Abraham Miller, for Pajamas Media, asks readers to reconsider a pop-social science commonplace in light of street crime intruding into supposedly safe tourist areas of Chicago.
We all know how to avoid those, unless our economic circumstances regrettably compel us to live in such neighborhoods. Last week, 53 people were shot in Chicago. Most of us will dismiss this as an irrelevant statistic.  After all, we know without reading the papers where those people live: in the south and west sides. There, the population is largely black or  Latino,  gangs fight turf wars over the drug trade, and getting a gun is not only a rite of passage but also is more common than getting a high school diploma.

We don’t ask if our laws and social system have gone astray in tolerating such violence.  After all, we delude ourselves into believing that people like us are immune to being violated in our own safe neighborhoods. Basically, we know where to go or not go in our cities and don’t question if it’s acceptable for some of our fellow citizens to live under persistently threatening conditions.

We assume that because people who look like the victims are also the perpetrators, it’s not our problem. Our continually reinforced ethnic tribalism really comes down to: we don’t give a damn about black-on-black violence or what happens in the deteriorating parts of our city. We can be smug about gun control because none of our neighbors are shooting each other. We can be self-righteous about microscopic adherence to due process because none of us will have to testify in open court against people who belong to vengeful criminal organizations.

Such delusions are part of what makes us not only smug but also hypocrites. We invoke the notion that poverty causes crime.  If only we’d have greater redistribution of income and wealth, all this would go away. We take comfort in the idea that there is a solution to the problem. Why not? It’s ingrained in our psyches, pontificated as one of the few real “laws” of social science, and comes to us as strongly from the classrooms as it does from the bar stools. We can, thus, avoid the thought of 53 white people being gunned down on our streets over a few days.

But as the late James Q. Wilson so artfully pointed out decades ago, it might be that poverty causing crime is just another logical fallacy. Wilson challenged us to think that maybe it’s the other way around: crime causes poverty.
Good research is hard, because phenomena might have multi-directional causality.  Thus, the absence of opportunities to pursue accepted lines of endeavour might lead people to live by a different line of endeavour.  At the same time, though, the emergence of those criminal endeavours might drive the productive people out, which is Professor Miller's point.

In Chicago, though, the rising frequency of flash-mob and gang-territorial incursions into tourist areas has at least one alderman fearing Chicago is becoming Detroit.  That's not wholly inaccurate: the Murder City description of Motown preceded the first Chrysler bailout and the shake-out of auto assembly plants within the city limits.  Second City Cop suggests Chicago is "most of the way" to becoming Detroit already.

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