Back in 1969 the Violence Commission issued a report which foresaw the urban America of the future as a sort of terrorist Alphaville: high-tech business centers and shopping malls protected by armed guards, fortified apartment complexes defended by sophisticated electronic surveillance, and patrols of armed citizens keeping a vigilant watch over their neighborhoods. As Elliot Currie points out in his contribution to this volume of updates, “Crimes of Violence and Public Policy,” the Commission’s sci-fi predictions have been in large measure fulfilled. Every American knows what the problem is; we do not even need the chilling statistics provided by Weiner and Wolfgang in their thoroughgoing introductory essay. The FBI’s Unified Crime Reports reveal that between 1969 and 1982 the rate of murder in the U.S. increased by 25 percent, forcible rape by 82 percent, robbery by 56 percent, and aggravated assault by 82 percent. There is some quarrel over the figures and a discrepancy between FBI data and the National Crime Survey compiled annually by the Bureau of the Census, but neither set ofstatistics is encouraging. Few Americans can actually quote the figures, but by 1981, 68 percent of us believed that crime had increased in the course of the year.

The trouble with most thinking about crime—to borrow a phrase from James Q. Wilson—is the “expert” mentality of police authorities, sociologists, and urban studies professors who carry on the discussion.  It makes no difference if they view punishment as rehabilitation or deterrence, whether they are soft liberals as in the 60’s or tough conservatives as in the 70’s. They collect data, test out theories, and run projections as if there were not a kind of Hobbesian war of every man against every man being waged on our city streets. From their comfortable offices they conduct their research, free of outrage, anger, or fear. It is as if their abstract analyses had numbed them to the reality of this reign of terror under which so much of our population is condemned to live. It is almost hard to remember what it used to be like. As children growing up in the 1940’s and 50’s, few of us even knew what a rape actually involved. Now, it seems, it is the number one contact sport in inner cities and college towns, a phenomenon to be discussed and endured as one of the less pleasant facts of life in the postmodern world—like Walkman stereos or gum stuck on the underside of the tabletop. Parents seem almost resigned to the idea. Violent crime is, in the opinion ofexperts and laymen alike, a social problem, a disease which can be licked if we adopt more effective measures of public health. American Violence & Public Policy—the latest volume of the Eisenhower Commission—is a decided step away from the simpleminded, policy-dominated approach.

Elliot Currie marks the first stage of transition from the old therapeutic mentality. He rejects the liberal and conservative approaches to violent crime that have held sway in the past two decades and offers a “third stage” based on the recognition that criminal justice is not a complete solution but needs to be supplemented by government intervention in reconstructing family and community ties. We have to recognize, Currie insists, that “not much can be gained by way of crime reductions through the sheer expansion of criminal justice resources.” He is certainly right: throwing more money away on hardware won’t put an encl to crime in the streets. But if Currie means to suggest that, in general, getting tough on crime will have any good results, I wonder. Just imagine, for one terrible moment, that we adopted the enlightened criminal justice system of, say, Saudi Arabia, and imposed mandatory death sentences for all crimes of violence. Up until recently it was generally acknowledged that crimes which threatened life—the death penalty. My daddy must have had this in mind when he told me never to point a gun at anyone, unless I meant to shoot, and never to shoot, unless I meant to kill. Other people, he warned, would interpret a pointed gun as a threat and might know how to respond. Who takes such threats seriously today?

At the very least, expanding the death penalty would gradually shrink the available pool of criminal labor. There is no doubt about the deterrent effect of executing even half of the people responsible for the 600-700,000 violent crimes committed in the U.S. each year. At the rate ofonly 100,000 executions per year, the problem would be well in hand by the end of the decade. It is simply not true that we do not know how to make the streets (forget about the world) safe for democracy. As Samuel T. Francis put it, some time back, we might need a David Stockman of the death penalty.

If we do not undertake a campaign of extermination or at least some program of Draconian severity (a lifetime in solitary for repeat offenders?), it cannot be for reasons of expediency. Only a tiny minority of the population would be affected: the criminal classes. It would be a question of taking the side of the victim against the criminal (as Frank G. Carrington put it in Neither Cruel Nor Unusual). However, such a program would obviously conflict with our notions of justice and humanity. Given the choice between protecting the innocent and preserving the rights of the guilty, we have deliberately chosen the latter not out of fondness for rapists and murderers but out of moral conviction. It is a luxury which the educated and affluent have been able to afford, until recently. Those who are condemned, by misfortune or indolence, to live in bad urban neighborhoods are not so lucky.

