The Black Lives Matter crusade against the police continued to cost lives and destroy civil peace in 2016. Two recent estimates of violent crime in the nation’s largest cities show that murders and shootings remained on an upward trajectory this year, as officers backed off of proactive policing. TheBrennan Center for Justice projects that murders in the 30 largest cities will be 14 percent higher in 2016 compared with 2015, a stunning increase coming as it does on top of 2015’s already massive homicide rise, which was 14.5 percent in all cities with populations over 250,000 and 20 percent in cities with populations from 500,000 to 1 million. The Wall Street Journalfound that homicides increased in 16 of the 20 largest police departments in 2016. Meanwhile, gun murders of police officers are up 68 percent through December 23, compared with the same period in 2015.
Medium-sized cities that don’t show up in the Brennan Center or Wall Street Journal analyses are also in distress. Cleveland’s murder numbers, for example, are up again in 2016 over 2015, which, with a 15 percent spike over 2014, was already one of the deadliest years in a decade. By early December 2016, Richmond had logged a 40 percent increase in homicides over 2015, making this year Richmond’s deadliest in a decade. And even in some cities where homicides decreased modestly over the previous year’s violent crime surge, the drop may simply reflect the vagaries of emergency-room treatment, ambulance speeds, and gangbangers’ shooting skills. Non-fatal shootings areup in Baltimore, though homicides are down slightly compared with 2015. Measured on a per capita basis, 2016 will still be Baltimore’s second deadliest year in its history.
The media, academia, and some police officials are again twisting themselves into knots to deny that depolicing is responsible for the ongoing violent-crime increase. None of their alternative explanations fits the timing. The Wall Street Journal cites Yale sociologist Andrew Papachristos for the proposition that the demolition of Chicago’s massive public-housing projects is resulting in more gang violence today: “What we are seeing now is more ‘mom and pop’ type of activity,” he says. But the last of the projects went down in 2011. Chicago’s homicides dropped significantly in 2013 and 2014. It was only in 2015, as race riots and virulent anti-cop protests spread across the country and as Chicago cops went “fetal,” in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s words, that Chicago’s homicides and shootings started spiking.
The Brennan Center cites “long-term socioeconomic problems (high poverty, unemployment, and racial segregation)” for the 2016 violent crime increase, the same explanation it gave last year for the 2015 crime spike. But such “long-term socioeconomic problems” have not worsened in the last two years. In implicit recognition of that fact, the Brennan Center this year has added an ad hoc supplemental explanation: cities with high poverty “are more prone to short-term spikes in crime,” the Brennan researchers allege without evidence. But last year’s national homicide increase was not some typical short-term blip; it was the largest in nearly 50 years. Virtually every population tranche of cities experienced it. The Brennan Center also cites “gang violence” as a cause of the rising violence in Chicago—a circular explanation.
University of Missouri, St. Louis, criminologist Richard Rosenfeld continues to propose that a loss in police legitimacy has made residents of high-crime areas less willing to cooperate with the police in solving crimes, and more likely to turn to retaliatory shootings in search of justice. But the no-snitch ethic has been the code of the streets for decades in minority areas. The young men who are gunning each other down in black ghettos at elevated rates were no more likely three years ago to fulfill their civic duties by helping solve shootings. What has changed is their likelihood of getting stopped and questioned by the police as they hang out on the corner; with the police backing off, they are more likely to carry and use guns.
The head of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Darrel Stephens, cites the easy availability of firearms as a possible cause of the crime increase. Firearms were just as available in 2013 and 2014, however, before the Michael Brown police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, ignited the Black Lives Matter movement and its fawning media coverage. Stephens also cites the usual alleged root causes of violence: “high poverty, high unemployment, low educational achievement.” Again, however, they have not worsened since Ferguson.
The strong version of what I have called the Ferguson Effect—a drop in proactive policing leading to rising crime—is the only explanation for the crime increase that matches the data. The country has just elected a new president who understands that the false narrative about the police has led to the breakdown of law and order in inner cities. If the crime situation improves in the coming year, it will be because Black Lives Matter calumnies no longer have an echo chamber in the White House and because cops on the beat believe that they will now be supported for trying to restore order whereinformal social control has broken down.
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and the author of the New York Times bestseller The War on Cops.