplished yet that one can stand back and be proud of.
I don’t know for sure which base of Americans the author here is primarily appealing to with this otherwise still-informative piece.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

You should not question the narrative! All white people are affluent, because of their privilege. Pay no attention to the massive number of poor whites in America or to the fact that poor whites make up the largest segment of welfare recipients by far. Don’t venture into a Walmart store anywhere in America either, because that is where they seem to congregate.

Last edited 2 years ago by Warren T
Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren T

You especially should not question how those icky white deplorables in rural America are not seeing a massive, violent crime wave.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago

I was under the impression that ‘zero tolerance ‘ has been clearly proved to work – am I just plain wrong – or just old ??