Blacks, for example, do—it is true—commit between 50 and 60 percent ofthe violent crimes in the U.S., although they are only about 12 percent of the population. On the other hand, most of this crime is committed against Blacks. There is a sense in which the liberal soft-on-crime approach to criminal justice is just one more example of the affluent classes’ contempt for the poor—hardly a new story. Some time ago Edward Banfield risked academic excommunication by pointing out that many social programs supposedly aimed at poor minorities actually benefit the college-educated middle classes. Consider the amount of welfare money swallowed up by white-collar bureaucrats and social workers, the mass transit systems which allow the suburban gentry to commute to work, urban renewal programs, and “gentrification” which only businesses and yuppies can take advantage of. Someof these programs not only benefit the rich but actually—in the case of AFDC—hurt the poor. It was only when the elite found itself threatened by crime—in the 1970’s—that they began to take a tougher position. It was then we began tohear the definition of the neoconservative as a liberal who had been mugged.

The alternative, or rather the complement, to stiff criminal justice is, as Currie points out, social reconstruction, the revival of responsibility in families and communities. Unfortunately, most of the thinking on this subject has also been dominated by planners, bureaucrats, and welfare workers who take for granted the helplessness and shiftlessness of ordinary people. The 20th century has seen the professionals take over from families and communities many of their ancient responsibilities for child rearing and education for the young and for the welfare of the old and less able. Some of the changes resulted in increased efficiency or standard of living, but the price was high: the loss of autonomy in families and the decay of community identity and responsibility. Now the planners tell us they are going to need more money and more money to carry out their “reconstruction” of families and communities in the interest of crime prevention. In some parts of the U.S., they still have a fair idea of what reconstruction by government decree really means. It’s taken Mississippi and South Carolina 100 years to get over the effects of Federal benevolence. Heaven help the reconstructed poor!

There are a few sterling exceptions in urban studies. Paul J. Lavrakas in his essay “Citizen Self-Help and Neighborhood Crime Prevention Policy,” makes several telling observations. Government programs designed to reconstruct community responsibility for security tend to run aground for one of several reasons. For one thing, state and local governments are usually the first in line when the money is being handed put. Even when programs targeted money in the form of direct grants to community groups, as in the Community Anti-Crime Program, the activities of these groups were hampered by all the government strings attached to the grants. What is just as bad, such groups are typically created out of thin air; they lack a firm foundation in the community and they are only rarely given the guidance and resources which would enable them to function effectively. Lavrakas’s recommendation, based on the observation of several successful programs, is to work through existing community organizations—business associations, church groups, etc.—and provide them with badly needed technical assistance and a workable agenda.

Lavrakas’s approach to neighborhood security is rooted in something deeper than mere policy considerations. He is convinced that we, and not the government, are responsible for our own protection. While the police can react to crime, only we can prevent it:

Historically, humans took for granted that they were primarily responsible for their own safety. As population density grew and cities formed, institutions such as the police developed, releasing the citizenry from some of their responsibility for keeping communities safe. But even then, it was the behavior of the citizenry, not the police, that ultimately determined community security.

The social remedy for urban crime, then, is “a caring and vigilant citizenry,” a position also taken up by the volume’s editor, Lynn A. Curtis, in his concluding essay. Curtis provides a convincingdiscussionoftwosuccessfulcommunityorganizations: UmojaBoy’s Town in West Philadelphia and ElCentroinPuertoRico,wherecrimepreventionmeasuresareonlypart of an overall effort to revitalize the community. He would confine police activityintheinnercitytoasupporting role, “if and when a capable neighborhood organization is willing to take the lead.” Roy Innes, the head of CORE, goes a step further.  When askedtocommentontheGoetzcase,Innes went so far as to suggest that Black religious leaders should be armedanddeputized,Innes,whosesonsfellvictimsofurbanviolence,knows better than the police or social agencies what life is like for the decent majorityoftheinnercitywhoaretheprey of an all-too-sizable minority. Armed Black preachers patrolling the streets may not be quite what Lavrakas and Curtis have in mind, but I can onlysayamen.