Red, Blue & You: Contentious Crime Conversations
Public safety discussions need to remove politics from the equation.
Public safety issues are among the most contentious in our state. While there remains a great deal of overlapping viewpoints in Georgia about how to keep communities safe, the rhetoric around policing and criminal justice has never been further apart.
There is also an increasingly large activist base that is demanding a complete reimagining of public safety practices. Its rallying cry was heard loud and clear across the country in recent protests.
Most people only have the bandwidth to form dedicated opinions about a handful of political and policy issues, but one would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t feel strongly about public safety in one way or another.
In other words, we all want to keep people safe. Every Republican, Democrat, conservative and progressive agrees that it is inherently good to make sure people can live, work and play without worrying about what lurks behind every corner.
And despite a spike in crime that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgia remains safer than at almost any other time in our history.
The state homicide rate is 6.1 per 100,000 people, down from 7.1 in 2002 and 12.6 in 1982. Rape and assault have similarly declined, with per capita violent crime being less than half of what it was 30 years ago, per Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
However, the discussion around public safety rarely reflects those positive trends. In Georgia’s largest cities, we are bombarded every morning with headlines of the crimes that took place the night before. If all you do is scroll the top stories every morning, some might think we live in a war zone.
If you listened exclusively to the loudest voices in the room, you might come to the same conclusion. And reasonable reforms around the incarceration of nonviolent offenders, decriminalizing poverty and decreasing use of force by police are too often couched as extremist ideas.
Crime is not exclusively an urban issue; rural communities are no stranger to public safety issues, either. While homicide rates are indeed higher in large cities, public safety encompasses far more than violent crime.
In fact, the rate of dying from an unintentional injury is over 15 times higher than that of homicide. Whether you live in rural areas or the city, you’re much less likely to die from a gunshot wound – either from someone else or self-inflicted – than you are on your commute to work.
Public safety is not a zero-sum game. We can protect people from violent crime and property crime as we simultaneously protect them from car accidents and pandemics. To do that effectively, we have to take politics out of the equation.
As partisan rhetoric whips up a fury among millions of Georgians against an imaginary threat to safety, people will suffer as everyone grows more afraid of his or her neighbors. We have already seen the effects of this rhetoric – more Black people getting shot, more attacks against people of Jewish faith and hate crimes against every minority group continue to rise.
What kind of world are we building for the future if the message is to constantly live in fear? How can we have an honest conversation around public safety if efforts to bring more justice into our justice system are framed as a desire to undermine our dedicated peace officers?
There are legitimate criticisms of our criminal justice system that get drowned out when any criticism results in being accused of being soft on crime.
Georgia has by far the most people under criminal control than any other state in the nation, resulting in a crippled prison system and making it harder for hundreds of thousands of people to get a job.
Police brutality continues to be a problem as well, one which we are finally beginning to reckon with after decades of dismissal.
We need solutions that bridge safety, liberty and equity. Our current system is broken and needs to be improved.
It will require leaders more concerned with good policy than good talking points. Some of those leaders are standing up now.
Who will join them?