Economic Indicators and Crime

Economic Indicators and Crime

“Criminologists have long known that unemployment rates don’t correlate well with rates of violent crime,” writes Steven Pinker in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature. Despite what feels like it must be true, that national unemployment rates influence crime, there is not a correlation between rising unemployment and rising crime. We all have ideas about what causes crime, and for many of us unemployment is an explanation, but it turns out crime is much more complex and doesn’t fall in line with many of our economic indicators.
 
 
Pinker continues, “In the three years after the financial meltdown of 2008, which caused the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the American homicide rate fell by another 14 percent.” Every time I read this statistic I am surprised. It is hard to believe that when unemployment gets worse people do not resort to more crime. I imagine that many of us would expect more crime as desperate people try to get money and resources through illicit means when jobs are not available to provide those things for them. But that is not what has happened recently. Until 2020 crime was falling, going through the economic downturn of the early 2000s and the subsequent rise and record low unemployment of the late 2010s.
 
 
It also turns out that inequality isn’t much better at predicting crime. Regarding inequality Pinker writes, “the problem with invoking inequality to explain changes in violence is that while it correlates with violence across states and countries, it does not correlate with violence over time within a state or country.” Like unemployment, I would expect that more unequal societies would have more crime, as those at the bottom fight among themselves and are unhappy with the wealth and opulence they see in the lives of others. However, inequality was at a low point in the 1960s in the United States, when crime was  much worse across the United States. In the last couple of decades inequality has worsened in the US, but with the exception of the slight increase in crime since 2020, crime trends have gone downward. The global differences we see in crime rates, Joseph Henrich would argue in The WEIRDest People in the World, are probably better explained by factors other than a single measure of inequality.
 
 
The crime waves that have occurred since the end of WWII and our explanations for those crime waves are an interesting example of how quickly we can jump to inaccurate conclusions about the world. Humans make causal observations and connections in the world around them, but sometimes those causal links are invalid. While I do believe we have the ability to use math, statistics, causal observations, and experiments to be able to deduce and understand root causes, the process is difficult. Crime is an example of how far off our causal reasoning can be from reality. Explaining social phenomena is difficult, and even the best theories rarely seem to be able to explain more than 40% of the variance we see in a given phenomenon. We can do lots of studies of crime and start to get a better understanding, but simply assuming that a couple of economic indicators will explain crime is an inadequate way to think about trends and phenomena.
Organized Violence

Organizing Violence

“Of all human collective activities,” writes Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens, “the one most difficult to organize is violence.”
 
 
I generally think we have a lot of misunderstandings of violence. When it comes to violent crimes, catastrophic wars, or mass genocide, I think that most of us misunderstand what is at the heart of violence. I think we also misjudge how much violence and danger there is in the world and what is driving the actual trends that exist.
 
 
First, in the book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker argues the world is becoming less violent, even as most people believe the world to be more violent. In 2020 the trend reversed slightly, with violence picking up relative to the downward trend we had been seeing since the 1990s, but it is still to early to say if it is a small blip or the end of a downward trend in violence. We also don’t know exactly what caused the upward tick in violence in 2020 with great certainty yet. Nevertheless, Pinker’s argument that humans are becoming more civil, less impulsive, and less violent seems to violate our basic intuition on violence, and it hints at different causes of violence than what we typically believe.
 
 
Second, it is worth noting that when it comes to denouncing violence, we are often motivated by signaling more than by high minded ideas such as crime reduction, rehabilitation of dangerous individuals, or long-term reductions in recidivism. This perspective is in line with Robin Hanson and Kevin Simler’s view who suggest in The Elephant in the Brain that we are often doing things to make ourselves look better, to signal desirable traits about ourselves, and hiding our true intentions (even from ourselves) while we do so. Denouncing violence is a chance for us to demonstrate how much more moral, kind, and nice we are than dangerous, violent, and degenerate criminals. Heaping as much negativity and outrage on criminals as possible just shows how good we are in comparison. Moral outrage can be more about the outraged individual than the outrageous thing.
 
 
The end result is a misunderstanding of violence. We have trouble understanding crimes of convenience, even violent crimes of convenience. We fail to recognize that most crime and murder occurs between people who know each other, not complete strangers. We fail to consider the larger social and contextual factors which may drive people toward violent crime – such as age, levels of lead in the body, and other factors – and we tend to view bad guys as alternative, evil versions of ourselves. We are inundated with media reports and social media posts about random violent attacks, making us feel as though the violence is all around us.
 
 
But we don’t just misunderstand individual level violence. We also constantly fear that an evil regime (possibly an American regime led by the wrong political party) is going to drive a massive global war. But as Harari argues, large scale organized violence is difficult to maintain. “Why should the soldiers, jailors, judges, and police maintain an imagined order in which they do not believe?” writes Harari. To organize large scale violence takes a very compelling narrative and imagined order, one that few men or nations have been able to truly muster for long term wars – even though our history books like to focus on such wars. It is true that we can be incredibly violent and that violence can exist on massive scales, but it is harder to maintain and build than we like to believe, and it is also likely that violence of all forms is on a downward trend that we can work to understand and maintain into the future. Doing so will likely make it even less likely that large scale organized violence can occur.
A Sense of Danger

A Sense of Danger

2020 was a unique year in many senses, and one worrying change in 2020 was an increase in violence that seems to be continuing through 2021. Crime rates have been falling across the United States since a peak in the 1990s, until a reversal in the trend in 2020. We have not yet seen whether it is an anomaly related to the COVID-19 Pandemic that will dissipate, or whether it reflects a new trajectory of violence that we need to be concerned about. Nevertheless, crime has recently been on an uptick after a long decline.
People may currently be aware of an increase in crime, but that likely doesn’t mean that the increase in crime feels new to them. Despite the recent falling crime rates, people’s general perception of crime is that it had been increasing before 2020. The perception of increasing crime did not match the continual drop in crime, at least not until 2020. Part of the misperception seems to come from the constant news reporting of crime and better measures of crime by police and the FBI. Christopher Jencks wrote about this in his book The Homeless, “police have spent billions of dollars computerizing their record keeping systems, so crimes that get reported are more likely to become part of the office record. Improved reporting and record-keeping plus highly selective news reporting have, in turn, helped convince the public that their neighborhoods are more dangerous.”
Having good information, data, and statistics for crime is a good thing. It is important that we have a good and accurate sense of how much crime and violence is taking place in our cities, who is committing the crime, and who tends to be the victims. However, new data reporting and collecting abilities can make it seem like there is more crime than there used to be, simply because we can better collect and report that information. Better collecting and reporting means that news stations can run more stories about crimes that previously would have gone unreported, increasing the prevalence of crime in the news, building the sense of danger that people feel. With broader news reporting and an online news system driven by clicks, we also see more crime that takes place outside our communities, even when browsing local news websites.
This can ultimately have negative effects for society. While it is good to have accurate information, that information can be misleading and misused. Increasing people’s sense of danger for political ends can erode social trust and lead to profiling and dangerous policing policies that have racial disparities. It can lead to disinvestment in areas that people deem dangerous and can limit the interactions that people are willing to have in their communities, furthering disinvestment and reinforcing a sense of danger. Context is the key and is easy to leave out when reporting crime and discussing individual crimes within larger trends. Our recent uptick in crime against a background of misperception could be especially dangerous, with extreme reactions against increases in crimes that may end up being driven by the peculiar circumstances of the Pandemic. We should work to make our cities and communities safer, but we should also work to make sure people have an accurate perception of the safety or danger of their communities.
Evidence of Structural Racism

Evidence of Structural Racism

What is and what is not racism in America today is a difficult question. We easily denounce racial slurs and instances of racism where someone openly states they dislike people due to race, but we have trouble identifying racism that is not so explicit. We have trouble identifying structural and systemic racism, but we know that it exists and that it has real world consequences for black people in our country. A couple of weeks ago, in a post on his blog Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen noted that racial segregation is increasing in many parts of America. White people choosing not to live near black people can be explained in many innocuous ways, but ultimately we must accept, the statistics of racial segregation reveal a system of structural racism in our country.
In the book Evicted, author Matthew Desmond confronts structural racism directly. He writes, “In Milwaukee’s poorest black neighborhoods, eviction had become commonplace – especially for women. In those neighborhoods, 1 female renter in 17 was evicted through the court system each year, which was twice as often as men from those neighborhoods and nine times as often as women from the city’s poorest white areas. Women from black neighborhoods made up 9 percent of Milwaukee’s population and 30 percent of its evicted tenants.” Eviction is a downstream consequence of structural racism. Structural racism can appear rational and equitable on the surface, but it often is built upon decades of deeply racist policies. When a population has been consistently held back due to racist policies, then racially neutral policies will still produce racist outcomes years after the deliberately racist policies have been removed. I think that Desmond would agree that this is what is at the heart of the racial disparities in evictions in Milwaukee and across the country.
Desmond continues, “If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.” Black men have been arrested at rates that don’t match their likelihood to use drugs or commit crime relative to white men and this has often meant that black mothers had less support for raising children and providing housing, food, and basic needs for families. This is part of why black women in Milwaukee are evicted at rates beyond their proportion of city residents. While we cannot look at any single incident and determine that racism is the cause of why a man was arrested or a woman evicted, we can look at the overwhelming evidence of segregation and disparate policing and evictions to see that structural racism is defining the lives of poor black men and women. We can see the evidence of structural racism and know that it is shaping lives and worlds that white and black people in our country experience. We cannot always say that a single instance is the outcome of racism, but we still know it is shaping what is happening.
After I wrote this piece Cowen also wrote about attractiveness, citing a David Brooks column. The column itself cites a study showing that the attractiveness bias in the United States is especially punishing to black women, demonstrating additional barriers that black women can face due to structural racism that creates beauty standards that outcasts poor black women. More evicdence of structural racism.
Concentrating the Deviant & Derelict

Concentrating the Deviant & Derelict

“Neighborhoods marred by high poverty and crime were that way not only because poverty could incite crime, and crime could invite poverty, but also because the techniques landlords used to keep illegal and destructive activity out of rental property kept poverty out as well,” writes Matthew Desmond in Evicted. There is an old idea I came across again recently that suggests that you are in some ways the product of the five people you spend the most time with. Who you are around and what kind of people they are like makes a difference in the person you become. Usually, in the United States, this is presented to us as a warning to be responsible for having upstanding friends and colleagues who will make us better people. But this sentiment can also be understood not as a rallying call for personal responsibility, but as a cudgel against personal responsibility.
We are not our own independent entities free from societal influence and pressures.  The world around us shapes how we see that very same world. It influences what we see as possible, moral, acceptable, and excusable. It defines our horizon and opens or closes certain doors and directions. It challenges the idea that our life is entirely within our own hands. Desmond’s quote above shows that poverty and crime run together, and it shows that if you are poor, you are probably stuck around criminals, meaning that the poorest among us are stuck among the worst among us. If the saying that you are the people you spend most of your time around, then those in poverty are stuck becoming deviants.
“This also mean[s] that violence, drug activity, deep poverty, and other social problems coalesced at a much smaller, more acute level than the neighborhood. They gather[ ] at the same address,” continues Desmond.
Our market approach to housing means that those who have a history of not making rent payments, who have a history of drug abuse or violence, and those who have made poor decisions in the past are grouped together, often ending up in the same household splitting rent. If you are the product of the five people around you the most, then being surrounded by only other derelict or deviant individuals cannot possibly make you anything other than the worst version of yourself possible. None of us would want to live surrounded by poor, defeated, and destitute individuals. If we are honest with ourselves, we can see how being stuck in such a situation would make it effectively impossible for us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, unless we are a truly remarkable person.
Our failures of housing policy have resulted in a dramatic economic segregation. Understandably, all of us as individuals want to move away from places of crime, drug use, and poverty (I am guilty here as well). We want to limit the amount of time we have to interact with the deviant and derelict, but in doing so, we cluster those poor, violent, and/or apathetic individuals together, creating the conditions for a downward spiral for anyone who gets caught amongst our lowest ranks. This is not a problem of just the individuals stuck in these situations. It is a problem and failure of society more broadly. A failure to ensure that poverty does not pit one solely among deviants. A failure to give those deviants a safe place to take steps to improve their lives. And a failure to demonstrate social responsibility to work with the destitute to show them that they are valued and can indeed improve their lives.

The Burden of a Nation

Today we have a problem with the number of people we arrest and the destroyed potential futures for those who have been arrested. As we arrest greater numbers of individuals for drug related offenses, the more families we break apart, the fewer people we have available to work, and the more our nation must spend on housing those who have been arrested. Prior to reading Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, I had assumed that this system operated fairly and I had criticized those who had been arrested for their own faults and personal shortcomings. What I did not see before her book are the choices that we made as a society that lead to the crime, the policing, and the levels of arrests that we see in our nation. We have a choice in determining the criminality of low level drugs like marijuana, and we have a choice in how harshly we will arrest and punish those who break the laws that we create. At a certain point, we must begin asking ourselves, beyond what an individual has done wrong, what has society done wrong so that so many people are violating drug laws, and should our response be imprisonment or less expensive and less socially damaging responses to crime.

In her book, Alexander writes, “Du Bois got it right a century ago: “the burden belongs to the nation, and the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs.” It is up to all of us, not just up to criminals and those living in ghettos or low income areas, to solve the crime problems our nation faces and to strengthen our communities. Those of us who do not act and do not take steps to make our world better are equally at fault as those who commit crimes and make our society more segregated and less equitable. Alexander continues, “The reality is that, just a few decades after the collapse of one caste system, we constructed another. Our nation declared a war on people trapped in racially segregated ghettos—just at the moment their economies had collapsed—rather than providing community investment, quality education, and job training when work disappeared.” Our choices created the ghettos and in response to the effects of concentrated power, we decided that incarceration was the best option to deal with the crime that resulted. Alexander looks at the history of segregation in our country and how that has impacted our development, our communities, and the policies put forth by those in power. Our reaction to minorities has historically been to shut them out and deny them of opportunity, and today, when people in communities that have been isolated and exiled result to crime, we find justification in our actions and arrests.

“Of course those communities are suffering from serious crime and dysfunction today. Did we expect otherwise? Did we think that, miraculously, they would thrive?” Alexander pushes us to reflect on ghettos and segregated areas of concentrated poverty. Rather than uniting our communities and putting forth greater resources to help people in ghettos, we have decided to arrest individuals, which diminishes future potential and career opportunities, feeding back into a vicious cycle of crime, poverty, and disfunction. Rather than try to build the areas in new and novel ways that put low income individuals next to more affluent families and people, we isolated the poor and the minorities so that they could be forgotten. It is expensive to provide community support to those who need it and to improve our ghettos, but it is certainly expensive to warehouse individuals in prisons and jails and to react to the crime committed by those who have lost future possibilities or live in disjointed households.

Views on Criminality in the United States

In The New Jim Crow Michelle Alexander explains the ways that we have turned the prison system and our treatment of criminals into a modern caste system. She looks at the way we approach criminality and is critical of the open prejudice shown toward those who have been arrested or convicted of crimes. Her book was eye opening to me because of the way she looked at crime, who commits crime, who is punished for crime, and who seems to be able to commit crime without worrying about punishment. She is able to demonstrate with study after study that our system unreasonably targets minority populations and has different outcomes that limit individual’s futures and shapes the lives and communities in which people live.

 

I was particularly struck by the similarity that exists between those who commit crimes and are punished and pushed out from society and those who never commit crimes and manage to move through life with success. Alexander challenges this idea writing, “The notion that a vast gulf exists between ‘criminals’ and those of us who have never served time in prison is a fiction created by the racial ideology that birthed mass incarceration, namely that there is something fundamentally wrong and morally inferior about ‘them’.” White, brown, and black criminals are somehow viewed as the other and as a problem that we, the morally sound part of society, must deal with. We cast these individuals out because they are somehow flawed and unable to participate in society at a fundamentally humane level. But this idea is not backed by real evidence of behavior, especially as we have been increasing our sentencing for low level drug crimes and over policing minority neighborhoods.

 

Alexander continues, “Most Americans violate drug laws in their life-time. Indeed most of us break the law not once but repeatedly throughout our lives. Yet only some of us will be arrested, charged, convicted of a crime, branded a criminal or felon, and ushered into a permanent under-caste.” We don’t seem to recognize how frequently the law is broken, particularly with drug laws, and how arbitrary our punishment and legal system can be. When we limit housing and limit employment opportunities to those who have been arrested, we limit the ability of people who were arrested to return to society and become a contributing member of society. We make up stories about those who were arrested so that we don’t have to confront the brutal fact that we arrest minority populations at far greater rates than we should, and our stories help us feel justified in our actions and morally superior to other people. Ensuring that everyone in society can advance and ensuring that we can have robust and supportive communities means that we must re-think our criminal justice system and re-think what it means to be a criminal.

