Is America really in the clutches of a crime “wave” affecting cities and metropolitan areas across the nation, including in previously tranquil locales? Or is this all just manufactured hysteria?
A study recently published by the center-left think tank Third Way suggests the latter. Preliminary crime statistics, provided by law enforcement agencies across the country, show crime in the United States decreased in 2020 relative to 2019, in line with an almost 30-year trend of decline. Crime in the United States remains low relative to the highs reached in the early 1990s, the peak of the last major national crime wave.
Except in one area—violent crime. The study reports that murder alone increased by a jaw-dropping 31 percent, with some reporting jurisdictions indicating increases as high as 91 percent. In addition, the rate of assault rose by 10 percent. The authors attempt to downplay the significance of this alarming development, however, describing murders as “the rarest of crimes.”
This is true. If a rarity has become substantially more frequent, however, is it still rare? As Third Way concedes, murder and assault are serious crimes and foremost on people’s minds with respect to public safety. Furthermore, the study compares 2020 to 2019—when incorporating 2021 into the discussion, a bleaker picture develops, suggesting, while the United States may not be in a crime “wave,” concerns crime may be increasing are real and fully warranted.
This year, cities across the United States have seen either increased or elevated levels of violent crime. Places like Los Angeles (city and county) have seen huge increases, after decades spent as one of the country’s safer metro areas. But even for the locales where rates remained steady year-over-year, one must consider—if violent crime increased in 2020, then is a steady elevated level of crime relative to years past a sign of progress?
In the face of fact, those who consider concerns over crime “hysteria” have only two cards to play—crime is still down from previous highs and that the current spike is “transitory.” On the first point, the implication seems to be that the rise in violent crime is not warranted unless it reaches previous highs. Yet this attitude of reassurance seems not to apply when it comes to mass shootings. Despite their overall statistical infrequency (like murders), mass shootings tend to generate severe moral panic. But, this year, outrage has been relatively muted.
When applying a broad definition of “mass shooting,” there have been 470 such incidents in 2021 alone, resulting in nearly 500 fatalities. Aside from local news, however, these incidents have not generated anything close to the coverage previous incidents like them have spurred. One of the deadliest mass shootings of 2021 was a March 22 incident in Boulder, Colorado—notable because the media zeroed in on the fact the shooter was described as a “white male.” Instead, he turned out to be a male of Middle Eastern descent and the story, which generated heated, racialized reaction from the commentariat, soon evaporated after the correction.
Comparatively, the one shooting which did stir moral alarm was the March 16 Atlanta spa shooting, where the perpetrator was a white male. The moral alarm was attributable to the fact the victims were mostly Asian women, becoming the emblematic incident of the “Stop Asian Hate” movement. Seen as racial backlash to the COVID pandemic, which originated in China, the supposed ongoing wave of violence against those of Asian descent in the United States became heavily politicized. In one such example, a bluntly partisan report from the University of Michigan’s Virulent Hate Project which examined anti-Asian sentiment during the pandemic found “The majority of the offenders were identified as male, white, and, in the case of politicians, affiliated with the Republican Party.”
The report also had a curious admission, however, stating: “Only a small fraction [57 of 679 incidents analyzed] of news articles explicitly identified the race of the individuals who harassed or discriminated against Asian and Asian American people. However, in the few harassment incidents for which the news media explicitly stated the race of the offender, most perpetrators of anti-Asian harassment were reported to be male and white.”
How can the Virulent Hate Project could draw such a broad, sweeping conclusion regarding the perpetrators of “Asian hate,” when, by their own research, only 8 percent of the incidents analyzed specifically indicated the race of said perpetrator and, among that 8 percent, more than one of the stories indicated a race other than white?
The fact is, those attacking Asians are a racially and ethnically diverse bunch. Moreover, the spike in violence in places like Oakland’s Chinatown may have little to do with race at all. Perhaps the diversity of assailants and the lack of a racial motivation was a reason why the story suddenly dropped off the radar after months of prominent coverage. Some of this could be attributed to the nature of the news cycle, but the preeminence of race in every sphere of American society today means there exists a strong market for such stories. Still, it does not dominate headlines like it did earlier this year. The January 6 Capitol riot, however, an incident in which only one person died as a direct result of the activity there (a rioter at the hands of police), is still a major story.
Rule of Law Breaks Down
In the post-Trump era, the mantra of the times is “normalcy” and “transitory.” The former is the destination, the latter the nature of our respective crises. Like inflation, the rise in crime is said to be transitory and will eventually subside, yet there is no support for this assertion other than to repeatedly point out that crime is still down from previous years. This is deeply problematic, as the underlying logic of “transitory” is that Americans effectively should not worry about crime as a societal issue until it reaches early ’90s levels. This is a political position, not a logical nor a practical one, but one cannot sell “normalcy” without “transitory” during a crisis.
In parts of the United States, hopes for normalcy are fading. Some places like Chicago remain as violent as ever, rendering modest increases or decreases in violent crime rates meaningless. Meanwhile, cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco have seen a tremendous wave of crime, which arguably started prior to 2020, but has intensified dramatically into 2021, during the tenure of District Attorneys George Gascón and Chesa Boudin, both of whom, among many habits, exhibit a tendency to release repeat offenders back into society. Recall efforts which cross partisan lines are underway against both DAs, undermining the Left’s narrative that the Right is manufacturing a crisis, as the Third Way report argued. It is a clear signal the citizenry does not buy what the activist-officials are selling.
The product? A breakdown in the rule of law. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has proposed fighting gangs, which outnumber police nine-to-one in the city, by suing them—apparently oblivious to the fact gangsters cannot and certainly will not pay any awards or settlements. Back in the Bay Area, potentially violent criminals are being paid $300 a month to not shoot anyone. Meanwhile, running a small business in the city has become nearly impossible due to crime and citizens are running out of reasons to report offenses.
Portland, Oregon, once judged America’s third-safest city, is seeing “underground governments” emerge due to an absence of authority. Finally, the affluent Buckhead district of Atlanta is fighting to secede and form its own city, citing rising crime and ineffective governance as reasoning. Doing so would be financially devastating for Atlanta, highlighting a major consequence of failing to maintain law and order.
The emerging picture is one where America appears either unable to uphold the rule of law or, worse, is deliberately undermining it. Stories of murder suspects, including parolees, being freed on bond raise questions as to what those in charge are up to. None of this can be discussed without citing COVID, George Floyd, 2020’s tremendous civil unrest, or the “Defund the Police” movement, but, whatever the cause, the authorities do not seem up to the task of stanching the surge in violence. This has serious political implications, to say nothing of public safety. The American Left is more or less firmly in control of governance today, but as seen throughout the country, the public will not tolerate chaos and disorder for long.
It is still too early to say the United States is gripped in a crime wave. It remains to be seen what 2021 statistics show and at least a few years’ worth of data is needed to establish long-term trends. But it is not irrational hysteria, either. All agree there has been, at minimum, a surge in violence throughout the country and the nature of such crimes ought to be alarming to all. More alarming is the fact that the country’s leaders, from the White House to the respective mayors’ offices, have no answers for any of it. Meanwhile, the criminals become more brazen, aware that very little, not even the “Thin Blue Line,” stands in their way.
It may well be that those in charge have no idea what to do. Or they may be gambling on it all being transitory, and normalcy will soon resume. Either way, dangerous times loom on the home front.