Crime Still Low but Police Continue Whining

Radley BalkoAt The Washington Post last week, Radley Balko wrote a great article, In the end, 2015 Saw No “War on Cops” and No “National Crime Wave.” As he noted, this was supposed to be because of all the supposed anti-cop rhetoric and so on. But the data are in and it shows that there is no spike in violence against the police. In fact, the numbers from this year continue the downward trend of police fatalities that started in the mid-1970s. It is safer to be a police offer than it has been in well over a century.

But think about that supposed anti-cop rhetoric. I don’t recall any anti-cop rhetoric. Every person of any power who was critical of policing always went far out of their way to say that most officers were great at their jobs. This is at best an exaggeration. But the fact that everyone felt the need to continue to lick the boots of law enforcement shows just how much power and inexplicable goodwill that people have for the police. It was only the police unions and other advocates who equated criticism of systemic problems and individual officers with attacks on the police generally.

As for crime, well, that too is down. We have some statistics via Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime (pdf). It is “a group of 150 of the country’s most prominent current and former police chiefs, sheriffs, district and state’s attorneys, US Attorneys, attorneys general, and other law enforcement leaders…” And they reported:

“Crime in the US is at an all-time low across the country, and we expect it to stay that way,” said Ronal Serpas, Chairman of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration and the former New Orleans Police Superintendent. “Despite some misleading reports about a surge in crime rates, the data show just the opposite. In fact, as recent studies show, the overall crime rate will be lower this year than it was last year, and half of what it was in 1990. Some cities have seen a rise in murder, but these are isolated incidents — not a new crime wave — which local leaders are taking steps to address.

Remember back to why crime was supposedly spiking: police officers were not doing their jobs because they were vewy vewy awraid. So if crime had increased, wouldn’t that have been the fault of the police? Shouldn’t we have reacted badly toward them and not their critics? After all, don’t we have to sit through their royal-like funerals because their jobs are just so dangerous? Isn’t this why we must be now and forever on hands and knees licking their boots? I understand their whining; I’d hate to be a police officer. But I don’t see why the rest of us should put up with the whining. Policing is one of the few good-paying jobs left in America that someone can get with only a high school education.

Despite the fact that violent crime is low and getting lower, Americans think that it was up this year. I think we know why this is. The whining of police officers has an effect. But it’s strange that we put up with it. Would we ever accept teachers going around whining that students were really stupid and that’s why they weren’t doing their jobs? No, we’d tell them to shut up. But since it is the police, it’s somehow acceptable. So in addition to doing at best a mediocre job, the police are spreading lies and fear.

As Radley Balko concluded, “It’s one thing to give in to fear when crime really is on the rise. But it would be tragic if the opportunity we have today to reform laws was thwarted by [this] sort of fact-free fear.”

Stephen Glass and the Art of Forgiveness

Stephen GlassStephen Glass is back in the news. In the upcoming issue of Harper’s Magazine, they are running a letter from him and have issued a retraction about an article he wrote for them all the way back in 1998. For those who don’t know, Glass was a writer at New Republic in the mid to late 1990s. He was something of a star — publishing many remarkable and amusing stories. The problem was that he was just making stuff up — in some cases, entire articles. But it is coming up on two decades now and Glass is still running around making amends.

The article in question is, “Prophets and Losses.” In it, Glass supposedly went to work for a telephone psychic outfit. By the calculations of the Harper’s Magazine editors: “at least 5,647 of the 7,902 words… were based on fabrications.” That’s pretty amazing. At the same time, as a writer, I appreciate that he was actually writing. The question is whether such writing would have been published had it not been “true.” And the answer to that is pretty clearly that it wouldn’t have been. People accept much less interesting stories if they are supposedly true. Just look at The Blair Witch Project, which never would have been a hit without the cover story of it being real. It just isn’t that interesting and has a totally boring denouement.

The treatment of Stephen Glass is typical of the way we treat people who have made mistakes in the past. We are not a forgiving society.

But I still think it is pretty bad that Stephen Glass is still trying to piece his life back together. The same goes for Jayson Blair, although I don’t know what he’s up to. In Glass’ case, he’s trying to become a lawyer, but the state of California thinks he can’t be trusted to be a lawyer because of all the made-up stories he published. It’s kind of amusing really. I mean, a lawyer?! He wants to be part of a profession where creating plausible but false stories is critical.

