The Sound and Fury of 'Perception' | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The Sound and Fury of 'Perception'

Ponder these statements for a moment: "There is too much crime in Jackson." "The perception of crime is worse than the reality."

Now consider for a moment whether those statements are mutually exclusive: that is, if you believe the first statement, can you not believe the second one—that "perception" of crime is worse than "reality"?

Of course, both statements can be true—and they are in the city of Jackson. Any crime is "bad" and contributes to the state of "too much"; and the perception that crime is out of control in Jackson is way overblown. Believing both statements may well mean that you have your finger on the pulse of a serious problem that contributes to crime: the belief that it is too overwhelming for citizens to do anything about it—fear leading to powerlessness.

Jackson's perception-gate came of age in 2003, months after Robert Moore was brought in as chief of police, focused on the idea of preventive-proactive community policing rather than solely on reactive lock-em-up, zero-tolerance policing. After a rash of both violent crimes (the shooting at the Captain D's and armed robbery of Fondren homes) and car break-ins and thefts in North Jackson, the word "perception" became the most popular one-word phrase to use against the mayor and the police chief and anyone else who believed in a more textured approach to crime-fighting than Wild, Wild West barnstorming.

Right now on harveymustgo.com, Clinton blogger Mark Lyon states: "The Mayor has repeatedly claimed that high crime in Jackson is merely a perception, but the numbers tell the truth." And in Frank Melton's campaign platform, he accuses the current mayor and police chief of "a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that crime is 'real,' not a 'perception.'"

Local media have reported ad nauseum on the "perception" issue (although, to be fair, it has dramatically backed off that tack in recent months, helping the perception hysteria die down a bit). However, mayoral candidates are dredging it up again, using the P-word to show that the folks in charge—and seemingly presiding over a dramatic drop in crime in the last few years—deny the reality of crime.

But is this fair and accurate? The JFP has tracked perception-gate since early 2003 and kept a list of "perception" quotes, both as stated by city officials as well as the way those quotes have been treated by the media. Our research shows that the perception of perception-gate does not quite match up with the reality.

In early 2003, Moore started speaking to community groups and the media, trying to calm what he called "perception of fear," which he said was being fueled by press coverage that was promoting the idea that crime was uncontrollable in the city.

Indeed, Jackson crime was regularly splashed across Page 1 of The Clarion-Ledger, and TV reporters were asking Fondren residents if they were afraid of attending evening art walks in the recently renovated neighborhood. The talk was of leaving Jackson and escaping all the dangers.

That, however, didn't mean that the crime that occurred wasn't real, or shouldn't be taken seriously, but the media were sensationalizing it—which the Gannett Corp. warns its own newspapers against doing.

On April 9, 2003, a Clarion-Ledger reporter appeared to use quotes from different parts of Chief Moore's press conference as a single statement, including a zinger that quotes him saying: "perception is fueling this idea that there is too much crime."

Our notes show that what the chief actually said that day was that "perception is fueling too much fear out there." The quote, which the newspaper repeated incessantly in ensuing weeks, also left out portions of a discussion between that reporter and the chief about how the local media were overblowing the hopelessness of fighting crime—important to the discussion.

This hopelessness issue was a vital point that seemed to go right over the heads of local media. The fear factor is widely known among those who study crime and community policing. Entire criminal-justice courses are taught about why "perception" that crime is out of control and fear of crime make it more difficult to bring communities together to prevent and fight the causes and the results of crime. And it can lead to a faulty and naive strategy of waiting until crime is "cured" before undertaking vital economic development that will, in turn, help reduce crime.

At the time, Moore—who is well versed in modern criminal-justice theory—was right to push this message. But the media still chose to sensationalize the "perception" that city leaders did not care about crime—a a false assertion, based on the officials' own words. And it was time wasted—the media could have been focused sooner on cooperation issues between different law-enforcement in the area, political turf wars, race politics and the barriers to up-to-date crime information. But "perception" was the word o' the day.

