The New Wave of Senseless Violence

Amiya Moses, caught in the cross fire.
Amiya Moses, caught in the cross fire.

by James A. Bacon

This may be the most grim but fascinating sociological insight into the nature of poverty and crime I’ve seen all year… While violent crime is down overall in the City of Richmond since its horrendous peak in the 1990s, which earned the city the reputation as a murder capital of the United States, the motives for assault and murder have changed dramatically.

“Where a decade ago most shootings were fueled by a melange of drugs, gangs and robbery, today the standout motive is petty squabbles turning into deadly violence,”writes reporter Ted Strong writes for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“A lot of folks today don’t know how to resolve conflict,” said Police Chief Alfred Durham at a news conference about the death of 12-year-old Amiya Moses, who was killed a week ago in an argument that escalated into a gunfight. “They resort to violence and we have to change that behavior. And when I say we, it’s not the police department’s job to change that behavior, but it’s the community.”

The change has been so marked that Richmond prosecutors do not even try to provide a motive for murder in jury trials, said Traci Miller, assistant commonwealth attorney. The triviality of the motive is too jarring. “It’s so senseless that I don’t want to try to sell that to a jury,” she said.

Bacon’s bottom line: The 90’s-era murder wave proved ephemeral thanks to a variety of factors that social scientists do not fully agree upon but are commonly attributed to superior policing and a parole system that kept bad guys locked in jail longer. What’s particularly worrisome about the new wave of violence is that it might well prove to be impervious to policing and corrections policies. The rapid escalation of minor arguments into deadly violence arguably reflects the underlying pathologies of entrenched, multi-generational poverty that fails to inculcate in children the most basic standards of behavior.

To be sure, prosecutors attribute the problem in part to the easy availability of guns. When everyone has access to a gun, angry disputes that once would have led to fisticuffs now lead to shootings. It’s not clear, however, if guns are more easily available today than they were ten years ago.

The problem is especially acute in Richmond because poverty is so concentrated there. Sadly, the erosion of the social fabric among America’s poor is endemic, not just among Richmond’s inner-city blacks, but among poor whites and the poor of other races and ethnicities. Thus, Richmond’s inner city could be the fabled canary in the coal mine, giving us insight into the emergent nature of violent crime everywhere.

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14 responses to “The New Wave of Senseless Violence”

  1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    As I recall, the Clinton Administration worked with the Commonwealth and the City of Richmond to implement Project Exile, which provided for harsher penalties for crimes with guns and possession of illegal weapons. How did that work? What happened to the program?

    1. Article in the Times-Dispatch today or yesterday said that City of Richmond officials are thinking of reviving Project Exile. I didn’t read more than the first paragraph so I can’t provide details. But I think we can assume that the project expired.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Sometimes – perspective adds to understanding…

    Brazil 25.2 50,108
    India 3.5 43,355
    Nigeria 20 33,817
    Mexico 21.5 26,037
    Congo 28.3 18,586
    South Africa 31 16,259
    Venezuela 53.7 16,072
    Colombia 30.8 14,670
    Pakistan 7.7 13,846
    China 1 13,410
    Russia 9 12,785
    United States 3.8 12,253 <———–

    1. Larry, could you please label these numbers? I don’t know what they mean.

  3. A life lost is still a life lost.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    indeed – and that’s a good reason be cautious in trying to frame it as something more associated with a particular culture or social structure , etc… and then seek to formulate policy responses based on those biases.

    as a country – we are dumb as a stump when it comes to this.

    we have more people in prison in this country – at a rate higher than most every other country in the world – and some would say -that we actually have criminal training academies rather than “correctional” institutions.

    when you take poor dumb kids doing stupid things with street drugs and put them in cages with killers for a couple of years – you get more well-trained lifetime killers. We actually train people to take others lives on ignorant, misguided and hypocritical notions of “crime” and “corrections” and then pat ourselves on the back for being “tough on crime”.

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Why don’t you try the Washington Post.


