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We Can’t End Inequality Until We Stop Urban Gun Violence 

By The Trace

Here’s a blueprint for cities ready to get startedRead full story

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  • Thomas Abt's new book on reducing urban violence is important and worthwhile. In an upcoming Atlantic article, I examine his ideas, how he came to them, and why such evidence-based strategies have failed to gain enough traction already. This op-ed by him is a good summary of the book's key points, so

    Thomas Abt's new book on reducing urban violence is important and worthwhile. In an upcoming Atlantic article, I examine his ideas, how he came to them, and why such evidence-based strategies have failed to gain enough traction already. This op-ed by him is a good summary of the book's key points, so if this piques your curiosity, I highly recommend this readable and provocative book.

  • I would argue this framing is exactly backward— we can’t stop urban violence until we end inequality. It’s a symptom much more than a cause.

    That said, the article does a good job of cutting through a lot of the fearmongering and propaganda about violence and shootings found in mainstream media. Getting

    I would argue this framing is exactly backward— we can’t stop urban violence until we end inequality. It’s a symptom much more than a cause.

    That said, the article does a good job of cutting through a lot of the fearmongering and propaganda about violence and shootings found in mainstream media. Getting through the cloud of sensationalized bs to the practical problems and solutions is crucial, and the author largely succeeds. My frustration is more with the presentation than the substance.

    While the author’s practical policy ideas are great, the piece suffers from stylistic failings common in news media. “Gun violence” is a near-meaningless, heavily politicized statistic. In this article the phrase seems to have been employed mainly to draw clicks from paranoid partisans. If City A has 50 murders, including 25 shootings, and City B has 50 murders, including 5 shootings (all per capita), then it would be a true statement that City B has five times less gun violence than City A... despite Cities A and B being exactly equally dangerous.

    Hyperfocusing on gun violence distracts from the larger systemic problems that actually cause violence in the first place. Economic deprivation, police brutality, mass incarceration, and lack of physical and mental healthcare are all MUCH more closely related to urban violence than the prevalence of guns. In fact, the author is writing about exactly these issues— yet the first 25% or so of the article gives the impression that he’s going to talk about gun control.

    The author is clearly very knowledgeable and has several good ideas and insights, but he still falls into this ideological/linguistic trap. For example, in a section discussing the need for an accepted and concise definition of “urban violence” he offers a definition which reads “unacceptably high rates of lethal and potentially lethal violence, committed in public spaces, as measured by the number of homicides and shootings that result in injury.” This definition, as written, would exclude beatings and stabbings that did not result in death. Being shot is no more traumatic than being stabbed. Violence is violence, whether it’s from a bat, a knife, or a gun.

    And yes, I know that this is getting deep into semantic/legalese territory. When you’re explicitly discussing the need for a CLEAR and CONCISE definition of something, the semantics DO matter. In this case, there is simply no reason to specifically mention “shootings” in the definition. “High rates of murder, attempted murder, and injury due to violence pervading public space” would have more than sufficed.

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