Thursday, November 29, 2007

Crime Rates and News Reporting

Checking the news feeds Thursday morning, I saw this lovely little piece of reporting. Way to be informative, ABC7. The babbling heads on the local news are all talking up the fact that DC's murder rate just exceeded last year with slightly more than a month to go. Hey, that's fucking brilliant! Let's all have a race to see who can score kill number 200!

Been there, done that. The gangbangers did that in Oakland in 2002. The local news at the time started freaking out about the murder numbers exceeding the previous year in October and shrieking that if the trend continues, Oakland would hit 100 murders before the year was over. They seemed to be feasting off this like it was the damn crime Olympics. The morning the toll was at 99, the news went into full panic mode, wetting their pants and gnashing their teeth about who would be number 100. This was no help to the situation and at least two people were killed that night when an unknown number of maniacs started firing on anyone they could see. If I remember correctly, a grandmother sitting in her living room was killed by gunfire from the street. The lunatics probably fired on the window because a light was on inside the house.

In the years before 2002, the murder rate was dropping in Oakland. "Although 2001 marked the fourth straight year fewer than 100 people were slain..." but people were still scared and with good reason. I don't want to sound callous, but shouldn't the news be trying to aid police in lowering the crime rate by emphasizing the positive? I recall hearing about the suicide rates in the Paris subway system being tied to the amount and possibly the type of news coverage about the suicides by train. Google has plenty for the inquisitive mind. The fact that Oakland in 2002 had been trucking along at an average pace of about 1 murder every four days and then managed to rack up 20 some in the last 60 days is significant. Every night of November and December, the news seemed to dwell heavily on the number killed and the victims' families. It was the worst reality show ever, except I couldn't get the producers to cancel the rest of the season.

I see the same thing happening in DC now. Last night, I caught about 30 seconds of the NBC news after Life and was disgusted to see the same sort of coverage as Oakland in 2002. The newscasters had their sad faces on but they still seemed so eager, like sharks following a trail of wisping blood in the water. "OMG! Will we reach 200 murders this year? *WINKS INTO CAMERA* Up next a report on police strategies, but FIRST! let's review today's sad news about last night's victims!" It feels like Damon Killian is announcing the news.

Walking home at night from the West Oakland BART station, I wasn't particularly worried myself because I didn't think it would happen to me since that area was pretty empty at that time of night. My brother had a loft in a stone building and his couches were below the angle by which anyone on the street with a handgun was able to shoot. This was not by his design but a combination of the futons he had and the fact that it was the third floor of a converted warehouse with 20 foot ceilings on each floor. The first week I was there, some jackass fired a 9 millimeter on the street outside the building. My brother said it was the first time he had heard gunfire but then he never spent any time in the Congo during the start of the African World War.*

The news media are obviously not to blame for the actual murders since they are not killing anyone but creating or enhancing this hysteria, while also enabling the murderous bastards to view their handiwork at every opportunity, is only exacerbating the problems we have in urban America. I would love to see the crime rate drop but it is my opinion that will only happen when we have people in charge who are willing to spend a much more significant portion of the Federal, State and City budgets on improving and expanding education.

UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism piece about crime initiative
Some statistics generated from government data sources
FBI crime statistics raw data

*This sentence makes me sound a little more hard core than I am. I was spending summer vacation with my parents, not some war correspondent or diplomat or anything. The mortars and gunfire scared the piss out of me.


Davicker Civwohl said...

Is the media really the problem or is it the public education system that is failing? Who wants to be in school anymore? For many the fun comes from getting loaded on smack or meth and going as absolutely nutty as one can imagine. There is angst in the air, constantly. We need to spend money on getting kids to read early on. Then prepare middle school kids for the real world with a day of classes and apprenticeship opportunities. Then head back to the classroom for high school and college prep if kids want to go that way. There is just too little success these days. Now Detroit looks to be going down a road of continue dispair. How will those kids cope?

mdhatter said...

Well said.

Almost too bad I don't watch the news, I gave it (and cable TV) up last year. When I do catch the news, because of my geographic location, I get both the Boston and Providence RI affiliates of every conceivable network.

'06 Cookie Queen said...

Have you started baking yet???

Chuckles said...

Addressing the style and type of crime coverage in the media can help change trends in the short term, or at least not exacerbate the situation. Increasing the education system's success and the opportunities available to students will lower crime rates in the long term. Psychopaths and sociopaths will still exist, but they can be treated if identified early enough.