Crime reduced in America beginning in the mid 1990’s and continued to decrease for over a decade in most of the country. This occured after a period in the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s when crime was out of control all over the country and Americans were viewing gruesome crime scenes on their TV screens night after night.
Commentators at the time spoke of a new wave that wold come in the late 1990’s of Super Predators who would be the most violent and thoughless criminals in the history of the world who would kill for fun. These were the “crack babies ” (children born to crack-addicted mothers) who grew-up with no sense of right or wrong and no structure in their lives who would know no limitations and no respect or regard for anyone.
The Super Predators never came, at least not not as predicted, and crime actually went down dramatically in American during the Clinton years up until the present in most of America ( there are exceptions). Cities like New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Miami and Cleveland that were totally besieged by crime in the early 1990’s, and many were the battlegrounds for serious gang warfare, saw their cities become safer by the year 2000 then they had been in decades.
Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner in their book “Freakonomics” argue that this dramatic dip in crime was due to that generation of youth being the first generation to be born after the Roe V. Wade decision legalizing abortion and therefore the easy access to abortion led to the drop in crime. Now, I have not read the book ( I do plan to read it) so I cannot agree or disagree with the arguments made but I can argue, as someone who was around at the time and heavily involved with what was going on in the streets and not in some library reading studies, that there were other factors involved in the reduction of crime and that timeline-wise I believe abortion was not a major factor.
First of all I want to address why crime exploded in the 1980’s; crime spread with the birth and popularization of crack-cocaine in the mid-eighties and Americas cities quickly became victims of the crack epidemic. In particular the African-American community was ravaged by crack and this was greatly aided by the expansion of the Bloods and Crips strreet gangs across America ( which came after the release of the movie Colors in 1988) from their homes in Southern California and the Folk Nation and the People Nation out of Chicago. Crack drove the crime wave; it was a hot product that created a lot of wealth for the dealers and it produced a climate of decay in many poor communities were the streets were taken over by the gang-bangers and drug dealers and the users fed on the ruins.
In different cities this took different forms and it wasn’t the same in New York as it was in LA ( NYC didn’t have the Bloods-Crips gang banging at the time but had their own more organized version) and in some places the gangs were made up of Latinos such as the Latin Kingz or the Mexican Mafia; but crack drove this epidemic. The violence and guns on the street were the product of so many young men and gang-bangers having money and actin a fool.
Next you have to understand the beast that crack is. Media reports have not done a good job at reporting on crack or studying its users or its dealers. Crack totally changed the landscape of the streets. Before crack the big guys in the hood were pimps; the money crack-dealers were making put the pimps to shame and the pimps stopped pimpin and started selling crack if they could. Crack ruined the old school pimp-game as the epidemic of crack hoes began ( women sellin pussy for crack). The thing to be in the hood was a crack-slanger.
Crack is sold normally by the a ten dollar piece a twenty or a fifty-piece of a “stone” or a “rock” and crack is cooked-up from a mixture of cocaine and baking soda and made into a hard form that can be smoked. Cutting up the product of the crack chef is a skill in and off itself.
The street dealers of crack are normally teenagers, and even pre-teens, and the most violent of these are those in the 14-22 age range. By the time someone has hit 22 on the streets he is a seasoned veteran who has been through many a battle and is ready for middle-management. The normal crack user in the hood and the black and Latino community is at least in their mid-twenties but normally in their thirties to their fifties. This made crack dealers and users different than previous generations of drug dealers; this time it was the kids sellin to the grown-folks and not the grown-folks sellin to the kids. At the top somewhere there was older men buying large quantities of cocaine and selling it out to the gangs and those on the streets; but on the streets the inmates had taken over the asylum for the first time and they were running shit.
What were the parents doing? Well, during that time (and even now) it was very common to see the young kid who as a dealer and the mother as a crackhead ( the father wasn’t around). The kid wouldn’t sell to the parent usually, that was against the code, but his clients would be the friends of his parents and many of the adults in the neighborhood and even other older relatives. So, many will say weren’t the relatives and elders in the community around to help the kids? No, they were busy buying crack from the kids.
With the money from buying crack these kids bought fashionable clothes, gold teeth, pimped out rides, jewelery and the whole nine yards and when the neighborhood girls had to make the decision whether to hook-up with the dealers or the studious kid going to school and doing the right thing but without a dime in his pocket most of the time they chose the dealer and prayed that one day she could be called his “baby mama”. The message for the local boys was plain and simple; if you want the respect of the other guys, and you want to be with the best lookin girls, you better start slangin that caine.
