Wall Street Journal; more murders in Belgium than in US? Wrong!

On the 22nd of august, renowned journalist and neo-conservative columnist Bret Stephens wrote an editorial (“The Many Faces of Belgian Fascism”) for the Wall Street Journal in which he stated:

“Belgium’s per capita murder rate, at 9.1 per 100,000 is nearly twice that of the U.S.”.

After some websearching, this figure proved utterly wrong. An extract of the mail I sent Mr. Stephens in that respect:

The figure of 9,1 per 100.000 is not correct, as it is based on figures that include attempted -i.e. unsuccessful- murders. indeed, in 2005 the following statistics applied:

  • Total number of ‘successful’ murders: 174
  • Total attempted (i.e. ‘unsuccessful’) murders: 770
  • Total ‘successful and unsuccessful’ murders: 944

(source: figures in http://www.polfed-fedpol.be/crim/crim_statistieken/2005/reports/fr/2005/nat/fr_etats_2005_nat.pdf a French-language pdf from the site of the Belgian police. See page 2 under “Infr. contre l’integrite physique”, where ‘Acc.’ stands for successful and ‘Tent.’ for attempted, unsuccessful).
So when calculating the murder ratio based on approximately 10.500.000 inhabitants, this figure is not 9 but 1,7 per 100.000. And 1,7 is -not coincidently- the exact number a UN-report mentioned for homicide-ratio in 1996 in Belgium (as mentioned on http://www.haciendapub.com).
This means that the correct comparison between murder rates in Belgium and the USA (5,5/100.000 in 2004, cfr. http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm) is not “Belgium’s per apita murder rate is nearly twice that of the USA” but “… is 3 times lower than that of the USA”, which off course places the pervasive and growing sense of lawlessness” you mention in an entirely different perspective.
I hope this information can be of further use for to and your sources. Do not hesitate to contact me in case you have further remarks or questions about this matter.
Kind regards,
Frank Goossens

I do not agree with most of what Mr. Stephens writes in the rest of his column, but this mainly boils down to a -vast- difference in political beliefs. It is a pity however that, being the high-profile journalist he is, Mr. Stephens did not check the ‘facts’ in his editorial better than he did. He may need to question the reliability of his sources, even if he shares their ideology …