I grew up in Orlando, Florida. Once upon a time, it was a reasonably safe city, a tourist mecca, and a land of relatively cheap houses and good schools. It was anchored by certain conservative, southern traditions, not least strong support for law enforcement by the populace, expectations and models of decency that cut across racial lines, and tough juries on criminal cases. Newcomers–such as my family–often were fleeing from frustration with corrupt, ill-managed, high tax, and high crime northern cities. They often embraced the local values, especially the freewheeling capitalism and “law and order” ethos of the New South.
About ten years ago, or so, things began to change, as did Orlando’s populace. Poverty became more disbursed. The city suffered as various anchors like NASA, the Navy Base, and the construction industry declined or disappeared. Fragile, poor neighborhoods like Parramore became further corroded by high rates of illegitimacy and crime. Large numbers of poor, low skill immigrants arrived, spawned by family reunification provisions of the immigration laws, low housing costs, and flight from Cuban-dominated Miami (particularly in the case of Puerto Ricans and Haitians). While many of these newcomers work hard and abide by our laws, a good many of their under-supervised kids do not. The mostly black and Hispanic gang culture that has blighted Southern California began to appear with the newcomers. The poor of all races (and their problematic kids) became dispersed among hitherto orderly neighborhoods through the social engineering of Section 8 housing vouchers. Areas of the city formerly middle or working class quickly became suburban ghettos: white picket fences coupled with daylight murders.
One striking thing about Orlando’s rising crime is how brazen the criminal class has become, raping and murdering as an afterthought. While Florida has some tough mandatory sentencing laws, too often they are not enforced, are undermined by a perverse “code of silence,” and in any case do little to affect violent juveniles. The murder rate shot up from 45 in 2001 to 123 in 2008. Like crime everywhere, much of this stems from internecine fighting between criminal drug gangs. But it spills over to convenience store clerks, promising graduate students, and the elderly. Sadly, increasingly violent robberies, rapes, home invasions, and other horrors are now reported on a daily basis.
A review of a few weeks’ stories from the local paper–which scrupulously avoid suspect descriptions–reads like something out of a Clockwork Orange:
There is little hope in sight. Gun sales and CWP permit applications have increased a great deal, as the crime wave shows few signs of abating. The husband-wife team of Val and Jerry Demmings as Orlando’s Police Chief and Orange County’s Sheriff, while thankfully enjoying a certain freedom from criticism because of their African-American ancestry, face tighter budgets, indifferent juries, and demographic trends that are outside their control. There is little organized outrage. Impotent comments on news stories suggest a quiet, disorganized majority that does not know how to reverse the tide other than through personal preparation and security. It’s a scary time, and the extent to which Florida has particularly hard-hit by the housing crisis–both on the housing and jobs side–makes it clear that we’re in for a very rough ride.