Saturday, February 17, 2024

Amplifying Local Fear

Boy, do people love to talk about crime. They’re so excited about it that every day, when the police department posts a link to the daily crime report, someone then copies and pastes the entire report into the comments section to make sure no one misses it. 

Crime is especially useful if you want to complain about something:

Things aren’t what they were when I was growing up.

This is all the county executive’s fault

Those (insert racist dog whistle here) really bring the neighborhood down.

I’m glad I moved to _____________.

Ever since ___________, it’s all been downhill.

Nobody likes crime and I think we would all agree that we’d like less of it in Columbia/HoCo. But I’m beginning to be creeped out by people who seem to get sincere enjoyment out of sensationalizing local crime. There’s a distinct difference between documenting and reporting crime as opposed to rolling around in it the way that dogs love to roll in decaying flesh and other foul smelling stuff. 

Bonus: the existence of crime is used as a weapon against anything these people don’t like.

Hate a local politician? Crime is their fault. Don’t like what the kids are learning in school? Clearly it’s causing crime. Scared of non-white people in your neighborhood? They’re attracting crime or making it happen. Don’t like local initiatives? They must be depleting the crime-fighting budget. 

We say that crime doesn't pay but it sure does get clicks. As example, Scott Ewart of Carroll County Observer on TwitterX has suddenly started posting on Howard County crime. Despite moving away from Howard County and closing down his HoCoLocal blog (to live in Carroll County) Mr. Ewart cannot resist copying and pasting crime information from hocomd.

Why? I suspect it’s for the clicks. You can get people really riled up over crime in a way that they just don’t over other kinds of local news. It’s a quick and easy way to get engagement. 

But I think it skews public perception of what’s really happening locally. All this copying and pasting and clicking and sharing creates a big dusty cloud of “crime crime crime crime crime” while  other important local issues are obscured. If we say, “There must be a lot of crime; that’s all I hear about” we aren’t actually responding to the accurate of amount of crime. 

We are really responding to the way that people around us are amplifying crime stories to the degree that it uses up all the oxygen we could be using on other important local issues. 

Honestly, if these folks didn’t have actually crime stories to get hyped up about, they’d be generating crime fear stories on NextDoor. They can’t live without it: the Bogey Man par excellence.

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