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Friday, 7 July, 2000, 09:21 GMT 10:21 UK
Is Britain a more violent society?
Britain's streets and shopping centres are a "battleground" of crime, according to an American television report.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
CBS News called the UK one of the most violent urban societies in the western world, where people were more likely to be burgled, robbed and assaulted than in America.
But the Home Office dismissed the statistics as "absolute nonsense", saying that the average American is seven times more likely to be murdered than their British counterpart and 60 times more likely to be shot.
Do you think the UK is a scarier place to live than the US? Do you feel safe on the street in Britain? Send us your views and experiences.
A. Duncan, UK
The difference is simple. The US has a higher rate of crime but as we are fast turning into an American society, ours is getting worse. The UK also has a worse relationship with alcohol, and the relaxation of opening hours will greatly reduce street crime at night as we will no longer have drinkers being turfed out on to the streets at the same time of night.
Both the CBS news report AND the UK Government's response are simplistic. The UK and US are just not comparable. A substantial number of Americans live in "small-town" USA, places that are at least as safe as anywhere in the UK. Extreme violence appears to be largely limited to the big cities in the US. It is self evident in all societies that crime and the city go together.
I am a British guy living in Amsterdam for over 10 years and I am always appalled by the behaviour of young male British tourists. They behave like animals out of a cage when they get here, drink themselves stupid and behave like total morons. They then end up fighting. I'm ashamed that this is seen to be representative of British culture. What is it about the British mentality that makes us behave like this? Are we so repressed?
If America abandoned its gun culture and we English stamped out our yob culture, perhaps we could have a debate about which society is the most pleasant to live in instead of the most violent.
The quick answer to that is that the US has, without question, a higher crime rate than here. I have done a lot of travelling around the world and in general, this country is a safe place. We do not have laws allowing people to carry weapons. Here, we do not have no-go areas. South of Chicago, people are shot virtually every day.
I like Iain Robertson's comments about avoiding areas with
high volumes of clubs and pubs at closing time. Quite
where exactly would he suggest tourists go then?
The middle of a field somewhere? I don't know of one city
in the UK that isn't infested with clubs and pubs, and
consequently loud, violent morons coming chucking-out time.
I've just read down the entire length of this column and really, it makes for immensely depressing reading: the Americans attacking the British, and the British attacking the Americans. It is, with only a few notable exceptions, a litany of the same tedious national stereotypes that we've been peddling about each other for years. The truth is that violence and crime is an ugly stew of many different factors, a Frankenstein's monster created by our greedy, self-centred consumer culture, indifferent politicians, corrupt policing, guns, bigotry, fear and much more besides.
Isn't it strange that Jack Straw compared ALL crime in the UK to only murder in the US, which is of course an easy comparison to make. Statistically the vast majority of murders are carried out either within the family or are carried out by someone know to the victim, which is not a factor that spreads fear through a community. Sure, the fear of murder may be almost non-existent in the UK but what about the fear of assault, car crime, burglary, rape, mugging etc? These are the fears which effect people day to day. London is more intimidating than anywhere else I've travelled.
Graeme, London, England
I have lived in both these countries and I would definitely say it is more dangerous to live in the USA because there is a lot more racila tension than in the UK. Racial crimes are a very big cause of murders, burglaries, and muggings.
I am a Londoner living in Michigan and the violence in the US shocks me. The local news is full of 'nutters' killing innocent people. Recent stories in Michigan include a six year old shooting a fellow classmate and a 70 year old pensioner shooting 2 people in the flats where he lived. These are supposed to be the safe age groups in society.
I've lived all over the world and can attest to the fact that violent crime is everywhere, not just the Western world. While it's true that violent crime may be up in the UK, it's definitely not the most dangerous city of the West! The Middle Ages in the UK-that was dangerous! People would chop off your head or hang you for the most minor infraction! For the most part, I blame the media and their hunger for high ratings. The way they over-dramatise and sensationalise everything is just too much!