  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    All Opinions Are LocalOpinion
    Virginia’s struggle with guns

    By Peter Galuszka December 23

    Virginia Attorney Gen. Mark Herring (Joe MahoneyThe Richmond Times-Dispatchbvia)
    Virginia is going through some soul searching on gun control although it is not necessarily related to the wave of mass shootings plaguing the country.

    Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham is considering trying to revive “Project Exile,” which tapped considerable federal law enforcement resources back in 1997 to combat the city’s then-extraordinary murder rate. Richmond recently has seen a big spike in inner-city shootings.

    In a separate initiative, Attorney Gen. Mark Herring (D) is ending reciprocal concealed-carry privileges with 25 states.

    Herring’s move, which would start in February, is the less-impactful of the two ideas. It is largely symbolic and is designed to show that Virginia is taking a stand on gun control to the dismay of gun-rights activists and conservative legislators.

    Durham’s idea has a lot of merit. This past weekend, Richmond saw five shootings and three deaths. They were garden-variety incidents that involved petty arguments and the like. In one, two young men allegedly started shooting it out and a 12-year-old girl was hit and killed.

    At a press conference Monday, Durham suggested a return to “Project Exile,” which successfully stemmed Richmond’s 1997 murder rate that, per capita, became among the highest in the country. That year, the city saw 140 murders, 122 of them gun-related. So, city and state leaders asked federal authorities to step in and help prosecute those who use firearms in crimes.

    According to the terms of Project Exile, anyone charged with using a gun in a crime would go into the tougher federal court system instead of being tried locally. He would face immediate federal prosecution and, if convicted, go to prison for five years in addition to any other incarceration time.

    Another part of the project involved mass media. To get the message out and try to get pistol-packing hotheads and would-be armed robbers to think twice, authorities rented billboard space and took out other ad spots.

    The result? Three hundred and seventy two people were indicted for federal gun violations, 440 illegal guns were seized, 247 people were convicted and 196 convicts served about 4.5 years in prison. After one year, Richmond homicides declined 33 percent and armed robberies went down 30 percent. The next year, were down 21 percent.

    Over the next several years, the homicide rate dropped even more, but that also had to do with the changing demographics of shooters. Those most likely to be involved in gunfights or assaults either were killed or got older.

    Project Exile had its critics. Some gun rights people called it Project Gestapo. But it did not do anything to limit access to gun ownership. It just took tough steps if someone used guns illegally.

    Herring’s move likewise is drawing plenty of criticism. Some claim it will hurt Old Dominion tourism if out-of-staters can no longer pack heat on vacation. The argument is hard to follow. Hikers can’t carry firearms anyway in some federal parks. A gun fan also would look rather ridiculous frolicking in the surf at Virginia Beach while wearing a shoulder holster under a T-shirt.

    Peter Galuszka is a regular contributor to All Opinions Are Local.

    1. Good update on Project Exile. Given the political climate in which it is all but impossible to curtail “gun rights,” targeting the illegal use of guns seems to make sense. What happened to the program? Was it shut down? Did it expire?

    2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Peter, thank you for the comments on Project Exile. I agree with the Chief of Police in that it might well be time to bring Project Exile back.

      As to Herring’s order canceling concealed carry reciprocity agreements with a number of states, his actions may well be unconstitutional for overbreadth (and other reasons). Herring, whose legal skills I am beginning to doubt, proposes to ban any person with a concealed carry permit issued by a state with less strict standards than Virginia’s from carrying concealed in the Old Dominion. The order is overbroad because it bars those individuals from other states who would have qualified for a Virginia concealed carry permit. An overly broad statute or regulation prohibits constitutionally protected speech or (certain) actions and not just unprotected ones.

      Assume A & B have concealed carry permits from a state with which Herring canceled reciprocal agreements. Further assume A would have qualified for a concealed carry permit under Virginia law, but B would not. Assume also that C, a Virginia resident has a concealed carry permit from the Commonwealth. Essentially, Herring is unilaterally denying A’s rights because of B. Also, Virginia is discriminating against A in favor of C even though both are situated similarly. If both A & C could pass the Virginia statute, why can only C carry concealed in Virginia? Isn’t Virginia (make that Herring) likely violating A’s rights to equal protection under the law? Herring is likely interfering with interstate commerce and could well be impinging on A’s fundamental right to travel simply because B could not get a concealed carry permit in Virginia.

