My diligent pack of bogus-trend-spotters started filling my inbox with their latest find last night as the New York Times published on the Web its report that many of the city's suspected criminals wear New York Yankee caps or garb ("Crime Blotter Has a Regular: Yankees Caps," Sept. 16).
Here's the nut graf from the piece, which the Times put on Page One of its print edition:
A curious phenomenon has emerged at the intersection of fashion, sports and crime: dozens of men and women who have robbed, beaten, stabbed and shot at their fellow New Yorkers have done so while wearing Yankees caps or clothing.
Breathtaking stuff, eh? But just two grafs later, the Times expresses why nobody should be surprised that some criminal suspects drape themselves in Yankee merchandise. While it's not unusual for a bogus trend story to recant its own premise, I can't recall one climbing down this quickly. The Times reports:
In some ways, it is not surprising that Yankees attire is worn by both those who abide by the law and those who break it. The Yankees are one of the most famous franchises in sports, and their merchandise is widely available and hugely popular.
Despite un-announcing the trend, the Times persists, offering this evidence: "Since 2000, more than 100 people who have been suspects or persons of interest in connection with serious crimes in New York City wore Yankees apparel at the time of the crimes or at the time of their arrest or arraignment." It also musters anecdotes about several crimes committed by people wearing Yankees garb.
Let's put the Times findings in perspective. New York City has a population of more than 8 million people. According to the most recent City of New York Police Department statistics (PDF), about 2,000 crime complaints—murder, rape, robbery, felonious assault, grand larceny, grand larceny auto—are filed each week. If you were to extrapolate those numbers over 10 years, you'd be talking more than 1 million crime complaints. (Because reported crime has dropped massively in New York in recent years, the actual number of complaints would be much higher.)
Given the huge number of criminal complaints over the past 10 years, it would be a miracle if at least 100 "suspects or persons of interest in connection with serious crime" hadn't been wearing Yankee garb "at the time of the crimes or at the time of their arrest or arraignment."
Desperate to keep its bogus trend afloat, the Times recruits a criminologist to speculate that criminals dress as Yankees because Jay-Z and other rappers do, and aping those stars makes them "look cool." But if dressing like Jay-Z and other rappers makes you look cool, noncriminals must be doing the same, thereby nullifying any "trend" in that direction.
The newspaper further demolishes its own thesis by noting that licensed Yankee merchandise outsells that of other Major League Baseball teams by a huge margin: The Yankees command 25.13 percent of the market. The No. 2 team, the Boston Red Sox, has 7.96 percent of the market. The Mets, at No. 7, have only 5.32 percent of the market.
It appears to me that the alleged connection between Yankees garb and crime is really a reflection of the popularity of Yankees garb. Support for that hypothesis can be found in the Times piece, which found that the number of suspects or persons of interest arrested or arraigned dressed in Mets finery over the past 10 years was "about a dozen." This correlates pretty closely to the overall popularity of Mets garb versus Yankees garb. In other words, criminals seem to pick their colors in the same percentages as noncriminals.
Finally, if Yankee caps and jerseys are so ubiquitous in New York and elsewhere, could it be that the criminal element has adopted Yankee gear as a disguise that makes them completely nondescript?
This story is a swing and a miss.
Note to New Englanders: Wearing Yankee colors within 100 miles of Fenway is against the law. Or so I'm told. File your criminal complaints at email@example.com and visit the court I run on my Twitter feed. I'm a hanging judge. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)
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