Monday Morning Thoughts: When We Think of Victims, We Are Not Picturing Who the Bulk of Crime Victims Actually Are

by David M. Greenwald

When Carlos Vega got trounced in his effort to unseat Larry Krasner as DA in Philadelphia, he tweeted out, “It looks like tonight we did not get the result we wanted…  THANK YOU to our supporters, and most especially the victims of crime who bravely stood up when the establishment, the celebrities and the media decided they wouldn’t listen.”

He added, “This was not easy for the victims especially.”

Yesterday, the Orange County DA tweeted out one of his major planks of his reelection campaign, vowing to “serve victims.”

But the narrative of traditional law and order candidates serving victims often loses sight of who those victims are.  In a system that is increasingly questioning whether traditionally throwing people in prison with harsh penalties actually serves the needs of most victims, there is also a serious question of whether those who use victims in their messaging truly understand who their victims are and what they need.

Victoria Law in her recent book, Prisons Make Us Safer: And 20 Other Myths About Mass Incarceration, noted the fine line between victim and perpetrator.

“Young Black men are more likely to be robbed or victimized by violence, including homicide, than other demographics,” she writes.

However, “They’re also the least likely to be considered victims by police, prosecutors and others in the judicial system.”

A misunderstanding of who victims are and what they desire is a huge problem in the system.  While the media clearly was complicit in Philadelphia as well as in places like San Francisco and Los Angeles in pushing back against the reform narrative, the actual voter returns show the communities most victimized by crime actually were those most strongly backing reformers like Larry Krasner.

How can that be?  A big part of it, as Rachel Barkow tells us, is the misconception of who is a crime victim and what they want.

NYU Law Professor Rachel Barkow, on a recent Everyday Injustice Podcast, pointed out, “I think when we talk about crime victims, there’s the reality and then there’s how certain politicians try to use the term victims.”

Data on crime victimization is disproportionately showing people of color who are crime victims.  A good portion of the crime victims are also perpetrators of crime as well.

“They are living in neighborhoods where there  is a lot of unrest and poor infrastructure in those neighborhoods,” Barkow explained.  “They may be a perpetrator one day and a victim the next.  They are part of the same communities.”

It is these people who understand that the issues facing the community are difficult and complicated, and not necessarily solved by being tough on crime.

“They see it first hand,” she said.

But that’s not what was portrayed, for instance, during the Larry Krasner campaign for reelection in Philadelphia.

For instance, a May 8 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer noted, “Crime victims are some of the most visible figures fighting against Philly DA Larry Krasner’s reelection.

“Asian American store owners outraged by a plea deal for a man who shot a West Philadelphia deli owner in broad daylight with an AK-47. The widow and a sister of slain Philadelphia police officers. Family members of people fatally beaten, stabbed, and shot,” Julie Shaw wrote.

Her article played right into the opposition’s narrative that crime victims were opposing Larry Krasner: “In past elections, they might have been the voices an incumbent district attorney enlisted to remind voters of the need to be tough on crime. But Larry Krasner’s victory four years ago upended traditional views of the prosecutor’s office and its mission.”

She added, “They are prominently featured in anti-Krasner TV ads funded by an outside group that is the biggest spender in the race, and in campaign mailers for Krasner’s opponent, Carlos Vega. They are campaigning for and with Vega, a former longtime assistant district attorney. They are saying Krasner and his office mistreat victims and their families in a zeal to reform the criminal justice system and end mass incarceration.”

But Barkow noted that the white female victim that is depicted disproportionately in the media “is such a tiny proportion of the people who are crime victims.”

She said when Carlos Vega, Krasner’s opponent, uses that term, “he’s not really thinking about where most crime victims are and when they live.”

She explained that this is largely being used as a term that is a stand in for things like race, but also to appeal to a class of voters who have never been victims of crime, “but they’re fearful they will be a victim.”

But she said that “if you look at who is voting for these reformers, they are the most well educated segment of the electorate that we have,” and by that she means those people who live in the communities most impacted by crime.  She is not referring to formal education but rather lived experience.

That was borne out in the Krasner election.  He won 65 percent district wide, but in the high crime areas, the places with the most crime and the most victims, he dominated.  And the media never really connected the two.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Ron Oertel

    Seems to me that we (as a society) rarely hear directly from those victimized in high-crime communities.  Probably because the news media itself is reluctant to dig into it (for their own safety and lack of access, for one thing).

