Fortunate for low instances of violent crime locally 

Published 2:43 pm Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Fear is the fuel of agitators who sow their seeds of discontent in hopes that we will come over to their way of thinking.

For me, a remarkable peek inside this type of thinking occurred Sept. 11, 2021, when I stopped at the farmers market in Columbus. Standing just outside the market entrance was a 70ish local man holding up an “unmask our children” sign and shouting his warning to passersby. He also was wearing a gun on his hip, so I stopped to chat. He tried to proselytize the mask issue, but I was focused on learning about his reasons for “open carry”.

Most trained, knowledgeable people see “open carry” as little more than a “look at me” plea. Concealment is preferred. We engaged on that subject and he quickly explained that his reason, and the reason everyone should openly carry a gun, is that crime is out of control.

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My head on a swivel, I turned to survey the scene. It was a beautiful late summer day, as only we can have. He was wearing a brilliant white T-shirt. People were bustling about, going merrily on their way. Children were screaming, as only a 4-year-old can do.

So I asked, “What crime are you talking about? Where is the crime occurring? What are you afraid of?”

Well, he said, it’s coming, the gangs are already here. Just ask the sheriff, he said. I said I was surprised because all I had ever seen when reading the police logs was local folks being arrested for possession of methamphetamine or the drug du jour, a strong indication that if we have a crime problem, it’s caused by us. You know who I’m talking about–our relatives, friends, neighbors. Not gangs. My point fell on deaf ears. I bid him a good day and moved along.

So I did what I do. I asked the man with his finger on the pulse of crime, Polk County Sheriff Tim Wright.

“I’m not aware of any gangs invading Polk County,” Wright said. Sure, a gang member who is a fugitive from another area might occasionally try to hide out here, but they are caught and sent back, he said.

Compared to most other locales in America, we don’t have much crime. What crime we do have is often either self-inflicted with drugs or drug users going onto someone’s property to steal something that can be quickly sold for cash to buy more drugs.

I assumed the man at the market wanted folks to think that crime from far-away places like New York City was about to grip us. That, after all, is where some people are pointing their fingers and demanding that something be done.

Most of those folks have never been to New York City and never will go, so why the obsession with crime there? And where, I wonder, were those fear-mongers in 1976, when murder rates were four times greater in NYC than they are today and crime, in general, was far worse than now? The same is true for 1990.

Mr. White T-shirt likely would ignore the fact that 7 people were murdered by a local real estate agent just 30 miles from where he was standing.

And Rutherford County, as friendly a place as you could want, saw a jaw-dropping 10 homicides last year, compared to one homicide in Polk County, but nobody in Rutherford County has talked publicly about that. When I asked outgoing Sheriff Chris Francis about it, he blamed it on limited court time during the pandemic and low bonds. Plus, he said, some of the killings were related to local domestic assaults. “Those can be hard to predict,” he said. 

 None of the local murders last year were the result of New York City criminals or gang invasions.

We are fortunate to live in an area where violent crime is little more than a blip on the radar screen, so don’t let someone peddling street-corner fear make you feel afraid. You’re smarter than that.

Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at hardscrabblehollow@gmail.com