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America: The Global Capital of Crime, Forensics and Religious Resilience
Violent crimes are a notable problem within the United States, and figuring out how to reduce the amount of violent crime that takes place is a hotly debated topic. Forensic psychology schools and crime based TV shows litter American culture and though crime has gone down, it is still markedly high by global standards. Despite a 7% drop of the murder rate, there were still 7,586 incidents in 2008.
According to the FBI's official statistics, an estimated 1,246,248 violent crimes took place throughout the nation in 2010. This number actually represents a decrease of 6.0% from the 2009 statistics, however. Most of the violent crimes occurring in 2010 -- about 62.5% -- consisted of aggravated assaults, followed by robbery at 29.5%, forcible rape at 6.8%, and murder at 1.2%. Firearms were used in 67.5% of U.S. murders in 2010. They were also used in 41.4% of robberies and 20.6% of aggravated assaults.
Various churches and religious organizations are among the groups committed to the reduction of violent crime. Many of these church groups aim to minimize violent crime by changing the cultural mindset that promotes it, and some have already set up structures dedicated to thwarting the spread of violence within their communities.
Church groups that aim to help further reduce these rates typically do so by promoting a culture of peace over one of violence, while actively seeking out opportunities to help ease the spiritual and economic needs of community residents. For instance, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America specifically lists "enabling people to reclaim their violence-plagued communities, especially through community economic development" and "assisting those affected by poverty, racism, family instability, domestic violence, and unemployment as they seek to deal with these challenges" among their goals. Additionally, the ELCA seeks to educate children and adults about constructive ways to handle anger, provide counseling and similar services to those affected by violence, and minister to former criminals in a manner that allows them to to resume status as productive members of a peaceful, law abiding society.
The concern that church groups have about violent crime goes beyond mere goal-setting. Many churches have actually put programs and structures in place to actively help reduce violence within their own communities. A Pastoral Message from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes several Catholic anti-violence initiatives that have existed since the mid-1990s.
Among them is the Los Angeles "Hope in Youth" initiative that "works with others to combat gang violence with youth opportunities and economic development." Similarly, the diocese of Pittsburgh has worked alongside a community program for at risk youth that provides educational, recreational, and employment alternatives to gangs. Allthewhile, the Diocese of Cleveland has helped coordinate interfaith gun turn-in programs to help reduce the number of illegal firearms on the streets. And the "Building a Sacred Bridge of Reconciliation" program set up in the dioceses of Palm Beach and Billings addressed some of the attitudes and ideas responsible for domestic abuse.
Church programs like these may not fully eliminate violent crime in the United States, but they do help staunch some of violence on a community-by-community level. Moreover, they also provide a good model for how the rate of violent crime can be further reduced. Initiatives aimed at educating kids about the effects of violence can, in theory, stop some members of future generations from becoming perpetrators of violent crimes.
Programs designed to help individuals in economic distress can help reduce armed robberies and other related crimes. When these programs are aimed directly at getting former convicts back on their feet and stopping recidivism, they can also help reduce the number of individuals returning to prison. Lastly, efforts to bring faith into at risk communities can help decrease the sense of hopelessness that many members of those communities may feel, thereby encouraging them to press forward even in spite of the hardships they face that might otherwise prompt them to turn to lives of crime.