The Blog Squad

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Man, that is one sorry cube.

It'd be worth your while to read Conaway Haskins' comment on my last post (and worth your while in general to check out his blog, South of the James). Here's a piece of it.

As one who also lives in the 'burbs but spends a lot of time in the city, I think that any discussion of crime in Metro Richmond - and the city specifically - has to first make a distinction between "occurrence of crime" and "perception of crime." You can't start a serious discussion without extracting the two. Many people who live in the suburbs fear Richmond - any part of Richmond outside of Carytown and the Far West End - because of the crime in the East End and some Northside neighborhoods. But, when you isolate Gilpin, Blackwell, and the surround areas, the actual rates and numbers of crime declines precipitously.

I have mentioned somewhere in this blog that former Police Chief Jerry Oliver once told me in an interview that unless you are involved in criminal activity, drugs or domestic violence you are pretty safe in Richmond. The Harvey murders jolted most of us out of that feeling. It was a sickening aberration from the norm. The sad reality though is that the norm is just as sickening -- it's just that we have gotten used to the idea of poor black people killing other poor black people.

Conaway's right. You can't have this discussion without talking about race and class. Whether you are white, black, Latino or Asian; poor, affluent or middle-class; urban or suburban makes a difference in terms of how you perceive crime. That's where I disagree a bit with Conaway. I'm not sure you really can separate the incidence of crime from the perceptions of it. It's as if we are all looking at the same cube from different angles. Where you see a corner, I see a flat surface and someone else sees a shadow. Even the bird's-eye-view is just a two-dimensional square. Perhaps in bringing together all those views, all those perceptions, we can begin to construct the whole, true picture of our cube.

But my cynical side immediately answers, "Oh, yeah? Then what?" My idealistic side has no answer for that.


At Thu Jan 26, 08:52:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Janet, thanks for the plug. I'd actually posit that you can separate the perception from the incidence. Look at NYC under Rudy/Bratton. They implemented the Broken Windows model, cleaned up strategic locations, reduced vagrancy, and voila! People "felt" safer. Monroe should know something about that because DC has done the same thing. Even though Southeast DC is still a very violent and impoverished place, the perception of DC, esp. to suburbanites up there, is remarkable compared to 10-15 years ago.

Richmond's got all of the tools to turn the city around. First, Doug Wilder is a can-do mayor (a Rudy-like figure) who understands most elements of the community - rich white to poor black. Suburbanites love him. Second, Monroe is a great cop and good strategist (like Bratton). Plus, he's no-nonesense and focuses on results. Third, since the removal of 6th Street Marketplace and the viral-like growth of VCU, Broad Street looks remarkable. Granted, the city planner in me looks for that kind of thing, but frankly, the view of Broad from Church Hill at night is stunning. It "feels" like Richmond is important. Fourth, crime is way lower than it was in the 1990's. If the city can drop the kitchy marketing ploys (EZ2Luv), deal with the loitering/vagrancy is a humane but effective manner, and continue to attract innovative events to downtown like the Folk Festival, then Richmond can have an NYC-esque "perception revitalization." Fifth, if the Main Street Amtrak ever gets serious, then it'll really be something downtown.

Add to that folks in the 'burbs who promote the hell out of Richmond via word of mouth and word-of-blog (ahem), and in 3-5 years, those Volvos from Midlothian and minvans from Chester just might clog up the city streets.


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