In his 2016 presidential campaign Donald Trump made fighting a supposedly soaring U.S. crime rate the central focus of his rhetoric. He especially emphasized the problem of immigrant crime.

But these claims were contrary to accepted U.S. crime statistics. According to FBI records the U.S. violent crime rate for homicides, assaults, rapes and armed robberies fell 51% between 1993 and 2016. And the property crime rate also fell significantly over the same period.

Trump also tried to blame his non-existent high crime rate on the Democrats’ equally non-existent open borders policy. No politician, Democrat, Republican or independent, has ever advocated unrestricted immigration. None. And FBI arrest and incarceration records for California and Texas, the states with the highest non-white immigrant populations, show that the crime rate for Hispanics is only about half that for native-born perpetrators. Then how does Donald J. Trump get away with these outlandish claims?

The American public’s perception of our national crime situation is often not in agreement with the facts. This is possibly because many crimes, particularly property crimes, are often not reported to the police. The reason? A growing feeling that the police either could not or would not do anything about it or that the crimes were personal matters or too trivial to report. And the crime victims sometimes refuse to cooperate with the prosecution and the case must be dropped for lack of evidence.

As for violent crimes in states with large immigrant populations, particularly homicides, our beloved Southland heads up the nation. Louisiana consistently leads with a current homicide rating of 11.4 per 1000 population. Georgians murder at about half that rate at 6.1 while Alabama and Tennessee rank 7.8 and 7.4 respectively. But why are we southerners more violent and homicidal than other Americans?

The American South has always had by far the country’s highest murder rate, almost double that of the northeastern states. Down here many conflicts are considered personal matters and, according our unwritten code of honor, must be settled personally. Feuds often stem from barroom brawls, personal insults, extramarital affairs or domestic quarrels. But more than anything else, violence and bellicosity seem to be integral factors in certain Southerners’ cultural heritage.

The south was heavily settled by immigrants from the northern parts of Great Britain known as Scots-Irish. These settlers whom Benjamin Franklin described as “white savages” brought with them a culture based on constant fighting between kingdoms, clans and individuals in the old country. They had a penchant for personal and family feuds, a weakness for whiskey (making it and, especially, drinking it) and a warrior ethic that demanded revenge for the slightest personal insult. A classic product of this violent culture was our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, known to have fought a duel or two in his time. Writing of his 1830s visit to America, French historian Alexis de Tocqueville called the U.S. South “a semi-barbarous state of society.” But how does this all fit in with the fact of the Southerners’ obviously intense religiosity?

Southerners are often described as professing the Christian values of love, peace, and forgiveness on Sunday but living an Old Testament existence of revenge and violence the rest of the week. Sound like anyone we might know? And, by the way, like many down here I’m 100% Scots-Irish on both sides.

George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at reed1600@bellsouth.net.

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