During 2020, we saw a spike in violent crime and homicide in American cities of all sizes. Months of riots and mass protests this summer demonized police officers as racist nationwide. Compounding the problems caused by that narrative, lockdowns caused many urban governments to experience budget shortfalls. Local Leaders slashed police department budgets out of financial necessity or pure political pandering. As a result, the start of 2021 is shaping up to be just as violent, if not worse.
In a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, Manhattan Institute Fellow and a contributing editor of City Journal Heather Mac Donald asserts that the media and politicians’ constant demoralization of police officers is as much to blame and the mayhem we saw this summer.
She combated the idea that the pandemic’s economic and social strain was the driving factor by noting crime was down in the first months of shutdowns. At the end of May, violent crime started to rise while the nationwide protests and riots began in response to George Floyd’s death in police custody. Eighteen people were murdered in Chicago alone on May 31st. That was the most violent day in that city in six decades.
The narrative that police were systemically racist began under President Barack Obama. After Obama inserted himself into a few situations involving law enforcement and showed he was willing to be critical of them, the media followed suit. They pushed the “hands up don’t shoot” narrative in the story of an officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown. Later, the idea that Officer Darin Wilson shot Michael Brown with his hands raised in surrender was disproven by eyewitnesses and forensic evidence. By then, the damage was done even though Wilson was acquitted. Not even Eric Holder’s DOJ could find cause to charge him.
What resulted after that was commonly referred to as the “Ferguson Effect.” After their department was turned upside down by the DOJ and declared systemically racist, officers in Ferguson became demoralized. They started to make cost-benefit analyses in how they handled routine stops. The political and legal system was against them, and they could lose their careers, reputations, and even their freedom if a typical interaction went sideways. Routine stops and enforcement declined, and crime went up.
The same systemic racism narrative continued with the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020. The initial video clip was horrific, and it appeared Officer Derick Chauvin had either suffocated Floyd with a knee on his neck or contributed to his death by his actions. The entire nation erupted, and the media narrative and political narrative became that not only were police agencies systemically racist, but officers were also prone to indiscriminately shooting unarmed black men. Later the entire video leaked, showing Floyd acting strange, followed by the autopsy results showing a potentially fatal dose of fentanyl in his system. This additional information makes the most severe charges against Chauvin much weaker.
There is no data to back up the claim that police shoot unarmed black men more often than others. However, protesters streamed into the streets under the banner of Black Lives Matter, which had burst onto the national scene after Michael Brown’s death. Police agencies nationwide were condemned by their local political leaders and the media to serve a fact-free narrative. Local leaders even ignored violence against officers in cities like Portland and New York, and resignations and retirements skyrocketed.
High-profile police-involved shootings in Atlanta and Kenosha, Wisconsin, fed the narrative. Atlanta had several chaotic nights at the scene of the shooting of Rayshard Brooks, resulting in the death of an 8-year-old girl. The DA charged the officer involved with murder, which video evidence does not support. The media and politicians fed the country a narrative that Kenosha police shot an unarmed Jacob Blake who was only there to break up a fight. Kenosha burned before the news that Blake had violated a restraining order and was armed with a knife came to light.
The Ferguson Effect went nationwide. Mac Donald reports one Oakland, California officer put it this way:
An Oakland, Calif., officer who has arrested dozens of known murderers and gang members over his career tells me he is scared for the first time, “not because the criminals are necessarily more violent, even though they are.” But if he has to use force on a resisting suspect, he could lose his career, his life, or his liberty, he says. A “simple cost-benefit analysis” recommends simply responding to calls for service and collecting a paycheck. “All cops now understand this.”
As a result of this understandable self-preservation among officers, 2021 is shaping up in much the same way that 2020 ended. A smattering of available statistics for the first few weeks of 2021 are startling:
Shootings in South Los Angeles rose 742% in the first two weeks of the year. In Oakland, homicides were up 500% and shootings up 126% through Jan. 17. In New York, murders were up 42% and shooting victims up 15% through Jan. 17. Carjackings, already up 135% in Chicago in 2020, are spilling into the city’s suburbs. On Jan. 16, a woman was pulled from her car in Aurora, Ill., and shot in the back by carjackers who had already stolen two vehicles earlier that day. Four other Chicago suburbs were hit that weekend. In Chicago proper, there have been 144 carjackings through Jan. 21, with 166 guns recovered.
President Biden and his administration do not appear to acknowledge these facts or plan to restore law and order to our cities. He and running mate Kamala Harris made a shocking ad this summer that supported the narrative that all cops are racist, and all black people had a reason to be afraid. The man who is now president said, “Why in this nation do black Americans wake up knowing they could lose their life in the course of just living their life?” It only got worse from there:
National standards on the use of force, conditioning police funding on adopting that standard, and making it easier to prosecute police officers criminally were their proposals. Biden said it was about racial justice, which means unequal justice. This week, he will form a commission on policing, which is likely to include radical activists.
High-profile trials of police officers in Minneapolis and Atlanta are likely this year. Convictions on the most serious charges are not expected for either officer. The Atlanta officer stands a good chance of being acquitted altogether. It does not appear President Biden has a plan to calm tensions or support law enforcement before it happens. And perhaps the most tragic irony is listening to Black Lives Matter activists is costing black lives in some of our now more dangerous cities.
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