Eye on the Courts: Are Murder Rates Really on the Rise?



We have noted for the last few weeks a growing belief among many that murder rates are rising and the #blacklivesmatter movement, according to some conservative publications, is to blame. Last week, they were handed heavy fuel in the form of a front-page New York Times article, Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities.

There is a growing belief among some that “less aggressive policing has emboldened criminals.”

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies writes in Verdict today that “lethal violence in urban America is hyper-concentrated. It is confined overwhelmingly to a very tiny number of people who assault each other with deadly weapons at a comparably tiny number of places.”

He says that if we are committed to being “smart on crime,” we cannot “turn this problem, however serious it may be, into a justification for repressive policing strategies that we know don’t work—policies like ‘zero tolerance,’ which systematically misallocate police resources onto the innocent many and away from the dangerous few.”

Professor Margulies argues, “The far greater danger is the risk that some will contrive a link between the rise in homicides and the nascent movement to criticize and curb police violence, and in that way create a new symbolic demon that can be deployed to blunt the call for change. Indeed, the contriving has already begun.”

This movement, he says, began with a claim, “for which there is no evidence, that movements like #BlackLivesMatter have emboldened criminals—especially those who would assault the police—and emasculated law enforcement. Thus, when an officer is killed in the line of duty by a black assailant, #BlackLivesMatter is accused of having blood on its hands.”

He continues, saying that “the second step has just appeared. Conservative commentators have now begun to argue that #BlackLivesMatter and other critiques of law enforcement are in fact responsible for the increase in homicides, and thus threaten to reverse the long decline in violent crime rates that we have enjoyed for more than two decades.”

Professor Margulies cited two recent examples that followed the New York Times front page article.

Front Page Magazine ran a column titled, “New York Times Baffled by Massive Rise in Murder Rate it Caused,” writing: “Let’s see. Radical leftist pro-crime mayor who decided to wage war on cops. Radical leftist pro-crime president who decided to wage war on cops. Radical leftist pro-crime media which decided to wage war on cops. Now murders are mysteriously rising for reasons they can’t explain. It must be Global Warming. . . . Now let’s run another #BlackLivesMatter puff piece and more pro-crime propaganda about freeing drug dealers.”

Professor Margulies continues, “Less hyperbolically, but with no more evidence, the National Review used the Times article to focus on Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Baltimore, where the murder rates have increased the most,” he continues.

He quotes the Review: “What do [these cities] have in common? They’ve all been at the center of the radical critique mounted by #BlackLivesMatter. In St. Louis, arrests are down and murder is up. In Baltimore, arrests are down and murder is up. In Milwaukee, still dealing with the death of Dontre Hamilton, [Police] Chief Flynn has spoken openly of how—time after time—aggressive policing met with media and activist pushback, until the department retreated into initiatives focused on ‘building empathy.’”

Professor Margulies concludes, “We are thus watching the creation of a new symbolic demon before our eyes. A legitimate cause for concern—an apparent rise in homicides—is deployed for ideological purposes by creating a new demon—namely, the radical black activist who intimidates the police and encourages mayhem, and in the process reverses the gains of the past two decades”

But is this analysis even correct?

Bruce Frederick of the Marshall Project calls this analysis “badly misleading,” noting, “The Times isn’t an academic journal, and its story wasn’t meant to be a rigorous analysis of a big database; it was a glimpse into a current conversation with some new numbers.”

The first problem that Mr. Frederick notes is data selection. The article analyzes ten cities with populations over 317,000 (St. Louis) and includes New York, the most populous city in the nation. However, Mr. Fredrick points out there are in fact 60 cities in that range and the Times includes just four of the 20 most populous cities.

Mr. Frederick critically notes, “The authors do not explain how those cities were chosen, leaving readers to assume that the findings presented are representative of a broader increase in homicides across U.S. cities. That does not appear to be the case.”

He looked at publicly available data that supported a similar analysis for 16 of the 20 most populous cities, “and the results, summarized below, suggest a much less pervasive increase than one might infer from the Times analysis.”

One problem – not all of the increases were statistically reliable. He writes that “some of them are small increases, or are based on small numbers of cases, such that the observed increases could have occurred by chance alone. Among the 16 top-20 cities for which I found publically available data, only three experienced statistically reliable increases.”

He continues, “Only one of the top-20 cities included in the Times’ sample, Chicago, experienced an increase that was statistically significant. Five of the smaller cities included by the Times did experience statistically reliable increases, but what of the other 35 cities with populations in that range?”

Chicago itself represents a problem but also an illustration that “a single year-to-year increase does not necessarily imply a meaningful trend. Often, such changes fall within the range of normal year-to-year fluctuations.”

Chicago was “the only top 20-city in the Times analysis that had a statistically significant increase from 2014 to 2015.”

