Boredom for Batman: Gotham’s day of harmony
Batman would have had a slow day in Gotham last Monday. The 26thof November, 2012, was oddly a day of no reported shootings, stabbings, or other forms of violent crime in New York City. It was a glimpse of Utopia, and though it might not have felt much different than any other day, statistically, it was virtually unprecedented.
New York has been on a roll since the 90s regarding violent crime. In 2011, 515 murders were reported, compared to 2,262 murders in 1990. This shows a 77% decrease over roughly two decades. Now, in 2012, NYC is close to recording its lowest murder rate since 1960. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that, last Monday, there were no reports of violence.
But why? What is the reason for this strangely harmonious day?
Maybe there is a historical pattern. Maybe, historically, November 26th has always been a day of peace. The truth is, very few notable events have occurred on the 26th of November, and the biggest ones are not that peaceful. For example, on November 26th, 1476, Vlad the Impaler – the man who inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula – regained his throne in Wallachia (modern day southern Romania). He was notorious for sadistically torturing and impaling his enemies. This cannot logically be connected to New York’s November 26th, unless New Yorkers were familiar with Vlad’s achievement on that date, and put their differences aside for one day, lest they trigger his evil spirit to release a subterranean sewer ooze, like Vigo the Carpathian in Ghostbusters II. Not likely, though.
It could possibly be because New Yorkers were helplessly infused with the holiday spirit. Little known fact: In 1863, during one of the grisliest times in American history – the Civil War – President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed November 26th to be the nation’s official day of Thanksgiving. Most Americans know that Thanksgiving is traditionally celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November—falling on the 22nd this year—but the official day is the 26th. Perhaps New Yorkers were aware of this and, in celebration, displayed holiday fellowship and a nod to Honest Abe. Perhaps that was the case, but it is doubtful. Unfortunately, few people even knew that Monday the 26th was the legitimate Thanksgiving holiday. At most, people were aware that it was Cyber Monday.
Maybe that was it – Cyber Monday: of course! Everyone was busy online, snatching up deals on holiday gift items. But that is also a stretch. It is tough to imagine two men postponing a duel because there is a sale at Crate & Barrel.
Even though Cyber Monday may not have played a role, part of the real answer might involve the Internet. In recent years, smart phones have given many citizens the ability to record public occurrences and upload the videos onto the web, while YouTube and other like sites provide a means to disseminate the videos on a large scale. As a result, a brawl on the bus or the subway can now sully an individual’s police record and his reputation. No one wants to be remembered as a YouTube headline (e.g., “Shirtless dude goes nuts on 6 train”). Nowadays, fear of embarrassment may motivate people to think twice before they act on their impulses, because foolishness can go viral in a flash. YouTube, like Big Brother, is watching, and it suddenly plays an important role in the modern social contract.
Alongside its citizens, the city government works hard to honor this social contract. Though “stop and frisk” has been very controversial in the city – police seem to target the black and Latino population, unfairly – many believe that it is effective in forestalling violent crime. Additionally, in 2006, Mayor Bloomberg scaled up regulations for firearm sales and possession. Both of these law enforcement measures have contributed to NYC’s comparatively low murder rate.
The speculation as to why Gotham experienced this alien 24 hours of nonviolence is heated and ongoing, because people naturally want to have more days like that in the future; they want to find the magic peace potion. Until then, Batman has got plenty of work to do.