S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Oct. 8, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.1008.murder.htm

State's murder rate doesn't match public perception
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

OCT. 8, 2006 - A mother and her four children were shot and killed Sept. 30 in a North Charleston trailer. Two days later, Greenwood County authorities found four dead in two apparently unrelated murder-suicides.

And in Pennsylvania this week, a madman lined up 10 girls against a blackboard in an Amish school and shot them. Five died; several were wounded seriously. Then he shot himself.

Just about everywhere you turn lately, it seems violence has gotten out of control. But experts say if you look at statistics over time, you may be surprised to learn violent crime in America is actually down. In South Carolina, the murder rate essentially is flat. If adjusted for population increases, the murder rate actually is heading down.

In 1998, South Carolina had 305 murders. In preliminary 2005 figures from the State Law Enforcement Division that are due to be published later this quarter, some 315 were murdered - - a 3 percent increase over eight years. At the same time, the state's population grew from 3.9 million to 4.3 million - an 11 percent increase.

"If the number [of murders] remains stable and your state is growing, then your problem is getting smaller," noted Joel Best, a University of Delaware sociology and criminal justice professor who wrote a book on random violence a few years back.

SLED Chief Robert Stewart said this week in an interview that violent crime dropped about 2.5 percent last year, although the number of murders in the state grew. (For several years, the number of murders has been about 300 annually; in 2004 the number dropped to 278, but returned to historic levels in 2005.)

"Though the number of murders may not be that different, the situation seems to be different," Stewart said.

Everywhere, people feel the same - - as if there's more violent crime. And because it feels more random, many people worry.

Part of the reason is murders, like those in North Charleston and Pennsylvania, seem to be more sensational. In turn, that generates a lot of media coverage.

"That affects the consciousness of the public and gets their attention," Stewart said.

Best said looking at statistics over time showed there really aren't waves of violent crime. Instead, there were waves of media coverage about the crimes. In other words, when the media or readers become concerned about a rash of crimes, they tend to be more sensitive to similar stories, which feed worries about increased violence.

"We can convince ourselves there's a trend and really, the only way to look at this is to look at the whole range of statistics," Best said. "The idea of random violence [increasing] is really a red herring."

But he added that for some groups of people, such as young African-American males, violence occurs at a much greater rate than, for example, elderly white women.

"If we were selling people homicide insurance, we wouldn't charge everybody the same rate."

Stewart said most violent crimes - - 64 percent of murders; 76 percent of rapes and 76 percent of aggravated assaults - - are committed by acquaintances or family members.


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"Everybody thinks the violent criminal is the predator hiding in the shadows when, in fact, the majority of the time it is, other than robberies, a family member or acquaintance," Stewart said. He added 16 percent of robberies are done by friends or relatives.

If you're worried about the murder rate, there are two things you can do to reduce your risk greatly, Best said. First, remain celibate - which will help you avoid being killed in domestic altercations. Second, "don't work in a business that handles a lot of cash in the dark."

Violent crimes occur. They're horrific and they're tragic. It's a shame they're a part of our lives. But if you look at the numbers, they're not occurring in a much greater frequency in general in South Carolina. And that, we hope, will help you sleep better at night.

Next week: A look at some measures lawmakers can take to take a bigger bite out of crime.

Send your comments to Andy Brack at brack@statehousereport.com. His book of commentary, Bugging the Palmettos, is available for $15.00. Click here for more.

Recent commentary

lighter side
10/6: Sad but true department

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:

10/3: Sanford criticism is unfair

Listen. Hear Gov. Sanford's "tar baby" comment. The quality isn't great, but you can distinguish the governor's voice and words.

Audio | Transcript

To the editor:

I'm no fan of Governor Sanford...or of any other Republican since Reagan and those of his ilk ran us moderates out of the party...but I think the criticism concerning his recent "tar baby" remark is unfair. I personally have fond memories of Joel Chandler Harris' stories from my youth...in an integrated northern community. The folk wisdom in them, often drawn from African roots, and their rich images too, should be seen as an example of African Americans' contribution to our culture and our language.

Perhaps if South Carolinians of that heritage were to seriously study and embrace the richness of their roots instead of going about with a chip on their shoulders (Gee: I hope I didn't just offend those with lumberjacks as their ancestors!) we could all work together to move this state ahead.

-- Jon Heckerman, Garden City Beach, SC

10/2: Not surprised by Sanford's remark

To the editor:

Gov. Sanford referenced Mustafa Ataturk as one of his personal heroes during his first State of the State address. I almost wrecked my car driving back from a meeting in Charleston listening to the speech. I thought he'd lost his mind..little did I know.

Ataturk...who in this state know about Ataturk. The only persons in South Carolina likely to recognize the name are of Greek or Armenian descent and were no doubt insulted.

Sanford may have an MBA and he may read a lot. He is not well read nor well educated. He most certainly lacks empathy for most South Carolinians who don't happen to own beach houses. So I'm not surprised by "tar baby" and his not getting it.

-- Lynn Bailey, Columbia, SC

10/2: Rant on Brack trying to control thought

To the editor:

Editor's note: This comment was shortened to comply with our Feedback policy. Spelling and grammatical errors have been left untouched.

In todays Item newspaper your biased column appears next to another liberal who wants to control our every thought and word, Eugene Robinson. The two of you make a scary team and explain why the democrat party cannot win National elections. The only places where thought and speech control can elect is in the poor and ignorant areas of this nation . AS you know the poorer counties in South Carolina remain poor and ignorant today just as they were 100 years ago. The reason is because their citizens accept people like you and Eugene telling then how and what to think. Thus they never rise above the level their oppressors has assigned them.

Now in your disgraceful article Mr. Brack you list more words and thoughts that do not meet with the radical liberal agenda. Lets see now TAR BABY , which of these two words do you want to eliminate ? , Tar or baby . liberals have been in favor of killing life in the womb for many, many years. In my entire life I never associated the term "tar baby" with the black race. I do remember when "negro' or "colured" was used and accepted by all until a wild eyed radical decided it is racist. If your kind keeps delisting words you do not approve of we will need to use only sign language to communicate. This will not happen of course since clear minded folks out number your kind. If it should come down to sign language I reserve one finger for your kind regardless of race.

-- Lew Richards, Manning , S.C.

10/1: Taken aback by Sanford's remark

To the editor:

I have been quite supportinve of Gov Sanford and the majority of his policies to change South Carolina into a viable force with other states in education and economic issues. I am black, with a lot of republican friends and I must admit that I was taken aback by that remark also..Gov Sanford, Sir, I know that you are a well read man and that you choose your words very wisely most of the time, but please refrain from using such denegrating vocabulary in the future..It may sound mild and non-hurting to whites and they think nothing of it as just a slang to mean something else as you intended, but the fact remains it immediately made the majority of those people on the board remember that "tar baby" is a meaning that does not put the african-american citizens of this country and great state in a highly demeaning way. I am on Congressman' Wilson's Minority Affairs Committee and he is one of the finest policitian i have ever met in my life and I support him 150%. If he had uttered such a phrase I would be telling him the same thing only personally..Republicans always keep saying that they would like to have more black support and to have more blacks support them but sometimes some go out of your ways to be insensitive in your remarks, both personally and politically and unintentionally draw lines in the sand again and again (some intentionally, most not intentionally)..I accept your reason and i understand your remarks, just not the inclusion of tar-baby...a better choice of defining your thoughts to describe what you mean is needed for the future.

-- Jimmy Mackey, Beaufort, S.C.

Recent feedback

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