Returning to the scene of the crime

The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper relayed this story about Hubert Denk, a German journalist who was traveling Route 66 on assignment in 1994 when he was attacked by a group of thugs in Santa Fe who robbed him and broke his kneecap.

Last week, Denk decided to return to the exact spot — on East Alameda Street near Inn at the Loretto — where he’d been attacked. He found it, and gave the Santa Fe newspaper his account of what happened 20 years ago.

Denk needed surgery for his injury, and acknowledged the knee still gives him trouble. But there’s this unexpected part of the story:

At the time, there was fear in Santa Fe that the city’s reputation would be tarnished in Germany after Denk’s newspaper reported on the attack.

At the same time, Denk said, people from all across the city, including then-Gov. Bruce King, representatives of the Santa Fe County Chamber of Commerce and members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, sent letters of support. One young girl, he said, even sent him $5. In a letter to The New Mexican, Denk responded to his well-wishers, assuring them that Bild Zeitung had not written about him or his attack — though a smaller paper did — and he praised the residents of Santa Fe.

“Never before in my life have I experienced so much charity,” he wrote in the letter. “Isn’t it wonderful? The attackers have stopped haunting my dreams, but the people of Santa Fe have found a place in my heart.”

Denk added after visiting the spot: “The more often you tell it, the more you can put away the trauma.”

The outpouring of concern for Denk after his attack was remarkable. It’s doubtful officials or residents from St. Louis, Chicago, Oklahoma City or Albuquerque would do something like that. But one should remember Santa Fe in 1994 was barely 50,000 people — it was a relatively small city, and still is.

Denk also remarked he didn’t believe Santa Fe was dangerous anymore. The facts make his perception considerably more difficult to find out.

Santa Fe continues to grow, and its poverty rate remains less than the state average. The violent crime rate in Santa Fe remains above the national average, as it has for many years. But crime in Santa Fe has been trending down, which follows a 20-year trend in the United States. It’s hard to believe for many, but the violent crime rate in the United States is as low as it’s been in more than 40 years. According to Uniform Crime Reporting Data, you have to go back to 1970 to find a violent crime rate as low as it was in 2012 — the latest data available.

So, in many ways, now is as safe of a time to travel Route 66 since the highway was decertified.

(Image of the Inn at Loretto in Santa Fe by Richie Diesterheft via Flickr)

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