By Colin Woodward
In 2017, Little Rock was rated the most dangerous city in America with a population less than 200,00 people. Arkansas is a third world place, more or less, and with it comes third world levels of crime.
This is a violent country, and Little Rock is a violent city. Things in central Arkansas have improved much from the early-mid 1990s, when the crack epidemic made crime so bad that HBO aired a documentary called “Bangin’ in Little Rock”. In the early 90s, many cities were damn near unlivable. Gangs were killing other gang members–not to mention innocent bystanders–over new drug turf. Mid-size cities had murder rates far greater than they should have had. The inner cities were seething. Los Angeles blew up in 1992 as a result of the Rodney King verdict. By the late 1990s, cities found ways to lower crime rates, helped by new approaches to the problem and the subsiding of the crack warfare.
In August 1993, I enrolled as an undergraduate in a college in Hartford, Connecticut, which was experiencing some of the worst crime in its history. The city set a record for murders one week that summer when I was there. It was my first experience being away from home for longer than a week. Given the bloodshed in Hartford, most of us at Trinity College didn’t dare venture off campus, at least not alone. It wasn’t until four years later that I felt safe enough to walk to the grocery store a few miles away.
After leaving Hartford, I moved to Baton Rouge, where the crime was–amazingly enough–far worse. Just about everyone I knew in Louisiana had been a victim of a crime in one from or another: breaking into cars, muggings, burglaries, assaults. You name it. If you can manage to live in Baton Rouge, New York City should be easy. Or Beirut.
Now, I live in Little Rock, where crime statistics are hard to come by. The city’s wikipedia page has no crime statistics (as of 2017 May 9, there is a crime section of several sentences, with no references to recent crime). Is the city trying to hide something? You bet it is. Yet, you don’t have to live here long to realize how high the crime is. There’s a popular Facebook page called Forbidden Hillcrest, which reports on the crime in that prosperous neighborhood and surrounding areas. It’s easy to read Forbidden Hillcrest and think that Little Rock is in chaos. It’s not chaotic, but that doesn’t mean the crime rate isn’t high.
The facts don’t lie. There were five murders this past week. The latest involved a man allegedly shooting a driver after a road rage incident. Another case involved two teens being kidnapped. One was released, but his friend was murdered. After these killers are found, tried, and convicted, they will know the true meaning of misery when they are sent to Cummins or some other prison. If they make it that far.
At the rate of 5 murders per week, Little Rock would average 250+ murders for the year. There are only about 193,000 people in this city. To put that in perspective, in 2007, New York City, which has over 8.3 million people, had fewer than 500 murders. Even if Little Rock only averages, say, 25 murders this year, its per capita murder rate is much higher than in New York City. And let’s not even get into the rapes, robberies, and other crimes.
Little Rock usually averages between 25 and 40 murders per year. Here are some statistics. The number of murders in Little Rock for the last few years (updated after this post went live in 2013):
With the warmer weather comes more crime, usually. July 2012 was the deadliest month for Little Rock since 1993. Ten people were murdered in July last year in the capital. Only one month in the past twenty years has been worse: December 1993, when eleven people were murdered.
Recently, Little Rock had the dubious distinction of becoming the 6th most dangerous city in the United States. Little Rock police, among others, might contest such a ranking. But there is no question that Little Rock is a high crime city.
Why? There are many reasons. There are the obvious factors of race, class, drug problems, and history. The South has always been a violent place, with a higher percentage of poor people than other parts of the country. Not all people who commit crimes are poor, of course, but the South, more so than other parts of the country, is still working out issues of racial and class justice left over from the Jim Crow era.
Another problem is political, namely, legislatures that don’t focus on the crime issue or want to pay for improving the conditions that lead to crime: bad schools, unemployment, drug abuse, bad parenting, psychiatric disorders–just to name a few. I’ve heard a lot about the most recent Arkansas legislative session, but I didn’t hear any serious crime measures proposed. All I heard was talk about making people handle crime on their own by letting them carry guns in churches and college campuses. Gee, thanks. As if I didn’t have enough to worry about. Amazingly, Arkansas does not have a “Stand Your Ground” law. Perhaps the bad press out of Florida has cooled efforts to give Arkansans a license to kill.
On Forbidden Hillcrest you can read a lot of responses along the lines of: “you should’ve had a gun!” Victim blaming. Yet, more guns, concealed or not, does not make us safer. Whether or not you use your gun in a legitimate instance of self-defense, a crime has still been committed. At best, you can make a bad situation not as bad. Warding off an attacker still means you were attacked.
No one will contest another person’s right to defend him/herself. You might not be a criminal. But being in a constant state of violent preparedness still makes you a violent person. And urging people to get a gun and not address the root causes of crime is at best a cheap, lazy solution. Instead of politicians urging a greater police presence, they want an armed citizenry taking matters into their own hands. As for myself, I don’t feel safer thinking other people might have concealed weapons. I feel safer seeing more cops, especially on foot.
Guns, used responsibly or not, lead to frequent tragedies. About 30,000 people per year in this country are killed by guns, 2/3 of them suicides. That means 600,000 people in the last 20 years have died from guns, roughly the number that died in the Civil War. The fact that most were self-inflicted make you wonder why you might own the gun you have.
Little Rock’s downtown has improved dramatically in the last twenty years. Shops and restaurants and other businesses are thriving. There’s new construction. It’s relatively safe. You see cops. It’s much improved over the late-80s, when the downtown was a desert. Still, the city has a long way to go before it could be considered safe.
Responsible parents care most about improving schools and lowering crime. That’s something Republicans and Democrats can always agree on. For some people, carrying a gun everywhere makes them feel safe. For me, living in a place where I feel like I would never have to carry a gun is the truest measure of safety. Little Rock has a lot to offer, but the crime rate is not one of its highlights.