To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Brandeis professor comments on the politics of crime in ABC News

ABC News recently published a news report covering political discourse on violence and crime in the U.S. and how crime is affecting voting during the midterm elections. The article focuses on increased criminal activity in Toledo, Ohio and features expert commentary from Brandeis Adjunct Associate Professor of History Leah Wright Rigeur. 

The article cites the drastic spike in violence in Toledo, saying, “Until 2021, Toledo averaged about 30 homicides a year. But then the number of homicides more than doubled in 2021 to 71.” According to an analysis conducted by the ABC News team, Toledo was one of more than a dozen cities in the U.S. that have experienced record-breaking instances of homicide. 

In Ohio, GOP Senate candidate J.D. Vance “has made crime a cornerstone of his campaign and has worked overtime to paint his Democratic opponent, Tim Ryan, as anti-police,” as described in the article. Ryan’s campaign countered that they do not support mass defunding of police, but rather criticize racial disparities in positions of criminal justice. 

Rigeur weighed in about using crime as a talking point, saying, “Here’s the thing about using crime as a political talking point: You don’t actually want to go through the nuances of crime.” This tendency makes it simple for Republican candidates to leverage voter anxiety about issues of crime in localities to obtain positions in government, making crime talking points “a relatively easy dunking point,” Rigeur added. 

The article described how politicians and communities remain in disagreement about the best practical solutions to mitigate increased crime rates in the U.S. In an interview with ABC News, Toledo Police Chief George Kral shared his belief that greater recruitment for the police force may help, however another pressing issue in the city is the widespread access to guns.

Toledo activists in the Black Lives Matter movement shared their thoughts, saying, “The pandemic put extra stressors on locals and contributed to spikes in crime.” However, they disagreed that simply increasing the size of the police force would help ease the situation in Toledo.

Rigeur addressed the racial biases surrounding political discourse about crime. “You can’t come out and say, ‘Black people are dangerous.’ It is ineffective at appealing to, you know, mixed communities or white liberals or white moderates, none of whom want to be associated with racism. But when you do it in a really subtle way, all of a sudden all of these fears and biases that people hold within come rising to the surface and it ends up being a relatively effective political mobilization tool,” Rigeur explained.

Rigeur is the Harry S. Truman Associate Professor of History at Brandeis with research expertise in 20th Century American social and political history, modern African-American history and more.

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