It is remarkable how little black lives matter when they have not been taken by a police officer. The mainstream media is foaming at the mouth over Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s warnings about rising crime during his Thursday night convention speech. Trump pointed out that homicides were up nearly 17 percent in the largest 50 cities. (The latest research actually shows a nearly 17 percent increase in the 56 largest cities). There have been more than 2,000 shooting victims this year in Chicago, he said, and more than 3,600 killed in Chicago since President Obama took office.
The overwhelming majority of the victims in this post-Ferguson shooting and homicide surge have been black. In Baltimore, for example, 45 people were killed in July 2015 alone; 43 of them were black. Baltimore’s per capita murder rate was the highest in its history in 2015. In Chicago, 2,460 blacks were shot in 2015–lethally or non-lethally–or nearly seven blacks a day. By contrast, 78 whites were shot in Chicago, or one every 4.6 days. Twelve cities with large black populations saw murders rise anywhere from 54 percent–in the case of Washington, D.C.–to 90 percent, in Cleveland.
Trump’s concern about rising crime is therefore not a concern about white victims and the loss of white life. Rather, it is a concern about black lives. As Trump said: “[Y]oung Americans in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Ferguson . . . have as much of a right to live out their dreams as any other child America.” Hint to the media: He was referring to black children in those cities, such as the ten children under the age of ten killed in Baltimore last year; the nine-year-old girl fatally shot while doing homework on her mother’s bed in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2015; and the nine-year-old boy in Chicago lured into an alley and killed by his father’s gang enemies in November 2015.
And yet the media is twisting itself into knots trying to downplay and trivialize the crime increase. Isn’t it white Republicans (and, of course, the cops) who are supposed to be indifferent to black lives? The Washington Post and Vox.com rushed out fact checkers to recycle many of the failed arguments against what I have called the “Ferguson effect”–the crime increase resulting from cops pulling back from proactive policing. Yes, crime is up, these journalists say, but it’s not as bad as it was years ago. “Even if the nationwide murder rate increased by 17 percent in 2015, that rate would remain far, far below the peaks of the 1960s and ’70s and below any period in the ’90’s,” argues Vox. But a crime decrease that took two decades to achieve is not going to be reversed completely in two years. If present trends continue, however, we could see that unprecedented and unpredicted crime decline of 50 percent disappear in a few more years.
Trump’s speech was a bold and important shift in the prevailing discourse about policing and crime. It couldn’t have represented a sharper distinction from the Obama-Clinton message, relentlessly delivered, that our criminal justice system and our nation’s police are infected with racial bias. Trump is absolutely right that law and order is at stake. The elites hear “law and order” rhetoric as code words for racism. They are the ones, however, who are turning their eyes away from the black bodies piling up on the streets.