Key to Reducing the Murder Rate

A criminal justice professor in Chicago has hit on a key factor to reduce the murder rate: provide affordable housing:

A study of the city's murder rate shows an unlikely factor at the heart of the violence. Chicago's rate is three times that of New York not because of policing, but because of a lack of good, affordable housing.

Here's some of what John M. Hagedorn, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Illinois-Chicago and a senior research fellow at the Great Cities Institute, has to say:

I'm in the midst of a two-year study, funded by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, to investigate why Chicago's homicide rate hasn't fallen like New York City's. While we are still collecting data, Mayor Richard Daley's recent call for ideas to stop the violence has convinced me to join the discussion now.

Hagerdorn doesn't buy that policing styles make the difference since murder rates have also dropped in Boston, Houston, San Francisco and San Diego, without a Rudy Giuliani or Bill Bratton. He notes that violence "is generally high in cities and areas that have undergone severe disruption of daily life."

In Eastern Europe. Albania, for example, according to the World Bank, has very high rates of violence, and a quarter of all of its young men are working in the drug trade. Wherever there are cities with desperate conditions and high rates of violence, as in Kingston, Jamaica, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, or Bombay, we also find groups of armed young men. Whether they are paramilitaries, drug cartels, death squads, militant fundamentalists or gangs, these groups are a major obstacle to stopping the cycle of violence.

It is also apparent that where class differences within dominant groups is the main source of conflict, violence is usually sporadic and muted. High rates of persisting violence are almost always related to ethnic, racial or religious conflict.

The wide variation in rates of violence within ethnic groups debunks any notion that African-Americans, or Irish, or Hispanics are violence prone. Violence is a property of social structure, not people. (emphasis supplied)

Turning to Chicago, Hagerdorn says,

Mayor Richard M. Daley has been busy tearing down his father's housing projects. High-rise public housing was built to keep the black community segregated, and this policy played no small role in hiking Chicago's murder rate between 1960 and 1990. Now the projects are coming down, and thousands of public-housing tenants are being displaced into all-black areas farther south and west. Displacement means new, not always friendly, surroundings; children negotiating new schools; and a loss of established networks of friends, jobs and support. For gangs, displacement often means violent attempts to take over drug markets in a new turf. Chicago's uprooting of thousands of black people has no parallel in New York City.

Hagerdorn points out that when New York invested $1 billion in affordable housing in the South Bronx, the murder rate went down.

Investment in housing means that residents have a stake in the neighborhood and more of them will work to keep it safe and clean. Drug use does not go away, but trafficking is driven out of sight and avoids violence. Broken windows are fixed, and the neighborhood can improve without becoming gentrified.

Hagerdorn concludes that "the failure of Chicago to invest in housing and its de facto policy of displacement of African-Americans [have] have contributed to Chicago's high homicide rate." He says the broken-window style of policing, which includes "community policing, more arrests for minor offenses, gang-loitering ordinances, or saturation patrols" won't make much difference in Chicago.

The data Hagerdorn used to support his theory is available here.

< Susan Atkins: I'm a Political Prisoner | Kids to be Fingerprinted in Lunch Lines >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort: