Random Murders and the Corrosive Damage of Stranger Violence

The revelation that a young male who entered Germany illegally (he claims to be 17 and an Afghan citizen, but Germany doesn't check, believe it or not) in 2015 is the suspect in the random rape-murder of a 19-year-old medicine student in Freiburg, Germany is still echoing throughout the German press and German society. The broadsheets can't avoid reporting on this crime, but are obviously straining mightily to avoid drawing any implications from it. Meanwhile, the comment sections are on fire. There, you can read everything from reasoned critiques of Merkel's policies to sputtering xenophobic tirades.

The national broadsheets will soon stop covering the case, anxious as always to downplay crime by illegal immigrants. But this case, and others like it, will certainly increase Germans' fears about crime and security to levels even higher than they are now. The main reason is that so many of the new crimes committed by the hundreds of thousands of young males who entered in 2015 are stranger on stranger violence. How could they not be? Most of the new arrivals are still strangers to German society, and will be for years yet.

This introduction (pdf) to a criminology symposium gives a good introduction to the sinister force of stranger violence:

Stranger violence represents one of the most frightening forms of criminal victimization. Conklin and McIntyre have argued that the fear of crime is basically a fear of strangers. It is suggested that people fear the unknown person who commits an unpredictable and violent attack on a vulnerable and innocent citizen going about routine daily activities. The perceptions that the attacker is indiscriminate in his selection of the victim and that the victim can do little to avoid attack or protect himself also elicit fear in society. The urban dweller, in particular, confronts what Silberman refers to as a "startling paradox":

Life in metropolitan areas . . . involves a startling paradox: we fear strangers more than anything else, and yet we live our lives among strangers. Every time we take a walk, ride a subway or bus, shop in a supermarket or department store, enter an office building lobby or elevator, work in a factory or large office, or attend a ball game or the movies, we are surrounded by strangers. The potential for fear is as immense as it is unavoidable.

The fear of crime from strangers has important consequences for life in a civil society. People stay behind locked doors and travel by taxi or car rather than public transportation or on foot to avoid contact with strangers. When people go out, they travel in groups and avoid returning to their homes at a late hour. They stay away from cultural and educational events if traveling to a certain section of the city at night is required. Such avoidance behavior represents what economists refer to as "opportunity costs." When people stay home, they are not enjoying the educational and cultural advantages of their community. By restricting with whom they will interact, the general level of sociability decreases. Such responses not only undermine the trust essential for a civil society, but diminish the quality of life as well.

For years, Germany had relatively few stranger homicides or severe beatings. I'm sure those numbers are going to tick up thanks to the 2015 influx. And it doesn't really matter by how much. Even one spectacular random crime such as the Freiburg rape-murder has a massively disproportionate impact. To put it crudely, it does as much damage to general perceptions of public safety as a hundred murders between intimate partners, criminal accomplices, or acquaintances.

Will this increased perception of danger lead to new laws? Probably not. As Michael Tonry pointed out long ago, German criminal justice policy remains highly stable even in the face of rising crime rates. The reasons include:

  • A press landscape dominated by state media which sensationalizes crime less than private media.
  • A higher level of trust in 'experts' such as criminologists, sociologists, and lawyers, most of whom still endorse a therapeutic, rehabilitative approach to corrections.
  • Criminal laws are made at the national level, not the local level.
  • Lawyers and civil servants are powerful gatekeepers who prevent fluid, responsive changes in criminal-justice policy.

None of these deep structural/institutional factors will change anytime soon. So we will have a situation in which the public feels increasingly exposed and insecure because of rising stranger violence, but has no way of actually changing policy in response to it.

The anxiety and anger won't disappear, it will instead run into other channels:

  • increasing support for extreme parties
  • mainstream parties experimenting with pungent anti-crime rhetoric to try to slow their decline
  • citizen watch groups and patrols
  • even more explicit "stranger danger" lessons in schools
  • revenge attacks on members of ethnic groups perceived as contributing to the problem
  • more traffic to tabloids and Internet press outlets which offer uncensored coverage of immigrant crime
  • taboo-breaking pop-culture themes that legitimize a desire for revenge against predators and a return to safety and order (think "Dirty Harry" or "Death Wish").

As I've said before, I lived through this before, in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of these trends can be seen right now in Germany, and they're only going to increase. They won't be driven by overall crime rates (which may well remain stable as Germany's aging population counterbalances the new crimes committed by young male migrants), they'll be driven by an increase in stranger-on-stranger violent crime.


Working Sort of Hard to Find a Serial Rapist/Murderer

Freiburg, Germany, is an idyllic university town located at the edge of the Black Forest. It is the sunniest spot in Germany. And the site of 4 brutal crimes in the past 6 weeks. One man was beaten to death near the main train station. One 13-year-old girl gang-raped by four young men.

And most disturbingly, two young women, one 19 and on 27 years old, were raped and murdered in apparent random attacks -- one just behind the main football stadium, one in a small community 30 kilometers from Freiburg. Police think it's possible the same man might be behind both attacks. So, there may well be a serial rapist/murderer currently active in Freiburg now. Or perhaps two. I would say this kind of thing is almost unknown in Germany, but we all know that's no longer the case. Still, it's got all of Freiburg on edge. 

And as the video below from the conservative weekly Junge Freiheit shows, the police are being hampered by German law from pursuing the killer. They found a DNA sample which they believe is from the killer at one of the rape/murder crime scenes. Using modern DNA technology, it's possible to determine the eye color, hair color, and ethnicity of someone from a good DNA sample. In fact, it's possible to generate a fairly good likeness of their face, as this photo accompanying a New York Times article shows:

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As you can see, the images aren't perfect, but they are certainly a far cry better than the recollection of a traumatized witness or someone who saw a man run past them in a dark alley. In particular, DNA is extremely good at predicting ethnicity and skin tone, which can allow investigators to immediately cross huge pools of suspects off their list and focus only on a narrow subset. Another article looks at the use of this technology in an American criminal case.

But not in Germany.

According to Section 81(e) of the Criminal Procedure Code, DNA can be used only comparison to potential suspects, determining family relationships, and determining gender. Every analysis going beyond these is expressly forbidden. Here is the provision in English:

(1) Material obtained by measures pursuant to Section 81a subsection (1) may also be subjected to molecular and genetic examinations, insofar as such measures are necessary to establish descent or to ascertain whether traces found originate from the accused or the aggrieved person; in so doing the gender of the person may also be determined by examination. Examinations pursuant to the first sentence shall also be admissible to obtain similar findings on material obtained by measures pursuant to Section 81c. Findings on facts other than those referred to in the first sentence shall not be made; examinations designed to establish such facts shall be inadmissible.

The prohibition, like so many others in German law, is based on the idea of data protection -- in a society in which mass surveillance caused so much harm last century, there must be strict limits on the amount of data the state can gather on its citizens. As I've pointed out before, this idea trumps many other legitimate public concerns, such as preserving historical monuments. And here, it trumps public safety. Here's a video from the conservative website Junge Freiheit featuring an interview in which the Freiburg policy confirm that they are obeying this restriction. The head of the German police union complains about it, and citizens interviewed in Freiburg are dumbfounded that the law prevents police from using a reliable, proven strategy which could lead to the apprehension of a possible serial killer in their midst. 

This is yet another cultural mismatch between the USA and Germany. I have explained restrictions such as this to many colleagues in the USA. These colleagues are mostly criminal defense lawyers and civil libertarians. That is, they spend each day defending the rights of criminals, and forcing the state to uphold its case. To say they don't have an authoritarian bone in their body is an understatement -- they don't have an authoritarian cell in their body.

Yet when I describe things like this, many of them register, to their own shock and amazement, disapproval and consternation. Sure, DNA isn't miraculous, it has to be handled carefully, it's not a panacea. But it is an extremely powerful tool which, used properly, can help ensure the guilty are imprisoned, and which has been used now hundreds of times to free the innocent from unjust confinement. Building a profile from DNA, as long as it's done responsibly according to the best scientific protocols, is definitely a legitimate means of law enforcement. Especially since it is likely to be much more reliable than eyewitness testimony.

Yet in Germany, only the right-wing website Junge Freiheit considers this an important policy issue. I have never seen it addressed by the more left-liberal press.

So there you have it: DNA profiling is so mainstream in the USA that even most civil libertarians approve of it. In Germany, apparently, only the right-wing does.


New York: The City That Never Cares

I'm visiting relatives in the USA and decided to make a stop in New York City, since that's usually a fun thing to do. After living in Europe for so long, seeing any New York airport is a reminder of just how shitty they are. America's public infrastructure really is crumbling. Three separate long lines at customs and passport control, which snaked far beyond the barriers and ended up haphazardly curling back and forth into the corners of the rooms. All the pens had been ripped away from their holders, so you couldn't use the tables to fill out the customs forms. 

No personnel to tell you where to line up. When you did encounter someone official, they usually spoke worse English than the foreign visitors. The luggage pickup displays directed us to the wrong carousel, where hundreds of people waited patiently as their luggage was delivered elsewhere. Since nobody was there to pick it up, the workers just stacked it into random piles. Most of the ceiling tiles were stained, some were missing.

The line for the cab was also 100 people long, snaking along a narrow concrete median with traffic on both sides. Since the area to line up for the cab was the same area for passenger pickup, you couldn't tell if people were in line for the cab or waiting for a car to pick them up. Tense confrontations resulted. Touts patrolled the cab line offering jacked-up rides to the inner city; nobody did anything about them. There was a strong stench of urine wafting along the line. A couple in front me of from Australia were chatting among themselves, incredulous that this malodorous, chaotic dump of an airport was the gateway to one of the world's great cities.

Finally got a cab after a 40-minute wait. The cab was falling apart, couldn't do over 50 miles per hour, and the driver had night vision problems which led him to constantly bleed into other drivers' lanes. He had no idea where the destination was and no GPS system. The Van Wyck Expressway has to be one of the ugliest roads I've ever seen. On each side is a pile of garbage and dead leaves, and the only barrier between it and the modest Queens neighborhoods on either side is a rusty chain-link fence. All the houses seemed to have burglar bars on all windows and doors.

The overall impression you get landing in New York is worse than in most developing countries I've been to. I am already looking forward to returning to Europe, where countries still at least try to make sure their public amenities are interesting, pleasant places to be.


Germans Ignore Dying Man in Bank Despite Law Telling them to Help

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The police in Essen reported (g) on a case in which an 82-year-old man collapsed to the floor of a branch bank in Essen, Germany in early October. At least four people were seen on security cam footage simply walking over his body without offering help or calling an ambulance. The man was eventually taken to a hospital, where he later died. The police are now investigating these persons for failure to render assistance, which is a crime under German law. Section 323c of the Penal Code:

Whosoever does not render assistance during accidents or a common danger or emergency although it is necessary and can be expected of him under the circumstances, particularly if it is possible without substantial danger to himself and without violation of other important duties shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine.

In common-law countries such as the United States, the law imposes no duty to rescue strangers. As long as you didn't cause the emergency and the bear no special duty to the victim (as a guest or relative, etc.), the law will not punish you for ignoring him. There are a number of justifications for this doctrine, both theoretical (you can't be held responsible for injuries you didn't cause), and moral (the state should trust its citizens to do the right thing uncoerced).

