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September 1, 2015

Guns, gangs, ganja, going after police ... are there obvious lessons from 2015 homicide spikes?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy front-page New York Times article spotlighting the notable spike in homicides in many US cities so far in 2015.  The article is headlined "Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities," and here are excerpts:

Cities across the nation are seeing a startling rise in murders after years of declines, and few places have witnessed a shift as precipitous as this city.  With the summer not yet over, 104 people have been killed this year — after 86 homicides in all of 2014.

More than 30 other cities have also reported increases in violence from a year ago. In New Orleans, 120 people had been killed by late August, compared with 98 during the same period a year earlier.  In Baltimore, homicides had hit 215, up from 138 at the same point in 2014. In Washington, the toll was 105, compared with 73 people a year ago. And in St. Louis, 136 people had been killed this year, a 60 percent rise from the 85 murders the city had by the same time last year.

Law enforcement experts say disparate factors are at play in different cities, though no one is claiming to know for sure why murder rates are climbing.  Some officials say intense national scrutiny of the use of force by the police has made officers less aggressive and emboldened criminals, though many experts dispute that theory.

Rivalries among organized street gangs, often over drug turf, and the availability of guns are cited as major factors in some cities, including Chicago.  But more commonly, many top police officials say they are seeing a growing willingness among disenchanted young men in poor neighborhoods to use violence to settle ordinary disputes....

Urban bloodshed — as well as the overall violent crime rate — remains far below the peaks of the late 1980s and early ’90s, and criminologists say it is too early to draw broad conclusions from the recent numbers.  In some cities, including Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Newark, homicides remain at a relatively steady rate this year.

Yet with at least 35 of the nation’s cities reporting increases in murders, violent crimes or both, according to a recent survey, the spikes are raising alarm among urban police chiefs. The uptick prompted an urgent summit meeting in August of more than 70 officials from some of the nation’s largest cities.  A Justice Department initiative is scheduled to address the rising homicide rates as part of a conference in September....

The police superintendent in Chicago, Garry McCarthy, said he thought an abundance of guns was a major factor in his city’s homicide spike.  Even as officials in both parties are calling for reducing the prison population, he insisted that gun offenders should face stiffer penalties.  “Across the country, we’ve all found it’s not the individual who never committed a crime before suddenly killing somebody,” Mr. McCarthy said on Monday. “It’s the repeat offenders. It’s the same people over and over again.”

Among some experts and rank­and­file officers, the notion that less aggressive policing has emboldened criminals — known as the “Ferguson effect” in some circles — is a popular theory for the uptick in violence.  “The equilibrium has changed between police and offenders,” said Alfred Blumstein, a professor and a criminologist at Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University.

Others doubt the theory or say data has not emerged to prove it.  Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist from the University of Missouri­-St. Louis, said homicides in St. Louis, for instance, had already begun an arc upward in 2014 before a white police officer killed an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, in nearby Ferguson.  That data, he said, suggests that other factors may be in play.

Less debated is the sense among police officials that more young people are settling their disputes, including one started on Facebook, with guns....

In New Orleans, Michael S. Harrison, the police superintendent, said the city’s rise in homicides did not appear to reflect any increase in gang violence or robberies of strangers, but rather involved killings inside homes and cars by people who know their victims — particularly difficult crimes to predict or prevent....

In New York, there have been a larger number of gang­-related killings, Stephen Davis, the department’s top spokesman, said.  But he also said many homicides remained unexplained, the result of disputes with murky origins.  “There are a lot of murders that happen in the spur of the moment,” Mr. Davis said.

Especially because 2014 was a year with record-low homicide rates in many jurisdictions, I am not too surprised (though I am much troubled) by these new homicide data. I share the view that it is too early to draw any firm conclusions as to what is causing or what should be done about this uptick in deadly urban violence.  But I also think it is not too early for researchers to be asking a lot of hard questions about what sets of legal and social factors which were previously successful in reducing homicide rates are now proving less effective.

Astute readers should see that I threw ganja into the alliterative mix of factors in the title of this post because changes in national marijuana policies and practices are among the legal and social factors that I have been watching closely lately in relation to crime rates.  This New York Times article does not discuss this factor — or many others crime and punishment factors like increases in opioid addiction, or reduced use of the death penalty — surely because there are so many different and hard-to-track factors which might play some role in any changing nationwide  crimes patterns.

September 1, 2015 at 09:10 AM | Permalink


The most obvious lesson? This is impossible for the lawyer to see, but is self evident to the ordinary person. This increase in murders is the first fruit of Booker. It was delayed by the drop in the fecundity of the super predators now being released by the bus load, and by the usual 5 to 10 years a law needs to percolate to street level.

Impeach the entire Supreme Court, make the judicial reforms I have proposed, and exclude anyone who has passed 1L from sitting on it by constitutional amendment.

Arm law abiding citizens, and make it a summary offense to fail to fire on a violent criminal. Anyone killing a violent criminal gets a cash reward instead of being prosecuted and having his life ruined. Any prosecutor who goes after the killer of a violent criminal gets fired. Any judge who allows such a case to proceed, gets impeached. If it has a lifetime appointment, it gets assigned to a desk in the basement with the boiler.

Crush the treasonous horrifying totally pro-violent criminal, hierarchy of the lawyer profession. Arrest them, try them, execute the entire 25,000 internal traitors. Then kill all the violent criminals and end almost all violent crime in the nation by attrition. Half are murdered already. Finish the job and kill the other half. That proposal includes killing all murderers with lawyer invented, fictitious, mitigating factors that are really aggravating factors.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 1, 2015 4:34:22 PM

"[t]he drop in the fecundity of the super predators"?

Imprisonment as a form of Eugenics?

Posted by: Fred | Sep 1, 2015 4:58:43 PM

"Others doubt the theory or say data has not emerged to prove it. Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist from the University of Missouri­-St. Louis, said homicides in St. Louis, for instance, had already begun an arc upward in 2014 before a white police officer killed an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, in nearby Ferguson. That data, he said, suggests that other factors may be in play."

Get a load of this biased crap. A more accurate depiction of the Brown-Wilson encounter: before a white police officer killed a robbery suspect, Michael Brown, who was attacking him.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 1, 2015 7:45:19 PM


As to the Brown-Wilson encounter, I suggest you read Wilson's grand jury testimony. Any criminal lawyer, prosecutor or defense, would shred it on cross. I acknowledge that your characterization, "a white police officer killed a robbery suspect, Michael Brown, who was attacking him", would be a fair distillation of that testimony. But that characterization is an opening statement, which obviously would be very powerful in that context. However, as a closing argument, it would be a lot less powerful after Wilson had been subjected to cross and could even be damaging if the cross were effective.

Please understand I'm not picking sides as between Brown and Wilson or any of the other issues that arose from this case. I'm just looking at Wilson's grand jury testimony as a practitioner - as his lawyer would I recommend that he testify and how would I prepare him if he did and as the prosecutor how I would cross him and structure my rebuttal case. The defense attorney's problems would be much greater than the prosecutor's.

Posted by: Fred | Sep 1, 2015 8:46:56 PM

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