However, Chicago’s homicide rate has actually greatly fluctuated since 2009. It went up 5.1 percent from 2009 to 2010, then down 13.1 percent the next year. That was followed by “a 28.5 percent increase and then decreases of 16.4 and 3.4 percent in 2013 and 2014, before homicides climbed back up 11.3 percent in 2015.”

Mr. Frederick therefore finds, “Looked at over a longer time period, the numbers do not demonstrate a stable trend.”

He writes that “neither the Times analysis nor my own yields compelling evidence that there has been a pervasive increase in homicides that is substantively meaningful. It seems premature to be discussing broad explanations and long-term solutions for what may not be a broad or long-term phenomenon. And yet the spike in a few cities has already prompted speculation that the numbers reflect the increased availability of guns, or the demoralization of police.”

Mr. Frederick is quick to point out that the absence of reliable data does not prove that changes are not happening, only that we lack evidence to make such drastic conclusions. Public policy, in our view, should be driven by actual data, not knee-jerk reactions to catastrophic events.

Or, as Professor Margulies puts it, “It is all well and good to profess a commitment to being ‘smart on crime.’ But we cannot turn the other way as evidence is misused yet again to justify the creation of yet another symbolic demon for the purpose of yet another round of repressive attacks on blacks. At some point, to be ‘smart on crime’ demands that we say, simply but firmly, ‘Never again.’”

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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27 thoughts on “Eye on the Courts: Are Murder Rates Really on the Rise?”

  1. zaqzaq

    I guess the increased black on black murder rate in Baltimore along with the reduced arrest rate are the result of some other factor besides the reaction to the Freddie Grey incident.  Please identify what the cause for that dramatic increase in murders.   Those cities identified as having increases appear to be controlled by the local Democratic party machine and may be the result of failed policy actions by those elected leaders.  All one has to do is look at New York with the new mayor and his policy actions.  You then go to Chicago and Baltimore for decades of failed policy and the violence in those cities.

    The media and liberal commentators have been creating the impression that there is an increase in cops killing “unarmed blacks” for no justified reason where there are no statistics to back that claim.  The police do not do a good job on spin control regarding officer involved shootings.   One need only to look to Ferguson to see this.  The media jumped onto the “hands up don’t shoot” theme that was generated by Brown’s dope smoking buddy.  When the video of Brown committing a robbery minutes prior to the contact with Wilson the liberal left called it character assassination instead of a valid reason for Wilson to detain Brown when he recognized that Brown fit the description of the robber.  The fact that Brown was caught on video committing a robbery was unimportant to many who already had a counter agenda.  In the Zimmerman case Martin was portrayed as a cute (old pictures when he was younger) innocent kid buying Skittles who was minding his own business when confronted by the racist Zimmerman.   MSNBC did doctor the 911 tapes in a manner that supported this claim.  The truth is that both Brown and Martin got into a physical confrontation and were killed.  The true racist appears to be Martin who referred to Zimmerman as a “cracker” and was on top of Zimmerman assaulting him when he was shot.  In reality Zimmerman was minding his own business walking in his neighborhood following an individual whom he did not recognized to make sure that this stranger did not commit a crime in his neighborhood.  No laws broken by Zimmerman who was innocently minding his own business.  He then suffered through a politicized prosecution when the local DA refused to prosecute because the evidence would not support a conviction and he was right.  These cases were used to portray the innocent unarmed black youth who were murdered for no reason myth that factored into the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement.

    Police and DAs conduct their investigations in secret and do not release all of the facts to the media so as to not taint the statements of future witnesses.  One need only to look at the Marsh case and the information that was not made public.  They used these facts to validate the statements of Marsh’s friends and Marsh.  This makes it difficult to react to the spin of interest groups and biased media coverage.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “I guess the increased black on black murder rate in Baltimore along with the reduced arrest rate are the result of some other factor besides the reaction to the Freddie Grey incident. ”

      Based on what was written, what do you base that conclusion on? Clearly there is a local factor at play in Baltimore. The question is whether that is a new normal or a blip. Too soon to tell on that.

    2. sisterhood

      Wonderful news that Freddie’s family just rec’d a multi-million dollar settlement. 🙂

      So that settlement seems to prove he was given a rough ride, which turned out to be deadly.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        No proof at all.

        Cities are required to analyze what their exposure is, potential damages, lawyers costs, and various additional costs lawyers are experts at adding to the cost structure. These kinds of trials are extremely expensive, and then even with an innocent verdict, odds are high there would be an appeal. Lots of lawyers here would also aim to become famous ala Johnnie Cochran / F Lee Bailey.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Actually it proves that their risk management agency recommended settling at a fairly high amount rather than taking the case to trial.

