Donald Trump speaks on the last day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016, in Cleveland. JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images.
It is remarkable how little black lives matter when they have not been taken by a police officer. The mainstream media is foaming at the mouth over Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s warnings about rising crime during his Thursday night convention speech. Trump pointed out that homicides were up nearly 17 percent in the largest 50 cities. (The latest research actually shows a nearly 17 percent increase in the 56 largest cities). There have been more than 2,000 shooting victims this year in Chicago, he said, and more than 3,600 killed in Chicago since President Obama took office.
The overwhelming majority of the victims in this post-Ferguson shooting and homicide surge have been black. In Baltimore, for example, 45 people were killed in July 2015 alone; 43 of them were black. Baltimore’s per capita murder rate was the highest in its history in 2015. In Chicago, 2,460 blacks were shot in 2015—lethally or non-lethally—or nearly seven blacks a day. By contrast, 78 whites were shot in Chicago, or one every 4.6 days. Twelve cities with large black populations saw murders rise anywhere from 54 percent—in the case of Washington, D.C.—to 90 percent, in Cleveland.
Trump’s concern about rising crime is therefore not a concern about white victims and the loss of white life. Rather, it is a concern about black lives. As Trump said: “[Y]oung Americans in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Ferguson . . . have as much of a right to live out their dreams as any other child America.” Hint to the media: He was referring to black children in those cities, such as the ten children under the age of ten killed in Baltimore last year; the nine-year-old girl fatally shot while doing homework on her mother’s bed in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2015; and the nine-year-old boy in Chicago lured into an alley and killed by his father’s gang enemies in November 2015.
And yet the media is twisting itself into knots trying to downplay and trivialize the crime increase. Isn’t it white Republicans (and, of course, the cops) who are supposed to be indifferent to black lives? The Washington Post and Vox.com rushed out fact checkers to recycle many of the failed arguments against what I have called the “Ferguson effect”—the crime increase resulting from cops pulling back from proactive policing. Yes, crime is up, these journalists say, but it’s not as bad as it was years ago. “Even if the nationwide murder rate increased by 17 percent in 2015, that rate would remain far, far below the peaks of the 1960s and '70s and below any period in the '90’s,” argues Vox. But a crime decrease that took two decades to achieve is not going to be reversed completely in two years. If present trends continue, however, we could see that unprecedented and unpredicted crime decline of 50 percent disappear in a few more years.
Vox compares the 1980 murder rate with the much lower 2014 murder rate. But the Ferguson effect kicked in only after the death of Michael Brown in August 2014. The second half of 2014 reversed the crime decline of the year’s first half, but the full Ferguson effect showed up in 2015 and continued at least into the first quarter of 2016, with homicides up 9 percent and non-fatal shootings up 21 percent.
Confronted with the Chicago bloodshed, Vox changes the subject to America’s high rate of gun ownership. But the number of guns has not changed since Ferguson. What has changed is the willingness of young gangbangers to carry and use guns now that officers are making so many fewer pedestrian stops—90 percent fewer in Chicago this year, for example.
Vox also argues that there is “no evidence that ‘this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement’ caused violent crime to rise” in Chicago (or, presumably, elsewhere). The Washington Postlikewise challenges Trump’s ascription of the violent crime increase to the Obama administration, pointing out that policing is mainly a local phenomenon. Here, Trump’s critics are on more solid ground. The real action when it comes to policing and crime is at the local level. The federal government has little role in local crime-fighting, except for federal-local task forces on drug trafficking. To be sure, the Obama administration’s drive to slap an unprecedented number of consent decreesand federal monitors on police departments has created enormous headaches and wasteful paperwork challenges. At the margins, those consent decrees could have had an impact on policing and crime, as a recent study found. When the administration’s push for bogus “implicit bias” training kicks in, officers will be diverted from desperately needed tactical training and time spent fighting crime on the streets.
Yet, while there was no affirmative, policy-driven federal “rollback of criminal enforcement,” a rollback of enforcement at the local level has in fact occurred, with officers backing off of proactive policing. On that front, Trump got the causation absolutely right. “The irresponsible rhetoric of our president, who has used the pulpit of the presidency to divide us by race and color, has made America a more dangerous environment for everyone,” he said.
President Obama’s relentless accusations that cops are lethally biased, his embrace of Black Lives Matter, and the media’s amplification of thatmendacious movement’s liesabout the police have led to the drop in proactive enforcement and the resulting increase in crime. Trump’s recognition of the role that official rhetoric plays in determining facts on the ground is sophisticated. And his unapologetic alarum about the rising threat to law and order signified by the deliberate attacks on police officers is welcome.
Vox tries to downplay those attacks by noting that all on-duty deaths—including those from traffic accidents—are down 1 percent. But the Black Lives Matter hatred is not causing more car crashes; it is inspiring people to kill cops. Lethal shootings of cops are up 84 percent this year, according to Vox’s source, and up 68 percent according to the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Those are chilling numbers. Not to worry, says Vox, “on-duty deaths remain rare, and 2016’s increase in gunfire deaths so far came after decades of decline.”
If on-duty deaths remain rare, so do police shootings of unarmed black males. In fact, a police officer is 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male is to be killed by a police officer. And the fact that “2016’s increase in gunfire deaths so far came after decades of decline” is precisely what makes the increase so striking. That it reverses decades of decline is not a point in Black Lives Matter’s favor.
Not enough attention has been paid to the portent that is this year’s string of attacks on police officers—not only in Dallas and Baton Rouge but also in Georgia, Missouri, Wisconsin, Kansas, Michigan, Chicago, and Tennessee. We could be seeing the start of not just a war on cops, but more widespread racial violence.
Trump’s speech was a bold and important shift in the prevailing discourse about policing and crime. It couldn’t have represented a sharper distinction from the Obama-Clinton message, relentlessly delivered, that our criminal justice system and our nation’s police are infected with racial bias. Trump is absolutely right that law and order is at stake. The elites hear “law and order” rhetoric as code words for racism. They are the ones, however, who are turning their eyes away from the black bodies piling up on the streets.
Heather Mac Donaldis the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and the author of the New York Times bestsellerThe War on Cops.