These neighborhoods are almost exactly alike in ethnicity, yet, like Haiti and Barbados, they reflect differences in culture, i.e. the collective choices made by the individuals who inhabit them, with the culture of one neighborhood doing a better job than the other’s at fostering practices that lead to better education, higher income, and lower crime.
All of which brings me to a recent crime story here in Los Angeles, the murders of Ming Qu and Ying Wu, both of whom were graduate students from China attending the University of Southern California. Qu and Wu were seated in a car outside Qu’s home less than a mile from the USC campus when they were shot to death at about 1 a.m. on April 11. The killer remains at large, but if experience has taught me anything, when he is caught he will almost certainly turn out to be black or Latino. Acknowledging this does not make me a racist; it makes me a seasoned observer of crime in Los Angeles, where blacks and Latinos are responsible for about 90 percent of all violent crime. (In the neighborhood where Qu and Wu were killed the figure is close to 100 percent.)
The murders occurred during a week when prospective USC students and their parents were touring the school and weighing offers to attend. What conclusions should those high school seniors and their parents draw from these murders? Are they a true reflection of the culture in the neighborhoods near the campus or an aberration? Police and USC officials were quick to point out that crime on campus and in the immediate vicinity is low, especially when compared to past years. The USC campus lies within the LAPD’s Southwest Division, which in 2011 recorded 22 homicides. This was an increase from 16 in 2010 but still a far cry from the 63 recorded in 2004.
Still and all, comparisons must be made not only across time but across regions, and while those prospective students might be relieved to know that the area around the USC campus is safer today than it was when they were in fourth grade, what should concern them is how safe the area is today when compared to the area surrounding some other school they might consider attending. According to the L.A. Times, the University Park neighborhood, which includes the USC campus, and Westwood, where UCLA is located, have each recorded just four homicides since Jan. 1, 2007. (The Qu and Wu murders occurred a few blocks outside University Park.) But in taking a wider look at the numbers, we see that in the same period there have been 117 homicides within two miles of the USC campus but only seven near UCLA.
The area immediately surrounding the USC campus is heavily patrolled by university police as well as the LAPD, providing an enclave of security amid areas of higher crime, areas whose cultures in most respects have far more in common with that of Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw than with that of View Park-Windsor Hills. Not that this information should be determinative in choosing which college to attend, but any prospective USC student and his parents would be foolish to ignore it. And even if one is sanguine about his personal safety while strolling the USC campus – or that of Columbia, Yale, the University of Chicago, or any other college in or near a troubled neighborhood – it would be madness to disregard the very real risks of straying too far from the campus itself.
So, bearing in mind that John Derbyshire found himself in the soup for imputing too much into racial distinctions and for encouraging others to do so, what advice on personal safety as it relates to ethnic groups should parents offer their children as they send them off next fall to USC (or Columbia, or Yale, or the University of Chicago)?
I look forward to your comments. But beware: excessive candor can be hazardous to your career.