Why is crime rising in Minneapolis?

Yesterday, I wrote about the surge in crime in downtown Minneapolis. As City Pages notes,

Robberies are up 53 percent this year in central downtown. In one 20-day stretch last month, 47 people were attacked. Much of that figure is attributable to pack hunters.

City Pages explains

Police say it’s called “finessing.” Packs of teens begin their late-night hunts in downtown Minneapolis, looking for lone drunks, people distracted by cell phones, prey that won’t fight back.

One person will strike up a conversation with a target. A moment later, the victim will be jumped, punched, and kicked into the pavement by the others.

It is the ultimate moron crime. In exchange for the risk of felony assault and robbery charges, all they’re usually walking away with is a cellphone and a wallet already emptied at a bar. The phones are later sold at automated kiosks like ECO ATM, the cops believe. Once the money is divvied, a major score might come to $50 each.

Yet security video suggests this is less about money than violence for violence’s sake. Footage shows teens taking turns jumping on an unconscious victim, riding a bike over a prone body. The weak are enjoying their power over the helpless, emboldened by safety in numbers. 

Theft isn’t the only way to get money

Leaving aside the bizarre notion that the perpetrators of these sadistic assaults are “the weak”, the article actually makes a very interesting point.

We often hear that criminals are committing crime because of poverty. Need money? Steal it. But, of course, there are other ways of getting your hands on cash.

You can work for it. According to the Department of Employment and Economic Development, during the fourth quarter of 2018 there were 136,900 job vacancies in Minnesota, up 20 percent from last year, meaning that there were 0.6 unemployed job seekers for each job vacancy statewide (although this situation might have deteriorated recently).

Even if you got a job at minimum wage, you’d earn $8.04 an hour (assuming you’re under 18). In 6.2 hours – the equivalent of a 6pm to midnight shift – you’d earn the equivalent of a “major score” battering someone on Hennepin Avenue and you wouldn’t be running the risk of felony assault and robbery charges.

It’s not the economy, stupid

So I think City Pages is on to something when it says that “security video suggests this is less about money than violence for violence’s sake”. This isn’t about getting money, it is about inflicting violence. The money is a pleasant side benefit no doubt, but the real motivation for these feral sadists is inflicting pain on people.

Where does this sadism come from? I’ll leave that question for now. But if the motivation for these crimes is not economic, as it doesn’t seem to be, then the remedy won’t be either.

When people say that poverty drives people to crime it is usually followed pretty quickly by the demand for more taxpayers money to be spent, kind of like paying people not to commit crime. But if a lack of cash is not driving this problem, throwing taxpayers cash at it won’t solve it. The solution – whatever it may be – will have to be one appropriate to the causes – simple viciousness.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.