Since that time, media have done a subtle about-face on the perception issue, now often saying it is the "perception of lawlessness," as Republican Rick Whitlow rather accurately phrases it on his Web site, that is hurting the fight against crime. But Whitlow does not play this out accurately, instead using the result of perception-gate (overblown crime rhetoric, rather than just-the-facts-ma'am) for political purposes.

Now the community needs to make every effort to quash myths about crime and reject rhetoric that drives more of the tax base (and consumers) to the suburbs and hinders revitalization. No matter how much the next mayor screams about how bad crime is, certain crimes are still going to occur—especially ones driven by factors that we are, so far, doing too little to address: domestic violence, lax gun laws forced on Jackson by the state, an idiotically fought Drug War that leads to violent turf battles, poverty, lack of jobs, education cuts, drop-outs. The more time we waste spreading mythical "perception" rhetoric, the less time we actually spend fighting crime and the actual factors that cause it.

And that's the bottom line.

Previous Comments

ID
69891
Comment

I began to ponder Melton's statement that he will hire a new chief and fire Robert Moore within the first 30 days. "And that's not a perception!" Well there is a reality to his rash campaign promise. How much will that cost us? Not because the search committee that will be formed, and the vetting process. And, you can bet the moon the city council will not like Melton's first choice and probably the second. Look at the history of how the city has hired police chiefs in the past. It's all at the downtown library for free and spelled out in the various print media available at the time - yeah the C-L ;-). But, from the lawsuit that Chief Moore will file against the city (ironicly, and probably with Dale Danks) for being unjustly fired. Yes, this is a "right to work" state; but, the stats will show that under Moore crime is down, the department is doing better, better attitude amoung all levels, and it is growing. Unlike the 8 to 10 police chiefs fired before them who had negative stats, lack of support and really high murder rates as compared to now. Oh yeah, and the corruption was out of control in the past with officers on the take, abuse at the jails, riots and federal investigations. So, I'm sure some attorney is preparing for the lawsuit for Chief Moore should Melton win.

Author
tortoise
Date
2005-04-20T16:57:08-06:00
ID
69892
Comment

Yeah, I just heard Larry Nesbit on the Kim Wade show ó yes, I'm listening to it some, primarily to see what the next thing Bob Hickingbottom has to say is ó and it's just remarkable to listen to these crime fanatics try to articulate their "reasoning." There are never specifics, other than lock 'em up (especially if they're of color). Meantime, they're repeating the very same crime rhetoric that's been around since Jim Crow and was designed to scare people into supporting policies that hurt certain people. It's really gross and obvious. Here's Larry Nesbit on Harvey Johnson: "I don't think he does a good enough job communicating ... about crime. Throw statistics out the window." [editor: yes, now that they don't support the fearmongering]. He said the mayor should hold press conferences two or three times a week and say: "We've got a crime problem. ... Let's talk about what we're going to do about it." OK, what's the problem here? Can we say obsession with crime? This isn't good for economic development or anything else, and it's not going to calm the overblown perceptions (note how media and even city critics are starting to admit, at least half the time, that the main problem is perceptions about safety and crime. Ahem. Lots o' back-pedaling going on here.). Nesbit said that Johnson is "too smug, too arrogant, too self-serving." Hmmm. Could you also use those words to describe any other candidates in the race, or any local radio talk-show hosts for that matter? And it's also important to note that those are the exact kind of words historically used by angry whites in the state to describe blacks (or women, for that matter) in power. Guess who's being divisive here, and everyone knows it except those who won't allow themselves to see what's right in front of them because it serves their interests. Then, and this cracks up, Mr. Nesbit said: "We need to forget who's black and white, who's a Democrat and who's not ..." Yeah, right. I'm sure that's exactly his priority. I've heard his radio show before. (No, it's about crime. Wink. Wink.) Then a woman named Patty called in and, among other things, said wanted to address the "correlation between economics and crime." Wade, in one of his less fine moments, said: "Yes, people say that ...." Uh, Mr. Wade, please don't treat us like we're stupid. First of all, this is friggin' common sense. And for those who don't have any of that, there is ample research to back up the correlation between economics and crime. Just because you don't want your tax money helping the poor, and thus helping lower crime, doesn't mean there is no correlation. It might just mean that you're greedy and ignorant of the facts. Just sayin'. I'll be glad when the elections are over, so I will never, ever feel compelled to listen to dumb-ass talk radio again. ;-) Lord.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-04-20T17:19:37-06:00
ID
69893
Comment

