James Comey laments our ‘peculiar indifference’ about rising murder rates

The director of the FBI is gaining a reputation for saying uncomfortable things which are generally left out of polite conversation in the media and among politicians. Whether he’s countering talking points from Hillary Clinton about her email server or wrestling with the Ferguson Effect, you can give the man credit for not being shy about controversial topics. He continued that pattern this week during some remarks he delivered in Alabama when he pointed out that a long running downward trend in murder and other violent crime has reversed in the past few years in the nation’s large cities. But it’s not just the numbers which have him worried… it’s the fact that the nation doesn’t seem to want to talk about them. (The Blaze)

FBI Director James Comey suggested Tuesday that Americans today display a “peculiar indifference” to the overwhelming violence and murder that has taken place in cities across the country.

“Something is happening in America” with “cities that have nothing in common with each other experiencing [an] uptick” in violence and crime, Comey said at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, a landmark of the civil rights movement…

The director indicted Americans for the widespread apathy shown toward what is happening in cities where “parents are afraid to let their kids play outside, where good education is an uphill battle and the street corners are becoming a war zone.”

“A whole lot more people are dying,” and “too many people” will continue to die in the years to come, Comey said. “We have to talk about it now.”

Comey’s math isn’t up for debate. While national crime rates continue to either fall or remain stable (far below the peak we saw in the late 80s and early 90s) the murder and mayhem in several of our large cities is spiking dramatically. 216 people have been murdered in Chicago already this year and more than 70 have died in Las Vegas. Baltimore finished up 2015 by setting a record of more than 340 murders and they’re on track to meet or exceed that grim benchmark again this year.

Comey doesn’t offer a reason as to why it’s taking place, preferring to simply say that we need to be talking about this and that it’s complicated. That much is true, but if we’re to have the discussion and find solutions it seems to me that we’re going to have to wrestle some uncomfortable facts to the ground first. Comey has put his finger on part of the problem by noting that the media expresses very little interest in the vast majority of murders which take place in the cities and there’s really very little mystery as to why. You may recall the complete radio silence across the national media when the third worst mass shooting of the year took place in Bunny Friend Park last fall. How did that merit so little attention?

The media does not like to talk about gang violence which is largely confined to minority perpetrators and victims.

The best way to get the government in motion when a problem needs to be addressed is to have the media raise public awareness and put pressure on them to invest the resources and manpower to get something done. And unlike so many other issues which occupy their time, law enforcement and public safety actually are the business of government. But as long as the media (and the public) are willing to pretend this isn’t happening there won’t be much attention paid by elected officials.

Why? Because there is an automatic, knee-jerk response to any discussion of gang violence which immediately focuses the conversation on race. If you point out these high crime rates, charges of racist motivations are immediately aired because the problems are taking place in neighborhoods which are predominantly inhabited by minorities. As soon as the race card is played the conversation essentially shuts down. But as I’ve discussed here before, this isn’t really a race based issue. There are many rural areas around the country which I’ve visited where the per capita crime rates are nearly as high as in the inner cities and both the victims and perpetrators are almost exclusively white. We see the same types of chronic, generational decay with drug use (frequently meth rather than cocaine), alcohol abuse, depression, robbery and assault plaguing the community. But because the raw numbers are so low by comparison they don’t draw the same headlines that might be generated in the cities.

These are not inherent problems which are based on anyone’s skin color, but on the long term failure of municipal governments to address core problems. You’re never going to eliminate these deeply rooted centers of depression and the crime that comes with them by beating on the problem from the top down. Policies which provide opportunity for individual achievement and prosperity are the only way to combat the downward spiral in the slums and meth factory centers around the country. But that would mean a change of leadership and abandoning the same old policies which have done nothing to lift people up out of poverty and despair for decades. I remain skeptical that the will to enact such change is on the horizon any time soon.


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