Do Racial Minorities Commit More Crime?

An argument you may hear about why arrest rates are so high for black and latino people in the United States is that those two groups commit crimes (particularly drug crimes) at higher levels than white people. The evidence for this is the number of black and latino people incarcerated relative to white people. If white people committed more crimes relative to black and latino people, we would have a prison population that was more representative of the non-prison population. This logic however, is incorrect.

Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow looks at this argument directly as she examines our criminal justice system and evaluates whether we police and arrest fairly or in a way that disproportionately affects black people and other minority groups. Alexander cites evidence throughout her book to suggest that our policing habits and incarceration practices are influenced by racial attitudes and implicit bias. When you view the system through this lens, you see that the argument above becomes an excuse for racial disparities in policing and an excuse for the poor economic and social outcomes for our minority populations.  In response to such faulty thinking, Alexander writes, “The former New Jersey attorney general dubbed this phenomenon the ‘circular illogic of racial profiling.’ Law enforcement officials, he explained, often point to the racial composition of our prisons and jails as justification for targeting racial minorities, but the empirical evidence actually suggested the opposite conclusion was warranted.”

Further, citing research in racial profiling, Alexander writes, “Whites were actually more likely than people of color to be carrying illegal drugs or contraband in their vehicles. In fact, in New Jersey, whites were almost twice as likely to be found with illegal drugs or contraband as African Americans, and five times as likely to be found with contraband as latinos.”

The New Jim Crow makes it clear that our prisons are over populated with black and latino individuals relative to the crime they commit (particularly drug crimes) and that this over representation is the result of years of racial bias in our country. The way we think about crime in low income neighborhoods, the way we think about drug offenses, and the way we review and evaluate criminal activity puts racial minorities at a disadvantage, and the arrest rates for black and brown people are evidence of our racial biases in policing rather than a justification for our policing and incarceration patterns.

Bias, Race, and Sentencing

In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander explains how racial bias has impacted our criminal justice system, particularly in regard to prosecutorial discretion. Our nation has begun to realize that arrest rates for black and white people are motivated by race, but we have work to do to address bias and race relations beyond initial arrests.  How we prosecute and charge individuals who have been arrested is incredibly consequential and can still be impacted by racial bias. How we view someone once they have been arrested often determines the level and type of justice the individual receives, and we do not always base our judgements on rational facts. Alexander highlights this by quoting a study conducted by George Bridges and Sara Steen that was published in the American Sociological Review. Alexander writes, “In the state of Washington, for example, a review of juvenile sentencing reports found that prosecutors routinely described black and white offenders differently. Blacks committed crimes because of internal personality flaws such as disrespect. Whites did so because of external conditions such as family conflict.”

Whether we are aware of it or not, race influences how we see other people. If we think someone is like us or has a similar background to us, we are more likely to associate with that individual and feel more inclined to give that person a break. If we feel that the other person is not like us and we feel somehow threatened by the other individual, our natural tendency is to protect our tribe by being more punitive of the other. Many of the decisions about who we will charge with what crimes are made outside of the courtroom by individual prosecutors. Before a judge has had a chance to review a case and before anyone has heard evidence in a trial, prosecutors can decide whether to drop a charge, whether to seek full penalties, or whether an individual can take a plea bargain to avoid a trial. The power of the prosecutor is addressed in Alexander’s book, but what she first describes is how our experiences and our conscious and unconscious biases affect the way we see the world and how emotional biases tie into the ways we make decisions.

Alexander continues, “The risk that prosecutorial discretion will be racially biased is especially acute in the drug enforcement context, where virtually identical behavior is susceptible to a wide variety of interpretations and responses and the media imagery and political discourse has been so thoroughly racialized. Whether a kid is perceived as a dangerous drug-dealing thug or instead is viewed as a good kid who was merely experimenting with drugs and selling to a few of his friends has to do with the ways in which information about illegal drug activity is processed and interpreted. In a social climate where drug dealing is racially defined.”