This is one of the most obvious differences between common-law systems and civil-law systems such as the ones in most European countries. When I was teaching, many of my German students professed to find the common-law doctrine shocking or cold-hearted. It's not hard to detect the attitude behind this: the still, small voice in every German's head which whispers: "Despite the recent unpleasantness, Germany is a more decent, moral, caring and sensitive society than all others in the world, except maybe Sweden, but at any rate definitely more caring and 'social' than the selfish, dog-eat-dog United States."

Am deutschen Wesen...*

The students assumed that the existence of a law requiring help made Germany a more caring place, and that it affected Germans' behavior toward one another. This is another typical German attitude -- the notion that once a law has been passed to address a problem, the problem no longer exists.

Alas, I had to shatter their precious smugness idealism.

Studies show that 'duty to rescue' laws have no effect on whether people rescue their fellow humans in need. In the United States, where the law says you don't have to try to rescue people, a huge majority does exactly that, often risking their own lives:

As Table 3 reflects, there are approximately 1003 non-risky rescues (cell 2) and 263 risky rescues (cell 4) per year in the United States. Thus, verifiable rescues outnumber non-rescues by almost 800:1. If one loosens the standard for rescue only slightly, to encompass instances of rescue that were reported in a newspaper but did not pass initial screening by the Carnegie Hero Trust Commission, the ratio increases to approximately 1400:1.

Approximately 100 Americans lose their lives every year as a result of attempting to rescue someone else. Thus, even in the absence of a duty to rescue, deaths among rescuers outnumber deaths attributable to non-rescue by approximately 60:1 every year. Stated differently, there are six times as many rescuer deaths every year as there are deaths attributable to non-rescue in the past ten years combined.

Finally, injury is common among rescuers. Aggregate figures are unavailable, since most of the data sources did not separately track injury, but in those that did and as detailed below, a substantial percentage of risky-rescuers and a significant number of non-risky rescuers were injured – sometimes quite severely.

This isn't to say that Germans are more cold-hearted than Americans. Why, just five days ago, a staff member on a German Rhine cruise ship jumped into the cold water to rescue a woman who had fallen off a bridge into the Rhine (g).

The point is first, that law on the books, as usual, has little to do with what happens in the real world. Second, that laws drafted by tiny commissions staffed by elites (such as law professors) and then passed word-for-word by the national legislature do not necessarily reflect "the values of our civilization".

Points worth remembering!

Continue reading "Germans Ignore Dying Man in Bank Despite Law Telling them to Help" »


America: Politically Correct, and Politically Free

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Pew research looks at the level of support for free speech across the globe and finds that it's highest (according to their measure) in the U.S.:

Enshrined in the Bill of Rights, free expression is a bedrock American principle, and Americans tend to express stronger support for free expression than many others around the world. A 38-nation Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2015 found that Americans were among the most supportive of free speech, freedom of the press and the right to use the internet without government censorship.

Moreover, Americans are much more tolerant of offensive speech than people in other nations. For instance, 77% in the U.S. support the right of others to make statements that are offensive to their own religious beliefs, the highest percentage among the nations in the study. Fully 67% think people should be allowed to make public statements that are offensive to minority groups, again the highest percentage in the poll. And the U.S. was one of only three nations where at least half endorse the right to sexually explicit speech. Americans don’t necessarily like offensive speech more than others, but they are much less inclined to outlaw it.

To get a summary measure of support for free expression around the world, we built an index based on five survey questions about free speech and three about free media. Using this measure, Americans emerge as the biggest supporters of free expression among the 38 nations studied. And unlike so many other issues in the U.S., wide open, free-ranging public debate has an appeal across party lines. There are relatively few differences between Democrats, Republicans and independents when it comes to free expression.

However, there are some important generational differences on this issue. For instance, 40% of U.S. Millennials think the government should be able to prevent people from making statements that are offensive to minority groups, compared with 27% of those in Generation X, 24% of Baby Boomers, and just 12% of Silent Generation Americans. Nonwhite respondents (38%) are also more likely to hold this view than whites (23%).