I would also posit, as a native Mississippian, that allowing this kind of emotional rhetoric to goad us into making bad decisions is what kept the state on the bottom for so long. People will continue to use race, and fear of people of a different color (and the crime they are sure to do to us), to push our buttons to do what they want, and to benefit them, until we don't let them anymore. Paying attention to the real research on crime and perception, as I discuss in this editor's note, is a solid way to say "no more" of that wink-wink coding. Mississippians are, or can be, smarter than this. Note that we've been on the bottom all these years while we let racism rule. Imagine if we say, no, I'm not going to be afraid of people of another race just because a bunch of ideologues want me to be. I am going to do my homework and learn what really lowers crimeóreducing poverty, creating jobs, activity and redevelopment, education, being involved in my neighborhood, walking my dogóand I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen. It is so obvious with these guys: A lot of good things are happening in Jackson that they said wouldn't and couldn't happen under certain leadership. And they're happening because coalitions of positive, non-racist people are coming together, of all ages from the public and private sector, to make it happen. Right now, Melton doesn't seem to want to acknowledge these successes nor will his supporters like Nesbit because, presumably, no one asked their permission. Think of the idea of dividing a baby in half: You don't support people who are trying to do that, and many of the people who are backing Melton have been trying to do that for a long, long time. And they're real angry now that the city is getting along, and getting better, without their permission. I had someone who is well-placed in the white North Jackson Republican community tell me the other day that white Republicans aren't supporting Johnson because he will keep them waiting, and doesn't kowtow to their interests (I heard it as egos) enough. Frankly, the mayor of Jackson can keep people waiting now and then and doesn't need to kowtowóespecially with people who have done nothing of substance to help bring the city back for years before he was elected. Melton knows as well as you and I do, tortoise, that those houses on Lamar Court haven't just been crumbling for eight years. Nor those on Farish. They've been crumbling for decades because white people starting fleeing the city because they didn't want to live in an integrated city. A lot of white people hate it when you say that, but it's just true. It's history. That's why it's so insulting for people who understand history to hear Melton talk about Madison doing so many things right; thus, that's why people are moving there. No, people are moving there because the tax base fled there and left the city behind because of racism. This is fact, and there is no way to sugarcoat or deny it without sounding like you're clueless or in denial. The mayor of Jackson needs to work to bridge those gapsóbut the mayor of Jackson also has to be strong and not let the people who fled run roughshod over the city, which they will do if given a chance. The city, and its leaders, must stand up for the city. And they need a diverse coalition of people who care about the cityóand shun ignorant rhetoricóto back them up, and call them out when they make mistakes. But going in and firing a police chief every few years because of stupid politics is simply aiming that Glock at the city's big toe and pulling the trigger.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-04-20T17:40:18-06:00
ID
69894
Comment

ladd: "But going in and firing a police chief every few years because of stupid politics is simply aiming that Glock at the city's big toe and pulling the trigger. I'm glad you were able to sum up my post so briefly ;-) You are so correct on many levels. Many cities have gone through the same exact thing. Especially in the South. And suburban growth is actually good for urban growth. When people move out new people move in. You may not like the new business or home owners but you should at least respect that someone else is giving it the "good old American try" no matter race, sex or religion. And, at every gathering of business leaders I've been to in Jackson the last few years, we (Jackson and metro business people) have heard speakers talking about how great MS is and how great Jackson is and that it is growing. Things are great! We can do better; but, the love and positive attitude permeates many of these gatherings. The number one issue for the MEC is Education. It is a statewide organization; but, they have targeted education and economic development as their top two priorities. It is one of MS's greatest assets and the people who lead that organization are great! They recognize crime is bad in Jackson AND elsewhere in MS; but why let that hold you back from trying to bring in the best we can to MS and Jackson. That is just one of several examples of a group doing good things for everyone! And, everybody seemed to be holding hands in this town until Melton entered the race. Now we are extremely divided and many people I met at these gatherings are now just doing a 180 and stabbing the city in the back. They think they are just against Johnson; but, they are actually tearing the city apart to do so. Anti-Jackson is not a new thing; but, it is real popular right now! And, not necessarily with the race stuff per say since both sides are using it to their advantage/disadvantage; but the flat out denial that Jackson is any better off then 10 years ago - 20 years ago! The claim that every business is fleeing is driving me nuts! There are 6 brand new offices on Old Canton behind Bravos either built or being built. The MAX area. New banks and more minority ownership then ever! They are cramming $200,000+ homes into every available space in ìproperî NE Jackson! New buildings or the refurbishment of others is happening downtown. New clubs and restaurants are opened or opening. Retail on ìourî side is growing just as fast as on ìtheirî side of County Line. Come on; stop the rhetoric about Jackson going south. Open your eyes really wide and try to visualize these things because so many people must pass by all this stuff and not see it!

Author
tortoise
Date
2005-04-20T19:01:08-06:00
ID
69895
Comment

And, everybody seemed to be holding hands in this town until Melton entered the race. Now we are extremely divided and many people I met at these gatherings are now just doing a 180 and stabbing the city in the back. They think they are just against Johnson; but, they are actually tearing the city apart to do so I know. I feel that, too. I remember telling Jeff Goodóand I don't think he'll mind my telling you since it was what I said to himóthat I could never support a candidate who talks down the city to win. That was early on, and I had really hoped that Melton would not do that, but I'm afraid to say that he is doing just that. It's tragic, really. . Anti-Jackson is not a new thing; but, it is real popular right now! And, not necessarily with the race stuff per say since both sides are using it to their advantage/disadvantage; but the flat out denial that Jackson is any better off then 10 years ago - 20 years ago! The claim that every business is fleeing is driving me nuts! Good points. It's not just about race; I didn't mean it that way. But the bad habits CAME ABOUT because of race and white flight, and it's just morphed into some stupid, defensive and short-sighted. When I moved back, just about everybody I met talked down the city just because it was the thing to do. I'm happy to say that's changing DRAMATICALLY. There is so much pride in this city right now, and I believe it's going to survive Mr. Brain, as I now call my composite anti-Jackson monster. ;-) And it's sure hard to sit in my desk chair and look out over Fondren ó and see places like Max and Article up the street ó and right now hear a band playing in the Rainbow parking lot, and think for one minute that "everyone's leaving the city!" Frankly, maybe some of the folks leaving need to go on, and be replaced by folks with a better attitude who believe in building up cities, not tearing them down. And that's exactly what's been happening. But Mr. Brain is never going to admit it because he wants to be right. But he's not, and is desperately grasping at straws right now to bring the city back down to his level. We ain't going, though.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-04-20T19:08:40-06:00
ID
69896
Comment