White, middle-class, college men are one of the social groups that is the most likely to use drugs, but the rates of arrest and prosecution for male college drug users far lower than the rate at which this group uses drugs. Alternatively, black men in our country make up a smaller percentage of the population and of overall drug users, but are arrested and prosecuted at much higher levels. Our nation is much more likely to assume that white college men make honest mistakes in college and will behave better in the future, allowing white college men to face fewer consequences for crimes related to drugs and other offenses. Alexander’s argument in the quotes I have shared is that we view black people as more dangerous and threatening, and we associate their crimes with personality flaws which makes us more likely to arrest and punish them. Other groups however, which may be more likely to violate drug laws and other laws, we view as having more potential and we see individuals as having made an honest mistake and deserving a second chance. We must be honest about the crimes we punish people for, and we must recognize when we are reacting to an individual based on appearance and racial bias as opposed to reacting to the crime itself.

This reminds me of a few events from the recent world. Marijuana legalization has been gaining steam across the country, but our nation’s Attorney General has instructed federal law enforcement officers to be more strict in following federal marijuana laws. Despite race being a manufactured concept, a congressional representative recently said that it was important to maintain marijuana restrictions because black people reacted to marijuana so negatively, as if there was a true biological difference between white and black people that made them more susceptible to addiction to marijuana. This comment came at about the same time that Alabama won the national championship for college football. The day after Alabama won, a meme was shared across the internet. The photo featured a high school picture from a future white pro football player next to a high school picture of a current black Alabama football player. The two were the same age, but the Alabama player was much more physically developed in high school, more muscular, and much larger. Seeing the photo, a colleague of mine remarked, “Yep, that’s a man right there.” But in reality these were two young boys. One may have looked older and his physical size and development may lead us to ascribe more maturity to him, but he still had the mind of a junior in high school. I share this just to demonstrate that many people across our nation see black people as different from white people, and see black people as being older and than white people. In the case of the congressman, we see a white man generalize a group of people with no scientific backing, and in the case of my colleague we see physical size create an image of black people that not fully representative of who the individual is.

Stop and Frisk

In the 1968 Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio, the court ruled that stop and frisk laws were constitutional on the grounds that an officer “is entitled for the protection of himself and others in the area” to search individuals for dangerous weapons that could be used against the officer. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander describes how this ruling came to be, and what it has meant for our nation and particularly black citizens in the United States. The court ruled that stop and frisk laws do not violate the fourth amendment which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. While not intended to have racially disparate outcomes, historically stop and frisk laws have targeted minority populations.

 

In 1968 Justice Douglas provided the dissenting opinion in Terry v. Ohio. He argued that the ruling lead the nation down a totalitarian path by granting unreasonable power to the police. Alexander writes that, “He objected to the notion that police should be free to conduct warrantless searches whenever they suspected someone is a criminal, believing that dispensing with the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement risked opening the door to the same abuses that gave rise to the American Revolution.” She continues to describe the ways in which stop and frisk rules have been used to search black and latino individuals for drugs and weapons even when those individuals showed no sign of criminal or threatening behavior.

 

Our nation today is struggling to understand just how much power the police should have, and just how much protection citizens should have from the police. A big challenge in the debate, which prevents people from reaching a shared conclusion, has to do with how and where our police are active. Many white people do not experience the same searches that black and latino people experience, so an increase in police power is not a threat to them, but rather a reassurance. Black and latino people, who are more likely to live in concentrated poverty and less likely to own a car, are more vulnerable to searchers from the police, and feel more threatened by increases in police power. Data suggest that white people, black people, and latino people commit crimes at about the same rates, but historical factors shaping housing policy and wealth accumulation have impacted where those crimes take place. Alexander explains that part of the reason stop and frisk rules have been so disparate in their impact on black people is because black people are more likely to commit crimes in public places compared to white people who may be committing the same crimes but from the safety of their homes or gated communities. It is important to note that the types of crimes that we are talking about being committed are low level drug offenses, such as possession, use, or distribution of a controlled substance. The data indicates that our patterns of arrests and policing are shaped by more than a response to crime. Also, where, when, and how crime is committed is influenced by many factors, such as current economic and social conditions. Our past and our decisions have shaped who is stopped, who is searched, and who is protected or disadvantaged by increases in police power. Stop and frisk may have been introduced to help protect officers and individuals from dangerous criminals, but it has instead become a tool to identify and arrest minority drug users who are not able to carry drugs in personal vehicles or use and distribute drugs from the comfort of nice homes or gated communities.