Monday Morning Thoughts: Murders Are on the Rise, but Pinpointing the Cause Is Trickier than Some Think

By David Greenwald

The data released so far this year shows pretty clearly that the murder rate is up over previous years.  During this election season, we know that murders are being politicized.

I have my own opinions on the reason why the murder rate is up.  That’s a much deeper discussion and it will take a prolonged trend and longitudinal data that we currently lack.

Something to keep in mind, however, is that politics in cities have been relatively stable for the past few decades—the same people are basically in control this year as in the last decade, when murders dropped to 40-year lows.

That should give people pause about blaming the spike this summer—which has still kept them near their 10-year average—on “Democrat cities.”

But the data reveal something even more interesting—it is not simply Democratic cities that are seeing a rise in murders.  ALL CITIES are experiencing increased numbers of murders.

The New York Times last week did a pretty thorough analysis of the murders and writes, “A deeper dive into publicly available 2020 crime data paints a more complicated picture than the party-driven explanation President Trump and the Department of Justice have offered.”

For one thing: “More cities are run by Democratic mayors than by Republican ones, but murder is rising pretty much everywhere, regardless of a mayor’s political party.”

They also point out “the Department of Justice refers to ‘destruction of property’ as a reason the three cities are permitting ‘anarchy,’ but the F.B.I. does not classify vandalism as a major crime.”

The irony, of course: “In recent years, New York, Seattle and Portland have had fewer murders per 100,000 people than most other big cities in America. They are still on pace for that to be true at the end of the year. “

That of course suggests this is not necessarily a data-driven attack by the administration or DOJ.

The FBI report does find “a nearly 15 percent increase in murder nationally,” BUT, at the same time, “almost an 8 percent drop in property crime.”

Also, we really are talking only about murders. The Times reports, “The overall violent crime trend appears to be roughly even relative to last year.”

St. Louis for the sixth straight year (much to my chagrin) has the highest murder rate in the country.  Note that six straight years takes it back to pre-Kim Gardner days.

The three “anarchist jurisdictions” are actually way down on the list of murder. Chicago and Philadelphia are not in the top 10 either.

The Times reports this: “Murder is up 29 percent in Democrat-led cities in the sample and up 26 percent in cities with a Republican mayor relative to the same time frame in 2019, and five of the 13 cities on pace for record-high murder counts have Republican mayors.”

What does that prove? It probably proves that the murder rates are not statistically differentiated by mayor and that local policies are not driving the boat here.

But the Times goes a bit deeper.

“Murder has increased in the three ‘anarchist jurisdiction’ cities singled out by the D.O.J., but both violent and property crime are down relative to 2019 in all three. New York City, Portland and Seattle are on pace to have murder rates roughly at or below the national average in 2020, despite the rises in each city. “

One more slice: “There has been a sizable increase in gun violence in New York since the start of this summer, but for some wider context, this year’s level of murder and shootings is roughly where it was in 2012. The city is still on pace to have 80 percent fewer murders this year than it did in 1990, when it had over 2,000.”

Bottom line: I’m not saying any of this is good. But a full look at the data does not bear out the political rhetoric.

Back in February, Fordham Law Professor John Pfaff warned reformers not to fight the battle on tough-on-crime terms.

He warned that progressives are framing things badly, because “in general, we have tried to justify this progressive effort by saying, look, prison is down, crime is down.”

The problem is “this is fighting progressive’s battle on tough on crime’s ground.” He said, “We are saying that reform is a luxury. As long as crime is going down, let’s stop locking people up.”

However, “implicit, lurking in that message is when crime goes up, we really can’t do this anymore. We’re fighting their fight, on their ground.”

The data do not bear this out, but there are important reasons not to fight this battle on that data to begin with.

At the same time, I think everyone would be wise to look at the range of data before attempting to politicize crime and murders.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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