January 9, 2013 By Wayne Hanson
On Monday, Nov. 26, 2012, New York City did not record one murder, stabbing or shooting -- the first time that has happened in memory, according to Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne, in a CNN news item. The FBI also reported recently that violent crime is in a five-year decline.
Boring. That isn't news. It will generate practically no Web traffic, sell no newspapers, attract no advertisers and will be ignored by millions. It's has no conflict, no big names, no sex, death, or horror or emotional upheaval. It is the most benign kind of happening. It will most likely go unnoticed and unheralded in the following days and weeks of normal violence. Except perhaps as a novelty item.
It may concern tightly budgeted police departments who worry about layoffs, even though a cessation of crime is their purpose, their mission. "Mission accomplished, here's your walking papers." Many dismissed the day without murder as a fluke, a statistical hiccup that essentially means nothing. Some media used it as a novelty, a contrast to the usual horrific rate of homicides in many large cities, or the latest murders. The cynical might opine that the criminals had one blockbuster of a weekend party and slept in till Tuesday.
The only interest the media might have in a "no-death-day," is the mystery of why it happened. When violent crime goes down, as it has in the last few years, the dwindling exceptions receive intense coverage. At best a few ideas are thrown around as to what might have caused the drop: A CNN story last fall cited "a more settled crack cocaine market, an increase in incarcerations, an aging population, data-driven policing, and changes in technology that include a big increase in surveillance cameras."
And then when the crime rate starts to increase again, that goes away and we go back to rather apathetic "educated guesses" at why it's going up: "Not enough social programs," "high unemployment," "violent video games," and the like.
But a day without murder is more than a cosmic joke. It is the ideal, the way things should be. Thousands of smaller cities and towns around the nation and the world go years without a murder. To the media they are boring places. Without crime and death and conflict to report, many local newspapers have dried up and closed. In a day of upside down mortgages, we have upside-down expectations -- we expect crime and read all about it.
Some futurists say that one day we will all live in megacities and thus they would condemn us to immersion in all the problems that plague mega-populations, including crime, conflict, and life in tiny boxes that share walls with five neighbors. Here's to small towns and villages with space to breathe and where murder is a stranger.
Wayne Hanson is editorial director of Digital Communities. His interest is in the future of communities and the elements necessary to create those places in which we would most want to live and work. What makes an ideal community, and how can civic leaders help their cities, counties and regions evolve to better meet old necessities and new opportunities?