    And even in an article like this one, it’s from an author who is “speaking on behalf of others”, rather than direct communication.

    High-crime communities are going to have to be part of their own solution.  Periodically, you do hear from members of those communities who are fed-up with crime, themselves.  And, they don’t try to sweep it under the rug, as if others (e.g., outside of the community) are causing the problem. But, it’s rare to have any honest discussion regarding the entire issue.

    Police reform itself is not going to address the reason for the problems in the first place. That’s already evident, and will likely become more so.

    1. David Greenwald

      “Seems to me that we (as a society) rarely hear directly from those victimized in high-crime communities. Probably because the news media itself is reluctant to dig into it (for their own safety and lack of access, for one thing).”

      I agree with the first part of your statement. We don’t hear enough. I don’t think it’s because of fear for safety – afterall reporters go to war zones and all sorts of dangerous areas. But it is a problem – and part of it is probably because they have to dig rather than get handed access to a story by talking to the most vocal aspects. That’s part of the point I make here.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Here’s another problem, from your article:

        A good portion of the crime victims are also perpetrators of crime as well.

        Pretty tough to trust the “system”, if you or your family members are part of the problem.

        Regardless – I’m interested in this subject, and do not have any particular opinion regarding solutions.  But this has been occurring for a long time.


        1. David Greenwald

          I just read a really interesting book that tracked all of these women violent offenders – everyone of them had sexual abuse, domestic violence, or were otherwise victims of violence in their past and most of them, the victim in their crime was the direct result of that. So I think that’s part of the cycle that needs to be untangled – the connection between victimization of crime and perpetration of crime.

        2. Ron Oertel

          the victim in their crime was the direct result of that.

          I’m not sure what this means, but this reminds me of the “but he/she had a difficult childhood” justification/defense.  Which of course, has some truth in it.

          But not consistently.

          Regardless, I cannot determine from your comment if you’re referring to the situation in which women ultimately attack their attackers, or if you’re referring to the situation in which they attack someone else.

          1. David Greenwald

            It should have been “and” not “in” their crime.

            Some of the situations, women ultimately attack their attackers. Others, they simply have been beaten down so long, they ultimately snap. In either case, the relationship between victim and crime perpetrator is direct.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Or, if you’re referring to the situation on a recent flight (between a passenger and a flight attendant, on a flight originating from Sacramento).  🙂

          As a side note, do you ever get the feeling that (despite what the airlines/media put forth), part of the problem is the overall degradation of the entire flight experience over the years – in multiple ways?

          But, I digress – delete it if you’d like, of course.

    2. Bill Marshall

      High-crime communities are going to have to be part of their own solution. 

      As pointed out in the article, there is a chicken/egg thing… perps become victims, victims become perps… not dissimilar to sciatica… irritated nerve causes a muscle to spasm… which irritates a nerve, which causes a muscle to spasm… pain all around…

      The hard part is to figure out how to ‘break the cycle’… meds work for sciatica… ibuprofen to Norflex… heat and rest can as well, or in addition to… the long-term key to preventing sciatica in the first place, is exercise (building muscle strength) and good posture…

      Not sure what the immediate and longer term answers are to crime, particularly violent crime…

      Just today, heard on the ‘dreaded news media’, 20 folk (2 dead, last count) shot by 3 perps in a nightclub in FL… AR’s were involved, plus a driver for the perps… apparently they (perps) waited 20-30+ minutes until the crowd waiting to get in was “ripe”… based on videos, the whole attack lasted 10-15 seconds… reports are, some of the crowd fired on, had weapons and fired back…

      No motives identified, yet…

      So, in our toolbox to deal with violent gun crime (a sub-species of the main topic)[FL example], maybe we should consider:  if the perps are identified, law authorities release that info to the victims, before arrests are made… might cut down on trial/incarceration costs; support “open carry”, and encourage gun ownership (but not AR’s, and automatic weapons, and definitely control ammunition more)…

      Just spit-balling… semi-tongue in (facial) cheek


  2. Tia Will

    Another group of victims frequently goes unnoticed entirely. The innocent family members of the perpetrator who is not uncommonly the family’s source of income whether legal or illegal. The children of a perpetrator frequently lose a parent imperfect though that individual may be, as well as a source of income. Prevention is the only way to ameliorate the loss of all the victims involved.

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