Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute of Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.
Surge of Violent Crime Comes at the Same Time as a Decline in Family Life
The surge in violent crime that began in 2005 accelerated in the first half of 2006, the FBI reported in December, providing the clearest signal yet that the historic drop in the U.S. rate had ended and is being reversed.
Reports of homicides, assaults, and other violent offenses surged by nearly 4 percent in the first six months of 2006 compared with the same period in 2005, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. The numbers included an increase of nearly 10 percent for robberies, which many criminologists consider a leading indicator of coming trends. The results follow a 2.5 percent jump in violent crime for 2005, which at the time represented the largest increase in 15 years.
Homicides increased 20 percent or more in cities including Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Hartford, Memphis, and Orlando. Robberies went up more than 30 percent in places including Detroit, Fort Wayne, and Milwaukee. Aggravated assaults with guns were up more than 30 percent in cities like Boston, Sacramento, St. Louis, and Rochester. In fact, 71 percent of the cities surveyed had an increase in homicides, 80 percent had an increase in robberies, and 67 percent reported an increase in aggravated assaults with guns.
According to criminal justice experts, many communities, particularly those in urbanized areas, may be headed into a period of sustained crime increases. David A. Harris, a law professor who studies crime trends at the University of Toledo, says:
This confirms what law enforcement has been seeing and saying on a more anecdotal level: that crime is on the way up. While it is still too early to be sure, you've certainly got things pointing in one direction.
Police officials say that arguments that 20 years ago would have led to fistfights now lead to guns. "There's really no rhyme or reason with these homicides," said Edward Davis, the police commissioner in Boston.
An incident will occur involving disrespect, a fight over a girl. Then there's a retaliation aspect where if someone shoots someone else, their friends will come back and shoot at the people who did it.
Chris Magnus, the police chief in Richmond, California, north of San Francisco, said he would often go to the scene of a crime and discover that 30 to 75 rounds had been fired. "It speaks to the level of anger, the indiscriminate nature of the violence," he said.
I go to meetings, and start talking to some of the people in the neighborhoods about who's been a victim of violence, and people can start reciting: "One of my sons was killed, one of my nephews. . . . It's hard to find people who haven't been touched by this kind of violence.
These numbers come amid heightened criticism of the federal government from many police chiefs and state law enforcement officials who complain that the federal government has retreated from fighting traditional crime in favor of combating terrorism and protecting homeland security. Justice Department officials dispute those contentions and point to an ongoing study designed to identify solutions to the rise in violent crime.
The Justice Department inspector general's office has reported sharp declines in the number of FBI agents and investigators dedicated to traditional crime since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In addition, the International Association of Chiefs of Police says that law enforcement programs at the Justice Department have been cut by more than $2 billion since 2002 and that overall funding for such programs has been reduced to levels of a decade ago.
James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston who has been critical of the Bush administration's crime-fighting strategies, said the overall rise in violent crime should be expected given dramatic cuts in assistance to local police and simultaneous increases in the population of males in their teens and 20s. He said:
We have many high-crime areas where gangs have made a comeback, where police resources are down, and where whatever resources there have been have shifted to anti-terrorism activity.
Justice Department officials have repeatedly rejected such criticism, arguing that the causes and trajectory of crime increase is still unclear. Still, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has launched a series of anti-drug and anti-gang initiatives at Justice, and he acknowledged at a crime conference in Boston in December that local police are struggling with "increased responsibilities" since Sept. 11, 2001.
One factor in increasing crime rates may well be the decline of traditional family life, particularly in inner city urban neighborhoods. Married couples with children now occupy fewer than one in every four households--a share that has been cut in half since 1960 and is the lowest ever recorded by the census. As marriage with children becomes an exception rather than the norm, social scientists say it is also becoming the self-selected province of the college-educated and the affluent. Isabel V. Sawhill, an expert on marriage and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution said:
The culture is shifting, and marriage has almost become a luxury item, one that only the well-educated and well-paid are interested in.
Out-of-wedlock births exceeded 1.5 million in 2005 for the first time ever, representing 36.8 percent of all births in the U.S. Among non-Hispanic blacks, the out-of-wedlock birth rate reached a staggering 69.5 percent. For non-Hispanic whites, it reached a new milestone, exceeding 25 percent. The illegitimacy rate for Hispanics reached 47.9 percent. The rise in unwed births is "disastrous, about as big a leap as we've ever had," said Robert Rector, welfare analyst at the Heritage Foundation. He noted that unwed birth figures leveled off and seemed to stabilize for a time after Congress passed welfare reform in 1996. However recent increases in these numbers "clearly show that the impact of welfare reform is now virtually zero, and we are going back to the way things were before welfare reform."
