The New “Crime Wave” Panic and the Long Shadow of John Walsh

Source: 8/13/21

We are still living in the world that Walsh, and “America’s Most Wanted,” helped build: a paranoid populace that believes crime is everywhere and can only be solved through relentless policing.
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

John and Revé Walsh’s lives changed on July 27, 1981, when Revé took her six-year-old son, Adam, to the Sears department store in a mall in Hollywood, Florida. Adam had asked to visit the toy department while his mother browsed the lighting and home furnishings section just a few aisles away. As Revé told ABC’s Nightline in 2011, “I said, ‘I’m going right over here to the lamp department,’ and he said, ‘OK, Mommy, I know where that is.’” After Revé bought her lamp, she went to collect her son, but he was nowhere to be found. A frantic search of the store ensued, followed by what some observers called “the largest manhunt in the history of Florida.”

Two weeks later, after an appearance on Good Morning America, Revé and John learned that their son’s severed head had been discovered in an Indian River County canal, approximately 1,205 miles north of the scene of his disappearance. Just as the Walshes’ search for their missing son had unfolded on national TV, their expressions of grief beamed to television sets nationwide.

The couple channeled their highly publicized sorrow into a growing national movement focused on child safety, “victims’ rights,” and “law and order.” John Walsh, specifically, emerged as a high-profile advocate for missing and exploited children and for more aggressive policing and punishment. Conveying paternal strength and righteous anger on television and elsewhere, Walsh spoke for Americans who were “sick of the level of violence in this country” and wanted “to do something about it,” as he told a 1995 congressional subcommittee. In his co-authored 1997 book, Tears of Rage: From Grieving Father to Crusader for Justice, Walsh discussed the activism he undertook immediately after his son’s murder. “I was a man possessed,” he wrote. The book also revealed Walsh’s contempt for inept law enforcement officials, bureaucratic red tape, and the “slap on the wrist” supposedly enjoyed by those who “rape little girls and … little boys.”

As the host of Fox’s America’s Most Wanted from 1988 through 2011, Walsh would fuel the nation’s crime panic and reinforce his position as the country’s foremost proponent of harsh anti-crime measures. With its grim, gritty tone and dramatic reenactments of violent acts, the show sought to induce fear in the American public, alerting viewers to rare, sensational events and thus distorting their conceptions of crime and danger. Walsh’s status as a bereaved parent and a well-known anti-crime crusader also propelled him into the halls of power (despite his professed distaste for the “backstabbers in the world of politics”), where he bent the ear of every U.S. president from Ronald Reagan through Barack Obama.

Today, 40 years after the murder of Adam Walsh and with a reboot of America’s Most Wanted now airing on Fox, Americans find themselves in the throes of another crime panic. While murders in some major U.S. cities have increased since the pandemic began, New York City is on track to end the year with one of its lowest murder totals on record, and overall crime rates across the country have declined. Crime statistics are also notoriously unreliable and contested, given certain inconsistencies in reporting across agencies and populations. Because many U.S. police agencies have yet to report their data to the FBI this year, “it’s not immediately clear how much, if at all, homicides increased in smaller cities or small towns across the country, or how 2021’s national homicide total compares to 2020,” CNN noted last month.

Despite these issues with reporting, and despite the fact that today’s murder and violent crime rates remain well below rates seen in the 1980s and 1990s, many communities are suffering acutely amid the economic and social dislocations of the ongoing pandemic. The violence of Covid-19 is multifarious: The virus ravages the body, while the economic and political uncertainty left in its wake has led to the violence of eviction, houselessness, anti-Asian harassment and abuse, hyperpolicing, and mass shootings. The communities most deeply affected by this syndemic deserve safety and accountability, as do all communities.

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Yes, let us not simply rear good people in the first place. That starts with permitting humans to fully explore all notions of violence AND embracing it as completely human. I say, let us own it! Let us not confuse the God given from that which is not. The purpose of law is to resolve conflict not promote conflicts among the people. The congressional use of ex post language in law upon existing criminal statutes compounds the latter. Are we rightful in our involvement in the violence and lack of equity in other nations given our problems here with the same? Hypocrites All.

Indian River County, FL is not 1,200 miles north of Hollywood, FL. It’s 140 miles north, according to Google maps. The entire State is only 447 miles long.*
(*per Wikipedia)

Just shows you what piss poor parenting the Walsh’s did to just let a 6 year old wander off. Their parenting is what sex offenders have today. Not being able to be with their foreign wives and families. Because of them I haven’t seen or heard from my Philippine wife or my 2 girls 9 and 11 in 7 years.

Did anyone ever notice how organizations like NCMEC and RAINN claim inflated statistics at their founding (like 50,000 children kidnapped annually) and their numbers only increase as time passes? Shouldn’t that beg the question – If it was so bad before and so much worse now, what the hell good is your organization?

By their own statistics, their efforts and initiatives have, at best, no impact at all if their core issue increases. So why keep supporting them? Wouldn’t it make more sense to try something else?

I dispute the veracity of the use of the word ” wave”. As if there is a quantifiable measurement detaining a simular attribute. We’ve far more ” crime” based completely on the use of our database driven infrastructure period. Make more law and prohibition rule results naturally occurring increases in law breaking. Much crime has been wholly enabled via its untethered development. Much too went on to intentionally pave the way necessary for fertile soil.We are not describing nearly the inherent behavior of waves. Criminal behavior doesn’t suffer gravity the waves do.
Sex offender registries were marketing for a burgeoning industry and markets. Purveyors of big data convincing the people of their societal benevolence. Do not mistake my point for one bemoaning the wonder of the internet itself. It cannot be the machine itself at fault! No doubt the faults rest grimly in the laptop of human programming.

I don’t like Walsh. He makes money (and a lot of it) off the tragic death of his son. Does not matter how his son died, a death is a death. But then to capitalize on his son’s death is horrible in my book. This self righteous idiot I just can’t stomach nor his son Callahan who also works with the center who probably can’t get a job anywhere else. I even stopped watching the Justice channel because of their two faces popping up on the screen so often. Talk about two of the world’s biggest hypocrites. It would really be nice if we saw John charged for the crimes he admitted to. That would make my millennium.

Last edited 2 years ago by NorthEastPA

As a kid I used to like watching America’s Most Wanted with John Walsh it came on after The Simpsons it was a cool show I remember writing down the hotline # just in case I spotted a Fugitive on the run I was gonna help LE take him down john said he needed our help.
Yeah it’s sad what happened to Adam Walsh I remember hearing about what happened to his kid when I was a kid, the way he was taken and the way he was found with his head severed still haunts me to this day.
Because of stories like John Walsh’s I NEVER let my children out of my sight especially in public I don’t even leave my kids alone with people unless it’s their grandmother’s I trust no one around my kids.

Last edited 2 years ago by AERO1

There used to be video on his life. He meet his wife who was 15 when he was 30! It got taken down. Does anyone have a link to a copy of it?

There is a lot of violence in society today in many forms and one of them is missing, exploited and missing children. John Walsh and his wife lost a son to that violence as have many people but no one before John Walsh stated a national centre for missing, exploited or murdered children.

I have watched many interview with John Walsh, I have watched America’s most wanted and also done quite a bit of reading on John Walsh, his family, his son’s murder and his life.

It was very difficult for he and his wife to lost their only child at the time to crime but they both would have been better served if they had grieved their loss privately, moved on with their lives privately and let their first born son Rest In Peace.