Pay attention to the news coming out of Washington, D.C. and you’ll hear political discourse on any number of hot topics these days, from national infrastructure needs to illegal border crossings, stagnant vaccination rates to Middle Eastern policy positions, partisan bickering to electoral delusions.
But you don’t hear much about the scourge of violent crime that has become a daily reality in our nation’s largest cities, and that’s unfortunate.
Living close to Atlanta, it’s hard not to become desensitized to the seemingly daily stories of murders, assaults and armed hijackings taking place there, but the same is increasingly true of many other large municipalities in the nation.
How many weekends have seen fatal shootings inside the I-285 perimeter that separates the inner city from its suburbs? How many weekday news broadcasts do not include some story about violent attacks on innocent people?
And lest we think it’s an Atlanta problem that doesn’t affect those of us not living there, we have to remember that the state’s capital city is the engine that drives the rest of Georgia. It is the state’s epicenter of economic growth, a transportation and commercial hub for all of Georgia, and the center of political power.
We are deluding ourselves if we don’t understand that the long-term vitality of Atlanta has an impact on the quality of life for those of us living in Hall County.
Sadly, the problem is not just Atlanta. Statistics recently released by the Major Cities Chiefs Association indicate that homicides and aggravated assaults for the first three months of 2021 exceeded the numbers recorded in the same timeframe last year.
Based on numbers collected from 63 major metropolitan police organizations, homicides for the first quarter of 2021 totaled 1,721, compared to 1,337 a year ago. The agencies reported 54,025 aggravated assaults, up from 49,388 last year.
Last year was bad, this year is worse.
In the first three months of 2021, Chicago reported 134 homicides, Houston 94, Los Angeles 96, Philadelphia 120. More than one per day in each of those cities; all more than were reported last year. Comparatively, Atlanta’s 33 homicides in three months seem tame.
The aggravated assault reports cited in the summary are staggering. In three months, Houston reported 4,378; Los Angeles 4,331; Chicago 3,296; Detroit 2,590. Atlanta had 595, compared to 414 for the same time last year.
Homicides in the nation’s largest cities last year were up by a third over the previous year; this year is on track to be even worse.
Theories as to why are abundant. The pandemic shut down the courts and opened the jail cells; the riots of last summer resulted in loss of respect for police officers, and a diminishing of police forces; culture wars; economic stresses; heated political environments.
The nation’s political leaders don’t seem to feel any urgent need to elevate the issue of violent crime to a position of priority as they set about solving the nation’s problems, perhaps because it is hard to do so while keeping their political bases happy. The Biden administration and the majority in Congress are more than ready to tell local governments how to run their elections, but seemingly are content to let local governments worry about keeping their citizens safe on their own.
Maybe the politicians in Washington need a few shopping trips to Atlanta’s malls to get a better sense of the problem.
We’re likely to hear a lot in the months to come about possible solutions to Atlanta’s violence issues, as candidates jockey in hopes of becoming the city’s next mayor. It will be impossible to campaign without addressing the violent realities that residents, and visitors, to the city face on a daily basis.
And just as there are many theories as to why violence is erupting nationwide, there are a multitude of ideas to help solve the problem.
For us, the most obvious first approach has to be rebuilding of respect for law enforcement officers and the administration of justice through the courts.
Rather than arguing over defunding police officers, governments need to be looking at ways to better pay the officers they hire to do a terribly difficult and dangerous job; to better train those authorized to wear a badge so that they are equipped to deal with whatever situation they may encounter; and to fully assimilate law enforcement officers into every cultural community.
Respect has to be earned, it cannot be given. The vast majority of those tasked with law enforcement have proven time and again that they do deserve the respect of the communities they serve. We shouldn’t lose track of that.
The courts have to be more diligent in keeping violent criminals in jail, and those who are quick to consider committing violent crimes have to be convinced that punishment for doing so will be both severe and quick.
Law-abiding citizens in all communities have to refuse to tolerate criminal behavior in their neighborhoods, have to refuse to allow criminal activity to be acceptable.
And, perhaps most importantly, we have to focus on making sure that the youngest among us grows into adulthood with a respect for the sanctity of human life.
Yes, the issues that lead to violent crime need to be addressed – economic decline, poverty, desperation, social inequities – but before that can happen in any significant way, we have to again reach the point where a visitor driving through a big city can expect to safely put gas in his car without fear of being shot.