The percentage of children in households with two parents continues to fall. The National Marriage Project's "State of Our Unions 2006" shows that children in two-parent households have dropped to 67 percent. In minority communities, the majority of children live in one-parent households. There is, it seems clear, a correlation between the decline in family life and the rise in crime. By 2004, federal data showed that black Americans--13 percent of the population--accounted for 37 percent of the violent crimes, 54 percent of arrests for robbery, and 51 percent of murders. Most of the victims of these violent criminals were their fellow black Americans.
In an article in Philadelphia Magazine (November 2006), reporter Gregory Gilderman rode along with police officer Dennis Stephens in crime-ridden North Philadelphia's 22nd district. Gilderman writes:
Everything you need to know about Philadelphia's current murder wave-the out-of-control nature of it, the futility of our response to it--may be encapsulated in this fact: within 24 hours of Mayor Street's emergency televised address last July about the city's surging homicide rate, in which he urged the city's youth to put down their guns, five murders were committed. . . . It's been that kind of year in Philadelphia.
According to Gilderman:
One thing that makes fighting crime difficult in North Philadelphia, as well as in the nation's other inner cities, is the hostility felt toward the police and the lack of citizen cooperation. This is one of the more demoralizing aspects of policing this city: the culture of the street hates the cops. Never mind that most of the officers are African-American, and that more than a few of them grew up in this neighborhood. Perfectly law-abiding teenagers wear "STOP SNITCHIN" t-shirts, cops are taunted for being sellouts or "trying to be white," and witnesses and victims won't talk at crime scenes, let alone show up at court. Because of this, a vast swath of the criminal element-muggers, rapists, even murderers, see charges dropped or reduced to the one crime for which a police officer's testimony alone just might provide leverage for plea-bargained prison time: possession of a firearm. This is especially frustrating for veteran officers. A dangerous police district is like a small town: Very few new faces show up, and the same career criminals are arrested over and over. They are returned to the street over and over.
Professor Pamela Smock of the University of Michigan, co-author of the recent review of patterns of marriage, points out that class is a better tool than race for predicting whether Americans marry. "The poor aren't entering into marriage very much at all," said Smock. She reports that young people from these backgrounds often do not think they can afford marriage. Arguments that marriage can mean stability do not seem to change their attitudes, she said, noting that many of them have parents with troubled marriages.
To reverse the latest trends in crime we must not only consider the role of law enforcement agencies but the culture out of which such crime emerges. One key element, particularly in minority communities, is the breakdown of the family and the increasing out-of-wedlock birth rate. Unless current trends are reversed, our increase in crime is likely to continue.
The Imus Case Should Focus Attention on the Coarsening of Our Culture
Bowing to a national outcry and internal protest, CBS Radio decided to end Don Imus' morning program after he called the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos."
The Imus case reflects the coarsening of American culture that is all around us. It reflects as well an extraordinary level of hypocrisy, both on the part of CBS and such black spokesmen as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
Columnist Jay Ambrose provided this assessment:
The president of CBS has explained that he fired Don Imus because of how "deeply upset and repulsed" the network has been by the vile, on-air statements of the radio host about a group of fine young women, and you will excuse me while I roll on the floor laughing at the hypocrisy. . . . Don Imus has been saying mean, bigoted things about women, gays, Jews, blacks and others for years now, and CBS didn't give a hoot. Neither did advertisers or guests. The advertisers were getting a good return on their investment. CBS was pulling in an estimated $20 million a year in revenue and the guests were having their names, causes, and agendas promoted in front of 10 million listeners. Imus' latest words . . . are not newly offensive. It is not as if he had previously been Mr. Decorum. . . . He has long been a tasteless shock jock engaged in mass nastiness for the sake of attracting mass audiences, and he has been abetted by advertisers, networks and dozens of radio stations for the very simple reason that it meant money in the bank.
What changed, argues Ambrose, is not that the Imus content:
. . . led a conscience-stricken CBS to contemplate "the effect language like this has on our young people," in words of the CBS president, but that the comment began to get lots of attention, public anger began to grow, lots of people began to complain-and sponsors saw that their Imus ads could do them more harm than good. A show without advertisers is not what keeps network executives employed or gets them bonuses.
Washington Post columnist David Broder noted that:
CBS Radio and MSNBC fired the millionaire talk-show host only after criticism of his foul-mouthed assault on the Rutger's women's basketball team mounted and advertisers canceled their contracts. It showed no courage on the part of those organizations, which have put up with similar slurs for years and counted themselves lucky to have such a moneymaking act in their stable.
