The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Columns

June 28, 2013

There’s nowhere to hide from our rising fear of criminals

When it comes to our fears of crime, there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

So what happened to the American Dream? Purses snatched from elderly women in shopping mall parking lots. Drug stores robbed in broad daylight. Violence in neighborhoods.

We must keep our eyes moving at all times, keep a hand on our pocketbook.

Crime affects everyone and everything.

Great civilizations have great cities, and great cities have their jungles, jungles of rape and robbery and murder, jungles of broken windows and bad nerves.

Americans know that. Crime is nothing new: Stage coach robbing and rum-running are as American as a Smith and Wesson.

Yet the fear of crime has reached new heights in America, even in small towns such as ours, where up until a few decades ago a murder, robbery or sexual assault would have been the exception, not the norm.

It’s uncomfortable to think about crime. It shocks us to realize that close underneath the veneer of civilization — the delicate, outer skin of our culture — criminals are laying siege on everyday lives. It’s uncomfortable to think we’re crawling back into a new dark age.

We blame it on the courts. We blame it on the movies and the music of our age. We blame it on the economy, the disintegrating American family, TV, the Hispanics, the blacks, the whites, the gangs, the drugs, the rock ’n’ roll, the kids.

We blame it on a government that has become soft on deadbeats and drug addicts and juvenile offenders and murderers and law breakers of all kinds. We demand the death penalty or life sentences. We demand law and order and stiffer sentencing. We buy handguns.

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The statistics are lurid and tricky, the stuff of both paranoia and sober consideration.

There are two widely recognized ways crime rates are computed nationally in the U.S. One is the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR), which measures the seven major crimes — murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, grand larceny and auto theft — by compiling the records of police departments across the country.

Crime rates in the last 50 years have more than doubled, in some cases reaching a staggering 6,000 major crimes per year per 100,000 citizens.

Some professionals prefer the other source of national statistics, the U.S. Justice Department’s “Victimization Studies.”

Surprisingly, according to some of the latest Justice figures, crime has held about steady during the last decade.

Still, according to scientifically controlled interviews with households across the country, the fear of crime seems to be running far ahead of actual figures. One study reports that one out of every three households in the U.S. was touched by some kind of criminal activity last year.

Rare is the person who does not personally know a victim of rape, robbery or assault at one time or another. Rare is the person who does not share his/her anger and fear.

Nationwide, it is estimated that a violent crime is perpetrated every 24 seconds, a woman is raped every six minutes, someone is robbed every 58 seconds and a life is lost to murder every 23 minutes. It’s something to think about, something to worry about.

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Most people see crime in our neighborhoods as a problem. Others, though, are beginning to see these criminal occurrences differently. They see opportunities for citizens to help the police by communicating, looking at our problems and working together intelligently.

Things have changed. We may never return to those decades when people left their doors unlocked at night. We may never trust hitchhikers or strangers the way our forebears did.

Now it’s up to all of us to effectively stem the rising fear and reality of crime. As the paranoia about crime increases, experts call for calm reassertion of communal values.

We can no longer afford to be indifferent; we can’t give up on society; we can’t get alienated. We can’t just throw up our hands, lock the door and look the other way. We must ask a little more of ourselves. We must be vigilant.

We must be willing to call the police and report anything that looks suspicious, anything that’s out of the ordinary, or anything that might lead to criminal behavior toward our neighbors.

We might even have to go back to pioneering days and the basics of self-preservation. We have to look out for each other a little bit more. After all, there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

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Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a reporter for The Register-Herald. E-mail: jabbb@suddenlink.net

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