Following Up on Crime and Politicians

There were a few points that I want to expand on or that I didn’t include in the last post.

First, more charts!

Providence Crime Data from 1985-2016

Violent Crime in Providence 1985-2016

Property Crime in Providence 1985-2016

WPRI’s Dan McGowan got in contact with me to note that my assertion that the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report doesn’t have data more recent than 2014 was incorrect, and he graciously shared what he had with me. The data doesn’t really change the basic facts. The incidences of violent crime are about what they were following the early-90s collapse in crime, and property crime is slightly up, but from its second lowest recorded point. Increasing population over the last two decades also means that the crime rate is lower.

Gov. Raimondo has also played on Rhode Islanders’ fear of crime

The Journal‘s Patrick Anderson reminded everyone of this:

Raimondo’s defenders might try to write this off as whataboutism, but the record is pretty damaging. RIPR’s Aaron Read captured this image of Raimondo’s 2014 mailer against Taveras and the rhetoric almost completely matches what Fung is hitting her with. Just as Fung now claims “Providence is not the same Providence I grew up in,” Raimondo once claimed “this is not the Rhode Island I know.”

Neither claim is justified, and neither should be let off the hook. It’s mind boggling that our politicians, Democrat and Republican, reflexively prey upon voters’ fears about Providence — it’s exceedingly demoralizing that they can do it at some of the lowest crime rates since the 1960s. The statements, stripped of context, are true: Providence and Rhode Island were never safer than in 2014, and are still far safer than when Fung or Raimondo were young.

Both politicians should be ashamed of their shamelessness. They ought to be champions of our state, but they instead painted a distorted image of our capital to capitalize on our divisions.

The media has a role to play here

Both Fung’s “Crime” ad and Raimondo’s 2014 primary mailer cite The Providence Journal, and I think it’s worth talking about how prominent we should make discussions of crime in Providence in the media. On one hand, these are genuinely important stories, with relevance to the people of Providence. On the other, there definitely is a segment of the state’s population that uses these stories as a sort of morality play that they are Good because they don’t live in Providence, which is Bad.

Yes, even at extraordinary lows, Providence makes up a disproportionate share of crime in Rhode Island. But the majority of crime in the state is still committed elsewhere. And yet a chainsaw-wielding man threatening the police in West Greenwich is not going to earn a line in an attack ad. We aren’t pathologizing crime in other municipalities. We aren’t going to make out East Providence to be a place where you should fear sexually abusive chiropractors.

Meanwhile, it’s far to easy for editors or pundits to use fears of increasing Providence crime to castigate politicians they disapprove of, even if their own news organization’s reporting should make it clear they haven’t got a leg to stand on.

We need to talk frankly about race

Rhode Island is a very white state. Its people are largely white, its political class is mostly white, and its media is very white. Providence is a minority-majority city which has had two Latino mayors, both first-generation Americans, in a row. Slightly fewer people speak English in the state than they did even just seven years ago.

To me, this is huge part of what’s going on with the current focus on crime, but it’s almost completely ignored in discussions about perceptions of crime. A vast array of popular media exists that portrays crime as something that’s perpetrated by black or Latino people against white people. The President of the United States has repeatedly reinforced this perception.

Your position, your party, doesn’t insulate you from this problem, or your role in perpetuating it. I myself benefit from and perpetuate racist systems; but I at least can recognize it. Holding up Providence as Rhode Island’s criminal heart is an act that inherently sets non-whites against white people. It doesn’t matter that about 180,000 people live in this city, that this is an eclectic hive of activity that is not merely the state capital, but our cultural and economic capital as well — as long as the state’s politicians, media, and other residents play up fears of Providence crime, we who live here (but especially my neighbors of color) will always be “those animals in Providence.”


Recently, as crime has fallen, we have begun the process of romanticizing our most violent years. I have to wonder if Crimetown would’ve been as popular if the last names of its featured criminals were Martinez, Olawale, or Vang. Would we invite them to the Columbus and take selfies with them?

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