Ever since I read that both Richard Nixon and Michael Bloomberg owed their political success in no small part to exploiting the public’s fear of crime, I have been alert to the possibility that rising crime rates would again be used for political purposes. No great stretch, except that plummeting crime rates have been the actual trend over the past two decades (many say because of state-level laws increasingly recognizing gun rights). Seeing no sign of a change in direction in the low-crime trend, I put this little observation in my back pocket for when signs of a change might bubble up to the surface. So when, in late 2014, in the wake of Ferguson, Obama called for a kinder, gentler approach to inner city policing, or something to that effect, I immediately smelled a rat. From my December 6, 2014 show, hour 2, minute 14:00 or so…
“What Obama is calling for, which is this reassessing of how police work in inner cities, is definitely a set up and it will result in a lower quality of life for the people in the inner cities. I think he’s talking about trying to have more “fairness,” kinder and gentler cops, and what i think will probably happen is they will lessen their abilities to enforce the laws and make those communities less safe for the poor people who have to live in dangerous areas because they’re poor.”
(Around that time marker in the show, I also anticipate these issues as being used to promote police cameras, an increase in the surveillance state, a more nationalized police force and increased gun control, especially in inner cities.)
When government initiatives have results other than those cited as their goals when implemented, those results are usually called “unintended consequences.” Not only do I think this explanation is often willfully naive, but when it’s clear what the consequences will be from the first moment the initiative is suggested, it’s downright disingenuous to claim these were not intended consequences. That’s what’s happening here, in my opinion, which I noticed and noted immediately when Baltimore experienced a spike in crime after the increasingly suspicious Freddie Gray narrative unfolded and resulted in police pullback.
The operation continues to unfold and reach national proportions, as demonstrated in today’s Wall Street Journal:
The Nationwide Crime Wave Is Building
As the homicide rate keeps rising in many cities, even some who dismissed the ‘Ferguson effect’ admit the phenomenon is real.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey has again drawn the wrath of the White House for calling attention to the rising violence in urban areas. Homicides increased 9% in the largest 63 cities in the first quarter of 2016; nonfatal shootings were up 21%, according to a Major Cities Chiefs Association survey. Those increases come on top of last year’s 17% rise in homicides in the 56 biggest U.S. cities, with 10 heavily black cities showing murder spikes above 60%.
“I was very worried about it last fall,” Mr. Comey told a May 11 news conference. “And I am in many ways more worried” now, he said, because the violent-crime rate is going up even faster this year.
Mr. Comey’s sin, according to the White House, was to posit that this climbing urban violence was the result of a falloff in proactive policing, a hypothesis I first put forward in these pages last year, dubbing it the “Ferguson effect.” The FBI director used the term “viral video effect,” but it is a distinction without a difference. “There’s a perception,” Mr. Comey said during his news conference, “that police are less likely to do the marginal additional policing that suppresses crime—the getting out of your car at 2 in the morning and saying to a group of guys, ‘What are you doing here?’ ”
Ultimately, denial of the Ferguson effect is driven by a refusal to acknowledge the connection between proactive policing and public safety. Until the urban family is reconstituted, law-abiding residents of high-crime neighborhoods will need the police to maintain public order in the midst of profound social breakdown.
Of course, “the urban family” will never be “reconstituted” and the desired goal of endangering the most vulnerable people through purposeful dereliction of duty in order to generate calls for bigger, more centralized and more invasive government, is–predictably–well on its way to being accomplished. Both the policies implemented by the “left” and the outrage manufactured by the “right” will dovetail in bigger, more powerful, more controlling government. What else is new?
Update (7/20/2016): Several times on the air I mentioned that I thought calls for police reform had the goal of increasing crime to stimulate demands for more authoritarian government. I actually cited the Nixon and Bloomberg campaigns as examples of this powerful political tool that would likely be resuscitated despite a steady decline in crime over the past two decades. Then today, I was bowled over to read such a perfect fruition of my prediction. My point is not to say I told you so, but to point out that this stuff are the foreseeable consequences of policies and story lines not because they are unintended, but because they are intended:
Law and Order: 1968 and Today
Trump makes no secret of using the Nixon playbook. But how do the crime rate and national mood back then compare with 2016’s?