I've gotta tell you, I feel a lot safer traveling in Mexico than in any large American city. And statistics back up that feeling. From various estimates I've seen, Mexico City, which has a much-touted reputation for crime, averages between 2.1 and 2.5 murders per day. Let's assume the higher end of the range is correct, and that would mean about 900 murders per year occur in Mexico City. By comparison, Houston had 326 murders in 2005, down from more than 600 per year in the early 90s.
But then consider that according to the 2000 census Houston has around 2 million residents, compared to about 20 million people in Mexico City. If Mexico City's murder rate were as high as Houston's, they'd see an astonishing 3,200+ murders per year.
So where should Americans fear for their lives most when traveling? In Mexico, where there's no death penalty deterrent and a bad reputation for crime, or in Houston which sends more people to death row than any other city and whose mayor touts public safety as his top priority?
To make a truly fair comparison, it should be said that Mexico's national murder rate is about 14.8 murders per 100,000 residents, according to a recent article in the UNAM journal Voices of Mexico, ("Insecurity in Mexico,"Luis Gonzalez Placencia, October-December 2004, not available online) but most of those take place in a handful of border towns like Juarez, where hundreds of women have been murdered, and Nuevo Laredo where drug cartels are openly feuding in the streets. Traveling in the Mexican interior, you're much safer than you'd be traveling nearly anywhere in the United States.
While we were in Xalapa, the state capital of Veracruz, I asked long-time resident Roy Dudley, who I dubbed in this vacation post the "unofficial mayor of gringo Xalapa," about crime in that city. He insisted there was virtually none, but given my interest in crime and punishment I pressed him a bit on the subject, to which he grinned and offered this reply (paraphrased from memory):
There's really not much, but I did hear a while back about one incident. A woman working as a street vendor came running down the block yelling 'Policia! policia!' and quickly several officers came to her aid.Like any other place in the world, when you're traveling you shouldn't carry lots of cash in Mexico, and always pay attention to your surroundings. In addition, cabs in Mexico City have a reputation for thievery and sometimes tourists have been targeted by cabbies for robbery or kidnapping, though hyped anecdotal accounts, I think, overstate the problem. But if you're worried about crime when you're traveling, you should fear visiting Texas more than visiting Mexico.
'What happened?,' they asked her. 'I was robbed,' the woman exclaimed. 'A man stole all the money I made today and now I have nothing,' she sobbed.
'Where did you have your money?' asked the officers. 'Aqui' (here), she said, pointing down her blouse indicating she kept it inside her bra.
Puzzled, an officer asked, 'How in God's name did he steal your money from there?'
The woman replied, 'Well, I didn't know he had bad intentions.'
RELATED: CrimProf Blog points to reports that homicide rates are spiking in the U.S. nationwide.
CORRECTION: The initial version of this post incorrectly transcribed the statistics from the magazine Voices of Mexico. That version erroneously said Mexico experiences 14.8 murders per day per 100,000 residents. The actual number, now corrected in the main text, is 14.8 murders annually per 100,000. Grits regrets the error. (That's what I get for using stats I can't link to.)