Crime and Punishment -- and the Media (OPINION)

Crime and Punishment -- and the Media (OPINION)

The Mediaverse by Dennis Kneale, TruthDAO columnist

As the midterm elections approach, both political parties and the media focus on national hot-button issues that drive donations and clicks: abortion, gun control, open borders, Climate Change, the Jan. 6 “insurrection.”

Those issues, however, have little direct impact on our daily lives. Crime is the more personal, visceral issue this year. It is what got Eric Adams elected as the new mayor of New York City, and it is what might get Lee Zeldin elected as New York state’s first Republican governor in 20 years.

An awkward issue of race pulses beneath crime headlines: blacks comprise 13% of the U.S. population, yet they make up 54% of all murder victims and 33% of all targets of violent crimes. Black suspects comprise 33% of all arrests for violent crimes, 53% of murder arrests, and 43% of crimes with multiple assailants. Black convicts make up 33% of the U.S. prison population.

This is why the national media shy away from covering the crime issue in-depth, confining their attention to the most lurid stories without doing a deeper search for solutions. Play up crime too heavily, and liberals might cry racism and white fearmongering; plus, it might benefit Republicans, and most media want to avoid this.

The unfortunate result is that epidemic crime in the poorest, blackest neighborhoods goes unreported by the media, so politicians feel less pressure to take action to fix it, and the most victimized people end up on their own. See: the city of Chicago.

In the debate on Oct. 24 between Lee Zeldin, a Republican congressman from Long Island, and Gov. Kathy Hochul, the Democratic incumbent who took office after Andrew Cuomo resigned in a sex-harassment scandal, Zeldin hammered the crime issue repeatedly. At the halfway mark, he criticized Gov. Hochul for avoiding talking about “locking up anyone committing any crimes.” She replied tartly:

“Anyone who commits a crime under our laws, especially with the changes made to bail, has consequences. I don’t know why that’s so important to you.” The New York Times, in its summary of five takeaways from the debate, let this one pass unnoted.

As a longtime resident of Brooklyn, I can tell Gov. Hochul why it’s so important. Just in the single month of October, four people were murdered on four different subway lines—the A train, the 4, the L, and the F—and I have been riding on all of these trains all month long.

It feels more personal than her call for tougher restrictions on guns I don’t own, or her stance on easier rules on abortions I’ll never have.

In New York City, year-to-date, as of October 30, the seven major crime categories are up 30% over all, including a 39% spike in grand larceny, a 35% rise in car thefts, robberies up 32%, burglaries up 29%, felony assaults up 14%, and rape up 11%. (Source: NYPD CompStat data.)

On the subways, where you have no escape, crime is up more than 40% this year to almost 7,000 reported offenses. Robberies are up 34%, felony assaults are up 17%, arrests are up 40%, and summonses issued for public urination and the like are up 200%. Lovely.

That is newsworthy, yet media outlets struggle with the balance between covering crime and supporting social justice. In The New York Times on Oct. 7, writer John Leland captured this perfectly in a well-told tale of woman and her dog, Moose, a golden retriever killed by a mentally disturbed homeless man wielding a walking stick in Prospect Park.

“The adjoining neighborhood is famously progressive, often critical of the police and the jail system. At the same time, crime is up in the neighborhood, with attacks by emotionally disturbed people around the city putting some residents on edge,” Leland writes here. “How do you protect the public without furthering injustice against this man?”

Moose’s owner posted on about her grief, and neighbors called for the man’s arrest and imprisonment for killing her dog. To which one neighbor said they should consider “400 years of systematic racism which has prevented black people from building generational wealth through homeownership resulting in the extreme disparity we see today.”

Really? What about justice for Moose and the owner?

Similarly, a Bloomberg story in July, Fear of Rampant Crime Is Derailing New York’s Recovery, noted that the number of shootings per month in the city is on par with a year earlier. However, headlines about shootings are up from fewer than 100 per month last year to 750 per month now. “Widespread anxiety obscures the fact that crime is still at decades-long lows,” they write, alluding to the more than 2,200 murders in 1990 compared with 341 now.

Guess I should be grateful.

Dennis Kneale, @denniskneale on Twitter, is a media strategist and writer in New York. He spent more than 30 years at The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNBC, and Fox Business.