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HOLMBERG: Why the perception of more murders when the opposite is true?

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR)- The horror in Newtown and in Aurora this year, and the day-to-day drumbeat of murders and other violence that we report and many of you share in your social media circles has many of us believing we’re seeing a significant spike in violent behavior.

But the opposite is true.

If you look at mass shootings – defined by the FBI as claiming four or more victims –  the numbers of incidents and the number of victims has been, on average, steady and, in the past decade, declining.  (Read a noted criminologists analysis here: http://boston.com/community/blogs/crime_punishment/2012/08/no_increase_in_mass_shootings.html)

Mental illness resulting in devastatingly violent eruptions is far from a new problem.

Criminologist Grant Duwe, author of “Mass Murder in the United States”,  says mass killings peaked in 1929 – in the midst of gangsters and the start of the Depression.

Two years earlier, in 1927, was the worst school massacre in US History. Farmer Andrew Kehoe, upset at his pending  foreclosure, used dynamite to blow up part of the Bath Consolodated School in Michigan, killing 45 and injuring 58 others, nearly all the victims were children in the second to sixth grades.

It’s far from the only time that explosives were used to commit mass murder, as we saw in Oklahoma City.

The US murder rate  in general has been on the decline since the spike in the early to mid-90s, when crack cocaine invaded US cities. We’ve been seeing murder rates in the past couple of years that we haven’t seen in 50 years and a steady and drastic improvement since the 1700s. http://www.bjs.gov/content/homicide/tables/totalstab.cfm and  http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/violent-crime/murdermain

Even firearm murders have been steadily declining.

Richmond’s murder rate is literally one-quarter of what is was in 1994, when we had a 160 slayings in the midst of crack cocaine madness.

It was 120 in 1995, 72 in 2000, 86 in 2005 and 41 in 2010. So far this year, the city has seen 41.

FBI uniform crime statistics show other kinds of violent crime have also steadily slowed. (http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2012/june/crimes_061112/crimes_061112)

Yes, violent crime in the United States is a horrific problem, much worse here than most other first-world nations. But the improvement has been real and steady.

The reasons remain unclear, although most experts point to an aging demographic, shifts in drug use, stiffer sentences for violent criminals and changes in our culture, such as better protecting those in violent relationships.

So why this perception that we’re a much more dangerous society now? Is it the way we report the stories, and repeat them on social networks? Is it our fascination with the dark side of life?

I often think of Patricio “Pach” Torres, a teen-aged honor student shot to death in 1993 during a wilding incident at the Richmond Coliseum while picking up a friend there. His  saying:  “Love is stronger than fear.”

My guess is, we’re living in a more fearful society.

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