An American crime wave
Violent crime has risen dramatically over the past couple of years in America. Twenty-twenty saw murders increase by around 30%, the most significant single increase recorded by the FBI. In addition, the Council on Criminal Justice conducted a study that shows a 4% increase in homicides in 22 major cities through the third quarter of 2021.
Chicago alone is evidence of how out-of-control crime is becoming. The Chicago Police Department reported that 2021 ended with 797 homicides, the most since 1996. More people were killed in shootings than any other year in a quarter-century in Chicago's history.
Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute identified a cause-and-effect relationship where public criticism of police increases crime. It was deemed the "Ferguson Effect" after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Economists Cheng Cheng and Wei Long published an advanced study in the Journal of Public Economics detailing police activity after Brown's death in 2014, showing a decline in arrests by 62% with a rise in homicides in two years. In addition, the study showed that police engagement decreased, with foot patrol down 82% and pedestrian checks down 76%, as the fallout of the Ferguson protests.
The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020 sparked demonstrations worldwide. Looting, arson, and robbery became commonplace in major cities across America. Progressive politicians and liberal activists organized these mass demonstrations and called for defunding or abolishing city police departments.
As a matter of public policy, the American public does not hold anti-police views. Sixty-four percent of Americans oppose defunding the police, with 60% opposing shrinking police budgets. A Gallup poll found that 81% of black Americans did not want any reductions in policing their neighborhoods. In comparison, 61% wanted to keep the same amount of police presence.
The continuing crime wave and the movement to defund the police made their way into President Biden's State of the Union address. The president clarified where he stands on this issue: "We should all agree: the answer is not to defund the police. It's to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them. Fund them with resources and training." This line received bipartisan praise from Speaker Pelosi and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy.
President Biden's remarks on criminal justice reform have split the Democratic Party's progressive and moderate factions. Congresswoman Cori Bush and fellow "Squad" members followed up with the State of the Union response, chiding Biden for not mentioning "Black Lives Matter" or fatal police shootings.
Other politicians from the center-right and center-left have pushed back on the issue of crime. Mayor Eric Adams of New York, a former police chief, rebuked comments from Cori Bush and Black Lives Matter, stating: "We're not going to return to the era of heavy-handed policing. But we also can't return to the era of 2,000 homicides a year." Minnesota rep. Tom Emmer, who heads the House Republican Campaign Committee, issued a stark warning to the Democrats: "If you're not willing to speak up and speak out against this 'defund the police' movement within your own party, you own it."
Democrats are all too familiar with how a crime wave can negatively affect their political endeavors. The mid-1960s saw waves of unrest and violence in American cities. President Johnson in 1967 responded by forming the Kerner Commission to study the cause and effect of crime. Between 1964 and 1972, there were a total of 752 riots, 228 deaths, and 15,835 incidents of arson. The report suggested that the government needed to spend more on urban residents to resolve the lack of opportunities. It backfired as the American public supported civil rights legislation but wanted crime punished. Richard Nixon ran for president in 1968 as a law and order candidate. He promised to nominate judges who would be tough on crime. Nixon succeeded Lyndon Johnson for the presidency as Republicans won in a landslide
The crime wave will continue to be an issue for the 2022 midterms. A recent survey from Ipsos ranked crime as the third most pressing issue on Americans' minds. Despite Biden's tough talk, only 32% of Americans approve of his handling, while 48% disapprove. Worse, only 24% of independents gave him high marks on the issue. A majority of voters agree that the president and the Democrats are soft on crime.
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