CRIME, PERCEPTIONS OF CRIME, AND THE MEDIA
This week I read an article in Tuesday's Daily News titled, "Numbers show Brooklyn is safer than it's been in years, but residents still afraid of crime".
I have to say the article really bothered me a lot because it singles out the 75 Precinct and East New York. I live in the area covered by the 75th Precinct for 40+ years, and I've seen similar articles like this over the years, so while not surprising, it still bothers me all the same.
First some background info:
The above points only tell part of the story however. Perhaps the most important untold story is a continuation of the last bullet point. Now that the vacant land has been reclaimed for housing, there are as many as 25,000 new residents in the neighborhood. So, with a substantial population increase, the precinct has shown an overall drop in crime of 75% in 20 years.
You simply can't base crime by precinct when their populations vary so greatly. When you make that adjustment, you will see that the 75 Precinct comes in around 4th or 5th place in Brooklyn. So much for being "a world apart from the borough and the rest of the city" as the article states. But I digress...The population numbers are based on Census data, sampling, etc. East NY is a severely undercounted neighborhood in any census, so it's possible that the true rank is even lower once you make even conservative adjustments for this.
It's important to remember that although I know much of the above by heart, I also went online and timed my fact-checking, not just to make sure I knew what I am writing about, but also to see just how long it would have taken a reporter to find the same info. It took me all of 35 minutes, using a variety of websites (Google, nyc.gov, and some others).
A year and a half ago New York Magazine did a good job with a graphical representation of the above point on crime relative to precinct populations. Click here to view it and be sure to go to the PDF version, page 2, which shows the 75 Precinct. What's important to consider is that New York Magazine used Census 2000 data, so keep in mind that although it used 2007 crime stats, the population in 2000 is way lower than it was in 2007.
It is so easy to paint my neighborhood's precinct with a wide brush as the wild west of East Brooklyn. And believe me, I don't kid myself that we still have very serious crime issues here in ENY. BUT...Reporters need to stop being lazy when they write articles about ENY. We have our challenges, but there's so much more to ENY than just a set of crime stats:
Back in 1996, 1998, and 2000, we did a lot of "quality of life" and "perceptions of fear and crime" surveying in ENY, in partnership with the 75 Precinct. In 2009, I worked on similar surveying in the area at the behest of Assemblyman Darryl Towns (FYI: I now work for him full-time as his communications director). In 1996, 33% of respondents said they feel safe walking around the neighborhood. In 2009, 47% said they feel safe. Even when you factor in margin of error, etc. this is still a pretty steep increase (even more when you add in the numbers for "somewhat safe"). Some of the other questions don't match up exactly but the overall results are the same: people are starting to feel better about living in the area covered by the 75 Precinct.
One of ENY's greatest challenges has been addressing negative perceptions of crime. The greatest contributor to those negative perceptions is the media. As long as reporters (tv and newspaper) continue to report only negative news about our area or worse, distort facts (like the Daily News did this week), we will continue to be perceived as the Wild West of the city.
The reporter in the Daily News article quotes a few residents whose concerns are to be taken seriously and not undervalued in any way. But the reporter takes those soundbites and presents them as though this was the feeling of the whole neighborhood, because his title ("...residents still afraid of crime") can mean 2 or 20,000 people. How did he go about asking the question? How many people did he ask? Was he fair and balanced or did he provide lead-ins? The article doesn't say anything about his method for making the blanket determination.
So here's a special 6-point message directed to the residents of ENY, Cypress Hills, Spring Creek, City Line and Starrett City:
COMPLAIN. When a newspaper runs a puff piece like the Daily News did this week, write to the editors but more importantly, page through the paper and see who is advertising inside. If any of the local businesses or chain stores with locations in ENY have ads, call them. Let the advertisers know that the very paper they are giving their money to is writing articles that are keeping its readers away from their stores. Believe me, you'll get their attention, and they will get the attention of their sales rep at the newspaper.
SUPPORT YOUR COMMUNITY WITH YOUR DOLLARS. We may not have Starbucks like many corners of Manhattan, but I can still get a great cup of coffee on Fulton Street (much better if you ask me). Our pizza shops can go one-on-one with the best shops in the Zagat guides, as most local residents will tell you. I can buy some great clothes in City Line sparing myself the headache of going to over to Macys. And I'm always hunting for home goods at the shops along New Lots Avenue. This point is important because more people shopping our community's stores helps people feel safer because of the crowds. It gives jobs to local residents, especially to young adults, and keeps dollars in the community.
GET INVOLVED. If you're a reader of this blog, then chances are you're already involved, but if not, get to a community meeting. We need you. For newbies and those already involved in community gatherings, try this at your next meeting: Don't just bring up what's going wrong in the area, bring up what's going right. It can impact how other attendees feel about the area if they hear about what went right.
SPREAD THE WORD. Good community-based communications is essential to fighting negative media. It's very important to let your neighbors know about the successes that go on here every day. For example, the block association that works closely with the police to chase out a drug dealer is worth talking about at the laundromat, beauty parlor, and barber shop. We also have a few community newspapers--call or email them and give them positive stories to write about. Community newspapers do a better job of reporting positive news, so be sure to support their advertisers--and when you do, tell the store owner why you gave them your money. Sometimes just a single comment is enough to keep that business adverising in a publication.
ATTRACT VISITORS. lots of East New Yorkers are online now, over 70% of households. There are many websites that report on leisure activities, like local restaurants. Write reviews on these establishments so people outside the community can give us business and see for themselves that they don't need to rent Kevlar vests before visiting. But there's more you can do online. There are websites and blogs about life in ENY, such as the ENY farms and arts in ENY, amongst others. Visit them and support them. We need to take charge of how people write about us online in every way possible if we are going to fight negative media and lingering perceptions of ENY.
BE PROUD. If you grew up here, went to school here, and lived through the tough times and good times, be proud. When people ask you about how it's possible that you turned out like you did despite everything you lived through, (politely) tell that person to go to hell. You can only be who you are because of your experiences here, not in spite of.
As I stated above, we still have a long way to go, and I am not implying that we don't have some serious problems to work on here in ENY. If that's what you're thinking then you're missing the point. Many of us--police, residents, businesses, clergy, community groups, elected officials, service providers--have fought and won many victories. We should be proud of what we've accomplished in a short amount of time.
1990 through 2010: As someone that lived and worked through the worst years, the differences between then and now are dramatic. However, as long as the media continues to be lazy and irresponsible in its reporting of ENY, we have to remain vigilant and correct their errors because no matter how much the area's crime stats show that crime is down, unless people feel things are safer and better, nothing really changes.
Spread the word.
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