Michael Hiltzik at The Los Angeles Times noted last week that there is much to dislike about Glass. In particular, “His imaginary characters are lower-class, often minority figures, depicted as credulous and uneducated, sometimes speaking in dialect.” But that brings up the broader issue of why it was that Stephen Glass was such a hot commodity while he lasted. As Hiltzik put it, “Glass played on his bosses’ prejudices…” So the question is: if his bosses at New Republic had such a classist take on the work, do we really think that the lawyers of California do not?

My interest is not in Stephen Glass. He’s from a privileged background. Even with all his baggage, and without license to practice law, he finds himself with the impressive sounding position at Director of Special Projects at a big-time law firm. But the treatment of him is typical of the way we treat people who have made mistakes in the past. We are not a forgiving society. There is a binary nature to our attitudes, where people are all good or all bad. And that just isn’t the case. People are all grey, as far as the eye can see.

But for most people without the resources of Stephen Glass, life is effectively over after a drug felony. These are the people who I fret over. And as a society, I think we really need to decide when we are going get over past wrongs. In Stephen Glass’ case, his great wrong was to embarrass a certain economic and intellectual class. I don’t defend what he did. But he’s hardly a murderer — and even they deserve some reconsideration over time. As a society, we need to learn the art of forgiveness.

Morning Music: Frank Sinatra

Frank SinatraPeople may find it strange, but I’m a big Frank Sinatra fan. There is no reason for it especially. He is mostly just a ripoff of Billie Holiday. But in his defense, he was very open about that. And there is nothing about his persona that I especially care for. In fact, it is usually when he is pushing against that image that I most like him. For example, check out his wonderful version of Send in the Clowns.

But since this is Christmas week, I figured we would listen to the holiday song that Frank Sinatra is most associated with, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The lyrics are really upbeat. The implication is that things are not great now, but they are looking up. The music, however, is not upbeat. That’s probably a function of it being originally a Judy Garland song. Coming from her, it seems like a pleasant lie that everyone is too polite to contradict.

It reminds of the Woody Allen short story “A Guide to Some of the Lesser Ballets,” where he writes of one of them, “The ballet opens at a carnival. There are refreshments and rides. Many people in gaily colored costumes dance and laugh, to the accompaniment of flutes and woodwinds, while the trombones play in a minor key to suggest that soon the refreshments will run out and everybody will be dead.”

Frank Sinatra’s version is different. It implies — like so much of his work — that he has seen too much to be upbeat or to think that things will really get better. He’s seen things in his life that have made him wise but sad. So he’s telling us all to make the best of a bad situation. And it’s not bad advice. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less tolerant of people who want to wallow in their own unhappiness. I know, I know: I hear the trombones too.

Anniversary Post: Gilbert and Sullivan

ThespisOn this day in 1871, the very first Gilbert and Sullivan production, Thespis, premiered. It was an “extravaganza.” The closest equivalent we have would be a revue: singing, dancing, and comedy more than a clear narrative. The production was savaged by the critics, but the writing was often admired. And it went on to run for three months, making it a modest success. Despite this, Gilbert and Sullivan didn’t work together again for four more years. What’s more, the opera was not saved. Only a couple of numbers survive.

I’m not a huge Gilbert and Sullivan fan. I admire them though. It’s just too much work to appreciate. And it does suffer from the Shakespeare disease. It has references to things that we don’t much understand anymore. And I think a lot of people affect a love of it when what they really love is the idea that they love it. But it’s still a good vehicle for Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline!

But I highlighted Gilbert and Sullivan because I really love the skit from That Mitchell and Webb Look. In it, the duo is unhappy about the failure of their last opera and decide to create HMS Pinafore 2 — the same story as the first one, but done in space. It turns out to be Star Trek. But the Victorian audience hates it, as well as their other modern ideas. Eventually, they find the secret, which is to give them a racist opera along the lines of The Mikado. It’s very funny.

Unfortunately, the owner of That Mitchell and Webb Look has cracked down on YouTube videos. So I’ve embedded the whole episode below. It starts at the first part of the skit. But you will have to watch the rest to see the other two parts. The truth is that the whole thing is worth watching. It was one of the greatest comedy shows ever.