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July 5, 2021

Important perspectives as rising homicides garner ever more attention

In this round up of recommended reading, I noted the the New York magazine article titled, "Progressives Don’t Need to Downplay Rising Homicides."  I wanted to flag the article again in the separate post because I think this piece provides particularly useful perspectives on the ever-growing concerns about increased homicides in the US and about a variety of reactions thereto.  I highly recommend the piece in full (and its many links), and here I will spotlight just a few of many passages that merit attention (with some links from the original):

At our most peaceful, the United States is an exceptionally murderous nation.

In 2014, America recorded the lowest homicide rate in its history — and the highest homicide rate of any comparably prosperous country.  That year, Americans were more than three times as likely as Western Europeans to die by murder. Like most things in the U.S., this aberrantly high risk of homicide was not distributed equally.  Residents of Washington, D.C., were murdered at eight times the rate of those in Iowa.  Within the District, as in virtually all major U.S. cities, killing was largely quarantined to a select group of politically disempowered, economically dispossessed neighborhoods. Poor Black people did the bulk of the dying.

America’s distribution of violent death has changed little over the past seven years.  But the sum total has risen considerably. In 2019, the U.S. murder rate was about 11 percent higher than it had been in 2014.  We do not yet have an official body count for 2020.  But preliminary data suggests that, across major cities, homicides rose by an average of 30 percent last year — and then jumped another 24 percent through the first few months of this one....

The dismissive posture that many progressives adopt toward coverage of violent crime is motivated by inarguable insights: Americans routinely overestimate the prevalence of crime, a fact that is largely attributable to the media’s “if it bleeds, it leads” modus operandi.  Despite the homicide surge of the past two years, America’s murder rate remains far lower than it was in the 1990s, and mainstream coverage does not always convey this fact.  Even last year, the number of Americans killed by homicide (roughly 20,000) paled in comparison to those killed by more mundane, perennially under-covered social ills such as the tobacco industry (est. 480,000), air pollution (est. 100,000), or lack of health insurance (est. 45,000)....

Progressives aren’t going to get the media to ignore crime for the sake of social justice.  And we aren’t going to persuade the urban working class to disregard rising homicide.  Thus, our best bet for resisting a punitive turn in criminal-justice policy is to convince voters that our approach to public safety is more effective than the pro-carceral status quo.

Happily, the evidence that a progressive anti-crime agenda would outperform America’s traditional draconian one is quite strong.  Contrary to the wishful speculations of some pundits, the past year’s spike in homicide is not attributable to the rise of progressive prosecutors: Murder rates have risen no faster in cities with reformist district attorneys.

Meanwhile, criminological research suggests that:

• Long prison sentences do not deter crime, and are actually counterproductive for public safety.

• Investments in preschool and summer-job programs lower disadvantaged young people’s susceptibility to criminal activity.

• Community-based “violence interrupter” programs can preempt lethal violence.

• Raising wages for “low-skill” workers can reduce recidivism, and thus, pro-labor policies are anti-crime policies.

• If the Medicaid expansion is any guide, then increasing access to affordable health care in general — and free drug treatment in particular — can deliver immediate reductions in both violent and property crimes.

• Laws tightening licensing requirements for handgun purchases have yielded dramatic reductions in firearm homicide rates.

July 5, 2021 at 07:47 PM | Permalink


Many are struggling to understand why the number of homicides is rising in so many places, despite the fact that the rates for so many other crimes are falling. Here in Lexington, Ky., we had 2 more homicides over the July 4th holiday weekend, making 22 homicides so for in 2021. This is a contrast to the record of 34 homicides set in 2020. In Louisville, they had a record 173 homicides in 2020, but have already had more than 100 homicides by the first week of July 2021. In 2020, it took Louisville until August 18th to reach 100 homicides. These are troubling trends. In part, I attribute the rise in homicides to youngsters, 16 to 25, getting their hands on guns more frequently than in past years. I would like to hear the theories of others concerning the widespread rise in homicides presently happening.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jul 6, 2021 7:49:45 AM

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