Friday, May 30, 2008

If It Bleeds, It Leads

"The papers said, These are the worst of times. I do believe it's true. When people lock their doors, and hide inside. Rumor has it it's the end of Paradise" ~ Dennis DeYoung

Millions of people across this country lock all the locks on all the doors and windows in their houses. Even if they are home. Not just when they go to sleep or when they are gone. All the time. I think this is excessive, and sometimes I think, "You know--if the house ever catches fire, you could burn to death trying to unlock all these locks in your panic to get out."

It's not obsessive or overly paranoid. It is cautious. There is nothing wrong with being cautious. It's always better to be safe than sorry.

I will admit to having more of a fear of fire than an act of random violence.

However, I have been thinking about the odds of any type of violent crime ever happening to us.

I think the chances of our family being a victim of some random violent crime are almost nil. I think the chances of anyone being a victim of a violent crime anytime in their lifetime to be very minimal at the most.

Of course, there are locations throughout our country in which the chances are greater, but on the average, I believe violent crime is no where near as prevalent as we are led to believe.

And who leads us to believe we are living on borrowed time?

Well, of course, the media does. The newspapers and television newscasts and radio news and magazines all tell us horror stories about violent crimes that happen on a daily basis. We cannot open a newspaper without seeing, on the front page and above the fold, as they say, some story about a murder or a rape or horrendous battery, usually right in our city or county. Violent crimes most often are the lead story in any given newscast.

Fictional movies and television shows exaggerate the problem. Oftentimes sensational movies and television shows re-create, for the viewers amusement, true stories of real crimes perpetrated on innocent victims. They are usually very liberal with their "poetic license", and we as a people react with the grim realization that "It could happen here." In fact, often the movie trailers intone those very ominous words.

"Be afraid. Be very afraid, This could happen to you."

Movies and television shows are part of the formidable beast we call media in this country.

It has the impact it is intended. It scares us into locking our doors, and keeping an eye out for anything suspicious.

The media has helped to create a climate of fear in this country. The media and actual random acts of violence.

But really. How often do violent crimes really happen randomly to innocent people? Do we really need to be so afraid? I am 56 years old. When I was about 17, I was unsuspectingly attacked by a neighborhood tough just because he thought I would be easy to beat up. He tried, but he just wasn't as tough as he wanted everyone to think he was. That was the first and last time I have ever been the victim of a violent crime. But it wasn't random, and it wasn't violent enough to count as a violent crime. I mean, I wasn't even injured. Not even an abrasion. So, even if we count that incident as a random violent crime, one incident in fifty-six years doesn't make a dent in crime statistics.

I've been in fights as a teen, (and I never lost one, I might add) but schoolyard fights don't count as a random violent crime statistic, either.

So, let's expand our sampling, shall we?

The most recent study I have found came from 2004 and states, "In 2004 America's crime rate is roughly the same as in 1970, with the homicide rate being at its lowest level since 1965. Overall, the national crime rate was 3982 crimes per 100,000 residents..."

Note that this study includes random violent crimes perpetrated on innocent victims not known by the perpetrator along with non-random crimes committed by family members, friends and known enemies of the victims. Also note that this particular study doesn't differentiate between random violent crimes and run-of-the-mill everyday non-violent crimes. It simply refers to all crime.

But let's analyze these statistics and see if we are all indeed in imminent danger of being randomly, viciously attacked.

3982 crimes per 100,000 residents is approximately 3.98 % of the entire population of the United States. Go ahead and round it off to 4% to make it easier. Now remember, that this is a sampling that includes all crimes, you know, like shoplifting, drug possession, extortion, all types of white collar crimes, etc.

And that also includes crimes committed by people the victim knows, with a specific motive. Crimes that cannot be classified as random, and/or committed against unsuspecting innocent victims.

So now, the incidence of random acts of violence decreases significantly.

Wait a minute. Does that sound right to you?

If that is true, in a city the size of say--Topeka, Kansas--one might find about 5 crimes committed per year.

"Oh", you must be saying, "Those statistics only reflect reported crimes." And you would be right! As one of my readers (who never comments) pointed out, victims of rape, spousal abuse, and violent crimes committed in economically disadvantaged urban areas (or ghettos, if you will) go largely unreported. I read a CBS news report that stated 49% of all sexual crimes go unreported. But, just to show how confused CBS is, the headline on that report read "Over half of Violent crimes go unreported," a statistic not found in the article. (Uh--CBS--I hate to tell you this, but, 49% is not over half)

So. Assuming that half of all crimes go unreported, that would mean that in Topeka, Kansas, there would have been 10 crimes committed in 2004. That's all crimes, not only violent crimes.

That can't be accurate, can it? Of course it isn't.

Our sample city, Topeka, Kansas, while relatively small in comparison to most U.S. cities with a population of over 100,000, is still an urban area. It has more violent crime than cities or counties of over 100,000 with predominately suburban residents. For instance, I once lived in Johnson County, Kansas. Same state as Topeka, but Johnson County is much more suburban than Topeka. Johnson County, overall, has over double the population of Topeka, but much less violent crime.

My point is, it evens out. Lumping cities and counties with low and suburban (or both) populations together with overpopulated urban areas the 4-10% statistic may very well be accurate.

Conclusion? Incidents of random violent crimes are not nearly as likely to happen to you as media sources would have you believe. In all likelihood, you could literally leave your doors and windows unlocked and sleep peacefully in your house for the rest of your natural life without being victimized even once by a random violent crime.

That doesn't mean you should be foolhardy. Go ahead and lock your doors. By doing so, you decrease the chances, however slim, of a crime being perpetrated against you or your family.

