Every so often, there will be a vigorous debate on social media that hinges on perception–is this dress blue or gold? What color are these shoes? The arguments can get pretty heated, with viewers insisting that those who see a different color must be defective in some way.
There are scientific efforts to explain these opposing views.(Apparently, when context/background varies, so will people’s visual perception.)
Context and background probably explain other differences in perception–for example, the prevalence of criminal activity.
The linked article from the Washington Post was prompted by the recent spate of irrational shootings–a teenager sent to collect his younger brothers, who rang the doorbell at the wrong house; a woman driver who pulled into the “wrong” driveway; cheerleaders who approached the “wrong” car in a parking lot.
Across the country this month, at least four men have opened fire on someone who’d stumbled upon their space, resulting in one death, two injuries and a car pocked with bullet holes. The apparent acts of snap-aggression have reinvigorated the debate around the prevalence of “stand your ground” laws in the United States and a pressing question: Why are people so quick to pull the trigger on strangers?…
Experts blame a cocktail of factors: the easy availability of guns, misconceptions around stand-your-ground laws, the marketing of firearms for self-defense — and a growing sense among Americans, particularly Republicans, that safety in their backyard is deteriorating. (emphasis mine)
Survey research confirms that fear of the “other”–and a growing belief that pretty much anyone could be a dangerous “other”–is more widespread among Republicans, who are also more likely to own guns. The gap is significant.
Since 2020, the share of Republicans who said that crime is rising in their community has jumped from 38 percent to 73 percent, according to the latest Gallup numbers from last fall. Among Democrats, that same concern climbed only 5 percentage points to 42 percent, marking the widest partisan perception gap since the polling firm first asked the question a half-century ago.
There is a reason Republicans are convinced that crime is growing: GOP strategists have encouraged Republican candidates to dwell on fear of crime and to level accusations that “woke” Democrats are insufficiently supportive of police and too protective of “those people.” (Here in Indianapolis, that strategy was employed by a Republican candidate in the recent primary, who won that primary largely by running repeated, offensive ads describing a violent hell-hole of a city most of its residents didn’t recognize.)
Not surprisingly, Rightwing media is culpable for spreading misinformation about crime.
The perception that life is getting more dangerous has spread on the right as GOP leaders and pundits repeatedly argued, without evidence, that immigrants and protesters are jeopardizing American peace. Conservative news channels have devoted more airtime to violence than their center- and left-leaning competitors: Over the past three years, for instance, Fox News anchors and guests spotlighted crime 79 percent more often than those on MSNBC and twice as much as voices on CNN, according to a Washington Post analysis of closed captioning…
So–what does accurate data tell us? (What color is that dress, really…)
A Washington Post crime analysis of 80 major police departments’ records found that reported violence across the country in 2022 was lower than the five-year average.
And over the longer term, the National Criminal Victimization Survey showed the number of people reporting sexual assault, robbery and other physical attacks is overall much lower now than in the 1990s and has not increased in recent years.
Homicides and thefts did rise during the pandemic, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data —but even then, that rise did not reach the levels of the 1990s. (It is worth noting that when it came to homicides, states with stand-your-ground laws had a 55 percent higher homicide-by-firearm rate in the past two years than the states that didn’t have such laws.)
The 28-year-old grandson of the 84-year-old White man who shot Black teenager Ralph Yarl, told officers that his grandfather was perpetually “scared to death. It’s the paranoia and fear…. It was the 24-hour news cycle — Fox News, OAN, all that stuff — pushing the civil division. Everybody is just so scared all the time.”
Context and background.
It’s one thing when you see a gold dress and I see a blue one. It’s something else entirely when I see a neighbor looking for directions and you see one of “those people” looking to rob or otherwise harm you–someone posing a threat that requires you to get your (always handy) gun and “stand your ground.”
The politicians and media outlets inculcating paranoia in their drive for power and profit are every bit as guilty as the armed and terrified citizens they’ve encouraged to pull the triggers.