Crime and Punishment – a Series

Crime and Punishment – a Series

Today (6-26-08) in the NYT, I note an interesting story out of Brooklyn (by Michael Wilson) where neighborhood bloggers helped take down a pestilent crack house. [Check out — it’s a great example of neighborhood interaction.]

The neighborhood web site carried frequent reports about the problem, like “Fighting and drug deals going down in the driveway of this house.”

That was in 2006.

Then this later report — “There have been two deaths in a one-block radius up here. One was definitely an overdose and the other is suspect, but the toxicology is still pending (to my knowledge). If the tox comes back positive, then that could indicate that some bad stuff has hit the streets.”

Eventually the neighbors – armed with the knowledge that they weren’t alone, went in person the 68th Precinct Station and vented. As one of the neighborhood leaders put it “At the end of the day, it was about putting aside anonymity, putting aside the HTML and physically showing up.”

After the successful raid and arrests, several miscreants were in custody and the neighborhood had improved overnight. “Everybody on this block is happy they’re gone. I’d wake up in the morning, I’d hear the drug addicts arguing about how their sneakers are gone, all this nonsense. They’d take each other’s clothes, their money.”

As one blogger put it — “People don’t like to fight alone. There’s strength in numbers. There’s more of us than them.””

Francis Fukuyama noted in his book, The Great Disruption, that crime waves are associated with the loss of social capital. He described an example from old New York where a young girl wandered away from her parents in a dense busy urban neighborhood. Several eyes were on her immediately, a shopkeeper, a delivery guy, and so on. Everyone in that earlier urban neighborhood was engaged, and knew almost everyone else. The girl was in safe hands. That is social capital.

The Brooklyn story represents the restoration a little social capital using the web. But make no mistake they had to “put aside the HTML” and get into the real world where people talk to people.

Sever are several other hidden factors operating here. The Giuliani revolution is alive and well. One of its underreported effects was to reinforce the confidence of police and neighbors alike – “We’re going to turn this around” was followed by results. When a critical mass of good people wake up and realize that “There’s more of us than them,” good things begin to happen.


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