Now, we are left to question, "Why?" Why does the media continue to terrorize the people in this way?

Well, it's the old adage, "If it bleeds, it leads". Comforting news simply doesn't sell. But is that the only reason they want to keep us afraid to leave our houses?

Could it be that they realize what kind of power the pen wields, and are using it to control the people? Could it be that they know as long as we are afraid to venture beyond our comfort zones we won't drive them from their positions of power? Positions from where they dictate our every move?

Is it something more insidious, or is it just human nature to blow every threat to our personal safety out of proportion?

Maybe there is no motive other than their projection of their own fears upon the rest of us.

Maybe it's because our human nature, with it's inherent sense of survival, creates a protective bubble around us, even when few threats exist.

Do you feel manipulated?

Taking into consideration our analysis of the crime statistics, are you still frightened?

One other thing:

Doesn't living in fear lessen our quality of life? How much more rewarding and abundant could our lives be if we freed ourselves from the shackles of unwarranted fear?

Perhaps it's time we free ourselves and begin to rage against the machine that is media.


Marshall Art said...

I get your point, Mark. But it's that same randomness, regardless of frequency, that provokes the most fear. One of my daughters, when she was small, was witness to a scumbag exposing himself in public. Not a violent crime, but a crime nonetheless. About a year or so ago, she was the victim of a robbery, though the punk wasn't good enough to neither make off with her purse, nor escape being picked up for it later. She testified against him and all is well. Needless to say, however, mother is always concerned with her daughter living in the city of Chicago.

And talk about random crime, I live in the town that gained national fame for being the location of the Brown's Chicken Massacre, of which you may have heard, in which I believe it was seven people herded into a walk-in refrigerator and murdered.

As my moniker indicates, I am a student of martial arts and have been for about 30 years. I am aware of the fact that nastiness exists and at any time, one might find one's self in harm's way. I don't fret with any regularity, but I don't live carelessly. One must be aware on some level but one can become paranoid.

Simply keeping in mind where one is and acting accordingly is generally good enough for most people. Avoiding those places where the odds begin to work against one is another simple rule of thumb. But spending some time and effort to learn how to defend one's self is time well spent, be it empty hand or a weapon of choice. Be prepared, as the Boy Scouts say, is a duty in my opinion. Each of us can decide what that means in our own lives and proceed accordingly.

Trader Rick said...

I lived out here in my lonely country farmhouse for ten years and never locked a door. Then my ex-wife sent her relatives over and looted the place of some of my family heirlooms, when I wasn't home. So, now it's lock up when we leave...(unreported home invasion and burglary).

Mark said...

Rick. That wasn't random. You were specifically targeted.

Art, do you not see though, that random acts of violence are statistically unlikely to happen to any given person or family? Yes, they happen, and they happen too often, but they don't happen with nearly the frequency the media leads us to believe.

Anyway, you live in Chicagoland! Crime is a way of life there.

Yes, by all means, be prepared for any contingency. That's just common sense.

I am referring to the fact that media is contributing to a climate of fear in this country which is way overblown and I believe it has made us all just a little bit paranoid.

Marshall Art said...

Oh no, Mark, I understand you just fine. My point was simply that even given the unlikelihood of being a victim, to act as though it will never happen isn't the best route, either. A balance is what I meant to imply. I'd like to think that even in the area where I live that I don't live in fear. I know many who never give it a second thought. For me, it's kinda hard not to think of such things since I am so deeply involved in self-defense. Indeed thinking of scenarios is part of learning how to protect one's self.

At the same time, how often do we hear the cliche, "these things just don't happen here" after a crime is committed? Despite the low percentage of possibility, the very idea of crime being random suggests that any one of us could become a victim at any time. Kinda like lightening sriking. Not likely, but no one who ever was struck thought they'd be the next one.

But what's worse to me than the constant reporting of crime, is how handcuffed we are to deal with those random acts when they do occur. Some absolute thug getting let off on a technicality is contemptable in my opinion. Recently, the History Channel has been running a series called "Gangland" about the various gangs that are in this country. They talk about street gangs, biker gangs, gangs based in other countries, etc. How do these gangs flourish? The answer is simple to me. We let them. Random crime is bad enough. Organized crime is unacceptable. I'm looking for a political candidate that is willing to declare out and out war on these types of home grown terrorists.

Gayle said...

I'm with Marshal Art! We need to declare war on organized crime for sure.

As for random crime, Mark, I've been the victim of it four times in my life. Well, not the victim because I had weapons, but I could have been a victim and thanks to those guns that the left say causes all crime, I'm still alive to tell about it.

Where I live I don't lock my doors in the daytime when I'm home, but I do lock them at night and when we are away. We've had a lot of burglaries around here. Mainly people stealing rifles and handguns. But I also know you're right about the media. If it bleeds it definitely leads, and it leads many people to become insanely paranoid.

Good post!

BB-Idaho said...

Some crimes seem more random than others. Burglary for example, may be a crime of opportunity, or a planned 'caper'. Living in a small town on the outskirts, we
never locked the house. One evening while we were out to dinner we returned to find that
the jewelry boxes had been emptied
into one of our pillowcases and
stolen. The police believed it a
samll group of Jr. High kids, doing stuff like that on a lark.
The crime was unsolved, but we are now careful to lock up when gone...and no, it wasn't the media that made us do it! :)

Ms.Green said...

"Taking into consideration our analysis of the crime statistics, are you still frightened?"

I have to say that I never travel alone, so I'm never afraid. Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson go everywhere with me, and we make a pretty good team.