Mon 27 Nov 2006
Dr. G, being a criminologist, is a bona-fide expert on crime. He knows more than most people in the world about when, where, why and how crime happens in America. This is why I love to stand near him in gatherings when the subject of crime comes up. People almost always express a sense that society is getting worse and worse, that people in general are more selfish and violent, and property and children are less and less safe.
Every time, Dr. G kindly and reasonably steers the conversation away from impressions and back to reality. “Actually,” he says, “crime has been falling steadily since 1992. In fact, it is at its lowest rates since the early 1970′s.” America is as safe or safer now than it was when my parents graduated high school. My friends’ children live in greater safety than I did as a child, and the odds are strongly in their favor that they will grow up without ever being lured into a car or fed poisoned candy or shot on the school grounds. I expect to go through my whole life without my home being robbed. As far as crime is concerned, the situation keeps getting better and better.
Of course, government officials and media outlets have something to gain by creating a sense of danger and societal unraveling. They can win supporters and viewers that way. A few weeks ago, I was channel surfing and stopped on a local news update about a criminal who had tried to contact a potential victim through the Craiglist ride share board. The show indicated that, therefore, Craigslist is inherently dangerous. That’s ridiculous; thousands of people safely exchange goods and services via Craigslist every day. And yet these distortions and extrapolations are typical. Even straight news can lend an impression of doom, by the simple fact that the worst events are the most newsworthy. By sheer repetition we come to think that anomalies are the norm.
So in the froth of whipped up emotion and vague anxiety, I love it when Dr. G wades in to gently relieve people of their fear. It’s a great public service, to be the bearer of good news. To say, in effect: the social contract still holds. You can trust each other, you can look strangers in the eye and be unafraid.