I can only hope that the average American who is planning a visit to Britain just ignores this report. Avoid areas with a high concentrations of pubs and clubs around closing time and you'll be fine.
It's very hard to compare the UK with the US. People are just quoting their own experiences, which while interesting can hardly paint the real picture. It is obvious that both countries have their problems and maybe they should look to each other for solutions rather than negative comparisons.
Moataz Abou-Eita, Cairo, Egypt.
I was born and raised in the US, and although I've yet to visit the UK, I can't imagine that any industrialised, peacetime nation is more violent than my home sweet home.
Let's face it, the Americans have never been good at reporting information on anything - look at their general ignorance of the rest of the world and desires to re-write history to suit them in Hollywood films. Why ON EARTH should anyone take any notice of what their news programmes say? It's utter rubbish created through ignorance (again).
J McAulay, UK
I am sure that in a select few areas within the United Kingdom, crime and violence has reached an all time high. This however is isolated to certain areas and can no way be portrayed as the whole country. Obviously this reporter fails to look at the whole picture.
Ali Wasti, USA
I am a British doctor now residing in Ohio. Ask the police which country is more violent and they would tell you the USA! I have never seen so many gunshot wounds and deaths in the ER.
Canada has never allowed the U.S to define us as a country ...despite the fact we get a daily dose of some of the worst journalistic reporting combined with there odd world view. We live next door to them but are not concerned with there inaccurate perception of us (i.e.: they claim we have droves of unnecessarily dying people due to our 'socialistic' health care system) why care what another country reports if you know it not to be true? Particularly a country that thinks 'prime minister' is an entree on a menu...
Chris Hann, USA (British)
Rather than face up to the short comings of their own society - i.e. executions, murders, worship of violence through the media, gun culture etc, the Americans seek to deflect world attention from their own, out of control society to ours. I know where I'd rather be...
Having lived in both London and the USA, this talk is all hilarious. The British continue to have an inferiority complex which blinds them of the harsh realities that exist in their own society. Let's admit it, both societies can be dangerous, but how many people in this discussion really live in the ghetto where most of the violence that everyone is fantasising about occurs? It's not a question of US vs. Britain, it all depends where you're hanging out.
My children know that it is important to consider the feelings and rights of other people. This will deter them from being violent against others. It is simply wrong. If parents teach their children this basic rule, then we will all be able to live in tolerance of each other.
Sandra Hughes, Wales
Never mind the fact that we have more of a yob culture over here. Our yobs carry beer bottles and iron bars. I'll take my chances on the street against them any day rather than some drug-crazed maniac with an Uzi or a 9mm pistol.
As a country we should either join the EU and abide by the rules of the game, or leave altogether. At the moment we are a bit like someone who joins the local football club but really wants to play rugby.
Neil Hastings, USA
It is really hard to get an objective view about violent crimes because it depends on the areas where you live plus some other factors. However, I must say that petty crimes are rather rampant in the UK. I had my car stolen once, my other car broken into numerous times and my bicycles stolen twice, even though one was locked safely in the garden shed. But here in California, I sleep soundly at night and sometimes don't bother to think for a minute whether I have locked the cars or the house.
This is really a pointless debate. Both countries have their share of violent crime but the perception that people are under a constant threat is ridiculous. The media constantly feeds us terrible images of criminal activity and people begin to feel that danger is the norm, not the exception.
I am a British citizen living here in Lebanon. People here still respect each other and know their limits. I believe this country is one of the most civilised in the world contrary to many I know. I feel safer here more than I ever would in the UK.
I have lived in Manchester, UK, for just over 13 years. This is my personal file of crimes reported to police since 1987:
House burgled: 14
Garage burgled: 4
Cars stolen from property: 6
Cars broken in to on property: 38
Attempted break-ins: 2
Attempted robberies at work during office hours (a plush office in the city centre, not some seedy industrial estate): 3. I do not live in Moss Side, I live in an affluent suburb on the outskirts of Manchester.
