Perception of Crime or Expectation of Normalcy?

There goes the AJC again, in its death-spiral of mis-perceiving its readers, running yet another story about fixing “perceptions” of crime in the city.  This time they fire across the bow, smugly reminding readers that all this crime talk is bad for property values.

Make that the perception of property values.

It really is beyond me how a major newspaper could get itself into this shape.  When you read newspapers in other cities that are facing the sorts of problems Atlanta is facing — that is, loosely-organized gangs of armed young men who do not hesitate to use guns against each other and innocent bystanders, plus a more-or-less constant presence of unpunished property criminals — well, newspapers in those cities report it when the Chief of Police gets in front of the cameras and blathers on about “mere perceptions of crime,” but they don’t then set out to become the Chief’s own TASS-style fourth estate by publishing article after article promoting the Chief’s political assertions as fact.

They also don’t set out to police their reader’s responses when innocent people get shot and residential burglaries skyrocket.  They don’t scold the public for caring and argue endlessly about mindsets: they report the news.

In other cities, the public gets reporting on crime.  In Atlanta, when you open up the morning paper, what you get is a morality tale larded with threats that your property values will drop if you keep daring to demand a normal level of security and accountability when you call 911 or appear in a courtroom to see if the guy who stole your lawnmower is going to get a jail sentence or a birthday party thrown for him by the judge.

Why is it so hard to just tell the truth?

Here is the truth about Atlanta. Atlanta had an astonishing violent crime rate in the late 1960’s and the 70’s, 80’s, and early 1990’s because huge portions of the city were a wild west of dysfunction, drugs, dependency, and despair.  Dysfunction depopulated the city.  Businesses pulled out.  Abandoned buildings and homes stayed empty.  All of the recent growth — all the condos, the renovations, the infill housing and new-builds — took hold only after the city made a real commitment to dismantle the housing projects.  Before then, nobody sane who had any other choice would move to the area around Techwood Homes, for example, or Vine Street, or Grady Homes, or Thomasville Heights.

Here is how abnormal it was: I made the mistake of driving a co-worker home one day — during daylight — to somewhere off Simpson Street.  He was feeling sick, and nobody else was around.  He told me to get in and out quickly and to keep driving if somebody tried to block my car.  As I let him out, a group of young men swarmed the car, and he shouted them away.

That is not normal.

That is not normal, but people accepted it as normal, for nefarious or soft-headed reasons, all of which led to the same dead end: children raised in war zones that would put regular war zones to shame. And people were happy to ignore this huge violent mess by dumping every last bit of responsibility for it onto the police, then accusing the police of doing nothing about it or blaming the police when they tried to do anything about it.

It was a huge abdication of moral and social responsibility by everybody except the police, who have every right to feel like the deeply abused spouses they are in the social contract we have written for them.

Now, Atlanta is beginning to grow up. The violent crime rate is down from the highs of the 1990’s, but it is still outrageous: it insults sensibilities, which is good because that means people aren’t accepting the old status quo anymore.  The daily newspaper may be hell-bent on policing people’s responses to crime because they are used to that old status quo — they are invested in it, for nefarious and soft-headed reasons — but the rest of the city has moved on.

The new normal means the expectation that you won’t get pulled from your car if you make a wrong turn.  The new normal means you don’t need to start each day by looking at your house and car and loved ones and thinking: what can I do to keep them from harm?  The new normal means the expectation that not only can you mow your lawn without getting shot, but that everyone should be able to mow their lawns without getting shot.

The new normal will lift all ships, if, that is, it gets proper support from new leaders who don’t use the same old excuses to pit people against each other, dump the problem on the police again, and look away.

The city isn’t there yet, but the expectation is.


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