Since the death of George Floyd last spring, American cities from coast to coast have witnessed an explosion of violence. Murders have soared everywhere from New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., to Houston, Memphis, and Atlanta, to Columbus, Louisville, and Cincinnati, to Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis, to Kansas City, Wichita, and St. Louis, to Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon.
“We’re going to see the biggest one-year increase in homicides and shootings in this country . . . in decades,” Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald told Fox News host Tucker Carlson on December 1.
At first, many on the Left denied that any serious problem existed. Indeed, Democrats spent much of the summer ignoring, downplaying, or excusing the initial George Floyd riots. They were more focused on decrying “systemic racism” and pushing to cut police budgets. Democratic leaders only changed their tune in late August, amid the destruction in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Even after Kenosha, prominent left-wing pundits continued to minimize the extent of urban disorder.
“The political question of the day is whether Trump can win politically by hammering on a nonexistent crisis of order in America’s cities,” Paul Krugman of the New York Times wrote on September 2.
Nonexistent? Crime analyst Jeff Asher recently examined the available homicide data for 51 U.S. cities through September, October, or November. He found that murders had increased by around 36 percent compared with the same period in 2019.
“Big cities tend to overstate national trends in crime,” Asher noted, “but the national change in murder in 2020 will be historically awful.”
Should we blame the spike on COVID-19? Many have made that argument. If the surge in violence stemmed from the pandemic and/or the government’s response, it would have started in late March, April, or early May, at the height of the lockdowns. And to be sure, some cities did experience a large increase in murders between March and April. But the broader, nationwide increase began after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
Indeed, when researchers Richard Rosenfeld and Ernesto Lopez of the University of Missouri–St. Louis examined the data from 27 cities during the pandemic period, they reached the following conclusion:
“Homicides and aggravated assaults rose beginning in late May and June 2020. Homicide rates between June and August of 2020 increased by 53% over the same period in 2019, and aggravated assaults went up by 14% — both increases were statistically significant.”
When surveying the violence, it’s only appropriate to start in the city where Floyd died. Minneapolis had 48 murders in all of 2019. By late November, it had already recorded 79 murders in 2020.
Other crime has skyrocketed as well. For example, carjackings rose by an incredible 537 percent last month compared with November 2019. As the Minneapolis Star Tribune has noted, the city’s police department “didn’t specifically track this type of crime until Sept. 22 because they were so infrequent.”
One recent victim, a woman named Susie Passons, was physically assaulted, robbed, and carjacked in broad daylight by four teenagers.
“Women do not feel safe in Minneapolis,” Passons told the Star Tribune. “Our once thriving city has become an utterly frightening place to live.”
A wave of police departures has compounded the sense of danger: As of December 1, more than 160 Minneapolis police officers had either permanently or temporarily left the force in 2020, according to Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.
It’s hard to blame them. Officer morale plummeted following the George Floyd riots and the disgraceful response from local officials. Despite the harrowing levels of violence, a majority of Minneapolis City Council members have called for defunding and dismantling the entire police department. Last month, the council was forced to allocate $500,000 to hire additional officers, due to the current shortages. Earlier today, however, it voted to cut the 2021 police budget by close to $8 million.
“About $5 million of that money,” the Washington Post observes, “came from cuts to a budget for police overtime — a move that Police Chief Medaria Arradondo had strongly discouraged, calling overtime a ‘necessity’ for the department as it copes with staffing shortages and prepares for the trial of the four former police officers charged in Floyd’s death.”
There has also been a flurry of police departures in New York City: Fox News reported that NYPD retirements had increased by 87 percent as of October 6. Like their brethren in Minneapolis, New York cops have been demoralized by surging crime and a lack of support from elected leaders.
“Lack of support” is putting it charitably: Many Gotham officials have treated the police with naked contempt. Over the summer, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council agreed to slash roughly $1 billion from the NYPD budget. They made this decision shortly after widespread rioting damaged hundreds of city businesses and unleashed a dramatic rise in shootings.
“We normally see a 30 percent increase in shootings in the summer,” former NYPD crime-analyst supervisor Christopher Herrmann recently told Insider. “This year it was a 150 percent, 180 percent increase. It was just out of control.”
Shootings continued to increase by triple-digit percentages, year over year, in September, October, and November.
The overall crime stats for 2020 show just how much New York has backslid: Through November 29, murders were up by 38 percent, burglaries were up by 42 percent, car thefts were up by 67 percent, shooting incidents were up by 96 percent, and the number of shooting victims was up by 101 percent.
Concerns over public disorder help explain why the Big Apple will have a Republican in its congressional delegation come January. They also help explain the ongoing exodus of city residents.
Until very recently, New York was the premier symbol of America’s 21st-century urban renaissance. Chicago, by contrast, has long been infamous for its high murder rate. Yet even by Windy City standards, the numbers for 2020 are horrific.
By Columbus Day, Chicago had already suffered more murders this year than New York did in all of 2018 and 2019 combined — despite having only a third of New York’s population.
Through December 6, shooting incidents in Chicago were up by 54 percent, and murders were up by 55 percent. Amazingly, writes Frank Main of the Chicago Sun-Times, a single police district on the West Side — covering less than six square miles — has had more homicides than the entire city of Minneapolis.
To make things even worse, violence directed at city police officers has increased by almost 300 percent this year, according to Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown.
Superintendent Brown and other big-city police chiefs hold weekly calls to discuss crime trends and prevention strategies. One participant is interim Oakland Police Chief Susan Manheimer.
On October 23, Chief Manheimer lamented “the unprecedented, unchartered spike in violence” that her city had experienced in 2020. The spike, she added, “has been mirrored nationally in most of our major cities. I know this because I am on the major-city-chiefs calls, weekly. And I can tell you that, nationally, depending on which week you look at, the spike in gun violence — homicides, shootings, and assaults with a firearm have spiked anywhere from 50 to 80 percent.”
By the end of November, Philadelphia had already witnessed more murders in 2020 than in any year since 1990. Columbus, Memphis, Louisville, Milwaukee, and Kansas City have each set an all-time record for aggregate homicides. (“For us, this is beyond a state of emergency,” Carmen Pitre, head of Milwaukee’s Sojourner Family Peace Center, recently told a local Fox affiliate.) St. Louis may well surpass its own record for aggregate homicides; either way, it has already reached its highest murder rate ever.
“Even if no one else is killed in St. Louis for the rest of the year,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on November 25, “a tally of 241 dead gives the city a record homicide rate of 80 killings per 100,000 residents. It’s a startling number that appears to exceed the rate for any other large U.S. city.”
The urban murder crisis will not end with a COVID-19 vaccine, because it has relatively little to do with COVID. It has a lot to do with the anti-police movement, which gained stunning power and momentum following the death of George Floyd. By painting cops as “systemically racist” and demanding that policymakers cut their budgets, the activists and their supporters have discouraged proactive policing and emboldened criminals. The results have been catastrophic, especially for the poorest, most heavily African-American neighborhoods in our cities.
If the past six months have taught us anything, it’s that large swathes of urban America need more policing rather than less. Far too many political leaders are afraid to say that.