I've heard comments like "The World in general is a more violent place today", no it isn't London and New York may not be safe, but I am glad that we are not living in the nineteenth century, when murder was virtually natural - murder rates 20 times as high in Victorian London, than in modern London. So lets not exaggerate and look at the past through rose tinted glasses.
Stats for murder by handgun only for USA in 1998 - 9,307
Murder by all weapons for UK 1998 - 253
I think I'll stay here thanks.
I lived in many countries and always had an insecure feeling in some of the US cities, however I never experienced a mugging or any other crime. I now live in the UK in the South East and certainly have a safer feeling here. It may be because guns are much easier to obtain in the US than in the UK and the Americans, because they know the other one may shoot quicker, may have become trigger happy. I would not like to go back to the US for security reasons, any other reasons such as cost of living I'll go tomorrow!!
I've never been to Britain so I'm not going to make a judgement there (although my "guess" is it is safer). However, violence in the US seems to me to differ from city to city. I've never had a problem in twenty some years in either Indianapolis, Cleveland, or driving around the South Side of St. Louis or Chicago, but I would not want to be found even in the day light in Detroit. It's a big country and violence really varies I think from city to city here.
Benj'min Mossop, Britain
I walk and bike in trails at all times of the night. I am sure I would likely get hassled more in London than the average American city. Brits are a violent noisy people as their colonial past and current soccer fans can a test to
Given the rise in hate crimes in the West, if you are black it doesn't matter whether you are in the US or in the UK - at some point in your life you are pretty likely to be the target of race-related violence.
The reason that the UK has such high crime rates is that British people have more frustration and anger built up in them. They bottle it up, while Americans let it out. So it becomes like a steam cooker, it explodes. If you ever compare Americans to the English, it is clear to see that the Americans are much more laid back and easy going. The problem lurks in the national character.
France has its cities with a violent subculture, the UK has the same. Lastly, we DON'T have a yobo culture in the US which can scare the hell out of you when you find yourself in the middle of it. We might have guns, but you have drink - both can lead to violence and/or death.
Michael Dundon, USA
My sister lived in NYC and was mugged three times in four years, within 24 hours of moving to Boston had her car stolen and has been mugged once in Washington and had her home broken into in broad daylight when she was only three hours gone from the city on an eight hour trip. Of course anecdotal evidence is even less reliable than "statistics"
Alex Wade, US
I really find all of this rhetoric quite humorous. Crime is crime, all countries suffer from it. Being murdered by a gun is no more tragic than being murdered by any other means. Maybe if we diverted our energy away from discussing which country has less or more crime and focused on reducing crime both countries would be better off.
Andrew, Australia (UK Ex-pat)
The important thing is that this question provides the British with another opportunity to attack the United States. That seems to be the real national sport of the UK, after all. In a person, I'd say such a characteristic smacks of insecurity and an inferiority complex. I wonder what it means for a nation?
USA is definitely scarier than UK. In my short stay in the US; some nutcase day trader went on a shooting spree close to my hotel in Atlanta; a baby was found in a dustbin outside my hotel in NY; some ragged guy outside a gas station said he would happily cut my throat if I didn't give him a lift into town. Being stranded in the US city causes panic whereas being stranded in a UK city is just an annoyance.
As an American living for several years in the UK,
I certainly agree with this report. Most of my colleagues
agree as well. Petty crime is rampant...basically if it isn't
bolted to the floor it will go 'walkies' sooner rather than later.
This is clearly stupid. I live in
a better area of Berkeley and in
the last year I've had our car stolen,
its radio stolen and our mailbox
broken into. While living in the
UK for 26 years none of these
There may be more sudden, life-taking violence in the US, but there is unquestionably a lot more casual, GBH style violence in the UK.
The Americans haven't got room to smart when 5 year olds take a gun to school.
