Monday, September 03, 2007

Is violent crime taking a fast lane to Baytown?

From the Houston Chronicle:

Yet some residents are now distraught that these same transportation corridors may be responsible for a surge in violent crime in their east Harris County city. That's because the roadways are bringing an influx of people to visit and settle, putting a severe strain on the existing police force, authorities say.

Homicides and aggravated assaults that used to be a rarity have become much more frequent, police say. So far this year the city has recorded six homicides, compared with two in all of last year. Overall crime is up 2 percent, while surrounding unincorporated areas are reporting declines.

"Some Baytown residents are starting to look over their shoulders," said Police Capt. Roger Clifford. "They worry that something might happen to them when they go to Wal-Mart or the mall. I don't blame them."

Click here for more.

Well, at least they're not blaming it on poor black people from New Orleans. Oh, wait, maybe they are:

At the same time, Baytown absorbed about 4,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees, said Baytown Mayor Stephen DonCarlos, although he is uncertain how many became permanent residents. He estimates that since the Census 2000, the city's population has jumped by 7,000 to 73,000 people.

Oh well. At any rate, whether this crime spike is coming from new residents or is a more homegrown phenomenon, it's been in the works for quite a while. Longtime Real Art readers know that I worked in Baytown as a high school teacher for six years. During my time there the one big observation I made was that, even though the small city is definitely an urban space, with an ethnically diverse population, large pockets of poverty, gangs, drugs, high STD rates, and other urban ills, the loudest community voices, most of whom, as far as I could tell, were born and raised there, all seem to live in a sort of Ward and June Cleaver delusional fantasy-land, and their political priorities reflect that. That is, Baytown's elders have been in deep denial about the nature of their home town at least since I began my tenure there in 1998.

For instance, race is a big issue in Baytown, and both blacks and Hispanics, teens and adults alike, told me repeatedly about chronic discrimination there. Whites appear to be oblivious. Kids from Highland, the smaller and more rural low income community slightly north of Baytown, told me early on about Aryan Nation, the prison white supremacist gang mentioned in the article, activity and recruiting there. Drugs are cheap and plentiful, which includes lots of meth, but local talk is more in terms of finger-wagging and scolding than any understanding that addiction is rampant. Lots of gay people and lots of homophobia in Baytown, but virtually zero public discussion of the issue, excluding, of course, self-righteous religious condemnation of homosexuality. And on and on and on.

Of course, trying to figure out why crime rates rise and fall is always an extraordinarily difficult task, but it's pretty clear to me that if the city's head-in-the-sand mentality isn't a major cause, it's certainly not helping things, either. Hopefully, they're coming to their senses now.