Another factor with the black and Latino crack dealer is that crack went against the old saying that all dealers use. Very few crack dealers in those communities use and if they are caught using they will soon lose their supplier and friends because nobody wants to deal with a crackhead. To the crack dealer there is nothing worse than a dope-fiend and it is against the code to even hang-out with someone who does crack.
The new families on the street were not based on blood but based on the blood they spilled on the street and these were the bands of brothers ( to use a borrowed term) on the streets that formed the gangs. Most of these gangs were made up primarily of teenagers and those in their twenties and many were soley made-up of teenagers. Roe V. Wade was in 1973; but during the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s most of the most violent of those on the streets, and those that really had residents living in fear in their own homes, most had been born in the late sixties to the around 1980 and this put several years of those after Roe V. Wade. In the early 1990’s many of those doing drive-bys and the like were 14, 15, 16, and even in their early twenties and had been born after 1973.
Crack was king still when crime dropped so what happened?
I can tell you a few things based on the people I know and what I have seen. During the late eighties and early nineties tens of thousands of young men were killed on the streets. These young men were victims, but they were also perpetrators of crimes and when they died so did the future crime that they would have been committing. Personally I know of dozens of young men who were killed in this period and all of them I knew, with the exception of a few, were living a life of crime. When these young men die en masse, such as the case of the indiscriminate blood-letting of that era, crime will take a dip. I know of neighborhoods were all the young men in the neighborhood, who had been the criminals, were wiped out. People were dropping like flies at that time and there was a time when people were getting killed on a regular basis just for wearing the wrong color or walking down the wrong street or bumping into someone. After a while many people wised up, they had seen so much violence and had so many friends and family die, that they decided that even on the streets violence shouldn’t be exercised as freely as it had been. Even gang-members by the mid-nineties largely stopped gang-bangin unless there was a specific beef over an issue and were not killing each other for the hell of it; so the game had matured. You could wear your rag or your flag in another mans turf as long as you didn’t disrespect the man and that had not been the case before.
National, state and local politicians panicked at the rising crime-rates at this time and passed numerous laws that got tougher and tougher every year and built more prisons, and sent more people to jail for longer and longer sentences. Those who had not been killed were getting sweeped up and sent to jail for 5, 10, 20, 30 years or life for drug-crimes or violent crimes. I have a friend of mine who did a murder in the 1980’s and served 4 years in prison and there are many people like that and that is no longer the case. Today of you are convicted of a violent crime you are going to be serving a very long sentence if you do not do life like many people I know are doing. In the old days you could catch multiple drug cases and may be looking at a few years in prison; today if you are caught with any significant amount of drugs you will be looking at very serious jail time and it is common for dealers, with no history of violence, to be sentenced to 20 years, 30 years or life. Many of these prosecutions happen under what is called “conspiracy laws” and in those prosecutions everyone is equally guilty and the little guy will be doing the same lenghty sentence with the big guy. Also, the laws against convicted felons carrying firearms or even being near them have led to a lot of people being locked-up as opposed to the past where people would get caught with guns all the time and nothing would happen. People on the street would tell you “I would rather get caught with it than without it.”
Things changed over the years because of deaths and stricter laws and this was reflected in the crime stats. In my opinion abortion had very little to do with this. You also have other factors; in the 1990’s the economy was red-hot and people were getting jobs and opting out of a life in crime and after 2001, when the economy took a hit after 9-11, crime in many places began to go up again. Crack is also no longer king everywhere. Crack not only produces the violent crime of the dealers and the corruption that money brings; but it causes the crime committed by users in order to get the drug. With crack use down, crime is down; but in areas were drug use is up, such as those areas were Meth is an epidemic in white areas of the West and Midwest ( Meth is a white drug for the most part and some cops call it “the hockey puck drug”) crime is up. But Meth is not crack, and in Meth the dealers are mostly users, and while the users commit crime to get the drug; the dealers are not killing each other off for the most part.
Today there is still a class of people who don’t have shit and want to come up anyway they can, and there is still a large criminal class, but now they are in prison for the most part or on their way and the rest are doing what they were doing before. The problems have not been solved that led tot he crack epidemic and we can see today that crime is slowly going back up again as many cities reported rising homicide rates in 2004 and 2005 and I believe this is the result of the new generation replenishing the streets.