G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.
Liberal blogger Matt Yglesias was the victim of Knock Out Game – a random act of violence which occurred on Saturday in Washington D.C. He was accosted by “a couple of dudes” – punched and kicked without robbery. If his recounting of the incident was anything like the beating itself, Yglesias took his lumps, rolled over, and immediately began pondering the effect of urban density on the prevalence of crime. He wrote:
To offer a policy observation, higher density helps reduce street crime in an urban environment in two ways. One is that in a higher density city, any given street is less likely to be empty of passersby at any given time. The other is that if a given patch of land has more citizens, that means it can also support a larger base of police officers. And for policing efficacy both the ratio of cops to citzens and of cops to land matters. Therefore, all else being equal a denser city will be a better policed city.
Yglesias had probably mentally prepared his blog post on the subject before finding his glasses and cleaning them off. I hope he at least cussed once out of anger.
I’ll second Steve Sailer’s thoughts (though I have been the victim of street violence at the hands and feet of four black youth):
Beyond physical injuries, well, I’ve never been the victim of street violence, but judging from the psychological trauma I’ve felt merely from being the victim of burglars — the reminder of one’s own insecurity, the insult to one’s self-respect — that aspect of crime shouldn’t be overlooked. And being punched and kicked by strangers is far worse.
The problem as it relates to random acts of violence is that it is a particularly nefarious tax on the society and the economy – like leg weights on a jogger. Not only do people not go out – decreasing the velocity of the economy – but they contribute less to social capital that helps a neighborhood, a city, and a culture thrive. The unseen effects of these types of crimes have not been fully teased out. It is viewed as just a one-off social interaction, but the negative externalities are rarely considered. But we all know liberals are externality-averse. Yglesias should be commended for getting back on the horse and sloughing off his attack as ‘no biggie’, but the knock-on effects of a critical mass of people who’ve been targeted by random crime should not be ignored.
Another issue is that petty crimes like these – usually perpetuated by teenagers – are the ultimate gateway towards the upper echelons of criminal behavior. Once a youth normalizes random violence, they start packing heat, using weapons, sending people to hospitals or morgues. Again, we cut the issue short by just looking at this as one isolated incident that doesn’t spill over to the future.
And then there’s the race component. Washington D.C., where Yglesias lives, is 52% black. The area of town Yglesias was traversing is 76% black. When Eric Holder called us a “nation of cowards” in matters of race relations, conservatives became angry. The anger was misplaced as it is mostly liberals and progressives who adopt an “issue that shall not be named” tail-tuck mentality to anything but the most rosy picture of black Americans’ behavior (by the way, Yglesias is willing to point out group differences; he mentioned that he was attacked by “dudes”).
Why is it important to focus on the blackness of the perpetrators? I think this is because the only thing that society and culture can do about this problem – besides more stringent criminal punishment – is to realize that the values supported and promoted by the so-called black community are not working. Besides Yglesias, anytime you hear a story of a group of young men randomly attacking other people, the perps are always black while the victims are of another race. This has been dubbed “Polar Bear Hunting” or playing “The Knock Out Game” – an incidence of which left an elderly Asian man dead in St. Louis last month.
Black youth, identifying with the legacy of Malcolm and dancing to the beat of rap music’s bass, have been instilled with messages that they are downtrodden which helps them justify targeting other races or terrorizing society in general. It is only blacks who are allowed this victim mentality which compels them to lash out towards others. In short, it is important to break the black group identity mentality because it only creates negative outcomes.
So if this were just an issue of the poor or the uneducated engaging in criminal behavior that would be one (still egregious) issue, but we have this added racial component that is the result of, frankly, people like Matt Yglesias. Guys who advocate a blanket policy of incentivizing more dense cities regardless of their new demographic makeup. To get to the heart of this matter, I’d love to ask Yglesias which groups he’d like to be packed further into his city’s core.
As for Yglesias’ post-beatdown epiphany above, he thinks that policies to increase population density would be wise. Logic goes that more people around creates more eye witnesses. Others have questioned the logic of this so I decided to look at some numbers. Here is a graph of three categories of crime (forcible rape, aggravated assault with a firearm, and aggravated assault with feet, hands, etc.) across various city sizes obtained by the FBI’s 2009 Uniform Crime Reports survey of reported crimes.
Interestingly, violent crime rates (forcible rape and aggravated assault with a firearm) are lower in the largest of the large cities. This indicates that Yglesias may be on to something, assuming that population density is increasing along with absolute population numbers. However, the largest burghs are still relatively more crime-infested than cities and towns with less than 250,000 residents. The benefits of a closely-knit community come into play at these levels. This speaks against Yglesias’ general hypothesis.
A quick thought on why the biggest cities have lower violent crime rates than the two cohorts directly below them. First, the 1,000,000+ group includes New York City which makes up about 40% of the total population of all people who live in these megacities. NYC has devoted a lot of resources to fighting crime; they are famously well-known for their crime prevention measures over the past two decades. A better analysis would consider police spending and the number of police officers patrolling each cohort. A second explanation for this violent crime dip is that really big cities may overcompensate for their perception as large crime hubs – overcompensate in the sense that they pack more cops and funds per capita than smaller cities without the same stigma.
What is most interesting about the FBI data, especially when looking at the type of crime committed against Yglesias, is that the rates of aggravated assault using just fists, feet, etc. actually increases as city population (and presumably population density) decrease. A couple theories on this one. First, getting punched or kicked is considered ancillary to living in a big city. Yglesias doesn’t indicate that he reported his beating to the police. A corollary to that point is that lighter aggravated assault is considered by more people to be an actionable crime in smaller cities and rural areas. There is the impression that something can be done after a beatdown in a small town than one in a sprawling metropolis. Second, it is possible that big city dwellers tradeoff feet and fists for firearms and other weapons. The rate of firearm assault in the largest cities is four times the rate in the smallest towns whereas light aggravated assault is twice as prevalent in the smallest towns than the biggest cities.
Yglesias hypothesizes that perhaps we should incentivize population density, but why not just pay for more cops on the streets or a better system of policing? This brings up the question, if crime can be seen as an incubator of poverty which thereby creates poor outcomes in education – making for lower marginal returns to education – why not siphon off money from the education budget towards beefing up the police force?
Somehow, that’s probably racist.