What I really do not understand is why the Left is willing to concede crime prevention to the Right. (I bet Trump won't be downplaying this in tonight's debate.)
False argument #1: The best violence-reduction strategy is a job-production strategy.
It sounds nice, but I say bullsh*t. As if unemployed people just can't help but shoot each other.
Do not get me wrong: Poverty is bad. But it just so happens that 2015, the year with the big murder increase, also saw the biggest decrease in poverty since 1991. 3.5 million people rose out of poverty last year. That's great news. It really is. (Full report & summary in the NYT.)
But we still hear this from people like this St. Louis alderman:
How do we use that [crime] data to elevate the consciousness of our community? How do we use that data to provide the opportunity for people to get meaningful jobs, with livable wages?No. I mean, yes! Please, work on that, too. But the question from these data is how the hell we get police back into policing and crime prevention. Sure, it sucks when dad loses his job, but consider how much worse it is for dad to get killed coming home from work. (I would even say that you can't have a real job-production strategy until you achieve violence reduction. Who the hell is going to open a business where you will get robbed and workers get mugged walking to their car?)
The Guardian goes on to summarize the Brennan Center's position:
Last year’s national murder increase was not a uniform trend, but a sum of contradictory changes in cities across the country. Early analyses of the 2015 murder increase suggested much of it might be driven by murder spikes in just 10 large cities.(Now I see how clever the Brennan Center was to put out their paper last week, so it becomes cited immediately to put things "in context.")
False argument #2: It's just happening a few cities.
No. It's not.
Homicide (and almost all violent crime) is up in every grouping of towns and cities (such as "under 10,000" and "over 1,000,000"). Period. Now that doesn't mean it's up in every city. But what a weird and nonsensical standard. Sure, if we remove all the places where crime is up, crime wouldn't be up. But that's we have fancy statistical concepts like "overall," "in general," and "trend."
Even if we were to remove the 6 cities with the largest increase -- and I don't know why we would -- but just to see if the problem is isolated in a few cities, let's take out Baltimore, Chicago, Milwaukee, Washington, Cleveland, and Houston (collectively those cities saw about 420 more murders in 2015) -- even without these cities the rest of America would still have 600 more murders and the biggest homicide increase in 25 years. That's how bad these just released numbers are.
Now we can say that violence in concentrated in certain neighborhoods. That's true. But we've long known this. Indeed, as you can tell from looking out your window, there aren't armed marauders outside your castle gates. What matters, or at least should matter, is that more American are being murdered. I find it distasteful (particularly when it comes from the Left) to say "most people" don't have to worry about crime because the "average person" is still safe. The fact that violence disproportionately affects a subset of Americans may indeed mean it's not a "national crime wave," but it is all the more reason to care.
False argument #3: It might just be a statistical blip.
But it's not. I mean, it could be a statistical blip.... If it were just one or two percent. But it's up 11 percent. The last time we saw an 11 percent one-year increase in murder was 1971. That's exactly my entire lifetime. And that was in the middle of eight-year run when homicides doubled from ten to twenty thousand. This "blip" was literally the deaths of 1,600 more Americans. The number of people killed went up from 14,164 in 2014 to 15,696 in 2015. That one-year increase negated 5 years of homicide decline.
If you think this increase in murder "no cause for alarm" and people who care are "overreacting," to you, I respectfully say "go to hell." We worked too hard to get to where we are (or were) with lower crime. And a "don't-overreact" reaction does not help. And it may lead exactly to the right-wing law-and-order backlash you so fear. (But on the flipside, to those who don't really care but will use these deaths to make some racist point about "black-on-black" crime and "those people," I say with all my heart, "no really, to hell with you, too!")
Why I care (and why you should, too):
Among academics, it's quite uncool to blame criminals for crime or give police credit for crime prevention. But then how many statisticians who use the UCR Homicide Supplement can point to a specific row and say, "Yeah, I handled that one."
Too many who say they're for "justice" never really have to think about the injustice of just even one real murder victim (one not shot by police). But then maybe I care because I was a Baltimore cop. Every single cop can tell you a story about a dead person. Why? Because they care. Granted, some cops do care more than others, but you can't police and not care.
I wasn't a cop for long (less than 2 years in total), and even I lost track of how many victims I dealt with. But a few do stand out. And this isn't even getting into my cop friends who were shot, killed, nearly killed, had to kill somebody, or carry physical and emotional wounds for life.
I remember the stare of a young black man at the same track we ran around while in the academy. His backpack made me think he was a good kid, on his way home from school. He was shot, perhaps after being robbed. We made long eye contact, even though he was dead.
I remember the guy with a gunshot to the head one 321 Post. He was still alive when I got to him. But he clearly a goner, with blood and brain dripping from the hole in his head. His sisters were wailing while he died.
How many Harvard PhD students have the intimate experience of sorted through a victims' clothes? Clothes that are literally dripping with blood and yet still reeking of body odor. You're trying to go through everything, looking for pockets, for any sign of identification of the life that used to be. And then there are the death notifications.
Think of all those deaths. Last year there were 133 more murders in Baltimore than there were in 2014. [This year the numbers are down slightly compared to 2015, and the chutzpah of some people to herald Baltimore's "crime drop" is shocking.] Take a moment and picture all those dead bodies, almost all shot young black men and teenagers. Visually stack them up like cordwood if you wish, or lay them all head-to-toe. It's real human carnage.
If you took all the Baltimore murder victims from just last year and laid them head-to-toe where the Ravens play football, that line of dead bloody bodies could score six endzone-to-endzone touchdowns. And the increase in violence last year happened all after April 27th. All it took was one man's in-custody death coupled with anti-police protests, bad leadership, a riot, and a politician's horrible choice to press criminal charges against six police officers in the matter of Freddie Gray's death. (All charges ended up being dropped after multiple trials without a single conviction on any charge.)
This is actually one time I don't care about the historical perspective. Less than the 1990's crack-crazy murder rate is not good enough. We got down to a homicide rate like Canada (about 1/4 of ours), and maybe I'll be satisfied. We can start caring now. Or we can start caring after a few more thousand people are needless killed. And if you think I'm over-reacting, consider that you might be under-reacting.