Chart showing downward trend in violent crime
Violent crime in the US versus Connecticut, according to the FBI Crime Data Explorer. The FBI began collecting data in 1985. The chart shows violent crime peaked in Connecticut in 1990 and has been trending downward ever since. Credit: Screengrab / FBI Crime Data Explorer
Susan Campbell
SUSAN CAMPBELL

The boy who cried wolf – Alex Jones – is enmeshed in serious court time, and his business’s bankruptcy. He is what fear would look like, if fear was made of flesh.

I wish Connecticut’s GOP would take note, because some of their candidates’ campaigns look like blatant attempts to scare their supporters into the voting booths by creating a Connecticut dystopia that doesn’t exist. 

Sure, fear can motivate, but at what cost?

A recent social media ad for Republican gubernatorial candidate, Bob Stefanowski, shows a series of headlines about crimes in the state, and says this: “A single week’s worth of headlines tells the story; our state is becoming less safe every day. CT needs better leadership to support our law enforcement, to enforce our current laws, and to foster an environment that empowers individuals.”

Tweet about crime from Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski tweeted an animation of headlines related to crime on July 29. Credit: Screengrab from Twitter / @bobforgovernor

What this ad doesn’t say is that – sadly – in most media outlets, crime stories outnumber other types of news stories by a wide margin. A 2020 Marquette University study looked at news coverage in Milwaukee, Wis., for a year, and found that homicides, for instance, accounted for 61% of the news coverage of one outlet. The study also found that news sources, in general, do not report on the context of crimes, and choose, instead, to act as representatives of the “if it bleeds, it leads” school of journalism. Maybe Republicans suffer from a rash they caught from New York, where data counters the perception that the city is a festering pool of violent crime. It is not. Bloomberg just released an interactive report about New Yorkers’ fear of violent crime, where there, too, slavish media coverages of crime have created a fake dystopia.

Shame on us journalists, and shame on politicians who exploit that. 

It would be helpful to ask fear-mongering GOP candidates what they mean by “safe,” because in important ways, blue-state Connecticut is uniquely safe. In a recent post-Roe New York Times analysis of states that ban abortion,  Connecticut – which is among the states least likely to ban the medical procedure – ranks high in social safety programs such as expanded Medicaid and paid leave.

But then, when most Republicans say “safe,” they don’t mean “safety net.” They mean “crime.” 

Even there, complaints are misplaced. The U.S. News & World Report ranks Connecticut the country’s fifth most-safe state. A World Population Review report put Connecticut ninth over all, and fourth for personal and residential safety. Other credible sources around the web consistently place Connecticut among the top 10 safest states.

In last year’s FBI annual uniform crime report, Connecticut’s violent crime dipped from the previous year, while the nation saw an increase. The state’s homicide rate – 3.9 per 100,000 people – climbed in 2020, but is still lower than the national rate. Aggravated assault dipped, and the incidence of rape declined by a little over 25%. Motor vehicle theft rose, though that, too, was still below the national average.

Ah, but there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. It would be helpful if Connecticut Republicans shared what metrics they use to pronounce Connecticut “unsafe,” and then share what they intend to do about it. Sadly, the party website doesn’t shed much light on why Republicans are frightened, though I asked on social media if they could direct me to that part of the site (and heard nothing back). Forgive me if I can’t get excited about broad-brush statements based on a random someone’s feelings expressed on Twitter.

(Vote your heart, but the Connecticut Democratic Party’s 2022 platform is easy to find.)

Connecticut is far from perfect. We don’t have enough affordable housing, especially in the rental market. We are about as segregated a state as you can find. There’s a legitimate cry for safer streets, as in better protection for pedestrians and bikers. These are not small things.

For Connecticut Republicans, the challenge of using fear as a motivator is that they can assemble the powder, light the match, and then pray the damage is targeted, but that rarely happens. A years-long barrage of fear-mongering from the national GOP (led by a bloviator-in-chief) netted us a horde of citizens storming the U.S. Capitol in 2021. That horde included the afore-mentioned Jones, one of the insurrection’s organizers who also hounded grieving Sandy Hook families unspeakably.

Meanwhile, national party leadership ignored or minimized the very real wolf at the door, the COVID virus. The sad fact is we have had plenty to fear in the last 2+ years. Better to focus on the real wolves, and leave the fake ones to the fairy tales.

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Susan Campbell

Author of "Frog Hollow: Stories From an American Neighborhood," "Tempest Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker," and "Dating Jesus: Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl." Find more at susancampbell.substack.com.

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