If you’re trying to process all those political ads you’re seeing about crime, you’d better look at the facts.
First of all, why are we hearing about this now?
Republican-appointed justices just canceled the right to abortion. Most Republicans oppose acting to protect us from climate change. And with its embrace of the January 6 coup attempt, the GOP no longer supports American constitutional democracy.
But are Republicans running on that unpopular platform? Not really. Instead, they’ve unleashed a wave of ads claiming there’s a crime wave.
The reality is more complex.
Crime rates in America have dropped dramatically since the 1990s, falling from a peak of 750 violent crimes for every 100,000 people under George H. W. Bush to a low of 360 under Barack Obama.
Violent crime has slightly risen more recently, increasing 5 percent during the last year of Donald Trump’s presidency. Those rates continued rising during President Biden’s first year in office. Robberies have increased somewhat this year, but so far violent crimes like homicides and rapes are down in most major cities.
Should we blame Donald Trump for the increase in murders during his final year as president? Or for the fact that overall crime rates went up 30 percent during his last two years?
What about the fact that states that voted for Trump in 2020 had murder rates 40 percent higher than those won by Joe Biden?
The reality is that many factors affect the rise and fall of crime rates. And they don’t have much to do with who’s in the White House, Congress, or the governor’s mansion.
They also don’t have much to do with how many people are in jail. Cities with progressive prosecutors have scaled back prosecutions for nonviolent misdemeanors, diverted defendants to treatment programs, and recommended against cash bail. These cities don’t have significantly different crime rates from other cities.
And while Republicans try to tie the proposal to “de-fund the police” to the Democratic Party, no Democratic candidate has actually called for eliminating police funding. House Democrats passed a bill just last month granting $300 million to local police departments.
Republican efforts to tie crime to the Black Lives Matter movement or race are also baseless — more than 93 percent of the racial justice demonstrations were peaceful. What Republicans really want their white voters to think is that Black criminals are out to get them — another racist lie.
What might actually contribute to violent crime? Guns. Gun ownership jumped by a record amount in 2020, and states with the highest rates of gun ownership have the highest crime rates.
Combine this with the disruptions in life caused by the pandemic, and you have a formula for rising crime.
“People and communities faced challenges in meeting basic needs” throughout the worst of the pandemic, the Brennan Center for Justice notes. “Many endured trauma caused by sickness and death,” especially when parents or caregivers died from COVID-19.
“These sudden and unprecedented hardships jeopardized the stability of families and communities alike,” the Brennan report continues. “They may have upset the informal social processes — such as connections to neighbors, family members, and employers — that some researchers believe help keep neighborhoods safe.”
Studies also indicate that the trauma and isolation created by the pandemic contributed to an increase in antisocial behavior at all levels of society, from aggressive driving to heavy alcohol and drug use.
Republicans have nothing to say about the gun problem, other than promoting the wider dissemination of firearms. They have nothing to say about the injuries society suffered from the pandemic, other than continued denial. And in the end they have nothing meaningful to say about addressing crime.
America faces giant challenges, from climate change to inequality to the menace of political violence. The GOP’s refusal to address these problems is the real crime wave.
Mitchell Zimmerman is an attorney, longtime social activist, and author of the anti-racism thriller Mississippi Reckoning. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.