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May 14th, 2006

Snopes.com just came out with a report on a new Internet rumor being spread:

On May 1st, as a result of the Mexican boycott, national retailers reported 4.2% lower sales for the day, with a 67.8% reduction in shoplifting.

This along with other rumors that on the day in question, violent crime, car theft, and other crimes fell by 50% to 90%. The clear message is that illegal aliens and Hispanics in general are responsible for almost all crime in the U.S.

Snopes shot it down, of course–all the possible sources for such figures reported that statistics for such crimes could not have been compiled yet and had not been released. Which, as would seem obvious, the reports are fictional, being spread by right-wingers trying to turn public opinion against that particular segment of the population.

But this is not the first time such rumors have been spread on the Internet–in fact, it seems to happen quite often. Whenever there is a Bush administration screw-up or hot issue that involves minorities in some way, rumors about crime and violence on the part of the minority group start getting spread almost immediately. Such rumors were rampant after Katrina, suggesting that minorities were on crime sprees, that they were being thieves and whores and welfare addicts of one sort or another. I blogged on one instance where it was claimed that people displaced by Katrina had moved into a Utah city and immediately brought with them an epidemic of crime, including drug use (claimed to be immediate after deplaning), rape, and the formation of violent gangs. The evacuees were depicted as lazy and ungrateful. Of course, the events being claimed were completely false.

This is disquieting for many reasons, not the least of which is the historical precedent for such rumors and the chilling effects they can bring. No less disturbing is the stark racism that is expressed by these stories, in a society Bush lauds as “color blind.” Of course, to be fair, when Bush says that, he means that where there are people of color involved, he is blind to what’s happening….

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  1. Tim Kane
    May 15th, 2006 at 00:50 | #1

    It would be interesting to hear the real statistical effects of May 1.

    How many people participated? How did it affect the economy? Sales? Productivity? and yes even, were their any affect on crime, good or bad?

    It is realy hard to tell the impact of the strike. All I can guess is that it wasn’t too substantial, because I have heard of nothing since.

    I lived in Chicago for two years. There was a Mexican grocery store in my neighborhood. One Chicago in ten is hispanic. When I lived in Chicago, you couldn’t walk ten feet without bumping into a panhandler. I am sure I saw thousands of pan handlers in those two years, of every stripe, one even looked ethnic Japanese to me, but never once did I see a hispanic pan handler.

    New York claims they reduced petty crime by going after pan handlers, and that help reduce big crime even further. (Though I believe the drop was do to demographics, the baby boom was over, most crime occurs from about ages 16-26). I take that as circumstancial evidence that hispanic activity probably is not statistically disproporationate in inflating levels of crime.

    Still, I’d like to see the statistical effects of May 1.

  2. Paul
    May 15th, 2006 at 10:06 | #2

    I predicted these sorts of things would be said after the “Day Without Immigrants”. Unfortunately, I didn’t write my prediction down anywhere, so I shouldn’t brag about it. :)

    Tim, NY’s much-fabled drop in crime thanks to the “broken windows” theory of law enforcement (the notion that if you stop people from the simple little crimes, like going after panhandlers or stopping people from breaking out windows in abandoned buildings) has some pretty big gaps in it. The demographic drop is one thing- sheer numbers.

    But even more shocking is the claim, which is backed up by statistical work, outlined in the book “Freakonomics”, by Steven D Levitt. Levitt is an economist, but he likes to look at things we don’t think of very often.

    Anyway, his claim is that the drop in crime is mostly due to- get this- abortion becoming legal in the 1970s. He points out that the women most likely to get abortions are those who are towards the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, and also single- two of the biggest factors in predicting a child’s future propensity for crime.

    This was, of course, a pretty outrageous thing to say in public, even if it turns out to be true. Levitt attributed roughly 50% of the drop in crime to abortion.

    In any case, getting back to Luis’ post, the supposed drop in crime rates on the day of the protests was an easy rumor to predict. It’s a shame that the racist and anti-immigrant people have to resort to such tactics to try and back their arguments up.

    I think a lot of the immigration debate is about fear- the negative side really plays to people’s fears about how their incomes have stagnated, how they see good jobs leaving their towns and the USA, how they’re afraid that someone coming here is going to “take” something from them.

    What they don’t see is that most of that stuff is going to happen anyway, and when people immigrate into the US it overall actually helps the economy (IMO). This nation didn’t get where it was by *not* allowing immigration; it got here by encouraging it.

    Seattle, WA

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