The recently reported national increase in homicides last year shows that “Americans were lulled into complacency about violent crime” as crime totals have declined in recent years, criminologist David Kennedy of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice writes in the Washington Post. He says that two new factors have emerged: Some law enforcement tactics used to fight crime have damaged the social fabric in many communities and contributed to increased crime. More important, says Kennedy, has been the spread of a virulent thug ethos — an obsession with “respect” that has made killing a legitimate response to the most minor snubs and slights. Kennedy says, “This thug ethos is spreading.”
Kennedy notes that many jurisdictions made progress against crime only to lose ground shortly thereafter. Philadelphia peaked at 420 homicides in 1996, fell to 292 in 1999, and climbed back to 380 last year. Boston’s 1990s “miracle” ended abruptly as petty rivalries shattered the Ceasefire coalition, and killings increased from 31 in 1999 to 73 in 2005. Meanwhile, gang and drug problems were showing up in smaller cities and towns — another disturbing and largely unnoticed shift. Because serious crime is concentrated in poor black and Hispanic neighborhoods, some citywide statistics have always been meaningless when certain “neighborhoods are war zones,” Kennedy says. He advocates the federal government’s returning to its role as a real partner in conquering crime by providing funding and crafting effective approaches to key problems, such as drug markets, the methamphetamine epidemic, domestic violence, gangs, and prisoners’ reentry into their communities.