Last month, freelance journalist Michael Tracey began traveling around the U.S. to survey the wreckage left behind by the George Floyd riots. In city after city, he encountered the forgotten men and women of urban America.
These are the people — mostly racial and ethnic minorities — who saw their businesses looted and their shops burned. The people whose neighborhoods have witnessed an appalling rise in shootings and murders. The people who are often afraid to let their children play outside. The people who are living through catastrophic social breakdown.
“From large metro areas like Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul, to small and mid-sized cities like Fort Wayne, Indiana and Green Bay, Wisconsin, the number of boarded up, damaged or destroyed buildings I have personally observed — commercial, civic, and residential — is staggering,” Tracey recently reported at the British news site UnHerd.
In a new article posted on Medium, he puts the scale and consequences of the riots into perspective:
“We are now approaching the two-month mark since the riots that erupted across the United States in late May and early June. There is a reasonable argument to be made that these riots were unprecedented in U.S. history — or at the very least, since the 1960s. Yet if one surveyed the national media today, you’d barely even know anything happened. Nor would you likely be aware that those who bore the brunt of the destruction — largely minorities whose sensibilities don’t fit into any neatly-delineated ideological category — are still acutely suffering from the fallout.”
The fallout includes a wave of deadly violence that has engulfed cities nationwide. You’ve probably heard about the bloodshed in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and Minneapolis. But murders have also spiked in Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Denver, Washington, D.C., Boston, Memphis, Louisville, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and other cities.
This violence is inseparable from the movement to demonize, hamstring, and defund the police. Not surprisingly, the relentless attacks on cops — by activists, journalists, and elected officials — have led to a reduction in proactive policing. It’s the same phenomenon that occurred following the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Back then, Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald dubbed it the Ferguson effect. “Today’s violent-crime increase — call it Ferguson Effect 2.0 or the Minneapolis Effect — has come on with a speed and magnitude that make Ferguson 1.0 seem tranquil,” Mac Donald wrote in City Journal earlier this month.
“It’s almost like a nuclear bomb hit the city, and the people who didn’t perish are standing around,” a 16-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department recently told the New York Times. “I’m still surprised that we’ve got cops showing up to work, to be honest.”
For all these reasons — along with the ongoing impact of COVID-19 — we could be on the verge of a mass exodus from U.S. cities. It seems many urban officials have forgotten the lessons America learned so painfully from the 1960s through the early 1990s, when large numbers of inner-city neighborhoods became veritable war zones. (Between 1961 and 1991, America’s overall violent-crime rate increased by 380 percent.) For that matter, cities such as Detroit, Baltimore, and Newark never fully recovered from the riots they experienced more than half a century ago.
Baltimore suffered another major riot in 2015, followed by a “police pullback,” followed by a shocking increase in violence. In 2019, the city’s murder rate reached its highest level in recorded history. Not coincidentally, Baltimore’s population fell below 600,000 for the first time in more than 100 years.
Of course, not everyone can just pick up and move away in response to urban mayhem. Baltimore, Chicago, and other cities are filled with decent, law-abiding people who yearn for — and deserve — safer streets. They are outraged by the death of George Floyd, but they are also outraged by the number of children and others in their neighborhoods who have been victimized by violent crime. Children such as eight-year-old Secoriea Turner in Atlanta. Or three-year-old Shaniya Gilmore in Baltimore. Or one-year-old Davell Gardner in Brooklyn. Or three-year-old Mekhi James, 20-month-old Sincere Gaston, and 10-month-old Ny’Ori Askew in Chicago.
It should be possible — indeed, it most certainly is possible — to implement sensible police reforms and new training programs while continuing to support the proactive policing that save lives. As Mac Donald has written in USA Today, “Cops are desperate for more hands-on tactical training, de-escalation practice, and techniques to control stress. Federal support should focus on such practical training to ensure that officers are prepared for the difficult encounters they face daily.”
Unfortunately, the “woke” revolutionaries treat police officers and federal agents not as partners in safeguarding civilized life, but as enemy combatants. (Witness the rioting in Seattle, Portland, Oakland, and other cities this past weekend.) The activists and their supporters should spend more time speaking with local residents in crime-ravaged communities.
Bottom line: The anti-police movement has made it significantly harder for cops to do their jobs, which has emboldened criminals and contributed to America’s worst increase in homicidal violence in decades. As a result, our urban renaissance has never seemed more tenuous than it does today.