Apart from debates over whether offensive language should be legal, most Americans believe people are just too easily offended nowadays. In a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 59% agreed with the statement “Too many people are easily offended these days over the language that others use,” while only 39% said “people need to be more careful about the language they use to avoid offending people with different backgrounds.”

Yet another stereotype of American society down the drain. Germans consider America to be the homeland of political correctness, the dastardly censorship of controversial views which is spreading like a virus into German society. This impression, like so many others, is created by selective German news coverage. Most Germans still unthinkingly rely on the mainstream media to decide what it's important to know about the United States.

Which they do, according to their own narrow, nearly-identical criteria, determined by the tastes and preferences of educated urban haute-bourgeois Germans. And they have decided, for reasons which would be interesting to know, that Americans are afflicted by the worst case of political correctness on the globe. Journos pounce on every story showing the excesses of politically-correct scolding in the United States. 

Yet what Pew shows us is that Americans likely have the highest tolerance for offensive speech of anyone in the world.

The problem here is one of definition. Political correctness as a tendency of private persons in civil society to denounce someone's remarks, or Halloween costume, or state flag as offensive. There is a lot of that sort of thing in the United States. And there is certainly some chilling effect on college campuses, which are full of people whose job is essentially to have opinions.

Yet in another way, America is much more free than all other nations on earth. The Constitution and American culture prevent the government from punishing offensive speech to a greater degree than anywhere else. In America, the government cannot pre-emptively stop a newspaper from printing offensive speech, or stolen secret documents. Publications generally cannot be seized after they're printed. Ordinary citizens may advocate violence, deny the Holocaust, use ethnic slurs, and espouse racism without fear of government intervention. (As long as these are words alone -- you can still be punished for actions such as workplace discrimination or bias-motivated hate crimes). You can neither be punished by the government nor sued for money by a private citizen for an insult, not matter how vicious or crude it is. You can protest at the funeral of a soldier with signs which insult "fags" and say "Thank God for Dead Soldiers".

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In almost all other countries on earth, any one of these actions or statements could expose you to criminal prosecution by the government or an order to compensate victims with money damages in civil court. Not in the U.S. And, as the Pew survey shows, the majority of Americans approve of this state of affairs. Even millennials, the most PC group of them all, are not clamoring for restrictions on free speech.

So in the United States, if you say something quite rude and non-PC, you may be castigated on Twitter and denounced by your audience.

If you say the same thing in many other countries, you could be hit with a government-imposed fine or civil damages verdict. Perhaps even a prison sentence.

The amount of politically-correct scolding in a country has no relation to the level of genuine freedom of expression. After all, politically-correct scolding is freedom of expression. The U.S. is a hotbed both of political correctness and of free speech.


There's More Routine Political Violence In Germany than in the USA

A Republican Party office in Orange County, North Carolina, was firebombed, and the attackers sprayed graffiti calling on 'Nazi Republicans' to leave. This was considered so unusual and ominous in the USA that it made national headlines. And it comes during what is unquestionably the most divisive and emotional Presidential campaign in modern history. Hillary Clinton responded:

Yet political violence of this sort of thing happens every single day in Germany. Members and employees of the right-wing AfD have been shot at (g), beaten (g), and targeted with demonstrations blockading the entrance to their own homes "mourning" their deaths (g). The AfD has created a central registry (g) of criminal attacks against its members and employees. The car owned by the chairwoman of the AfD was destroyed in an arson attack (g). Both right-wing (g, in Dresden) and left-wing (g, in Berlin) hooligans rampage through the center of large German cities, attacking people and things they associate with their political enemies, causing millions of Euros in damage. The offices of the left-wing Die Linke party have been attacked hundreds of times (g). Attacks on police officers in Germany are rising steadily (g) and becoming a problem for recruitment (g).

