Common Sense: The Reason For Murders That Aren’t

And you wonder why people are confused?  New York’s former police commissioner, Ray Kelly, justifying the brilliance of his tenure if not his concern for constitutional rights, blames the Ferguson Effect and Mayor de Blasio for the murder epidemic plaguing New York City and elsewhere.

Former Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said last week that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s constraints on the stop-and-frisk strategy of the Bloomberg administration was to blame for the uptick in murders in New York City. Mr. Kelly also attributed the rise in homicides in other cities to a backlash to the killing last year of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.

“Murders are up,” he said in an interview in conjunction with the release of his memoir. “And if you have a propensity to carry a gun and there’s a policy to de-emphasize stop and question and frisk, it’s only common sense you’ll see more people carrying guns and more crime.”

Well sure, alarms immediately go off when Kelly relies on “common sense” as the basis for his claim. But the appeal to common sense still plays well in Peoria and Staten Island, so why not?

“These police officers have been given signals directly and indirectly to stand down and not be as proactive as in the past,” he said. “If they choose to disengage, there’s no penalty. That’s the primary reason for the increase in murder. Police are reacting to what has been happening in Ferguson: They are less willing to engage, and that translates into more violence and more death.”

Certainly seems about right, if you squint hard, forget that these are supposedly people with sufficient training to be allowed to walk around in public with guns and the authority to exercise discretion, and get paid for it.  After all, aren’t the options shoot too soon or shoot too late? It’s not like getting it right was ever a possibility. Let’s not expect too much of cops, as it’s a very hard job.

Except for the fact that this summer proved to be the safest in years in New York City.

The NYPD announced on Wednesday that this summer was the safest New York City has seen in years, according to its data. From June 1 to August 31 there were 82 murders and 345 shootings.

This doesn’t tell the whole story, of course.

Commissioner Bill Bratton said on Morning Joe Tuesday, “Ironically, New York City this past summer, June to end of August … this was the safest summer we’ve had in 25 years in terms of shootings and murders.” However, thanks to an uptick in murders at the beginning of the year, the homicide rate for 2015 is still up 6 percent from last year. There has also been a 5 percent increase in incidents of rape. Major felony crime is down 4 percent overall.

But since the murder rate last year was so low, the increase at the beginning of this year doesn’t tell much either, either about cause or significance.  When you have remarkably few murders in the first place, it takes remarkably little to spike the number. That it dropped down again suggests it was an anomaly. As in, nothing to see here.

But what about that Ferguson Effect that the cops keep harping on?  Cristian Farias does a roundup at Huff Post and shows that it’s nothing more than a myth to confuse the natives.

“Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities,” the headline screamed.

The lede was just as alarming. It spoke of “a startling rise in murders” this year in cities “across the nation,” chief among them Milwaukee, where the increase was said to be “precipitous” — 104 homicides in 2015 thus far, way above the 86 reported for all of 2014.

Oh no, the sky is falling?

The idea of the “Ferguson effect” is a convenient one for police authorities to bandy about, because it deflects attention from the real object of the protests and the unrest — that is, the police themselves, and the constant killings of unarmed Americans. By the magic of that deflection, the protesters somehow become the villains, and police officers become the victims. It’s a sophisticated public-relations device.

But if true, so what? There’s nothing wrong with truth serving a public-relations purpose as well. If anything, that’s actually a good thing. Except it’s not.

Amid the fear, facts make all the difference. And one huge fact that the Times story quickly bustles past is that America, despite recent protests, is still safer than it’s been in decades past. No “new crime wave” is overtaking it. And cops aren’t dying en masse, either.

Says who?

[Bruce] Frederick [took a] look at the facts behind the supposed uptick in murder rates. Frederick concluded that neither he nor the Times had “compelling evidence that there has been a pervasive increase in homicides that is substantively meaningful.”

Or, to put it more simply, the numbers go up and down, but using insignificant fluctuations to manufacture a national trend to create a panic with a cool name that blames those who challenge cops for encouraging their murder and instilling fear of bad press so that cops are too scared to defend themselves from these murdering hordes, is bullshit.

And yet, that didn’t stop Ray Kelly from shooting his mouth off. Or the New York Times from putting the Fergie Effect on the front page, above the fold, or the ABA Journal from dutifully repeating the police PR.  And the myth blossoms into a reality that won’t be easily shaken.

The reality is that a false police narrative of cops being slaughtered in the streets for fear of defending themselves has gained traction by the willing complicity of the media to present it as “common sense.”  And “common sense” is so much easier to believe than the mass of details requiring thought.

The nice folks who really want to believe that the police are there to protect and serve will grasp at any straw that allows them to sleep well at night, believing that our institutions may be imperfect, but still “good.”  For a brief shining moment, they were seeing what they couldn’t deny, that cops kill too quickly, and that dead black bodies were lying in the street too often.

Don’t let the liars win the public relations battle. Lives hang in the balance.