Is It Safe?

Aren’t you worried?

Aren’t you scared?

Why are you going…….there?

It’s fascinating to me that over the last few years, increasingly when I tell someone that I have a trip planned, these are some of the more common questions that I’m asked. If I believed that my life was in danger or that something bad was likely to happen, I wouldn’t go there. I’m also aware of the world that we live in.

New York City.




Random violence can and has happened everywhere. I understand this. I’ve also noticed that it doesn’t matter where my destination is, people worry. It used to be that I was only asked when I was headed to someplace that was far flung or not a first world nation. The concern that people had when I was traveling to Botswana, Turkey, India, or Vietnam was not completely surprising to me. In the past year, though, people had serious “sit downs” with me to make sure I knew what I was doing, when I announced I was headed to Paris and Austria.   Weirdly enough, I was even questioned before I headed to the west coast of the United States.

Stay close to home. they tell me.

Why take the risk? they ask.

The answer is a complicated one. On one hand I am extremely head strong, and there are places in the world that I want to see. Period. That’s it. I want to and I’m going to do it. On the other hand, I completely understand and appreciate the concerns of my friends and family, but I refuse to allow those who perpetuate crime and violence and fear to be successful. I’m not going to cower and not live the life that I want to live and have the experiences that I want to have. I’m also very aware that the media warps our perceptions of events and of places. We hear crime statistics everyday, and suddenly we are convinced that everyone around us is out to rob us. A terrorist attack happens in a city with millions of people, and suddenly the entire city is now a dangerous place to visit or even to live. It just doesn’t make much sense.

Birmingham, Alabama is a city that has struggled with bad PR over the last few decades for a variety of reasons. [If you don’t know what I’m talking about, break open a history book.]  However, lately though, for every article in the press about the amazing food scene or the growth and development of business, there are two about the poverty and crime rates. When these scary numbers are analyzed, it becomes clear that they aren’t exactly what they seem. David Sher, blogger for The Comeback Town, writes extensively about the rejuvenation efforts of the city of Birmingham, and he deconstructed the statistics to find out what exactly what going on and how they can give very false impressions.

Common sense can go a long way in deciphering the realities of statistics, and sometimes going there is the only way to really see the truth of the situation.

The following comes from his blog, entitled “Birmingham NOT One of the Most Dangerous Cities in America,” it does a good job of pointing out that statistics probably should be used as a first impression.

Sometimes I feel invisible.

No one seems to hear me when I insist that Birmingham is NOT one of the most dangerous cities in America.

We hear that Birmingham has historically been a rough and tumble town.  Our media bombards us with one homicide story after another.

Every year respected publications like Forbes include Birmingham in its list of one of the most dangerous cities in America.

Our propensity to crime is just accepted as part of our DNA.

However, the comparison between Birmingham and other cities is flawed.

The City of Birmingham, one of 35+ municipalities in Jefferson County, is measured against cities with consolidated governments (county/city) that include much broader boundaries. Birmingham’s crime statistics don’t include Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Trussville, etc., where there is very little crime.

Nashville and other cities with metropolitan (county/city) governments average in their suburbs. So, for instance, the City of Birmingham is compared to Nashville/Davidson County, Tennessee.

Here’s the latest FBI statistics for 2013 Metropolitan Birmingham (5 counties) to Metropolitan Nashville and Memphis:

Violent crimes per 100,000 residents*

Birmingham 529.8
Nashville 596.1
Memphis 992
Number of violent crimes

Birmingham 2,852
Nashville 6,612
Memphis 10,894
Can you imagine what the crime rate must be in the urban areas of Nashville and Memphis? Their number of violent crimes dwarfs Birmingham.

At least Birmingham gets to include the low crime statistics of downtown which has crime rates comparable to Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills.

You’re going to read that the City of Birmingham’s homicides are way up over last year. Homicides are up, but they appear to be up everywhere…

Indianapolis homicide rate on tract to be deadliest year ever
Baltimore reaches its highest ever homicide rate
Houston murder rate skyrockets
Through December 10th–there had been 2,818 shooting victims in Chicago.

Please note that Indianapolis, Houston–even Chicago, don’t show up on Forbes list of most dangerous cities–(and Birmingham does). You know that’s nonsense.

Some folks will take a cheap shot by commenting on the unfortunate incident that occurred at Birmingham City Hall [earlier this year]. Was that any worse than the August baseball bat beating of the Mayor of Talladega who had previously been convicted on federal charges involving theft from the city? Please note that assault took place in Vestavia Hills—and counted in its statistics.

Violent crime can happen anywhere—in the City of Birmingham, outside the City of Birmingham, and in other cities throughout the U.S.

If we are going to compare, let’s be consistent and fair.

*In the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Violent crimes are defined in the UCR Program as those offenses which involve force or threat of force.

Read more from David and others on Birmingham at


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Categories: Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Thoughts


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