Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Murders in Philadelphia: Some Perspective

When I was in college, like many American kids, I studied "the troubles" of Northern Ireland. Maybe because Ireland has such a mythical place in the consciousness of so many Americans, or maybe simply because they speak English and have an "interesting" conflict to study, the province is run over with Americans looking at murals, ethnographically interviewing people, and writing a thesis or two about why so many of these people who seem so alike kill each other so often. (In fact, so many Americans study there that there is a common joke: Q:What is the typical Derry family? A: A mother, a father, two kids, and an American doing peace and conflict studies.)

Part of what makes studying in Northern Ireland so appealing is that it is small enough so that everyone is very accessible. So that when I did a study of Loyalism, I sat down for a two hour interview with the former head of the UDA, the largest Protestant paramilitary, and someone who had ordered the deaths of countless people. And, on a day their Government was on the verge of collapse, the Chairman of Sinn Fein sat down and talked to us for an hour.

Much of what makes it so accessible is simply its size- roughly 1.7 million people. In fact, when I thought about the type of interviews I was getting, I had a habit of comparing it to having a whole part of Academia studying Philly, because at 1.5 million people, we really were not that different in size.

Anyway, here are the murder statistics, by year, for those killed in the troubles:

1969 16
1970 26
1971 171
1972 476
1973 253
1974 294
1975 258
1976 295
1977 111
1978 80
1979 120
1980 80
1981 111
1982 110
1983 85
1984 69
1985 57
1986 61
1987 97
1988 104
1989 75
1990 81
1991 96
1992 89
1993 88
1994 64
1995 9
1996 18
1997 20
1998 54

The average year in Northern Ireland, the place famous for murder, saw 115 people killed. If we look at 1971-1980, the ten worst years of the troubles, the average number of people killed is 214 people.

Now, lets look at the murder rate for the past ten years in Philly, a similarly sized place:

1995 432
1996 423
1997 418
1998 338
1999 292
2000 319
2001 309
2002 288
2003 348
2004 330

The average number of people killed? 350. So even in its worst years, Northern Ireland, the place studied by countless students, the recipient of millions upon millions of dollars in aid, had about two-thirds of the murders that Philly has had in the past ten years.

Anyone else think that we need a new approach to crime prevention?


At 10:15 AM, Blogger ACM said...

I'm sure we need new approaches to crime. But comparing a densely populated city with a largely rural region (even Belfast would be a medium Midwestern town) is a bit misleading, at least insofar as crowding is highly correlated with increased violence. [And this is without getting into any national differences.] All the more reason we should find ways to diffuse hostility and/or make people feel more a part of their communities within the city...

At 10:32 AM, Blogger DanielUA said...

I disagree. Yes, parts of N. Ireland are rural. However, these more rural places are where some of the most intense violence came. For example, look at South Armagh, a county with only small towns- where the British soldiers literally started traveling from watch tower to watch tower, and where in the small town Crossmaglen, the IRA posted "Caution: Sniper at Work" road signs. Or in Omagh, a small town, where a single bomb killed 28 people in 1998, and injured hundreds more.

And, as far as the size of Belfast- do not be fooled by the fact the strict city limits of it contain 300,000 people. Its whole metro area has 700,000 or so...

The city/suburbs deliniation is not nearly clear as in Philly, and some of the outerlying housing developments, which are technically Suburban, are where some of the worst violence occurs.

At 11:21 AM, Blogger DanielUA said...

Sorry, I meant to say, where the British soldiers literally started travling from watch tower to watch tower by helicopter only. So many of them were killed that they never stepped foot on the streets of S Armagh.

And, as an aside, two thirds of N. Ireland residents live in urban settings, which would be about 1.1 million people. So, even taking the rural people out of the equation, it still is not a ton different.

And, this was a place ruled by paramilitaries, on each side of the divide.


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