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by Peter Moskos

October 4, 2019

Murder down for whites but not blacks

The 2018 murder rate is down from the previous two years, but higher than we’ve seen in 6 of the past 10 years. Last year's murder rate is the same as 2015. And 2009! And yet I keep hearing every year that violence is down. So what's this trend? And sort of related, why do some people insist on the “violence is down” message year after year, even when it's not true?

Yes, violence is lower than it was in 1991. Violence will hopefully always be lower than 1991. But that doesn’t mean violence is trending down year after year. If we keep starting the graph around 1991, violence will always look downward trending.

The murder rate in the US actually peaked in 1980 at 10.2 (per 100K). And then there was the lesser but better-known crack-trade-related murder peak of 1991 (9.8 per 100K). So we’re down from there, no doubt.

Violence plummeted in America between 1994 and 1999. It might be worth pointing out that is right after the Biden-supported and now maligned crime bill. I don’t actually think that’s why crime went down, but it does correlate. And it didn’t hurt. It might have helped.

Whatever the causes -- and I do think better policing (along with changes in drug dealing) was a huge part of the solution -- many lives were saved between 1994 and 1999. Of course, as always, there were racial disparities. Blacks benefited most from the decline in violence. From 1994 to 1999 the number of black murder victims dropped from about 12,000 to 7,000 per year! White murder victims declined, too (but less so, from 11,000 to 8,000). This brings us to 1999.

Since 1999, the murder rate for whites has dropped even more, another 20%. Great news! But not for blacks. In absolute numbers, more blacks were murdered in 2018 than in 17 of the past 20 years. That's not a good trend. For African Americans, murder has been up and down over the past 20 years. But the murder rate is no better in 2018 than it was in 1999.


What bother me is some of my friends who insist “violence is down” are well intentioned white people who live in safe neighborhoods, hashtag #BLM, and believe those who advocate less policing in other people’s neighborhoods. (Neighborhoods they won’t set foot in, mind you.)
Yes, violence is down compared to 1991. But is it a sustained "trend"? Not really. Not if you start the clock in 2000. And not for non-whites. Not for young black men in particular. So when people say violent crime is down, ask "For whom?"

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