Last week, a young man was shot to death in Greenville, N.C. A month before, a similar scene unfolded on a nearby block. Pops of small-caliber gunfire frequently punctuate the night, says the Christian Science Monitor. “The violent crime in Greenville is terrible, worse even than New York City,” says a local resident who formerly lived in the Bronx. Violent crime, once mainly the purview of big urban centers, is growing in many small and mid-size cities. As aggressive policing in places like Boston, New York, and Los Angeles helped dramatically lower the nation’s crime rate in the 1990s, towns like Springfield, Mass.; Victoria, Texas; and Hattiesburg, Miss.; are seeing a rise in murder, assaults, and other violent incidents.
Some analysts attribute the increase to criminal elements being shooed out of larger cities. Others say it’s the lack of good jobs and a culture of violence that has seeped into small-town America. “I think now we’re seeing some of the medium-sized and small cities in the U.S. play catch-up,” says criminologist Jack Levin of Northeastern University. “They never bothered to institute the reforms, policies, and programs that impacted violent crime, because … they felt immune from what they saw as big-city issues. Now they’re paying the price.” Preliminary FBI data say cities with 10,000 people or fewer saw a 15 percent increase in violent crimes from 2002 to 2003. “The murder rate in small-city America right now is astronomical,” says Jim Wyatt, a city councilor in Victoria, Tex. “It’s a small portion of the population involved in these activities, but they have a huge effect on how the community feels about itself.”