Every night as I was trying to do the math to figure out whether or not the Mariners really might make it to the playoffs, I was confronted by the uniquely bland stock footage that is the bedrock of political advertising.
Even when watching the game at the bar with no sound, it’s clear that crime — generic crime; scary, faceless, trumped-up-on-local-news crime; and the crimes associated with homelessness — is the big issue. Just pointing out the mere existence of crime is enough, it seems, to get someone’s vote. The people begging for your vote don’t need to offer a solution or explain the many, many failures of policy that led us here. Just standing near a tent is all it takes.
But the thing about crime, especially the way that it’s used in political advertising, is that it’s not something that exists for its own sake. We don’t experience smash-and-grabs and catalytic converter theft because some people are just bad eggs, determined to run our city into the ground. People living in houses, people with support systems and some kind of safety net, are witnesses to crime and sometimes victims of crime. But what we experience is the result of poverty. Any elected official who proposes to stop crime without heading it off at the financial pass is deluding themselves and their voters.
Voters are deluding themselves, too, when they think about crime as a standalone issue — and many do. Perceptions of increased crime (stoked by NextDoor’s constant barrage of complaints) have built a foundation of fear in people who are otherwise unimpacted. But crime is the symptom, and promising to knock it out without addressing the underlying cause is like offering someone a lozenge after they contract COVID: palliative at best.
Crime doesn’t increase because people feel more nefarious. It increases because people are in greater need. It’s no coincidence that in the same year that housing prices in Seattle increased about 20 percent the crime rate did, too. It’s desperation, not malice. It stands to reason, then, that reducing the desperation by providing more affordable housing, better job training opportunities, higher wages overall and accessible health care and treatment options might reduce the number of burglaries and stolen cars.
It’s a time-honored tradition for politicians and hopefuls to promise easy solutions to complicated problems. What strikes me, though, is that even after coming through a brutal few years, many of us can’t find it in ourselves to see how someone else might end up sleeping outside or prowling cars at night. People who lost jobs and found themselves right on the economic edge through no fault of their own still can’t see how they might have been forced to be part of those scary crime numbers but for the grace of their own social safety net. They just see crime, and they’ll vote for whoever promises to make it all go away.
Read more of the Oct. 5-11, 2022 issue.