Yesterday, the New York Times ran a story showing a rise in homicides in some cities. As we noted yesterday, there is a pushback in Texas against shootings of police officers. There is a belief by some that the protesters of Ferguson and the media coverage against officer involved shootings is playing a crucial role in driving up homicide rates.
As the Times notes, “Among some experts and rank-and-file officers, the notion that less aggressive policing has emboldened criminals — known as the “Ferguson effect” in some circles — is a popular theory for the uptick in violence.”
“The equilibrium has changed between police and offenders,” said Alfred Blumstein, a professor and a criminologist at Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University.
But there is reason to question that theory, as well. As Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, pointed out, “Homicides in St. Louis, for instance, had already begun an arc upward in 2014 before a white police officer killed an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, in nearby Ferguson. That data, he said, suggests that other factors may be in play.”
As a column in the Atlantic points out “If the ‘Ferguson Effect’ is real, how can it be that it started before the Ferguson protests?”
Moreover, another effect is noted. Every officer involved shooting is getting strong highlights – particularly those involving an unarmed black victim. But the counter-message is coming up more frequently as well. Pushed by right-wing bloggers, the mainstream media is now covering the shooting of police officers as a counter-weight.
The right-wingers have a clear target – President Obama.
Tom Mullen yesterday in the Huffington Post noted, “Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke told Fox News yesterday, ‘President Obama has breathed life into this ugly movement,’ meaning Black Lives Matter and the ‘war on cops’ Clarke says the president is at least partly responsible for.”
He writes, “This is part of a larger narrative in right-wing media that cop killings are increasing due to Obama’s tacit support for anti-cop activist groups and failure to condemn those who attack or kill police officers.”
However, there is a problem with this narrative. Mr. Mullen writes, “Cop killings are way down during Obama’s presidency and on pace this year for the lowest annual total this century.” So, much as the murder rate began rising before Ferguson, the police homicide rate is falling, despite notable and publicized killings.
Mr. Mullen finds, “For the first six years of Bush’s presidency (2001-2006), the total number of cops intentionally murdered was 426. This doesn’t count 911-related deaths, which would obviously skew Bush’s number higher. During the first six years of Obama’s presidency, the total number of cops intentionally murdered was 382. That’s a 10 percent drop.”
In the seventh year of the Bush presidency there were 77 killings, and so far this year there have been 36. “Statistically speaking, we’re on pace for a total of 52 in 2015, which would be the lowest total in this century.”
You wouldn’t know that by the rhetoric. As we reported yesterday, The Dallas Morning News reported Monday that US Senator Ted Cruz and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick “have seized on the slaying of Harris County Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth in solemn terms — but also with an edge.” They write, “With echoes of Richard Nixon in the late 1960s, both of the Texas Republicans are saying it’s time to ‘stand with’ — and pray for — law enforcement officers such as Goforth.”
Senator Cruz blamed the ambush murder of the sheriff’s deputy on President Obama. He told reporters in New Hampshire, “Cops across this country are feeling the assault… They’re feeling the assault from the president, from the top on down, as we see — whether it’s in Ferguson or Baltimore, the response from senior officials, the president or the attorney general, is to vilify law enforcement. That’s wrong. It’s fundamentally wrong. It’s endangering all of our safety and security.”
“I’m proud to stand with law enforcement,” Senator Cruz said. “… We need a president who doesn’t attack and vilify them, and who doesn’t seek to tear us apart along racial lines, to inflame racial divisions.”
Law enforcement pushed back, as well. “We’ve heard black lives matter, all lives matter,” Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman told reporters at a Saturday press conference. “Well, cops’ lives matter, too.”
In the meantime a new trend is emerging. The Guardian yesterday reported, “US police have fatally shot 30 people in moving vehicles this year, despite federal guidelines advising them not to. Why have police departments pulled the trigger on drivers rather than reform?”
The Guardian notes, “The US Department of Justice, prominent international policing experts and most major police departments across the US agree: police officers should not fire their guns into moving cars. The shots are widely viewed as ineffective for stopping oncoming vehicles, and the risks to innocent parties are seen as overwhelming.”
They add, “More than a quarter of those killed were black men, a group that according to the US Census Bureau makes up just 6% of the driving-age American population.”
The report notes, “In all cases, officers said the vehicle posed a threat either to their own lives, to those of police colleagues, or to bystanders. In almost all incidents, however, their decisions to shoot appeared to run counter to federal guidance instructing officers to open fire only if a driver presents a separate deadly threat, such as a gun. None of those killed were accused of pointing firearms at police, and in only three cases did police appear to be aware of a gun being inside the vehicle.”
They add, “Like thousands of other law enforcement agencies around the US that have declined to reform their internal policies in line with DoJ standards, Alexander City has a rulebook that says officers may fire into moving vehicles ‘as the ultimate measure of self-defence’ when ‘the suspect is using deadly force.’ Implicit is that the vehicle itself may be considered the deadly weapon.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting