Politics

The Trifecta of Villainy

'Ferguson effect,' criminal justice reform, opioid epidemic are creating a violent crime explosion

In the last 35 days in the nation’s capital, a woman was raped at knifepoint on the Metro at 10 a.m., a young girl was beaten viciously by a gang of teenagers as onlookers did nothing, and in one weekend alone the city saw seven shootings and three stabbings.

These vicious crimes in the nation’s capital are a small snapshot of the escalating crisis of violent crime in America. And this may only be the calm before a much worse storm, according to a new report from the Justice Department released on June 15.

A growing anti-law enforcement culture combined with liberal justice reform and a spiraling drug crisis have created the conditions for an explosion of violence.

A growing anti-law enforcement culture combined with liberal justice reform and a spiraling drug crisis have created the conditions for an explosion of violence.

“We are in the midst of a very abrupt, precipitous and large crime increase,” wrote Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, who authored the report.

The report reveals that the murder rate in the nation’s 56 largest cities spiked by an average of 17 percent in 2015. Homicides in 18 of those cities increased by over 25 percent, and in 12 cities actually increased by over 50 percent.

Rosenfeld identifies “three plausible explanations of the homicide rise: the expansion of urban drug markets, failing imprisonment rates, and the effects of widely publicized and controversial incidents of the use of force by the police against minority citizens.”

The so-called “Ferguson effect” is surely a major factor in the current crime explosion. It may also partially explain why this “real and nearly unprecedented” homicide increase is “also heavily concentrated in a few cities with large African-American populations.”

Much has been written on the demoralizing effects that anti-police rhetoric and movements like Black Lives Matter have on police officers and policing. The fear of allegations of racism and media-driven show trials makes officers hesitant to do their jobs, especially if the suspected criminal is black.

But Rosenfeld identifies another Ferguson effect. Thanks to subversive movements like Black Lives Matter, policing in and of itself has become delegitimized.

“When people do not perceive the police to be legitimate in their practices and actions, crime rates tend to increase,” Rosenfeld told The Washington Post. “They don’t believe the police are there to protect them, and that leads to increases in retaliatory killings.”

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Rosenfeld also notes in his report that an anti-law-enforcement climate emboldens criminals. “Predatory violence increases because offenders believe victims and witnesses will not contact the police,” he said.

Unfortunately, the increase in violence that rocked the country in 2015 seems only to grow. In April it was revealed that murders in Chicago had increased by about 72 percent — while shootings were up over 88 percent — in the first three months of the year compared to the same period in 2015.

It’s not just Chicago that continues to suffer from a staggering increase in violent crime. A report released by the Major Cities Chiefs Association in mid-May revealed that homicide rates increased in around 30 cities across the country.

The report examined 63 cities. Nearly half of those cities showed marked increases in murders compared to the first quarter of 2015, while some actually saw an increase in murders in 2016 after years of decline.

In total, those cities saw 1,365 homicides from January through March 2016, compared to 1,251 in that same period in 2015. Rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, and non-fatal shootings were also up, rising from a total of 3,855 in the first three months of 2015 to 4,673 in the first quarter of 2016.

But the anti-cop climate, drug problem, and falling prison rates are only set to continue, and this violence will get worse. Opioid abuse is at a record high. More Americans died of drug overdoses in 2014 than in any previous year, and while final numbers for 2015 are unavailable, preliminary data suggests the rate of drug overdoses will be just as high — or higher.

Moreover, calls to release even more hardened criminals from prison only grow louder. Indeed, criminal justice reform is one of the few things on which there is bipartisan agreement. In states across the country — from Texas to Louisiana to Detroit — politicians on both sides are pushing hard for criminal justice reform, while similar efforts are underway at the federal level.

In states like Connecticut, reforms have already opened a flood of dangerous criminals back onto the streets. In just four years after the adoption of an early prison release program, over 21,000 criminals were let out of jail early in that state.

The anti-law enforcement rhetoric of the left does not look like it will soon disappear, and the epidemic of drug use in America continues unabated. Meanwhile, voices across the country are advocating to release more and more criminals into that environment. In five or ten years, the country may very well look back on 2015 as a year of relatively low crime.

The nation may stand on the precipice of a massive epidemic wave of violent crime, a tipping point after nearly 20 years of unbroken decline nationwide.

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