I'd rather be mugged in England than get a bullet in the head in the USA.
We all know how bad it is in the USA so this is just laughable.
The way Brits talk you would think the whole of America looks like Manchester.
Joe Tompson, UK
I lived in Liberia, supposedly one of the most dangerous places on Earth, for two years and never felt in danger, even as a lone woman walking the streets at night. I would not feel safe doing that in Britain.
When I lived in the States a student was grabbed outside my university library and told to give up his wallet. He refused and tried to run away and got shot from behind. The local press reported this as a shooting, not a mugging. My question is how many of the violent crimes CBS are ignoring started off as a burglary, a robbing or an assault?
How ridiculous! I suspect 90% of Americans are ignorant of where the UK is, and yet as usual they are voicing ill-informed opinions. The gun-lobby has ensured that the US has a murder rate 6 times that of the UK, the recent report in the states failed to point this out. It's time Americans stopped thinking that the USA is the centre of the planet and opened their eyes to their own shortcomings before criticising others.
Neil Williams, Cayman islands
There is one thing that stands out in my mind when I was viewing the report on UK violence. It's plain and simple, I would prefer to have a fist hit me in the head, rather than a bullet. The UK has a long way to go before it is as violent as the US.
I am a Londoner who has lived in San Francisco for the past two years.
Without a doubt, San Francisco is a far safer and more secure environment than London ever was. Over here, the youth still respect their elders, other people's property and the police. I cannot say that the same was true back home. This attitude permeates throughout US society, right down to the traffic on the freeways, which is far more civilised than the M25!
I think both countries could learn a lot from the zero tolerance shown in some Asian cities. I'm a Brit but every time I go back to the UK, I notice huge developments in crime. I have friends who now protect their homes with infra red cameras, direct police linked alarms and you can't walk about with a fancy watch on anymore.
Coming from Japan, which is said to be one of the safest countries in the world, it makes me laugh to compare the UK and the US. I have visited both countries many times. In London and the rest of the UK, I hardly think about crime or safety, and have never been the victim of an attack. But I have had several problems in the USA, and always feel nervous when I am there. There is no comparison, and surely the statistics back this up. Even if burglary is more common in Britain, I would rather be burgled than raped and murdered.
I could hang around in London at midnight, which is a dangerous activity even in Seoul. London is one of the safest cities in the world apart from terrorist attacks.
Tristan Abbott-Coates, UK/ USA
I lived in Deptford for two years while attending university in London, and I felt safe for the most part. I saw more pub violence than in the US. I think it's on both sides and pointing fingers isn't going to help. Sure, I had preconceived notions of British society, but that changed quickly. I came back a year after graduating with my fiancee and she was shocked at how threatened she felt at times.
I would still want to visit London again, but I'd certainly stay alert while there and not put myself into a bad situation.
Judging from the harsh and negative reaction to the CBS report that I've read here, I'd say that CBS has definitely struck a nerve. It's time for Britons to wake up and realise that the crime problem they thought was distinctly American has landed on their shores. As for there being no gun violence in the UK, just take a stroll down Belfast and see for yourself.
This report was just an attempt to draw attention away from the high crime rate in the USA, that is all. It is interesting that gun control was not talked about - that is a bigger problem for the USA than the UK. Frankly, I would not stay in the US for more than six months because of their guns, violent kids and even more violent adults
My friends in London talk continually about burglary and their home alarms. No one I know who lives in New York has ever been burgled nor do they have alarms; it's just not an issue.
I am definitely NOT inferring that things are better in US, I just think that Britons should not close their eyes to real problems at home just because it was pointed out by Americans.
Tyler, NYC, USA
Well at least we can walk out our doors at night with out having to think will I get home tonight or will I be shot.
I suppose the UK is the safer country, since all of their violent criminals go overseas football games to start trouble.
