This is the second in a series about life in a white country: Poland (here is Part I). The author is an American who is very familiar with his homeland.
Recently, I took the last tram home after catching up with some friends over drinks in Krakow’s lively bar district. I had to stand because of all the university students who were taking the party home and avoiding an expensive cab ride. Most were well-dressed and chatting in small groups while solo passengers scrolled through their iphones. There was a friendly atmosphere inside, no doubt fueled by the bars we were leaving behind. The tram, just like the stop where I hopped on, was brightly lit and clean.
When my stop came, I got off and walked a few minutes down the street to a 24-hour gas station to pick up some orange juice. It was around midnight and the streets were empty. At the gas station, there was no plexiglass, and no sign saying how much cash was on hand. Two women were chatting behind the counter. I got my juice and took a shortcut behind an apartment building, where I saw an old woman bringing her tiny dog back from a late-night visit to a grassy patch.
There was not the slightest sense of menace or even wariness in any of this. Those of us with experience in multiracial societies know that being on guard while doing these things—or skipping them altogether—is one of the “benefits” of diversity.
That part of town
In America, everyone knows that “bad neighborhood” is a euphemism for a black or Hispanic neighborhood. When Poles talk about “bad neighborhoods” they’re referring to physical attractiveness, proximity to the center of town, public transportation, local amenities, etc. It’s about what is in a neighborhood and where it is, not who is in it. No one, no matter what part of town he’s driving through, checks to make sure the car doors are locked.
Like cities of a certain size anywhere, Krakow has areas where the lowest social classes are concentrated. But even there, cranes and bulldozers testify to the wave of private investment that is attracted by comparatively cheap property for development. New apartments and office buildings slowly bring up “poor” parts of town to the level of everywhere else. I’ve seen it over and over in my nearly 20 years here.
No area is doomed to be forever crime-infested or have a reputation that cannot be overcome. Here in Krakow, one of the areas that was long thought to be undesirable was where the Jewish ghetto was established during the Second World War. Despite being well-situated on the map and relatively inexpensive, its low-rent atmosphere and too-recent history kept it at the bottom of the list of prestigious addresses. Today, it’s home to four-star hotels, expensive riverfront apartments, and trendy bars and restaurants. None of this was the result of government action. It happened because people were free to choose where they wanted to invest, live, shop, etc. The idea that a particular neighborhood wasn’t physically safe never entered the calculations.
This kind of turnaround could not happen in Detroit, Memphis, or the South Side of Chicago without massive federal intervention and money—and even then it wouldn’t be a sure bet. High-crime “bad neighborhoods” make it impossible. Also, America’s cheap and plentiful land makes white flight easy and lets (or forces) whites move 20 miles away and start all over again every couple of generations. Small, all-white countries don’t have that option but they don’t need it.
How crime pollutes the culture
There is crime in Poland, but it doesn’t creep into the broader culture the way it does in America. Imported American pop culture has introduced previously unknown concepts such as “drive-by” shootings, carjackings, and how apparently super-cool it is to be a pimp, but these are freakish curiosities from another world. Most people here would correctly label these things as “afroamerykanin” cultural sludge.
American television dramas have made murder a prime-time staple for decades. In Poland, where murder isn’t always in the headlines, there are crime dramas but they’re not all-murder-all-the-time. They usually offer a rotation of other things, such as kidnapping, robbery, and even consumer fraud. If anything, one-hour Polish crime mysteries are harder to figure out before the big reveal because they don’t have minority characters that American shows use as red herrings before unmasking the white property developer, socialite, politician, etc. There are no wise or sassy black judges, either.
It is from American television that most Poles learn about metal detectors in schools and even school districts with their own police forces. These would be utterly inconceivable here, as they once were in America. Not too long ago, the big national news story here was a series of new rules about keeping candy and junk food out of schools.
American attitudes about guns, living in cities, “good schools,” shopping malls, and a hundred other things are partly driven by an awareness of crime. In many areas, you can’t even take children to a park without considering where the park is. Poles are not bombarded with constant images and reminders of violent crime, so most never wonder, “Is it safe to go there?”
In America, police organize gun buy-backs, set up “community outreach” teams, and beg black neighborhoods not to erupt in regular spasms of violence. In Poland, one of the police’s biggest annual public relations campaigns promotes awareness of the dangers of drinking and swimming in lakes and rivers in the summertime.
The numbers don’t lie
Let’s consider a few statistics. Bear in mind that America has eight times as many people (320 million) as Poland (40 million).
There were 504 murders in Poland in 2015, or one quarter the US rate, which had thirty-one times as many killings. Just over 1,200 rapes were committed in Poland, which was one-ninth the US rate. There are about 80,000 prisoners in Poland. The United States has almost thirty times more people behind bars, for an incarceration rate that 3.75 times higher.
Poland’s total homicides in 2015 was nearly identical to the body count in Chicago alone. Killers in Baltimore put 344 of their neighbors in the morgue in 2015, giving it a murder rate of over 50 per 100,000 people. The numbers for Honduras and El Salvador—world “leaders” in this category—are just over 60 per 100,000. The number for Poland is around one, meaning the people of Baltimore kill each other about 50 times more often than Poles do.
According to a recent media investigation into how often the Polish police used their firearms, in 2015, all the combined police forces in the country fired a total of 18 rounds at a suspect or as a warning shot. One person was killed in a police shooting that year. Polish police used their guns mostly on aggressive dogs or for breaking locks on doors.
Poverty causes crime?
Poland certainly isn’t as poor as some people who haven’t been here may think, but Poles are considerably less wealthy than Western Europeans. If poverty causes crime, why does all of Poland—where people working the counter at KFC make about $500 a month—have fewer prisoners than the state of Florida?
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In my next article, I will look at education in Poland and how the lack of minorities means schools and universities can focus on teaching instead of worrying about “fairness” or “promoting diversity.”