All posts filed under: Crime

America’s Black Communities Are Suffering. Violent Protests Will Make the Suffering Worse

Protests sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin—an act that prosecutors describe as murder—have devolved into violence. Numerous small businesses have been destroyed, and at least one elderly shopper at a Target store was assaulted. A man has been shot dead. This pattern of events is familiar because it has repeated itself numerous times over American history following acts of police brutality, especially in cases where, as with Floyd, the victim was black. First, large numbers of people protest peacefully, drawing attention to their cause and attracting national sympathy. Then, a smaller group turns violent, causing destruction in the community and sometimes harming innocent people. That smaller group sometimes includes people who exploit the chaos for their own ends. During the Baltimore riots of 2015, for instance, the looting of pharmacies led to opioids and other drugs flooding the market, likely feeding drug dependency, enriching gangs, and fueling more crime. In the 1960s, thousands of Americans took part in non-violent protests in opposition to segregation. Their …

Return to ‘The Unheavenly City’

The late senator, statesman, sociologist, and New Yorker Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously observed that, “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Moynihan balanced one truth with another, in part to show that neither side enjoyed a monopoly on wisdom. Had he offered these competing visions of politics and culture without describing one as “conservative” and the other as “liberal,” however, it would have admitted the possibility that one was more accurate than the other. And whether or not that is in fact the case matters—not merely for philosophical reasons but for political and social reasons, too. In 1970, American political scientist Edward Banfield had explored this apparently innocuous question in a monograph entitled The Unheavenly City: The Nature and the Future of Our Urban Crisis. The book proved to be so divisive that a slightly revised version appeared just four years later entitled The Unheavenly City Revisited (the …

Fabricated Innocence: The Self-Exoneration and Re-Incrimination of Jens Soering

One of the narrative paradigms in Kurt Vonnegut’s typology of stories is called “Man in a Hole”: Someone starts out doing pretty well at the beginning of a story, then plunges into a deep hole of misfortune, then scrambles out of it again. Jens Soering is that man in the hole. Soering’s promising life went off the rails at the age of 18, when the young German student at the University of Virginia began a love affair which culminated in the brutal double murder of Derek and Nancy Haysom, the parents of his girlfriend Elizabeth. That was act one. Act two involved an international flight from the law, hours of confessions, and a judicial decision which has shaped human rights law to this day. Act three begins with Soering’s conviction and sentencing to life in prison at a televised 1990 murder trial. The pace of the drama then slows for act four: Working from his prison cell, Soering patiently constructs, over decades, an alternate history of the love affair and murders, and convinces a dedicated …

Are We in the Midst of a Transgender Murder Epidemic?

The claim that there’s an “epidemic” of fatal anti-transgender violence in the United States has been made widely in recent years. A Google search for the phrase “epidemic of anti-trans violence” turns up pieces from the New York Times, NBC National News, ABC National News, and the Human Rights Campaign, a leading LGBT lobby group—among 2,500,000 other results. The HRC’s primary on-point article was headlined ‘A National Epidemic: Fatal Anti-Transgender Violence,’ while the Times led with ‘Eighteen Transgender Killings This Year Raise Fears of an Epidemic.’ Transgender Day of Remembrance has been celebrated since the late 1990s to honor those “members of the transgender community whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence,” and the American Medical Association has stated on record that fatal attacks on transgender people—particularly minority trans women—constitute a large part of an “epidemic of violence” against the trans community. However, there is remarkably little evidence that transgender Americans are killed at an unusually high rate. According to an exhaustive database kept by the HRC, there were 29 recorded murders of …

Male-Bodied Rapists Are Being Imprisoned With Women. Why Do so Few People Care?

