We've talked here before about Durham's crime and image issues, in excruciating detail in fact. Pulling together the data I quoted in the post on crime levels in Greensboro versus Durham reminded me of Frank Hyman's strong, succinct summary of Durham's crime problems in his column appearing in this week's The Durham News:
Stith contrasts Durham's crime rate with the lower rates of our whiter and wealthier neighbors (the black populations of Cary, Chapel Hill and Raleigh are 3 percent, 16 percent and 22 percent, respectively).
Incumbent mayor Bill Bell compares Durham's crime rate with cities more similar in race and income demographics -- Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Both have a population that is 37 percent black and crime rates higher than ours. The City of Durham has been roughly 50-50 white and black for more than a century.
Which comparison matters most? In the 23 years I have lived in Durham, Republicans have complained on an almost daily basis that because our crime rate is worse than our neighbors' (and our tax rate and our schools, roads, etc.), "no one will want to move here." But somehow 100,000 people -- of all races and ethnicities -- ignored their real-estate agents' dire warnings and moved to Durham anyway....
When there's a rough correlation between crime rates and proportion of poor and black people in American cities, what we are seeing is a map of the aftershocks of prejudice based on race and income. Only a small percentage of the people subjected to prejudice are going to react by adopting a violent or drug-ridden lifestyle, but it doesn't take many before you've got 20 or 30 people a year being murdered or nearly 100 women being raped or about a thousand drug addicts creating a market that sustains various criminal retail enterprises.
Though Hyman is raising the point in reference to mayoral candidate Thomas Stith's attempts to raise the issue as part of his campaign for mayor, the point is relevant even outside the frame of this campaign. We can't look to economically exclusionary islands like Cary as a model for what Durham 'should' look like. Nor can we expect crime to disappear simply by declaring that we're going to get "tough" on it.
When I look at crime levels in Durham versus Greensboro and see that violent crime has not only been dropping for five years in the Bull City while stagnant in Greensboro, but on a per-capita basis is 13% lower in Durham today, it strikes me that we're doing something right.
Ultimately, though, the problems of crime will be solved, as Hyman points out, by investing in and improving Durham neighborhoods and youth -- a goal that runs hand-in-hand with improving policing and law enforcement operations.