Conservatives are embracing a new book by a veteran criminologist that tries to blame “black culture” for violent crime. But there are big holes in the idea.

Walking through a major US city without serious fear of harm is one of those simple acts that many Americans now take for granted. On a Saturday night in Washington, DC, I can walk a few blocks from my old Columbia Heights apartment to an active shopping center filled with restaurants, pet stores, a Target, and more — with people drinking outside, others eating food from countries all across the world, and kids running around and playing in the plaza. I have done this walk multiple times, not once thinking about whether I would get shot or robbed.

Just a few decades ago, this would have been an unimaginable sight in this exact neighborhood. The area would have been largely abandoned. Many of the people going through the streets would have been darting through as quickly as possible. As was true in many US cities at the time, it was more likely — doubly so nationwide, based onviolent crime figures — that around the corner could be a total stranger ready to take your watch, your wallet, and even your life.

One federal study put this in stark context, suggesting that if crime rates kept at the levels of the late 1970s and early ’80s, more than 80 percent of Americans aged 12 at the time would be victimized by a violent crime in their lifetime — rates impossible to fathom today.