The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America - Encounter Books

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The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America

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Publication Details

Hardcover / 424 pages
ISBN: 9781594038358
PUBLISHED: 01/19/16

The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America

Starting in the late 1960s, the United States suffered the biggest rise in violent crime in its history. Aside from the movement for black civil rights, it is difficult to think of a phenomenon that had a more profound effect on American life in the last third of the 20th century. Fear of murder, rape, robbery and assault influenced decisions on where to live and where to school one’s children, how to commute to work and where to spend one’s leisure time. In some locales, people dreaded leaving their homes at any time, day or night, and many Americans spent part of each day literally looking over their shoulders.

The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America is a landmark synthesis of criminology and social history that fully explains how and why violent crime exploded across the United States in the late 60s—and what ultimately drove it down decades later. It is the first book of its kind to analyze criminal violence in the U.S. from World War II to the 21st century. It examines crime in the context of all of the major social trends since the World War, including the postwar economic boom and suburbanization, the baby boom and the turmoil of the 60s, the urbanization of minorities, the advent of crack cocaine, the hardening of the criminal justice system and current efforts to contract it. Latzer’s sweeping, definitive study at last brings coherence to the bewildering array of explanations for the nightmarish reality that many Americans lived with for decades.

About the Author

Barry Latzer is Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, and a former member of the Doctoral Faculty in Criminal Justice at the CUNY Graduate School and University Center.

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The important point is that interracial violence was real, not some figment of white prejudice.

The fact that intraracial violence was higher still does not alter this conclusion. Indeed, black-on-white assaults were one of the most characteristic features of the post-60s crime wave and they would have major consequences for the nation.

First, they made whites more fearful of blacks, which exacerbated racial tensions and may have slowed racial integration. As criminologists Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins observed, “the reality of high levels of violence among African-American males reinforces white fear in ways that palpably contribute to the exclusion of blacks from the social mainstream.” White apprehension also probably emboldened black criminals. Being street-wise, young thugs readily sensed fear on the part of potential victims. Even police, who were in the 1960s overwhelmingly white (though this was beginning to change), seemed to be more cautious and less aggressive in high crime black neighborhoods. Certainly during the post-60s years, they were arresting smaller and smaller proportions of perpetrators, though this probably was due to the “swamping” effect of the massive increase in crime.

Second, racial fears related to black violent crime helped drive the great white flight to the suburbs – which effectively increased the proportion of African-Americans in inner cities. In fact, working- and middle-class black families also fled to the suburbs, sharpening still further the concentration of poverty in inner-city neighborhoods._ Black-on-white crime may have been unmentionable in polite circles, but the reality was clear to everyone. The general public – both whites and the burgeoning black middle class – simply voted with its feet, shunning inner cities and their growing proportions of low income African-Americans.

Third, interracial crime and high violent crime generally – it wasn’t all about race – fueled intensive public pressure to beef up the criminal justice system. The system, as detailed below, had grown soft in the 60s, catching fewer criminals and underpunishing them when they were apprehended. Starting in the 1970s, more offenders were incarcerated, prison sentences grew longer, parole policies were tightened and the death penalty was reinstated. Although the U.S. Supreme Court expanded defendants’ rights, thus making convictions more rather than less difficult, it also gave approval to plea-bargaining, which made the system more efficient. Had full jury trials been required to convict it would have been impossible for the criminal justice apparatus to cope with the massive increase in criminal prosecutions.

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