Being a resident of the city of Beaumont since birth, and watching the local news often, I have recently discovered the violent crimes that have taken place. Four innocent people have lost their lives in the South Park neighborhood one day. The Beaumont Enterprise states that “it is the city’s first mass shooting in five years (Moore).” One suspect was charged with four counts of murder. The suspect and the victims were all minorities, specifically African-American. Why did he do it? Did the victims have something he wanted? Was it money, jewelry, or clothes?
Three individuals, author Pablo Fajnzylber, economist Daniel Lederman, and economist Norman Loayza, took a close look at the relationship between inequality and violent crimes in an essay entitled, “Inequality and Violent Crime”. The current economic times make it hard for people to secure a job to make a living. We see in the news that certain companies are laying off or closing. However, with the holiday season coming soon, there are companies that are hiring, but they’re only doing so for the holiday season; it’s not long-term. People may apply, but some with a criminal history may not get hired or even considered. We are all familiar with the phrase, “keeping up with the Jones’s”. Most of us want what others have: nice clothes, beautiful jewelry, nice cars, or just money. If they don’t have what one has, people who are not as fortunate to have it will figured out a way to get it, even if it has to be done violently. This is what Fajnzylber, Loayza, and Lederman discussed in their essay. As mentioned in the essay, the authors attempt to present a correlation between crime and inequality based on income. An article states that “in 2011, it was found that the average annual income of white households was at least six times higher than that of black households” (Dispatch). Estelle Sommeiller, a socio-economist at the Institute for Research in Economics and Social Sciences in France, also states in an article that income inequality is “a persistent problem throughout the country — in big cities and small towns, in all 50 states” (Reinicke).
It has been established that income inequality is the cause of violent crimes, not only in America, but other countries around the world. This topic is noted to be “the subject of sociological theories” (Fajnzylber, Loayza, and Lederman). But, there are other factors that have an impact on violent crimes. The authors of the essay, “Inequality and Violent Crime”, feel that urbanization is one of those factors. Communities are growing; take a look at the west end of Beaumont. Not only are certain parts of the city are growing, but other neighborhoods in America and certain cities in other countries are growing. An article written by Peter Gizewski and Thomas Homer-Dixon states that “by 2025, the United Nations projects a further tripling of the total to 4.4 billion, at which point nearly two-thirds of the citizens of the developing world will live in cities” (“Urban Growth and Violence: Will the Future Resemble the Past?”). So, what is the trend like? Margarita Konaev states that “Urbanization is a relentless trend, and as cities grow and expand, armed conflict and violence are urbanizing as well” (“The New Normal: Urban Violence in the 21st Century). Another factor that impacts violent crimes is educational attainment. How many seniors are graduating from high school? Out of the total student enrollment of various high schools, how many are dropping out of school? Out of those students that have graduated from high school, how many are seeking degrees from post-secondary schools? Those are all important questions when looking at the significance of educational attainment and violent crimes. In most cases, the more education one has, the more income one has. In order to combat violent crimes due to educational attainment, what should be done? In an article written by Brian Bell, Rui Costa, and Stephen Machin, they state that “changes to compulsory school leaving laws that force some people to stay in school longer have been shown to boost education and reduce crime” (Why Education Reduces Crime). Many schools and districts are finding ways to keep students in school. Schools are looking at attendance rates, researching what’s causing students to stay home, other than illnesses, family emergencies, and appointments. Schools are also looking at the climate, seeking to know if the environment is safe for students. Some districts are also implementing programs such as after-school programs that are geared to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as well as cultural and vocational after-school activities.
Joan-Maria Esteban, a Spanish economist and Debraj Ray, an American economist had their own arguments. They, who are the originators of the concept of polarization, feel that “society’s degree of polarization may be the cause of rebellions, civil wars, and social tension in general” (p. 19, Fajnzylber, Loayza, and Lederman). Their arguments contributed some valuable insight on this topic. It was reported in this essay that the authors did their own number crunching with data provided by Esteban and Ray. The essay states that “the effect of polarization on crime appears to be positive and significant for both homicides and robberies, and the signs and significance of the other core variables are mostly unchanged” (p. 21, Fajnzylber, Loayza, and Lederman).
