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As more and more black renters began moving into this mostly white San Francisco Bay Area suburb a few years ago, neighbors started complaining about loud parties, mean pit bulls, blaring car radios, prostitution, drug dealing and muggings of schoolchildren,” the Associated Press reported on December 30. As Antioch’s black population escalated sharply over the last decade to 16% of the city’s 101,000 residents in 2007, longtime homeowners complained that the new arrivals brought crime and other troubles,” and police formed a special anti-crime task force black residents accuse of harassing them.

CJCJ spends a lot of time analyzing and debunking alarmist media reports that rely on police and public impressions of crime – which nearly always predict doom and urge more funding for law enforcement. Antioch presents an unsettling case. 

Did more black residents moving to federally-subsidized housing in suburban Antioch bring more crime? No. In 1995, police reported receiving 480 reports of felony violent and property index crimes for every 1,000 residents; in 2007, 390 such reports. That’s a healthy, 19% drop in serious offending.

But is that the whole story? No. What changed was the venue of crime – and along with it, public perceptions.

For example, in 1995, Antioch suffered three times more aggravated assaults than robberies. In 2007, slightly more robberies than assaults. Both are serious crimes. Robbery is nearly always a public crime that ranges from small-change shakedowns with no injury to armed muggings and, rarely, shootings. Aggravated assault often involves domestic violence causing serious injury, including with deadly weapons.

The non-ideological world statistics illuminate yields important lessons. First, contrary to sentiments expressed by many long-term (white) Antioch residents, poorer (black) populations don’t bring higher crime rates; Antioch was more crime-ridden a decade ago than now. Second, contrary to many liberals’ notions, poorer populations do perpetrate higher rates of violent public crime, and that is a legitimate concern. Third, blaming newer, poorer, and darker-skinned residents in general for increased robberies, public nuisances, and drug-dealing is simple-minded bigotry, the same as blaming older, established residents en masse for their higher rates of property crime, domestic violence, drug abuse, and white-collar offenses.

The vast majority of poorer people do not commit violent or other crimes and have a shared interest with middle-class and wealthier groups in preventing the criminal victimization and drug abuse their populations share. Unfortunately, that potentially unifying concept has been buried under increasingly combative media, politician, and interest-group agendas that feed off reciting melodramatic myths of suburban and rural paradises invaded by disruptive urban and immigrant newcomers.