          2. David Greenwald Post author

            ear in mind that the city admitted that Gray did not receive timely medical care, so that’s a huge component of the wrongful death suit.

        1. tribeUSA

          DG–yes, that’s where the police blew it–they didn’t strap him in, and they didn’t get him timely medical care; despite repeated statements by Gray that he was having trouble breathing. Definitely negligence; perhaps rising to manslaughter proportions (however doesn’t seem to me to support murder charges).

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I probably agree – although gross negligence can rise to murder, I wait to see what they come up with

      2. Topcat

        Wonderful news that Freddie’s family just rec’d a multi-million dollar settlement.

        Remember that the money for that settlement comes straight out of the taxpayer’s pockets.  That’s money that can’t be used for municipal services.  If I were a Baltimore taxpayer, I’d be pretty peeved.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          You have to know that’s not true. Cities are part of risk management pools and are insured against such settlements. So one settlement of this sort isn’t going to impact municipal funds. A string of them would reduce the city’s rating, but then you probably have a bigger problem anyway.

        2. Topcat

          Cities are part of risk management pools and are insured against such settlements.

          So we are all paying for this settlement out of our taxes which are used to pay for these insurance policies.  Now I’m really peeved!

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Are you refering to this specific settlement? Then no. But again, the city and the police wronged him. They failed to strap him down and given him medical attention, and he died because of it.

        3. hpierce

          David… your statement implies all (or even the majority of) cities [across the nation] have risk management pools.  Please cite your source(s). I strongly suspect you can’t.

        4. sisterhood

          I’d be more peeved that the police showed gross negligence. If it happened to him, it could happen to anyone in Baltimore. All the money in the world won’t bring him back.

  2. TrueBlueDevil

    Tortured logic and misstatements by this “professor” make his contradictory statements even tougher to follow.

    – “There is a growing belief among some that “less aggressive policing has emboldened criminals.” ” Yes, along with Eric Holder, Barack Obama, George Soros, Al Sharpton, and the liberal largely white press stirring the pot.

    – The professor says that crime is very concentrated, yet then refers to police focusing on the “innocent many”. Huh?

    – The professor seems to be purposefully casting the new “demon” / “blood on the hands” / victim as “the radical black activist” who is being targeted as a scapegoat. Funny, in the dozens of articles and TV clips I’ve seen, not a single person has mentioned that hypothetical person as a problem. Barack Obama, Eric Holder, George Soros, Al Sharpton, and the liberal press are frequently cited as the problem. I’ve taken the added step to identify that press as largely white.

    – Both this professor and David seem to want verifiable data when accusing the Left of wrongdoing, yet that don’t provide the same when arguing for the #BlackLivesMatter “movement”.

    There are several thousand deaths per year from gang activity. Thousands of young black men kill other young black men in America every year. Three to five thousands deaths per year are committed by illegal immigrants (GAO Report). Yet the focus is on 24 instances where “unarmed” black men are shot by police? Is that the number we are focused on? I used the tern “unarmed” as technically violent 300-pound felon Michael Brown was “unarmed” when he tried to kill an officer with his revolver.



  3. Anon

    Mr. Frederick is quick to point out that the absence of reliable data does not prove that changes are not happening, only that we lack evidence to make such drastic conclusions. Public policy, in our view, should be driven by actual data, not knee-jerk reactions to catastrophic events.”

    Yes, we should not jump to the conclusion, for instance, that Freddie Gray’s death had anything to do with his race.  First of all, there were both black and white officers involved.  Secondly,  “rough rides” are a tactic that was used by the Baltimore police, and needs to stop.  See:http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-gray-rough-rides-20150423-story.html

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      That’s why the officers get a trial. But I would strongly caution again the argument that a mixed race of officer inoculates them on the issue of race. There is a rap lyric going back 25 years or more that cautions “don’t let it be a black and a white cop.” The street belief was that any advantage that a black police officer might have was negated by the culture of the department.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          I would argue the situation and not the left highlighted Michael Brown and the situation in Ferguson. In my experience you never get a “perfect” “victim.” People are flawed, most situations have a lot of gray in them. What you’re pointing out is that most people on the left are not running from some gray. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. The officer mishandled the situation regardless of whether Brown did.

  4. hpierce

    Is it only me, or should ‘murder rates’ be adjusted so as not to include ‘spousal’/other family, with no history of ‘crime’? Does murder/suicide (ala Roanoke VA) constitute 2 murders or three? Imagine that Sandy Hook, Columbine, Aurora (if you count each victim as a separate ‘murder’) blew the community’s and the State ‘rates’ off the charts.  Suspect Davis’ rate had a blip when two people were murdered, unrelated to previous ‘crime’ that the police had been aware of.

    Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.

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