Seeing lots of talk of crime rates going around, so a short-ish thread on crime vs. harm and the violence of crime rates as our indicator of social wellbeing.
Crime rates measure a very specific set of acts, as reported by the police. Many of those acts are harmful. But they’re often reported & interpreted as representing the level of societal harm/wellbeing––as if high crime rates mean things are bad, and low rates mean good.
But crime rates, and crime as a legal category, are hyper-individualizing, focusing on a subset of acts that (generally) one human does to another. Crime rates completely erase state harm.
Some things crime rates don’t measure: houselessness, hunger, wage theft, poverty, racism, the drinkability of a city’s water, sexual harassment, sexual violence in most cases, police violence, and countless other forms of harm & state violence.
Really, crime rates are by the state, for the state—they affirm the state as the legitimate arbiter of harm, erase the state’s tracks as source of harm itself, and license the state to carry out harm in the name of ending it (via prisons and policing).
Breaking the perceived synonymity of “crime” & “harm” is crucial. “Crime” is an individualizing, anti-Black legal invention. Harm is a broad metric that incorporates both the ways in which we hurt each other, and the state as a source of violence, instability, pain, and death.
This is why for abolitionists, as Mariame Kaba says, the unit of analysis is harm, whether that harm is labeled criminal or not. And this is why abolitionists are against the prison industrial complex — because it is a “central organizer of racialized gender violence.”
Some useful definitions from Critical Resistance:
“Actions become crimes only after they have been culturally/legally defined as crimes…What counts as crime changes across both time & space…Often these changes happen because of political forces that are manipulating public fears instead of responding to them.”
Harm: “both something one person does to hurt another – from yelling at your partner to killing another person – and the effect of oppression or violence carried out by the state. Importantly, these kinds of harm are linked.”
More generally, living in a state that is the source of so much harm, it would never make sense to believe what that same state is telling you about the level and source of harm.