When I was born, violent crime in America was historically high. Starting around 1960, crime rates climbed, and three decades later, violent crime had quadrupled from its mid-century low. Our pop culture looks back on the 1970s and 1980s with nostalgia, envisioning a suburban idyll of kids biking around the neighborhood at twilight hour. There’s truth there, but also a lie: At the national scale, I was born at the crest of a crime tsunami.
Then the wave broke. After 1991, violent and property crime alike began to fall sharply. My generation has the unusual distinction of having spent our entire conscious lives in a country becoming measurably safer. Safer, that is, until the past couple of years. The year 2020 saw a 25 percent increase in homicides compared to 2019. Now it may be, as an Atlantic headline declared in March, that “America’s Great Crime Decline Is Over.” To my thinking, it’s too soon to say, and 2020’s crimes rates remained far below that 1991 peak.
But suppose for the sake of discussion that the headline’s right. How should Christians respond if crime really is on the rise again? The simplest step we can take is to keep informed about crime rates. Polling shows Americans persistently believe crime is worse than it is. Unfortunately, evangelicals are “far more likely than the general American public” to make this mistake, according to research by Barna Group for Prison Fellowship.
That false belief is an open door to panic, demonization of higher-crime communities, and introduction of heavy-handed laws that mainly serve to comfortably assure us we’re “taking action.” We’re called to invest in the good of our communities here and now ...1
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