Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The rarity of random homicide

Random homicide is extremely rare. ... Only 15 percent of homicides reported every year are committed by someone who doesn't know the victim, according to the Bureau of Justice statistics. And even then, the two people usually have mutual friends and acquaintances, says Richard Rosenfeld, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis: "That explains why they're in the same place at the same time." And yet, we often assume randomness, and treat the discovery that a murder isn't random as news. ...

Politicians like to play up the randomness of violence, too. "It gives everyone a stake in the problem," says Best. Even liberals and conservatives can agree that randomness is good: "If you're conservative, talking about random violence allows you to gloss over the obvious relationship between victimization and class," says Best. "If you're a liberal, you can gloss over the relationship between [committing] violence and race." Everybody wins. Except, you know, the victims.

The media does its part, of course. Murders don't typically make headline news, unless there's something unusual about them—for example, that they occur in an upper-middle-class suburb. (Slate's Timothy Noah calls this genre of news coverage "When Bad Things Happen to White People.") By covering random crime, news organizations help to create the impression that most crime is random.
--Christopher Beam, Slate, on why I am unlikely to be a victim of violence

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