Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dangerous Research: Listing Our "Most Dangerous Cities" Doesn't Give The Whole Story

A picture of Oakland you won't get in the news:

Morgan Quitno Press has published its annual nationwide list of the top 25 most dangerous cities, and Oakland is officially number 8.

cbs5 news reports:
Using 2005 figures, Oakland was ranked the eighth-most dangerous city in America, with researchers saying only two other cities in the nation showed worse increases in crime over last year. The East Bay city of Richmond ranked 11th on the so-called "Most Dangerous 25."

The only California city to rank worse than Oakland was the Los Angeles suburb of Compton, ranked fourth worst in the nation overall.

Morgan Quitno Press, a private research and publishing company specializing in state and city reference books, compiles the annual listing of most dangerous and safest cities in the nation.

On tonight's ten o'clock news, cbs5 went to several Oakland residents for personal accounts in response to the list. Residents did not deny the danger, yet several of them protested the danger of labeling any city, let alone Oakland, as dangerous.

Not only does this label hinder business and economic flow into the city, it also has a damaging effect on the potential for recovery. This list does nothing but strengthen the harmful conditions of places like Oakland--it stigmatizes Oakland as a space, alienating its residents from the rest of the country. It normalizes violence; giving violence a name, a look, and a feel.

As I have had my own share of dangerous encounters in Oakland, I admit that my language often 'ghetto-tizes' Oakland in casual conversation with friends or family. Unfortunately, this kind of 'ghetto-tization' grows into a media monster that triggers such negative images that are quickly embraced by our punitive United States public.

Instead of compiling a list of most dangerous cities, why aren't private research and publishing companies like the Morgan Quitno Press working on advancing these cities towards improvement?

Take a look at the Applied Research Center in Oakland, which I interned for this past summer. At the heart of Oakland, going to do research required stepping into the 'dangerous' city and traversing its space into another space of racial progress:
ARC's vision for racial justice is changing the way our society talks about and understands racial inequity. ARC conducts research to expose the subtle racism of laws and regulations that result in real hardship for Black, Latino, Asian and Native communities. We use public policy as a key tool to repair these historic injustices by designing and implementing creative solutions to contemporary problems.

Revolutionary! Conducting research on a subject that you are not separated from! The difference between the Morgan Quitno Press and the Applied Research Center is that the former looks at its subjects in white lab coats, wearing latex gloves, with a microscope separating it from its study. The latter is immersed in the very space it is researching. It swims around in the petri dish, taking away the microscope--making its subject of research a part of its environment rather than an isolated bacteria.

The result is spectacular. Rather than stigmatizing 'most dangerous' cities with negative portrayals of criminals and delinquents of color, the Applied Research Center comes out with the truth:
This summer ColorLines and The Chicago Reporter conducted a joint national investigation of fatal police shootings in America’s 10 largest cities, each of which had more than 1 million people in 2000. Several striking findings emerged.

To begin, African Americans were overrepresented among police shooting victims in every city the publications investigated.

The contrast was particularly noticeable in New York, San Diego and Las Vegas. In each of these cities, the percentage of black people killed by police was at least double that of their share of the city’s total population.

This is progressive research--this is the kind of stuff we need to be looking into. I can only speak for Oakland, but if you were to go into these dangerous cities, you would find real people, full of life, strength, purpose, and culture.

Really, just go to 9th and Broadway at noon on any Friday and you'll find them selling simosas, empanadas, tamales, and lots of produce...

It's not all guns and drugs people!


1 comment:

  1. labels like this are harmful in so many ways. for one, companies aren't going to want to invest in a city that's supposedly one of the most dangerous in the nation. that, of course, limits the number of jobs available for the people living in those cities. another harm is that it keeps visitors away, depriving the cities of much needed commerce.

    if the makers of this list are so concerned about helping out those on the list, they should instead point out the positives of their targeted cities, which might in turn increase investment and turn these places around. but as we all know, this fear-mongering language sells. oh well.