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How Republicans unleashed a new crime wave in America — through worsening inequality

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Yesterday morning, a burglar tried to break into my home. Thankfully the doors were all locked, but a few houses down wasn't so lucky; our neighbor was home and is now pretty traumatized to have experienced a home-invasion burglary. By the time the police arrived, the burglar was long gone in a stolen car.

A friend is trying to sell his condo in downtown Portland but large parts of downtown have been turned into a giant homeless camp so there are few buyers even in this hot real estate market. The nearby streets are pockmarked with tents and the curbs frequently sport human waste.

Homelessness and its attendant crime are getting so bad that police in many cities don't bother to investigate many property crimes unless they're against wealthy people and involve things of great value. Just among my own friends and acquaintances in the past year I've seen three cars stolen (one I watched happen!), one car damaged in a smash-and-grab and two home-invasion break-ins.

And I know of dozens of smaller crimes, including assault against a family member by a mentally ill homeless person, that were simply never reported to police and therefore don't show up in official statistics.

And this isn't a story unique to Portland; petty and property crime are exploding along with gun crimes and homelessness in cities across the nation. New York City is nearly certain to elect a new Democratic mayor whose main credential was that he was a cop; people are freaking out.

But there's more to this than homelessness or "bad people" doing crime for fun and profit; there are deep causes to this problem (beyond the pandemic) that require deep solutions.

Most people think crime (particularly property crime) is caused by poverty, like the poor people portrayed in "Les Misérables" stealing food for their children. But Louis XVI's policies had both increased poverty in France while massively increasing his own wealth and that of his friends. There was poverty, and even periodic famine but (outside of stealing food) that wasn't what was driving crime and ultimately revolution in 18th-century France: It was inequality.

Hold that thought.

I've worked among very, very poor people and even in the midst of famines. In late November 1980 I went into Uganda at the tail end of the Tanzanian invasion that overthrew Idi Amin. As Amin fled to Saudi Arabia, where he was feted with a palace for himself and his wives by the Saudi government, his soldiers went on a killing and looting rampage, particularly in the northern region against the Karamojong people. They killed most all the men and boys older than toddlers and raped the women; by the time we got there the region was filled with thousands of starving women and small children (my contemporaneous diary of that trip is here).

Thursday of that week the special on NPR's "All Things Considered" show was an 18-minute conversation........

© Salon

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