When we take a look at this in respect to the theories presented in the textbook, I find that one of those theories that can be identified is the social structure theory. This theory deals with poverty (which can be tied into income inequality) and lack of education (which can be tied into educational attainment). The second theory that can be applied to this research essay is the social disorganization theory. This theory examines why crimes in neighborhoods take place, which is what urbanization ties into. “At the core of social disorganization theory, is that location matters when it comes to predicting illegal activity,” explains Dr. Mark Bond. The theory also “asserts that crime is most likely to occur in communities with weak social ties and the absence of social control” (Little, Introduction to Sociology).
In regards to sociological terms or perspectives that are best reflected from the explanations of those two theories, conflict theory would be one. One example that comes to mind that would best elaborate on this theory is limited resources after some type of storm (hurricane, tropical storm/depression/flooding). Resources are limited, and people may have limited funds. A person may see his/her neighbor retrieving bags of food and water from his/her car and taking it into his/her house. As he/she sees this neighbor taking groceries into the house, he/she takes action by going over to the house and forcefully makes the neighbor gives him/her all the food and water he/she has. I’ll attempt to give another example to elaborate. Food and water donated by an organization is given to those in need. A line or multiple lines are formed. When food and water runs out, those that haven’t received anything may take what another has received, which may cause a fight to break out, or more serious, a weapon to be drawn and used. The second perspective, term, or, specifically, theory, that best elaborates on the discussion of the two theories presented as explanations is the strain theory. The phrase we’re familiar with is true to an extent: “desperate times call for desperate measures”. However, actions take are not appropriate socially. One may be in need of food and water since those resources are limited in times of despair due to storms, but it is not socially acceptable to take another’s food and water, usually without permission, or with acts of violence. People may experience some type of stress and may commit a crime to escape it.
I, in my humble opinion, find no weakness in the theories that were used to help explain the connection between income inequality and violent crime. The theories present have weight and are valid for the sake of research. The theories presented in the essay, in my humble opinion, don’t need to be revised. In regards to the reduction of violent crimes due to inequality, I hope that this type of research continues and that appropriate measures are taken, especially with our youth. I hope to see additional programs and research in place to keep students engaged in public education and off the streets.
- Bell, B., Costa, R., & Machin, S. (2018, October 14). Why education reduces crime. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://voxeu.org/article/why-education-reduces-crime.
- Bond, M. (2015, March 1). Criminology: Social Disorganization Theory Explained. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/criminology-social-disorganization-theory-explained-mark-bond.
- Dispatch. (2018, May 23). How big is income inequality as a determinant of crime rates? Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://wp.nyu.edu/dispatch/2018/05/23/how-big-is-income-inequality-as-a-determinant-of-crime-rates/.
- Fajnzylber, P., Lederman, D., & Loayza, N. (2002). INEQUALITY AND VIOLENT CRIME. The Journal of Law and Economics, XLV, 1–40. Retrieved from https://siteresources.worldbank.org/DEC/Resources/Crime&Inequality.pdf
- Little, W. (2014, November 6). Introduction to Sociology – 1st Canadian Edition. Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/introductiontosociology/chapter/chapter7-deviance-crime-and-social-control/.
- Moore, C. (2019, September 30). 4 dead in Beaumont shooting. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://www.beaumontenterprise.com/news/article/4-dead-in-Beaumont-shooting-14477286.php.
- Reinicke, C. (2018, July 19). US income inequality continues to grow. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/19/income-inequality-continues-to-grow-in-the-united-states.html.
- Ronell, A. (2018, June 27). The New Normal: Urban Violence in the 21st Century. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://sites.tufts.edu/css/the-new-normal-urban-violence-in-the-21st-century/.
- Urban Growth and Violence: Will the Future Resemble the Past? • Thomas Homer. (2017, October 24). Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://homerdixon.com/urban-growth-and-violence-full-article/.