WASHINGTON, Sept. 1, 2015 — Murder rates have been skyrocketing in America’s cities. This is after years of decline. In mid-August, Baltimore had its 212th homicide, surpassing the total for all of 2014. Milwaukee has also topped its 2014 mark, and New Orleans, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., are on track to do the same.
Hartford, Connecticut, with a population of 125,000, has had 21 murders so far this year. In all of 2014, there were 19.
Because this increase comes after years of declining murder rates, experts are trying to understand what is going on. One view within law enforcement circles is that after Ferguson, Missouri, and the widespread protests and demonstrations against police sponsored by groups such as Black Lives Matter, police have been increasingly hesitant to use force. In Baltimore, where several police officers were charged with murder in a controversial and highly politicized case, arrests have dropped by more than half.
Beyond this, there is a move toward less aggressive policing by liberal politicians such as New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio. New York has moved away from the policy of stopping and frisking men deemed suspicious, a policy endorsed by former mayors Rudy Guiliani and Michael Bloomberg.
In his new book “Violence: My Life. Serving America and Protecting Its Empire City,” former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly argues that De Blasio has put the lives of New Yorkers at risk by halting the stop-and-frisk policy. It virtually ended in the second half of 2013.
In Kelly’s view, it was “an amazing surrender” rooted in politics.
Kelly writes, “De Blasio shrugged and walked away from a routine and useful policing tool, snatching law enforcement defeat from the jaws of legal victory.” He points out that De Blasio not only ran against the other candidates, but also “against the police. I personally resent the implications of De Blasio’s false narrative. I knew the truth — that our policies targeted reported crimes. We didn’t target people based on their skin color.”
So far, homicides in New York City are up almost 10 percent from last year.
On Friday, sheriff’s deputy Darren Goforth was gunned down at a Houston gas station in what Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman called a “cold-blooded execution.” The deputy was filling his patrol car.
Hickman put some of the blame for his deputy’s death on the Black Lives Matter protest movement, which has turned public sentiment, particularly in minority communities, against law enforcement with its “out of control rhetoric.”
Two days after Deputy Goforth’s murder, a group of about 300 protesters from the Black Lives Matter group marched at the Minnesota State Fair, chanting “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon.”
Dave Titus, president of the St, Paul Police Federation, said, “It’s just outrageously offensive. It clearly promotes a climate of violence around cops.”
Ronald T. Hosko, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, says that officers are waiting for President Obama, who speaks out immediately after shootings involving black civilians, to show equal concern when the lives of police officers are taken.
“I don’t see and hear from the president when a cop gets shot and killed,” he said. “Sadly, my sense is that the Black Lives Matter movement is entirely an anti-cop movement.”
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke has also been critical of Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder, saying that they have, in effect, been engaging in a “war” on police. “It’s open season right now. No doubt about it,” he said.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund lists 84 police line-of-duty deaths as of Monday. That represents a 15 per cent increase in police deaths over the same time last year.
Late in August, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who is black, proposed putting more police officers on the street to fight the increasing number of murders. This prompted jeers and boos from activists opposed to key elements of her $15 million plan, which includes longer patrol shifts, overtime pay, and an increase in some police powers. Anti-police demonstrators were led by people associated with the Black Lives Matter group.
Such militant groups, however vocal, are not representative of black opinion. Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy wrote:
When it comes to the causes of homicide among black people, there’s something a lot of black people are saying among themselves: It’s not all due to institutional racism. Few dare say it publicly … But the subject must be broached, especially now that homicides are spiking like mad in urban areas throughout the nation. If racist cops are part of an institutional threat to black people, there are also black men and women dying at the hands of people who look like them. It is the enemy within. Call out one and you have to call out the other.
A disproportionate number of those doing the killing, Milloy points out, are “young black men between 18 and 29. They are deadly, reckless and irresponsible. They hide in our midst, growing ever more confident that you can get away with murder … We need to spend as much time condemning and correcting black youths committing crimes as we do trying to convince white people of the impact racism has on black lives.”
The reluctance of police officers to do their jobs aggressively in the face of criticism and the potential of legal action against them are clearly factors in the increase in crime. Eugene O’Donnell, an academic at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says that police feeling that they have less political support causes them to do the bare minimum. Another effect may also be at play: Most inner-city murders take place in crowded streets. Yet clearance rates remain very low.
In Baltimore, just 36 percent of murders have been solved this year. Police, who are distrusted in part because of the over-heated rhetoric of activist groups, struggle to find cooperative witnesses, many of whom fear retaliation if they are branded as “snitches.”
In O’Donnell’s view, the message that police are sometimes racist or too violent, even when accurate, may be making it harder for them to do their jobs properly.
The Economist reports,
Once the killings start they are hard to stop. In a city such as Baltimore, where graffiti on the walls of abandoned houses commemorate dead young men, murders lead to retaliatory murders. Much violent crime is spontaneous: according to analysis by the city’s police department given to the Baltimore Sun, only 14% of murder victims in 2014 and only 11% of suspects, were gang members. More detailed analysis by Milwaukee’s Homicide Review Commission, an advisory board, suggests that in that city arguments are by far the biggest known cause of murders. When the chance of getting caught is low, and the law is not trusted, violence reigns.
Police racism should be addressed immediately and effectively; there is no room for racism of any kind in law enforcement. But the Black Lives Matter movement may be making things worse, not better. They have shut down highways in St. Louis, held die-ins in New York and Washington, blocked bridges in Charleston and protested at police commission meetings in Los Angeles.
They prevented Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a liberal who does not disagree with them, from speaking, and also tried to silence Hillary Clinton.
They fail to confront the fact that the overwhelming majority of young black men who are victims of murder are usually killed by other young black men. Only a handful are killed by police officers, and in only a few unfortunate incidents can they be said to be innocent victims.
Black Lives Matter has yet to say a word about the fact that 70 percent or more of black babies are born to single mothers and grow up without a father in the home. Police misbehavior can hardly be the cause of the widespread pathologies in the nation’s inner cities.
Some black politicians who initially embraced the Black Lives Matter movement are now having second thoughts. In April, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who represents part of Baltimore in Congress, said that police reform “is the civil rights cause of this generation.”
In August, announcing a new partnership between the city’s police and federal agencies, he took a different tone. “I hear over and over again, black lives matter, black lives matter. And they do matter. But black lives also have to matter to black people.” His message to those who kill others: “You’re not going to get away with it.”
Preventing the police from doing their job effectively is not in the interest of the residents of our inner cities, who are the major victims of our spiraling murder rate. When Black Lives Matter and other activist groups make it ever more difficult for the police to do their job, life is made increasingly precarious for the very inner city residents in whose name these groups protest.
They may think they are acting in behalf of those residents but, in reality, the opposite is the case.