What's weird, at least to me, is that many (mostly from the political left) seem to dismiss the never-before-seen increase in homicides in Baltimore as just some random uptick. "You know," I've been told (and more than once), "violent crime is up in New York City, too."
Are you fucking crazy?!
Homicide in Baltimore is up 250 percent over-fucking-night! And that night, April 27, 2015, just happened to be the night of the worst riots "Mobtown" has seen since 1968. This was a time when the mayor said police need to give room to people who want to destroy. (To be clear, I firmly believe this is not at all the message the mayor was trying to say... but still, a good mayor doesn't let things slip from her lips that can be -- and were -- reasonably misinterpreted as letting people know that violence and destruction would be tolerated.)
April 27th was also (and this is more Commissioner Batt's fault) when police were confronted with some kookie young kids at Mondawmin Mall. The police, in riot gear, were told to stand down. I don't think police should go too quickly to riot gear... but when you do use force, you go in strong! Instead, cops charged... and then retreated. This was on order, say police friends who were there, of the high-command.
So the police charge became a half-assed charge. And 5 angry kids became 15 when police retreated. And then one more pseudo charge. And then 15 rock-throwing kids became 50. It was horribly policing, tactically. Horrible. (But not the only problem, mind you. I still want to know who the hell closed down the MTA and thus prevented school kids from leaving the mall?)
So on April 27th, 2015, there were riots. And fires. And looting. And then starting the next day, twice as many get shot. People, this isn't a fucking coincidence! This isn't something that was meant to happen. It's not like the Almighty wrote it. People on the streets, with guns, go up to other pull people, pull the trigger, and shoot them. So now, in a city of 620,000 people, this is happening one more time every goddamn day!
So yeah, to those who point out homicides in NYC are up 13 percent compared to the same time last year: whatever.
13 percent may be a statistical fluke. Or maybe it's not. Maybe we can live with 40 more people murdered annually in NYC if it is at all related to half-a-million other people not stopped by police. I don't know. But those are the discussions we should be having.
Here's the thing -- and this is what bother me -- I'm willing to discuss why crime is up, the role of police in crime prevention, what we can do to reduce violence, and the relationship between more aggressive/repressive police and less violent crime. I mean, that is kind of what I do for a living.
But I'm not willing to debate that more people are getting killed in Baltimore and that something changed because of the fallout from the death of Freddie Gray.
So the starting point for me is that something has changed in Baltimore vis-a-vis violence and homicide.
The reason some people can't accept this, I suppose, goes back to the fallacy that police don't really matter, except as agents of racist repression. This argument says that crime is caused by society and root causes (and not criminals, per se). If racism, unemployment, and even aggressive policing cause crime, than some are happy to blame cops, society, racism, Broken Windows, Bill Bratton, and everybody but those who actually pull the trigger and kill somebody.
So here we have the most sudden sustained increase in violence -- overnight, mind you -- in American history (best I know... please, if you know anything comparable to this, let me know). Of course it has to do with the riots. Not directly the riots, mind you. They're over, at least for now. And nobody was actually killed during the riots, which is kind of amazing. This surge in shooting? It's because of politics and police.
Given that six officers were criminal charged for the death of Freddie Gray -- a death that certainly not all six of them were responsible for -- why would you go out and do more than have to?
What you have -- I can't help but keep harping on the failed "gang truce" so loved by the mayor and police commissioner -- is a police department that:
A) isn't doing much proactive police work (which means not doing more than answering calls for service);
B) isn't going hands-on with criminals hanging out on the corner so much (ie: not frisking people on violent drug corners means criminals are emboldened and guns are more accessible);
C) an understaffed force that has been reduced to about 2,200 (down from more than 3,000 cops when I was there -- doing more with fewer cops is yet another west-coast concept that hasn't worked so well in Baltimore);
and D) large crowds getting in the way of every routine call for service. (This means more cops need to respond to every call. And keep in mind that some of those getting in the way are responsible for the horrible increase in shootings. So it's not like cops are paranoid about the situation.)
Maybe I'll break those down more later, but let's just keep going with the 250 percent increase in killings.
I'd bet (though I don't know) that complaints against police are down equally dramatically. Probably the same 50 percent that arrests are down. Some say police arrest too many people. So fewer arrests should be good (it happened in NYC without a big increase in crime).... so if you believe that, please try and explain this increase in murders in a way that doesn't involve police. Or tell me what you want police to actually do. It's not a simple question. And I'm all ears.