America is clearly at a crossroads. The picture painted of the United States during Donald Trump’s inaugural speech was a dire one:
Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
Holy shit! That sounds horrible!
No wonder he wants to build that wall. We’ve got to stop all that crazy crime that is tearing our country apart! The situation sounds worse than ever! America is like a war zone!
Yeah, but the thing is, it’s not. I’ve touched on this subject before, so indulge me if I cover some of the same territory. Trump talks a lot about crime. It was a repeated theme throughout his campaign and continues to be now. To listen to him, we are all in constant danger of being murdered by a criminal of blown up by a terrorist at any moment. The problem is, he doesn’t just exaggerate the state of crime in America today, he outright lies about it. Just a couple of days ago, he claimed the murder rate is at its highest point in 47 years. That is so absurdly wrong he should have been laughed out of the room. Either he lies about this stuff to manipulate people or he simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about and just spews whatever comes into his head. Either should be of concern. (And for what it’s worth, the new attorney general also spins falsehoods about crime in America.)
Here’s the thing about crime in the United States right now: Despite Newt Gingrich saying that feelings are what defines reality …
… (ugh) we’re safer than we’ve ever been.
With the exception of a few outlier communities that are facing difficult times — Chicago is the most oft mentioned right now, and yes, that city is seeing rough times (though murder rates are still lower than they’ve been since 1997) — we live in a time with near historic lows in crime rates. The national violent crime rate has dropped by 51 percent since 1991. In 2013, we had the lowest national crime rate since 1970. Crime has been trending down since the early 1990s and continues to decline.
For example, in 1993, there were 79.8 violent crimes per 1,000 people in the U.S. By 2014, that had fallen to 20.1. Some measurements show certain crimes happening at rates comparable to the mid-1950s. In 2011, The New York Times noted, “The odds of being murdered or robbed are now less than half of what they were in the early 1990s, when violent crime peaked in the United States.”
According to former Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates, “We have witnessed a remarkable drop in crime since the 1980’s — both violent crime and crime overall. Entire cities have been transformed, unlocking tremendous potential and releasing a wave of prosperity.”
But that can’t be right, can it? We heard Trump talk about this all the last year. He even tweeted horrific crime statistics. We’re being ravaged by criminals! Take a look at what your friends are sharing on Facebook and you see one horrible crime after another! The news is FILLED with this stuff, far more than we can ever remember seeing!
Perception is funny that way.
You may think the world is a more dangerous place, but that’s largely because an explosion in news sources, the 24-hour news cycle, and social media being in our pocket every second of the day makes you more aware of crime incidents than at any other time in human history. (The pulpit pounding of demagogues doesn’t help.) Literally, at no point in all of human history have you ever been more connected to news from all over the world than you are today. As the saying goes, “if it bleeds, it leads,” and thanks to media overload, you’re directly exposed to more (sensational, shallow) news than any other generation ever.
But being more AWARE of crime than in the past doesn’t mean there is actually more crime, it simply means that you’re better informed. That’s obviously a double-edged sword.
Too many Americans can’t seem to understand this, succumbing to the feelings over facts Gingrich embraces above. Repeated Gallop polls consistently show that most Americans think crime is on the rise, despite every indication that the opposite is true, even in most major cities.
Our president has taken great advantage of this, preying on your fear and assigning it to boogeyman outsiders, usually brown ones, even though illegal immigrants actually pose less danger than your fellow citizens. According to the Pew Research Center, “The crime rate among first-generation immigrants — those who came to this country from somewhere else — is significantly lower than the overall crime rate and that of the second generation.” A study by the University of Massachusetts says, “Foreign-born individuals exhibit remarkably low levels of involvement in crime across their life course.”
In fact, a slew of studies all come to the same conclusion: Trump is wrong about immigrants and crime.
Yes, there will be hot-button cases of some illegal committing a horrible deed. Yes, it will be thrown in your face to manipulate you, too. Yes, it will spread like wildfire on social media, yes, your dopey cousin will share those stories with a pithy but largely uninformed comment, and yes, that will make it seem like there is a plague of illegal immigrants committing horrible crimes. This WILL happen. People WILL cherry-pick. it’s inevitable.
But if you prefer facts over feelings and real data over Facebook memes, you’ll realize that immigrant incarceration rates are actually relatively low, there is no crime wave sweeping the nation, immigrant-driven or otherwise, and you’ve been manipulated with lies.
So that’s swell.
Back to the Wall. As we’ve now seen over the last few days, you are paying for the wall, it won’t stem the tide of immigrants, those immigrants aren’t sucking you dry, and they’re not at the center of a horrific crime wave.
Basically, if you still support the idea after actually looking at all the data, it’s time to question what is actually motivating you.