Murder, USA: Is It Really As Bad As We Think?

Murder - Chalk Outline

Yes, murder is bad. But is the murder rate as bad as we think it is?

This statement is making the rounds on social media:

“Honestly the saddest part about everything is we have soldiers of all races dying for us overseas and we’re killing each other at home.”

That is sadly, indisputably true. But it has always been sadly, indisputably true. And it is less true, so to speak, now than it used to be. Recent annual murder rates have fallen dramatically from the high levels of 1970 through 1995.

Here, from the US Disaster Center at Quandl, a Toronto-based Data Platform, is a graph of US Crime Rates per 100,000 Persons, based on FBI data:

Graph of US Murder and Violent Crime Rates 1960-2014

Graph of US Murder and Violent Crime Rates 1960-2014

The blue line traces the annual murder rate; the green line, the annual violent-crime rate.

In 1980, the murder rate was 10.2 persons per 100,000; in 2014, it was 4.5 — less than half of the high point 35 years earlier. And, in 1991, the violent-crime rate was 758.1 persons per 100,000; in 2014, it was 375.7 — also less than half the high point 25 years earlier.

Why does it seem to so many of us, then, that murder and mayhem are out of control now, though they are, in fact, more under control than they were even two or three decades ago? I don’t have the answers, but I do have some suspicions.

Modern technology, including 24/7/365 news from every corner of the world, has brought reports of crime into our homes in high-definition video. Before round-the-clock news channels, local crime remained largely local stories in the newspapers. (This is a consequence of Core’s Law of New Media: “There Is No Such Thing As Local News Anymore: In the Internet Age, anything anybody has said anywhere, anytime, can sooner or later become known everywhere else.”)

Moreover, young people all over the country communicate with one another easily via social media, but they have no memory of past crime rates with which to compare what’s happening nowadays. And the mainstream media are more than happy to let them live in the present, without providing any historical context.

For that, one must resort to blogs such as this one.

Lane Core Jr. joined the Catholic Church at age 17, having been raised a Methodist. With a B.S. in Math & Computer Science, he has been on the Internet since 1995, and from 2002 through 2009 published The Blog from the Core. He has freelanced for the Pittsburgh Catholic and the Tribune-Review newspapers. A lifelong bibliophile, he enjoys poetry, theology, history, biography, and psychology.
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