John Griffith, Texas, USA
I do feel vulnerable in Britain. The report is probably accurate, our own figures show it. Violent criminals can run riot and get off easy whilst people who try to defend themselves are hauled over hot coals by the 'justice' system. This development shouldn't be a surprise to anyone with any sense.
The reason that people are getting so worked up over all of this is because the finger pointing is coming from the other side of the pond. If a Brit had said this about Britain or an American had said this about America, we wouldn't be getting so defensive about this.
SM, UK in US
There's probably some truth in the report. There seems to be more petty crime in the UK (car crime, burglary), but more gun-related crime in the USA. However, the UK is not the land of tea and cricket, equally the USA is not the land of brashness and no manners. Don't believe the outpourings of Hollywood or Ealing Studios classics. Both countries are far more complex and interesting.
The findings of this "investigation" are laughable. In the last four years I have lived in London, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield, all large cities with their fair share of problems yet never once have I even felt threatened. Touch wood no one in my family and none of my friends have ever been the victim of a violent assault.
Jim Gibbons, England
Yeah! Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough!
Statistics vs. Perception! I feel overall safer in the UK than I do in the US but the fact remains crime rates in America are declining substantially and have been for years whilst the UK press portray things as out of control here.
Easy. Would I walk alone through Hyde Park in the evening? Yes. How about Central Park? No. Case closed.
We could certainly do with some USA (New York in particular) zero tolerance. Vigilantism has already started where I live. My village's attitude to the anti socialites is, mess with us and we will mess with you, big time.
Derek, ex-pat, Brazil
With the ban on handguns and the jailing of Tony Martin for defending himself we've finally made a Britain where it's safe for the burglar, mugger and rapist to go about their business in peace. In the light of that our becoming more crime-ridden than the US was inevitable. 33 states in the US have now re-legalised concealed carry of handguns for law-abiding citizens and seen crime rates fall as a result. It's time for us to do the same.
America is a huge country, and while the inner cities have a lot of violent crime, many other parts of the US are peaceful. I don't think it is important whether we are more violent than the US, but it is clear that crime in the UK is increasing rapidly and that urgent measures are needed. Reducing criminals' rights would be a good start.
I lived near an American base in North Yorkshire for three years in a small village out in the Nidderdale Valley. I found England, and the other parts of the UK I visited over the years, to be extremely safe. When I first got there, it was still quite commonplace to see babies being left in their prams outside of shops on Oxford Street in Harrogate. Even after several trips to London and Edinburgh, as well as other large cities, I never felt myself to be in peril.
In America, they just shoot you - quick instant death. In the UK they beat you to within an inch of your life, make you go through months of hospital treatment, and leave you with lifelong physical and emotional scars. Then the case gets thrown out of court for "police technicalities" (assuming the police actually catch the criminal in the first place) and the suspect is rewarded with a trip to Disneyworld. I think I'd rather be shot.
On the other hand, I think the levels of petty crime are higher in the UK. Also, there's more of a "yob" culture, so you're way more likely to get beaten up on a Friday night for no reason other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although, that's not exactly a commonplace thing to happen. On the whole, I feel safer in the UK, but I wouldn't deny there's at least some substance to what CBS are saying.
It would be a crying shame if we didn't take a good look at ourselves and the state that the UK is in as a result of this. It's all very well saying that CBS were distorting the figures by excluding violent crimes, but the fact remains that we have more muggings and assaults in the UK than they do in the US.
Can you imagine what it would be like over here if we had relaxed gun laws? I'd live in a tank.
Is the UK more violent than the USA?? I cannot begin to imagine where they got their information from. I would be prepared to bet that any of Britain's cities has less violent crime per person than New York, Detroit, Miami etc etc.
This report clearly says more about lax US journalistic standards than crime rates. CBS is clearly talking nonsense.
28 Jun 00 | UK
UK crime worse, says US report
25 Jun 00 | UK
Violent crime figures 'set to soar'
08 May 00 | Americas
US crime rate falls again
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