      This is first year Constitutional Law. I’d be ashamed to work in the Virginia Justice Department.

  7. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    JB – A couple of editions ago, the National Review contained an article discussing studies relating to the availability of guns and homicide. One of the points found by a number of researchers is that often criminals borrow their firearms from friends or acquaintances, as well as steal them. It sounds to me as if there is often a revolving flow of firearms through the criminal class. I don’t see how gun regulation affects this. Perform a background check before one felon can lend a hot semi-automatic Ruger? But it may be time to revisit Project Exile.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    the reciprocal concealed-carry privileges is unconstitutional and project Exile is not?

    how are folks in other states “entitled” to carry rights in Va in the first place if Va does not trust the vetting process in the other state?

    those who are denied are not Virginia’s responsibility… on what basis would they sue? they’re certainly not entitled Constitutionally.

    the whole thing is a joke – the “arms” referenced in the Constitution are not any weapon that one desires… in the first place…

    we can’t have most of the worlds more deadly weapons anyhow – but we can have ones deadly enough to kill hundreds in public venues…yet those same weapons would be totally outgunned with the weaponry the govt possesses. the whole concept is foolish.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Larry, the Supreme Court has recognized the right to travel between states and the right for temporary visitors to a second state to have that state grant the visitors the same privileges and immunities possessed by residents of the second state. That gives Virginians the right to travel to Maine or Maryland or Georgia. And vice versa. And if Marylanders are permitted to enter buy a ticket for a concert in Baltimore, so too can Virginians visiting Maryland. Likewise, Virginia cannot adopt a regulation and post a sign that says only Virginians can drive on neighborhood streets.

      Concealed carry must be treated the same. If A, a nonresident of Virginia has a concealed carry permit from his home state (which Herring doesn’t recognize) and would qualify under the Virginia statute to obtain a concealed carry permit in Virginia, I believe a very strong argument can be made that Virginia must recognize the other state’s concealed carry permit. If B has a concealed carry permit from the second state, but could not qualify for one in Virginia, I believe a strong argument can be made that Virginia need not recognize the permit.

      A would need to sue Virginia in state court, according to the Constitution. Or, quite possibly, the second state could sue Virginia on behalf of the former’s citizens before the United States Supreme Court, on the basis of that Court’s original jurisdiction over disputes between states.

      And I agree that certain regulations of firearms are not unconstitutional, but some are. But if qualified and under certain circumstances, an individual can buy a grandfathered machine gun or other fully automatic weapon.

      But that is immaterial as to whether and under what conditions Virginia must recognize concealed carry permits issued by other states.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    ” Evaluation of the Virginia Exile Program”

    [ Project Exile, which was confined to Richmond and surrounding areas, has since been supplanted by Virginia Exile, the Commonwealth’s statewide program which carries bail restrictions and imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in a Virginia prison ]

    ” In an effort to determine whether or not the Virginia Exile grant program’s stated goal to reduce gun violence was achieved, firearm violence data from Virginia’s Uniform Crime Reports for the
    six principal evaluation sites [(Chesapeake, Halifax County, Lynchburg,Petersburg, Richmond, and Roanoke)]were examined.

    “Available data indicated that levels of nearly all violent offenses committed using a firearm INCREASED in both the Exile localities and statewide following program implementation of Virginia Exile. ”

    There are several possible interpretations of these results:

    1) the Virginia Exile program was simply not effective in achieving its stated goal of reducing gun violence,

    2) available firearm violence data are not the most appropriate
    way to assess the impact of Virginia Exile’s goal,

    3) the program sites did not fully implement the established program design, and

    4) Virginia Exile’s stated goal was not suitable given the program requirements and elements of the Exile statutes. Therefore, the program’s effect on levels of firearm violence is largely inconclusive.”

    beyond that – the obvious question is why would we selectively have different gun laws when the Constitution guarantees each person equal treatment under the law including the unfettered right to “arms”?

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