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Fear of Crime

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"Fear of Crime"

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Ta-Nehisi Coates had a very interesting post the other day on the difficult subject of race and crime. I wanted to flag a bit of a side theme, though, both in his post and in some of the comments which is about fear of crime. He talks about how even when he lived in DC years ago and the crime rate was much higher, he wasn’t frightened:

For most of my tenure in D.C., I was going to Howard University. This was before the advent of gentrification, and it was generally thought that Howard students, themselves, were easy marks. But me and most my friends knew that to be a simplification. It’s true that if you walked through, say, Clifton Terrace star-gazing, if you’re roaming the streets acting like it can’t happen (as us ancient hip-hop heads say), you were very likely to get stuck. But as anyone whose spent some time in the city knows, if you moved through the streets with purpose, if you kept the ice-grill on and looked like you were all business, if you kept that sixth sense of yours buzzing, the chances of you actually falling prey were pretty low.

Similarly, Shani-O says in comments:

I was at HU when gentrification really started taking off (freshman year: no white people. senior year: white people jogging with their dogs on campus) but I’ve had friends mugged by Slowe Hall, and known kids who were *shot* up by Drew. Yet we weren’t afraid. The idea was: keep your head up, don’t smile, pull out your cell and call a friend if necessary as you walk somewhere questionable.

I guess I agree with Sonia. The whites I saw walking from the Shaw-Howard Metro stop to their new homes around Georgia Ave had the I’m-about-business ice grill down pat, and it was rare to hear of anything happening to them.

Now I think I basically agree with those sentiments. I was a kid in New York City back in the high-crime days, and when I first moved to my neighborhood in DC the neighborhood was much more dangerous than it is now. In that time I’ve been fortunate enough never to be robbed which I attribute to a mix of luck and knowing the right ways to behave. And I wouldn’t consider myself to be someone who spends a lot of time experiencing the subjective emotional state “being afraid of crime.”

On another level, however, the actions that are being described here just are fear of crime. Knowing you shouldn’t walk down certain streets or through certain housing developments (I live right by the former Clifton Terrace) and that if you go to certain neighborhoods you need to carry yourself a certain way — those things are fear of crime. They’re not the worst things in the world, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that people engaging in tons of defensive behavior aren’t scared of being victimized.

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