The Clarion-Ledger is simply irresponsible with the way it twists and perpetuates the "perception" thing. Today they hammer another perception-nailóin an asinine paraphraseóinto Chief Moore's coffin: Moore caught heat from the public, though, when he said the perception of crime in Jackson is worse than its reality. His thinking was that positive talk would muster a change in the community. It mostly brought criticism from people in the inner city who have grown accustomed to the pop of a gun. Love that paraphrase. Do those yuck-yucks really, truly believe this is what the chief was saying/doing??? I notice they also quote the big one from April 2003 on the front page of the print edition todayóthe one that I was present for at that press conference and never heard the chief say. Everytime they do this, they look like idiots over there, but they don't care apparently. The Clarion-Ledger sucks so bad it's not even funny. (And: "people in the inner city who have grown accustomed to the pop of a gun." Come on: a daily newspaper did not just write that.)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-05-11T19:18:19-06:00
ID
69897
Comment

BTW, the link to the Ledge's latest brilliant story on crime and how much another police chief sucks. Here's what the Ledge said in an editorial back in 1994 when Kane Ditto finally gave in to the Capitol Street Gang and fired Jimmy Wilson: "Now is not the time to point fingers, but to look ahead for a bold, open, new police chief to restore confidence in law enforcement." The editorial said that because the local FBI agent (Joe Jackson) and the district attorney (Ed Peters) couldn't work with him, "the perception of the public turned to despair." Of course, they couldn't work with him because he couldn't get Peters or Jackson to investigate the juvenile detention center problems for two years, but what's a little context anyway? If you look at the top of that editorial, you do see that different folks were at the top of the Ledge's mastheadóexcept David Hampton, of course, who then held the same position of editorial director that he holds today.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-05-11T19:27:10-06:00
ID
69898
Comment

More about that April 2003 press conference and what was said can be found here.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-05-11T19:29:46-06:00
ID
69899
Comment

OK, I'm not done, yet. Let's go back to the Ledge story today: His thinking was that positive talk would muster a change in the community. "His thinking"? Can they be more friggin' condescending here? Has the Clarion-Ledger done one iota of research into crime-perception issues? Do they really, truly believe that a man with Chief Moore's knowledge about criminal justice is simply pushing a little feel-good "positive talk" instead of trying to do something about crime. This doesn't just hurt my brain; pains are shooting down into my toes, this is so ridiculous. Gracious, how bad this story is. Of course, the chief has been officially run off, so you might shrug and say, "oh, well." But we've got to keep talking about this, people, or they're just going to turn around and run another chief off in a few months in the lamestream media's quest to get this circulation back up with page 1 crime sensationalism about Jackson. Of course, it might be tempered for a while by their unqualified proclamations about the wonders of Melton (they won't want to be wrong), but good golly, do we deserve better this. Go into the archives and read what they've written about past chiefs, not just Wilson. Of course, it mirrors closely Melton complaining about them in Bottom Lines -- so it will be intriguing to see how the clash of will now shakes out, should Melton be elected. But, I digress. The point here is that we must all fight the "perception of lawlessness," as Rick Whitlow puts it, which may honestly be the smartest thing I've heard anyone say during this campaign.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-05-11T19:51:31-06:00
ID
69900
Comment

Ledge editorial today: He's been griping about "the media" being the cause of all his problems since his infamous November 2003 statement that the perception of crime in Jackson was worse than the reality. Hmmm, what about the infamous April 2003 quote (from yesterdays page 1 again) that supposedly started it all?? Why not mention that one here? The Ledge is drowning in its "perception" muck here. Argh. I honestly believe they have done some circulation study that tells them that more people pick up the paper when they're bitching and whining about a police chief. It seems to be what their best at. Of course, the spin makes one too dizzy to stand up. Pure, unadulterated sensationalism, courtesy of the Gannett Corp.'s Jackson outpost.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-05-12T09:27:48-06:00
ID
69901
Comment

BTW, am I the only one who feels like The Clarion-Ledger is reaching a new level of irrational nastiness this week in their coverage of Chief Moore? I mean, the editorials about Chief Wilson weren't this ugly, and the editorials thought he was "crazy," as one editor told me a couple weeks ago (without saying why). Ugly is as ugly does, I guess.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-05-12T10:45:01-06:00

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