The hypocrisy, however, does not end with CBS and MSNBC. Among the loudest critics of Don Imus were Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. It was Al Sharpton's radio program that Imus chose as the place to extend his apologies for his remarks. Yet, Sharpton, Jackson, and too many other black leaders seem offended by racist and sexist remarks only when they come from white spokesmen. When they emanate from blacks, silence has been their response.
Rap and hip-hop music, promoted by black radio stations around the country, repeatedly describes black women in a manner as offensive, if not more so, than that used by Don Imus. Women are degraded as "whores" and "bitches." Violence, murder, and self-hatred are marketed as true blackness-authentic black identity.
It is rare indeed to hear criticism of this music. Comedian Bill Cosby, speaking to a Milwaukee audience about rap music, asked how many of the women in the audience considered themselves "bitches and hos." When no one raised a hand, Cosby asked, "If you're not a bitch or a ho, why do you dance to that music?" Cosby said that the result is rap filling radio and television with distorted images of black people that have nothing to do with a history of self-determination and pride:
In order for hip-hop, with all that misogyny and gangster violence and "don't study" to exist, you've got to know nothing about history, struggle, what it takes to get ahead.
In his book Enough, the respected black journalist Juan Williams writes that:
The consequence of black leaders failing to speak out against the corruption of rap . . . resulted in real damage to the most vulnerable of black America: poor children, boys and girls, often from broken homes. As a group, they were desperately searching for black pride in the sea of images being thrown at them on TV, on the radio, on the Internet, and in advertising. What those children found was a larger-than-life rapper who was materialistic, sexist, and violent, and used the word nigger as a casual description of all black people. It was a musical minstrel show that would have been a familiar delight to 19th century slave owners. In fact, there are similarities between the economics of slavery and the modern rap industry. Cheap labor, slaves, made it possible for the Southern plantation to make money. All that was required was silent assent to a hellish compromise with the obvious immorality of slavery by the politicians, the religious leaders, the bankers, and the newspaper editors. Cosby is particularly critical of The New York Times for a "liberal, patronizing attitude" toward black culture in which they promote hip-hop to show "they are so cool" but fail to write about its negative impact on the black community.
Occasionally, black critics of rap and hip-hop have emerged. One of the most outspoken was the late C. Delores Tucker, who crusaded for a decade against "gangster rap" pollution, including buying stock in major record companies in order to protest at stockholders meetings. Students at Spelman College, an historically black women's liberal arts college, forced the rapper Nelly to cancel a charity fund-raising visit to the school a few years ago in protest over one of his sexist music videos. Dr. William Banfield, head of the American Cultural Studies program at the University of St. Thomas, said of rappers:
They are the biggest sellouts of all time because they allow the white media structure to lessen the potential of a balanced picture of black people in contemporary American cultural projection.
Harry Belafonte, the singer, said much the same when he described rappers as "caught in a trick bag because it's a way to make unconscionable sums of money and a way to absent yourself from any sense of moral responsibility."
These, sadly, are isolated voices. The black churches have been largely silent, as have the major civil rights organizations, and the Congressional Black Caucus. Critics such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, eager to pounce on Don Imus, who, needless to say, has earned the criticism he has received, are indifferent to the racism and sexism of black rappers and show business personalities.
Journalist Michelle Malkin posted on her web site several videos from artists currently on the Billboard Hot Rap Tracks chart, including Mims, R. Kelly, and Bow Wow. Language resembling that used by Don Imus figured in each clip, prompting Malkin to ask whether Imus critics such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are "truly committed to cleaning up cultural pollution that demeans women and perpetuates racial epithets."
For Cynthia Neal Spence, an associate professor of sociology at Spelman College, the Imus controversy has been a teachable moment. "My students have been so hurt by all of this--and particularly their own role in it," she says.
Professor Spence was hardly shocked to learn that all of her female students recall having been called by the same noun that Mr. Imus used. What surprised her is that many of them acknowledged having themselves used the word. She said:
There's been a desensitization process that's had a profound effect on our choices of language, especially for our young people, who are so influenced by media culture. . . . These young people are growing up in a generation where everything goes.
The "shock jocks" and the rappers and hip-hop artists are hardly alone. Hollywood, television networks, and other media outlets have long provided Americans with a steady diet of sex and violence. Our culture has become increasingly coarsened, to the detriment of all of us. In this sense, Don Imus has ignited a useful national debate. It is time for the leaders of the black community to enter that debate and use the same standard in assessing the lyrics of rap and hip-hop songs as they do the words of white "shock jocks." And it is time for all of us to speak out against the coarse language, racism, sexism, promotion of promiscuity and drug use that, all too often, is to be found in the media. We must ask ourselves what kind of society we want to live in. We have received many wake-up calls but, thus far, have failed to take heed. *
"There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily" --George Washington