“Facts are stubborn things.”
John Adams made that famous remark, although the second part of it usually gets left out: “[A]nd whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
We agree with John Adams, up to a point. Statistics are facts, too, but when they’re cited without putting them in context, they can be deceiving.
That’s why we’re not quite sure what to conclude from our report Sunday on the dramatic increase in gun-related crimes and other violent crimes in Tuscaloosa in the first three months of this year compared with the first quarter of 2017. Violent crimes such as shootings, stabbings, assaults and sexual assaults nearly doubled, jumping from 58 to 113. Gun-related crimes alone also nearly doubled, from 20 to 39.
Obviously, this is not good. But is it an anomaly, or a trend? To some extent, it makes no difference. The goal of law enforcement, the judicial system and public policymakers in general should be to wipe out every vestige of crime. No one but a fool would believe this is possible, but it’s the ideal. So when crime actually goes up, especially violent crime, it’s beyond troubling. As a community, we have to figure out why this is happening so we can come up with ways to reverse it.
Unfortunately, in today’s polarized political environment, that’s not easy. It seems we are too quick to discount the ideas that don’t fit our particular world view, rather than listen with an open mind.
Those on one end of the public policy spectrum believe the best approach is to examine the root causes of crime and take steps to prevent it. Those on the other end believe that incarcerating the incorrigibles is the most sensible solution.
The idealistic notion that crime can be prevented simply by implementing policies that remove the incentive to commit it is admirable because it is rooted in compassion, but it discounts the reality that human nature sometimes manifests itself in ways that cannot be overcome with a carrot alone.
The notion that meting out an appropriate degree of punishment should be enough to prevent crime is equally idealistic and in fact can make matters worse because it does not allow for the possibility of redemption – the stick alone results in hopelessness and recidivism.
Most people realize that public safety depends on the right mix of both, but when debating the issue they tend to gravitate toward one approach or the other. Simply reacting to crime, though, is not enough, and doing nothing would be worse.
We hope that the number of violent crimes this year is an outlier, but the fact is they have gone up considerably and this community can’t just assume things will get better.
Tuscaloosa has earned a reputation, especially in recent years, as a great place to live and raise a family, but nothing will change that faster than a crime wave – or the perception of one.