Hey, Forbes: Thanks for nothing
Just once it would be nice to hear that Buffalo made one of those "Top 10" lists and not have to cringe in anticipation of which list it is.
Forget about Top 10 Places to Retire, Top 10 Places to Start a Business or even Top 10 Places to Send Your Kids to College.
No, the Queen City has most recently earned Top 10 recognition as one of the poorest cities in America, one of the most segregated cities in America, even one of the rudest cities thanks to Twitter.
And now, courtesy of the latest ranking by Forbes Magazine, Buffalo can add the distinction of being one of the most violent cities in America to the list. I feel like calling everyone I know from back home in New Hampshire and shouting, "But hey, they did invent the BuffalowWing here!"
The good news - if there is such a thing to be found in this dubious distinction - is that Buffalo came in at No. 10. I'm guessing Detroit has a lock on the top spot for the next 100 years, but hey, we could have been in the top three. It could have been worse, right?
Well, not much. For starters, we got beat by our neighbors to the west. Cleveland ranked slightly ahead of Buffalo in safety (No. 9). According to Forbes, the violent crime rate in Buffalo, a city with a listed population of 262,484, is 1,238 per 100,000 residents. You could also look at the cities that didn't make the list and wonder how it is possibly any more safe to walk the streets of many of them than it is in Buffalo.
For their part, Forbes tossed in a ton of caveats to the list, all but admitting that there are so many variables in the ranking, it can be taken with a grain of salt. Of course, that would be a lot easier to do if your city isn't on the list of the treacherous 10.
Is it a coincidence that Buffalo was ranked in a census survey a few years back as the third-poorest city in America? Where there is poverty, there is usually increased crime. That crime often comes in the form of gang activity. And with gangs, drugs and crime come the violence. So while it shouldn't come as any great surprise to see our fair city on the list, it still stings.
Just this week I was talking with Susana Tejada, the new curator at the Darwin Martin House. She was talking with great excitement about how people are "coming from all over the world" to appreciate the historic side of Buffalo. You have to wonder what kind of damage these rankings do to the tourism business.
From the Albright-Knox to the wonderful theater district, from the burgeoning waterfront district to the Anchor Bar, Buffalo has countless reasons to be a destination city for out-of-towners.
But if I was reading Forbes in Davenport, Iowa, while pondering my summer vacation plans, I might still go to the Falls but likely would pass on staying in the city, in favor of somewhere where I don't worry I might be the victim of a violent crime. That is sad.
We Americans love our rankings. We rank everything. Best places to eat, best places to work, worst places to visit, best-looking celebrities - you name it, we rank it. I get the fascination, but as Forbes itself says: There are variables ... lots of them.
So is it fair to slap a label on a city when, with a slight tweaking of the numbers, Buffalo comes in at No 11 and some other city filled with good, hardworking people - the vast majority of whom are law-abiding folks - gets to wear the scarlet letter? I would say it isn't.
There is some other good news to glean from the report. According to Forbes: "Buffalo's crime rate has fallen steadily since the 1990s, along with the rest of the country ... Intensified gang sweeps helped reduce Buffalo's murder rate to its lowest level in a decade last year."
To the latter point, I spoke with U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York William Hochul Jr. yesterday. We talked violent crime, and while Hochul said his office is limited in its scope of prosecution for violent crimes in the region, gang violence does fall under federal jurisdiction.
He said his office considers it the No. 1 focal point after terrorism.
"This report is just another reason for us to continue to prosecute to the fullest extent we are able in federal court, these violent crimes," he told me.
He said his office has charged a dozen criminal entities encompassing "well over 100 defendants" in the past year with gang-related violence. While he admits it represents only a small portion of the gang activity occurring in the region, he said his office will continue to be aggressive and prosecute as many of the cases involving gang violence as possible.
To illustrate the point, Hochul said his office had just arrested a member of the Bailey Boys Gang earlier in the day and charged the individual with a drive-by shooting that occurred nearly two years ago.
"We are continuing to focus on violent crime and I think our efforts are helping to keep the rates lower than they had been," he said. "But there continue to be shootings and violence in Buffalo, so we will work even harder to prosecute those individuals who commit these gang crimes."
As for the list, while I think it is unfortunate, Buffalonians are a resilient bunch and I suspect they will shake this off as the latest slap in the face to our fair city. No goal, wide right, most segregated, poorest, most violent - collectively, all just things that may look like a black eye nationally but, in Buffalo, they are merely cause to circle the wagons.
In the meantime, I am pondering how long it will be until some entrepreneurial type comes out with bumper stickers for sale depicting a guy holding a pistol in one hand and a chicken wing in the other with the slogan: "Welcome to Buffalo. At least we're not Detroit."