In the aftermath of a shooting that killed two people and wounded five others in a nightclub in the northern French city of Lille, a witness named Jeremy told local reporters, “It's disgusting, this isn't the Bronx.”
That comment -- a reference to the long-maligned borough of New York City -- underlined not only ignorance, but a deep-seated prejudice toward urban American landscapes by many foreigners.
He could have said the South Side of Chicago or South Central Los Angeles or perhaps Miami, but he picked the Bronx.
Jeremy, who probably has never set foot in the Bronx and couldn’t locate it on a map, might be surprised to learn that violent crime rates in the Bronx have been dropping for the past two decades -- as they have in New York City as a whole and many other U.S. big cities.
Indeed, since the crack epidemic of the 1980s escalated the violence on the streets of New York, the number of murders reported in the city has been falling, after peaking at about 2,000 homicides in 1990. New York is now recording between 500 and 600 murders per year -- quite a dramatic drop over two decades, considering that the population has increased and poverty and unemployment remain high.
Experts are baffled by this sharp drop in lawlessness. Indeed, criminality continued to decline during the worst days of the recent recession.
However, the perception that places like New York, especially the Bronx, are filled with violence remains fixed in the minds of millions of people around the world who have never visited here.
Clearly, these myths are fed by violent movies and music videos (since, for example, the Bronx is the birthplace of rap).
In the global imagination, the very words “the Bronx” conjures up dreary images of burned-out tenements, graffiti-covered subway trains, trash-strewn lots, depressing housing projects and massive poverty.
Part of this image is indeed accurate, but it is a gross exaggeration.
The Bronx remains the poorest and most violent borough of New York City -- it is not a peaceful Eden by any means -- but the crime numbers have been declining for years.
According to data from the New York City Police Department, over the 19 years since 1993, overall incidents of violent crime have plunged by an astounding 72 percent in the Bronx. This includes a 78 percent drop in murders, 60 percent decline in rapes and 73 percent plunge in robberies.
To put it another way: In 1993, the Bronx recorded 512 murders; by 2011, the borough had 148 homicides (all while the population has increased or remained level in most neighborhoods).
Moreover, there were more than 16,300 robberies reported in the Bronx in 1993; by 2011, that figure fell all the way to about 4,600.
Obviously, something is going right in the Bronx, whether it is community involvement in fighting crime, drug prevention efforts or more aggressive and efficient policing.
But people like the Frenchman Jeremy have no clue about such things.
Granted, France is far safer than living in the Bronx. However, Paris authorities recently tightened gun laws in the wake of dozens of shootings in recent years, particularly in southern towns like Marseilles. Gang activity and drug dealing are rife in France -- along with rising joblessness. Also, violence in France often carries racial-ethnic elements, including the horrific massacre of Jewish schoolchildren in the town of Toulouse earlier this year.
So, before a Frenchman castigates and puts down the Bronx, he should visit the place and see that it’s not as bad as he thinks.