In 2005, George Will described Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald as “the indispensable journalist” — someone who is “uniquely qualified to burn away the cant and political correctness that so follows our discourse.”
Today, Mac Donald is more indispensable than ever. In fact, amid our current national debate over race, crime, and policing, she may be America’s most important public-policy analyst. (Full disclosure: She is also a friend of my husband’s.)
If you’ve read a Heather Mac Donald article, you’ll know that she combines firsthand reporting with a relentless focus on empirical data. For years now, she has interviewed both police officers and the inner-city residents they are sworn to protect. It was Mac Donald’s research and writing — most notably, her May 2015 Wall Street Journal article titled “The New Nationwide Crime Wave” — that first popularized the notion of a “Ferguson effect” on U.S. law enforcement. Drawing on hard numbers and testimony from urban officials, she showed that the relentless demonization of cops following the August 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, had led to a reduction in proactive policing, which in turn had fueled a sharp rise in violence across many American cities.
Speaking at the University of Chicago Law School in October 2015, FBI director James Comey said he had “a strong sense” that the Ferguson effect was real. “Most of America’s 50 largest cities have seen an increase in homicides and shootings this year, and many of them have seen a huge increase,” Comey observed. “I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior.”
In June 2016, the Justice Department published a study by criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri–St. Louis that lent further support to Mac Donald’s theory. Rosenfeld found that the collective homicide rate in 56 large U.S. cities jumped by almost 17 percent last year, with ten cities — Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Nashville, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and St. Louis — accounting for two-thirds of the increase.
“The homicide increase in the nation’s large cities was real and nearly unprecedented,” he wrote. “It was also heavily concentrated in a few cities with large African-American populations.”
Rosenfeld considered three competing explanations for the murder spike: (1) expanding drug markets, (2) declining imprisonment, and (3) the Ferguson effect. “The timing of the increase,” he concluded, “provides stronger support for the Ferguson effect explanation, in either of its versions, than for explanations attributing the homicide rise to expanding drug markets or declining imprisonment.”
Writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, Mac Donald reminds us that the victims of surging crime in cities such as Baltimore and Chicago are overwhelmingly black. Yet when Donald Trump has expressed sympathy with people living in high-crime neighborhoods, and called for a restoration of basic law and order, critics have attacked his remarks as racist.
Here’s Mac Donald:
In Baltimore, 45 people were killed in July 2015, 43 of them black. In Chicago, 2,460 blacks were shot last year, lethally or non-lethally, according to the city’s police department. That’s nearly seven a day. Seventy-eight white residents were shot in 2015, though the white share of the Chicago population is about the same as the black share. Blacks in Chicago were 18 times more likely to be killed last year than whites, up from eight times more likely in 2005.
Police shootings are a minute fraction of this carnage. So far this year in Chicago, they account for about 0.5% of all shootings. Four studies published this year alone have further undercut the claim that we are living through an epidemic of racially biased policing shootings. Harvard economist Roland Fryer, for example, examined data from Dallas, Austin, Houston, Los Angeles and six Florida counties. He found no evidence of racial discrimination in police shootings; officers in Houston were nearly 24% less likely to shoot blacks than whites.
When Mr. Trump pledges to restore law and order, he is not promising to “protect White America,” in Sally Kohn’s words. He is addressing a problem that whites could easily ignore, if they were the bigots that the Black Lives Matter movement and nearly the whole of academia make them out to be.
Strangely, it is Mr. Obama and Black Lives Matter sympathizers who have turned their eyes from the rising black victimization. FBI Director James Comey warned last October that the “chill wind blowing through American law enforcement” was leading to a “huge increase” in urban homicides and shootings. Mr. Obama promptly accused him of “cherry-picking data” and having a “political agenda.”
After Mr. Trump drew attention in his convention speech to the rising urban violence, President Obama again dismissed the casualties as merely an “uptick in murders and violent crime in some cities.” It is hard not to translate this is as: white lives matter; black lives, not so much.
Mr. Trump’s call to restore law and order recognizes the right of inner-city residents to enjoy the same freedom from fear that the rest of America now takes for granted, thanks to the 20-year decline in crime brought on by the proactive policing revolution of the 1990s. Mr. Trump has issued a much-needed warning that the antipolice narrative is putting black lives in jeopardy and undercutting the foundation of a civilized society. It is a message he should amplify.
To read the whole thing, go here.