In 2015, the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists (BAGIS) submitted a written brief to the Transgender Equality Inquiry, which had been undertaken by the UK Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, explaining why it was “naïve to suggest that “nobody would seek to pretend transsexual status in prison if this were not actually the case.” “There are, to those of us who actually interview the prisoners, in fact very many reasons why people might pretend this,” wrote Dr. James Barrett, the President of BAGIS. “These vary from the opportunity to have trips out of prison through to a desire for a transfer to the female estate (to the same prison as a co-defendant) through to the idea that a parole board will perceive somebody who is female as being less dangerous through to a [false] belief that hormone treatment will actually render one less dangerous through to wanting a special or protected status within the prison system and even (in one very well evidenced case that a highly concerned Prison Governor brought particularly to my …

Buying Fentanyl on the Streets of San Francisco—An Interview with Heather Mac Donald

Heather Mac Donald has written one of the most important essays on homelessness in recent memory for City Journal. In it, she argues that we’ve misunderstood the homelessness problem as a problem of poverty when it is, in reality, a problem of family breakdown and the erosion of social norms. While I don’t agree with all of what she’s written, I admire her fieldwork. She interviewed homeless people in San Francisco and even bought fentanyl, the synthetic opiate that resulted in over 17,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States last year, to investigate how easy it was. Such fieldwork is rarer than it should be among journalists and advocates alike. I thought her contribution to the growing debate over homelessness, particularly in California but nationally and globally as well, was so important, I requested a telephone interview for Quillette. It has been edited for length. Quillette: What’s a nice lady like you doing buying fentanyl from drug dealers on the streets of San Francisco? Heather Mac Donald: I wanted to test how easy it …

Why I Don’t Live in Fear of White Supremacists  

The 21-year-old terrorist who attacked an El Paso shopping center on August 3 was a white supremacist who believed that the United States is experiencing a “Hispanic invasion.” He also expressed support for an even deadlier hate crime that had taken place months before: the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 51 innocents were killed and another 49 injured. Hate criminals tend to inspire one another. And in the months since the Christchurch slaughter, there have been widespread fears that we may be on the cusp of a new global epidemic of racist killings. These fears are encouraged by the sense of immediacy that results from the 24/7 social-media coverage of such tragedies, which overwhelms the insulating effects of geography. Immediately following the Christchurch killings, for instance, the Chancellor of University of California, Berkeley, where I am employed, felt required to send an email to all students, staff and faculty condemning the attack, and offering up a suite of mental health and diversity resources for members of the University community—particularly Muslims. I thanked …

The Deadly Boredom of ‘A Meaningless Life’

Remember when the scariest kid in your neighborhood was the football jock who terrorized the high school with his minions in tow, and got bailed out by his rich parents when he went too far? Or it was the gothic malcontent with the switchblade and the swagger. Either way, what made these high-status alphas so terrifying was that they came at you in numbers. They travelled in packs. This has been our narrative, in the stories we tell—from Henry Bowers in Stephen King’s It, to Biff Tannen in Back to the Future, to Billy Hargrove in Stranger Things, central-casting bullies attracted followers. They belonged. As any grade eight schoolgirl who’s been bullied off Instagram can attest, this stereotype still holds. But when it comes to the most dangerous and sociopathic actors, the opposite is true. All three of the young mass shooters who terrorized the United States in recent nationally reported scenes of carnage—Connor Betts in Dayton, Ohio; Patrick Crusius in El Paso, Texas; and Santino William Legan in Gilroy, California—acted alone. The old image …

Don’t Blame Police Racism for America’s Violence Epidemic

In political debates about incidents of police officers shooting and killing Americans, a consistent narrative has emerged: There is an epidemic of white police officers targeting unarmed African Americans—the reason being that America’s police forces are so racially biased that they value the lives of blacks less than they value the lives of whites. Given the horrifying history of racism in the United States, this was never a far-fetched thesis. This phenomenon is at the heart of Black Lives Matter, a movement that has pushed media and politicians to consider the issue of police abuse as a matter of racial injustice. “Black men, unarmed, black teenagers, unarmed, and black children, unarmed, are being killed at a frightening level right now, including by members of law enforcement without accountability and without justice,” then-Texas Democratic congressman and now presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke told an audience last year. O’Rourke made the statement as part of a larger speech in support of NFL players such as Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee during the national anthem to protest racism …