Whenever you read a book or have a conversation, the experience causes physical changes in your brain. In a matter of seconds, new circuits are formed -- memories that can change forever the way you see the world. It's a little frightening to realize that every time you walk away from an encounter, your brain has been altered, sometimes permanently. And that people can impose these changes against your will. Someone can say something -- an insult, a humiliation -- and you carry it with you as long as you live. The memory is physically lodged inside you like a shard of glass healed inside a wound. Hurting someone with a rock is supposed to be different from hurting someone with an idea. But is it really? Since memories cause neurological changes -- sometimes painful ones -- the distinction between mental violence and physical violence becomes harder to understand.
I went back and reread those words (which I wrote, somewhat altered, in a book called In the Palaces of Memory) after reading Jason Auslander’s excellent article in the New Mexican about crime in Santa Fe and how it is being played by the two leading contenders in the mayoral race, incumbent David Coss and challenger Asenath Kepler. I like them both, as well as the underdog, Miguel Chavez, and am honored to count all three as readers. But I find it hard to stomach Mayor Coss’s implication that Santa Feans should take heart that violent crime is down, supposedly, even though residential burglaries are soaring.
It has been one year, seven months, and nine days since some goon or goons broke into our house while we were sleeping and wiped out my office, carrying away computers and disks with years of personal correspondence and other information. I had kept backups of almost everything, and insurance paid to replace the material goods. But I haven’t recovered the comfort I once felt in my home. I have trouble dismissing the psychological assault of the burglary as being somehow less invasive than a punch in the nose.
Even if you insist on limiting your definition of physical violence to that which draws blood, consider that since 2002 murder is up 55 percent, attempted murder is up 24 percent, and robbery is up 11 percent. Vehicular homicide is up 400 percent since 2006 when Mr. Coss took office. Before that it was zero. It was good to learn from the New Mexican that there have been small reductions in assault and battery and larger ones in rape and other sexual and domestic crimes. But can anyone reading the statistics really feel safer?
In his report Mr. Auslander shows that the Coss administration has not, as advertised, actually increased the size of the police force but only filled most of the vacancies. Great. We’re almost back to square one. Particularly discouraging is the solution the mayor offers to the burglary increase, to criminals forcing their way into our homes:
Coss blamed much of the residential burglary problem on juveniles and said he supports programs that help young people obtain job training and stay out of trouble.
As though the only reason these thugs are breaking and entering and permanently destroying our peace of mind is because they lack the skills to get hired at Walmart.
None of what I have just written means I would likely vote for Ms. Kepler, who has her own problems. Overall Mr. Coss has been a pretty good mayor who probably deserves another term. But what Santa Fe needs and never gets is a decisive, effective leader, one who inspires something stronger than faint praise.