Friday, May 24, 2024

On crime and gentrification…

January 21, 2010 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( It is easy to get the impression that America–and black communities in particular–are more violent than ever. We are regularly treated to gruesome crime stories on television news programs, and they often feature black perpetrators. When we are not watching the news, Law and Order, CSI, NCIS and other crime dramas fill our minds with murder and mayhem. When we go to the movies or play video games, the smorgasbord of crime and violence continues.

But contrary to popular perception, American crimes rates–including crime rates in black communities–are at historically low levels. What we see on television and movie screens is a very, very distorted picture of reality. Lori Dorfman of the Berkeley Media Studies Group finds [PDF] that the “news media report crime, especially violent crime, out of proportion to its actual occurrence.” Further, she adds, “the proportion of crime committed by people of color (usually African Americans) is over-reported.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has recently reported that its preliminary estimate for violent crime in 2009 was down 4.4 percent from 2008. The FBI data shows that violent crime rate has declined fairly steadily since 1991. Crime stories sell, so more and more companies–including news networks–are selling crime stories. But the increase in crime stories is not matched by a real increase in crime.

The FBI data is based on reports from participating law enforcement agencies. Not every crime is reported to the police however. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) is a better source for overall crime trends. This survey too shows a strong downward trend.

Examining NCVS violent crime data from 1973 to 2007, one sees that the peak year for violent crime among blacks was 1981–nearly three decades ago. The black violent crime victimization rate fluctuated from then until 1993. Since 1993, the violent crime rate in black communities has declined by 70 percent! White communities experienced a similar decline–68 percent.

Although on average white communities continue to be safer than black communities, many black communities today are safer than white communities were in the 1970s and 1980s. The violent crime victimization rate for blacks in 2007 was 10.3 per 1,000 persons. In the 1970s, the victimization rate for whites averaged 19.5 per 1,000 persons–nearly twice the 2007 black rate.

I believe that one consequence of the fact many black communities are much safer today than in the past is gentrification. The New York Times recently reported that blacks are no longer the majority in Harlem. Gentrification of black neighborhoods has occurred across the country. I’ve seen it in Brooklyn, in Chicago, in D.C. and have heard of it occurring in many other cities.

Written By Algernon Austin

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