Of course, there have been riots, looting, and fatal shootings in the US related to protests against police violence. Once again, the disastrous consequences of the large number of guns circulating in the US can be seen. But aside from these spectacular incidents, the level of routine politically-motivated property damage and physical attacks is probably higher in Germany than in the United States. Just as the overall level of violent crime in Germany is higher than in the US.

Germany is not on the brink of collapse, and serious injury or death from these events is extremely rare. But the notion that Germany is an Arcadia of reasoned discourse while the US is a Wild West nightmare of flying bullets -- an assumption that underpins much German reporting -- is false.

UPDATE -- A Massachusetts Democrat started a Gofundme page to repair the burned Republican field office and raised $13,000 from fellow Democrats within hours.


Royal Intermarriage Prevented Wars

This fascinating paper (pdf) by Seth G. Benzell and Kevin Cooke argues that intermarriage among European royal houses played a significant role in decreases in the number of wars in early modern Europe:

Specifically, we show exogenous increases in kinship network distance lead to an increased likelihood of war. While our framework predicts we should also see a decreased likelihood of fighting as allies, evidence on this is inconclusive. We conclude that the rise in kinship connections is an important factor in the well-known long-run decrease in the frequency of war.

We tentatively estimate that increased kinship ties explain 30 percent of the decrease in European warfare. Suppose, conservatively, that the presence of a kinship connection reduces the chance of war between a pair of states by .67 percent. This number is a lower bound on the effect of disconnecting onpath deaths in the latter part of our sample. Relative to pre-1600, the share of monarchs connected after 1800 increased by 53 percentage points. Preventing all these new ties from being formed would therefore be expected to increase the share of dyads at war after 1800 from 1.17% to 1.53%. This is approximately 30 percent of the decrease in war over the same period.

Our data provides a rich environment to study the influence of interpersonal relationships on long-run macroeconomic, political and institutional outcomes. In this paper, we have focused on the relationship between kinship and conflict. However, the same data and network tools might well be applied to more traditional economic questions. We think future work investigating the long-run implications of kinship networks for trade, growth, and development will be fruitful. Another interesting path for future study is explicitly modeling the network formation in this environment. Strategic marriages played a major role in international relations during our period of interest. Building a structural model of strategic marriage and fertility decisions is also an interesting direction for future research.

We New Worlders, almost all of whom grew up in republics, always find odd to think that the mere fact that Prince X married (or refused) Princess Y would change the lives of millions of people. But it did!


Fun with Pattern Recognition: Shots Fired by German Police, 2007-2015

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From reddit's Data is Beautiful. Gee, I wonder what caused the big jump in 2015?

The first 2 comments:

[–]TheGogglesDoNothing -- I suspect that this graph will correlate pretty well to a graph of "shootings by police in Chicago from 9/1-9/7".

 

[–]foll-trood -- that's not how you format hours and minutes


Bleg: Has Angela Merkel Ever Criticized the German Justice System?

At a conference in Vienna, I made a statement that might well turn out to be bullshit, as is often the case with me. What I said was:

"In all her years as Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel has never made a public statement in which she has (1) called for reform of the German criminal justice system or (2) criticized its unfair treatment of ethnic minorities."

I certainly can't remember her ever doing such a thing. In fact, I can't remember her ever saying anything at all about the German criminal justice system, except for platitudes congratulating judges and cops for their selfless service, etc.

The point was to contrast her with Obama, who has made countless such statements. And to make the point, which I do over and over on this blog: Europeans who obsess on the flaws, real or imagined, of the U.S. criminal justice system generally have no idea how their own system works, and blissfully presume it works just fine. 


Europe, the USA, and the Death Penalty: 13 Slides to Collect and Trade with your Friends

I'm off to Vienna in a few days to talk about the death penalty. Specifically, why Europe got rid of it and why the USA still (just barely) has it. Here are the slides I'm working on right now, in case anyone's interested. If the hive mind spots any errors or has any suggestions, comments are eagerly welcome!

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