Politics & Policy

#BlackLivesMatter Costs Black Lives

Protests in Ferguson, Mo., October 2014. (Scott Olson/Getty)

The problem is so bad that even the New York Times is taking notice. There is, in fact, a sudden, sharp rise in murders in major American cities. The chart below is sobering:

That’s a total of 330 additional murders, year-to-date, in just ten cities — with the three biggest percentage increases taking place in cities rocked by recent policing scandals.

What’s different about this year? Why — after years of declining or stagnant crime rates — are more men dying in the streets? According to the Times, the “experts” have some rather unconvincing ideas.

In Chicago, the police superintendent predictably says it’s the “abundance of guns.” In New Orleans, the superintendent blames a “culture of violence.” In St. Louis, a homicide commander blames the fact that “more young people are settling their disputes, including one started on Facebook, with guns.” But with each excuse, the Times fails to provide any evidence of either a flood of new guns into the city or a dramatic culture change in just one year’s time.

To be sure, some of the murder increases are so modest that they could represent mere statistical noise, and might even reverse themselves by the end of the year. Crime rates — and the absolute number of murders — have dropped dramatically since the early 1990s, with many of the cities on the chart above experiencing particularly steep declines. Consider that New York saw a stunning 2,262 murders in 1990. By 2014 that number had dropped to just over 300. In Los Angeles, murders went from 987 in 1990 to 251 in 2013. There were 943 murders in Chicago in 1992 and 415 in 2013. At some point murders are going to stop declining, and it may well be the case that some cities have reached that point.

RELATED: Officer Beaten by a Convicted Felon Hesitated for Fear of Being Called Racist: Welcome to Post-Ferguson Policing

But when it comes to Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Baltimore, the increases are astonishing. Milwaukee is on pace for its highest number of murders in 14 years. St. Louis is on a similar pace, set to exceed the murder spike it saw from 2007–2009 and record its bloodiest year in more than a decade. In Baltimore, it’s much the same story.

Ironically enough, Milwaukee’s police chief, Ed Flynn, was profiled in NPR’s popular podcast, This American Life, as a leading reformer — someone who was working to change the antagonistic relationship between the police and members of high-crime communities. Here’s Flynn, speaking to Milwaukee residents:

We in this police department and in the police profession know we have inherited a social history of which we can’t always be proud. The police have often been in the middle of great conflict and not infrequently been agents of social control to preserve a status quo.

Both Flynn and Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett are gun-control activists, and Barrett has explicitly blamed Wisconsin’s liberalized concealed-carry laws for the spike in murders, saying they’ve “put more guns on the streets of the city of Milwaukee.” There’s no evidence, however, that concealed-carry permit holders are responsible for any of the crime increase, much less the bulk of it. At the same time, Maryland has extraordinarily strict gun-control laws, including a new round of restrictions passed after the Sandy Hook massacre that include “fingerprinting and licensing requirements for handgun buyers.” Whereas Wisconsin recently liberalized its gun laws and Maryland tightened them, Missouri’s gun laws haven’t been materially changed in almost a decade. Milwaukee, Baltimore, and St. Louis have all seen dramatic increases in murders despite three distinctively different gun-law regimes.

Black Americans helped end America’s worst crime waves. #BlackLivesMatter can’t be allowed to undo their work.

What do they 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, 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.” In Heather Mac Donald’s words, law-enforcement officials are “disengaging from discretionary enforcement activity,” and the result has been more violent crime.

Radical critics of aggressive policing rarely speak honestly about the criminal underclass in America’s major cities. They are not the oppressed; they are the oppressors. They are not fighting historic racism and injustice; they’re trying to make money, dominate “turf,” and terrify people into submission. The criminal underclass welcomes passive policing not as a chance to live free but rather as an opportunity to exploit.

#share#Law-abiding African-Americans understand this all too well. Last month, the Chronicle of Higher Education detailed how “crime-terrorized African-Americans helped spur mass incarceration.” As crime skyrocketed in the 1970s, “growing disorder and addiction drove many working- and middle-class people in Harlem and elsewhere to mobilize for tougher crime policies.” Later, in the 1980s, the Congressional Black Caucus helped lead the charge for tougher penalties related to crack cocaine. In fact, 16 black members of the House co-sponsored the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, the Reagan-era reform that established far harsher penalties for crack cocaine than for powdered cocaine.

RELATED: Are Encounters with the Police Really More Dangerous for Black Men?

A hidden story of the war on crime is the key “40-year role” played by the black community in calling for ever-tougher measures to save their neighborhoods and their families, measures that have succeeded in granting an untold number of African-Americans the chance to live peacefully and build productive lives. Last month, an African-American woman named Peggy Hubbard went viral with a video decrying #BlackLivesMatter for remaining silent in the face of black crime. Her voice is infinitely more respectful of recent black history than the radicals are:

Aggressive policing has its undeniable costs — including of course larger prison populations and incidents of abuse as contact between the police and the civilian population increases. Radical activists, however, seem to take lower crime rates entirely for granted and focus exclusively on police abuse, somehow believing that crime will remain in check even as aggressive policing recedes. But any set of policies that depends on the virtue of the violent is doomed to fail.

#related#As I’ve detailed before, white liberals tend to pander to black radicals, viewing them as the “authentic” voice of black America. That’s an easy choice for the latté Left. They get the benefit of allegiance to fashionable causes without bearing the burden of the increased loss of life. After all, no one’s getting gunned down in their neighborhoods. But reality is a stern teacher, and those who forget the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. Black Americans helped end America’s worst crime waves. #BlackLivesMatter can’t be allowed to undo their work.

— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.


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