There are murders. There are shootings. They happened after the protests, riots and lootings in Minneapolis following the killing of George Floyd. Paul Cassell calls it the “Minneapolis Effect.”
The homicide spikes began in late May. Before May 28, Chicago had almost the same number of homicides as in 2019. Then, on May 31, 18 people were murdered in Chicago—the city’s most violent day in six decades. Violence continued through the summer. July was Chicago’s most violent month in 28 years. As of Sept. 1, murder is up 52% for the year, according to Chicago Police Department data.
What changed in late May? The antipolice protests that began across the country around May 27 appear to have resulted in a decline in policing directed at gun violence, producing—perhaps unsurprisingly—an increase in shootings.
But that’s half a story, because shootings and murders increased, but not other crimes.
Chicago’s shooting spike reflects what is happening in many major cities across the country. Researchers have identified a “structural break” in homicide numbers, beginning in the last week of May. Trends for most other major crime categories have remained generally stable or moved slightly downward.
Cassell explains the increase in shootings and murders as a direct consequence of the anti-police protests.
The sequence of events is straightforward. George Floyd’s death while in police custody in Minneapolis produced demonstrations against the police in major cities from coast to coast. As a result, officers in most cities had to be redeployed from their normal duties to help manage the protests, some of which turned violent.
Even as the demonstrations abated, what is commonly called “proactive” policing declined. Police department data show that street and vehicle stops in Minneapolis and Philadelphia dropped sharply in June. In Chicago and New York, arrests declined steeply. And in cities around the country, both law-enforcement and citizen reports suggest a general reluctance by officers to engage in hot-spot and other enforcement efforts that are most effective in deterring gun violence.
Notably absent from this sanitary connection is that police haven’t been directed to stop doing their job. There has been no order from on high telling them to not engage in “proactive” policing or, if you’re less adoring of police than Cassell, just doing the banal work of active policing in accordance with law and with respect toward the constitutional rights of people that some of us would really like to see as part of the job.
If cops’ feelings are hurt, such that they don’t want to do the job of policing because someone won’t give them a tummy rub, or the “Ferguson Effect” invoked by Heather McDonald to excuse the cops from not earning their paycheck, that’s a separate problem. Tossing black kids against walls just in case they might have a gun on them might be called “proactive” policing by some like Cassell, but that’s not the alternative to an unofficial slowdown by cops who just don’t feel like trying too hard when the public doesn’t show them the love they desire.
My recent research quantifies the size of this summer’s Minneapolis Effect, estimating that reduced proactive policing resulted in about 710 more homicides and 2,800 more shootings in June and July alone. The victims of these crimes are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic, often living in disadvantaged and low-income neighborhoods.
It would be one thing if the shootings, the killings, were directed against the people who are being blamed for “systemic racism,” but that’s not the case now anymore than it was the case the last time murders were high.
But why not robberies? Why not other serious crimes? Why only shootings and murders? And why in black and Hispanic communities? Shootings are either about one person wanting to harm another person for some personal issue, or fights over turf. Other crimes like robberies are about getting stuff for free. Why don’t people want free stuff, but want dead people?
The cops failing to do their job may or may not be the problem, and if it’s happening, a management problem in need of fixing. But nothing about Cassell’s “Minneapolis Effect” explains why murders are up and not the other serious crimes that serve to get people free stuff. While giving the phenomenon a name might be a cool way for Cassell to ride on Heather McDonald’s coattails, it fails miserably to explain what’s happening at the moment. And what’s happening at the moment makes no sense.