Fearmongering About the 'Ferguson Effect'
If you pay attention to what crime numbers actually say, you're a "smug left-wing journalist," apparently.
Much like those liberals who spent 2009 through 2011 leaping past the evidence to insist some rhetoric they dislike was fueling a rise in right-wing violence, many conservatives are now intent on leaping past the evidence to insist some rhetoric they dislike is fueling a rise in anti-cop violence, or perhaps even a rise in crime altogether. A recent rant along these lines in FrontPage mentions me:
Smug left-wing journalists Jason Linkins of the Huffington Post and Jesse Walker of Reason snickered at the Manhattan Institute's Heather Mac Donald when she argued in late May that after two decades of falling crime rates nationwide, anti-cop sentiment was boosting crime rates.
The "most plausible explanation of the current surge in lawlessness is the intense agitation against American police departments over the past nine months," wrote Mac Donald in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Walker wrote at the time that "any talk of a 'nationwide' crime surge is at best premature, at worst sheer fearmongering." Linkins wrote that Mac Donald's column contained "a load of hot nonsense."
The writer refrains from reporting why I said Mac Donald's claims of a crime wave were "at best premature, at worst sheer fearmongering," and he doesn't link to the post where I said it either. So here it is. As you can see, my problem with Mac Donald's column was that she highlighted the statistics that are consistent with a crime surge while ignoring the stats that aren't. Since we don't have nationwide numbers for this year to date, any claim that a national crime wave exists, let alone any explanation for it, is premature.
The FrontPage writer seems to think we do have those numbers:
According to the New York Times article dated Sept. 1, homicides committed to this point this year are outpacing homicides committed to this point in 2014.
But the article in question doesn't say anything about national homicides rates; it is specifically about some cities where murders and/or violent crime in general are rising. (I wrote in more detail about what the Times piece does and does not say here.) When the full numbers for 2015 are available, we may well learn that violent crime went up across the country this year. Then again, we might not: After the Times piece came out, Bruce Frederick of the Vera Institute of Justice decided to see what the homicide numbers were for the country's most populous cities. "Among the 16 top-20 cities for which I found publically available data," he reports, "only three experienced statistically reliable increases."
It's almost as if "any talk of a 'nationwide' crime surge is at best premature, at worst sheer fearmongering." To quote a phrase.
This isn't the only time the FrontPage writer invokes numbers invisible to everyone else. "Execution-style cop killings and assaults on police" have been "becoming more commonplace" since December, he claims. As it happens, cop-killing is one crime where we do have an ongoing nationwide count to draw on. Guess what? They've been less common in 2015 than they were at this point in 2014. The number conducted execution-style can be counted on one hand. I of course don't want to see even one person murdered, but to call this "commonplace" is to abuse the language.
The FrontPage piece makes some other strange claims too. At one point, looking for explanations for the crime boom, it declares that Barack Obama has engaged in "relentless anti-police rhetoric"—rhetoric so far-out that it's "as if Obama pal Bill Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist and Black Power supporter who helped to launch Obama's political career, were running the White House communications office." Just so you know what sort of comparison is being made here, in 1970 the terror group that made Ayers infamous bombed the NYPD headquarters and then issued a communiqué that includes such lines as "The pigs are our enemies" and "The pigs try to look invulnerable, but we keep finding their weaknesses." If the president's rhetoric along such lines has been "relentless," there ought to be plenty of examples FrontPage could quote. Needless to say, the story doesn't cite any at all.
There's more, but it isn't really worth the time to catalog all the kookiness. With the FrontPage piece, I think we can skip past the "at best premature" bit. Whatever 2015's crime stats end up looking like, this is just fearmongering.