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The return of violent crime in the United States to the fore of the political agenda


A shot was fired by an uneasy man in Times Square on Saturday in May, injuring a four-year-old girl shopping for toys with her family. It may also have changed the course of the New York City mayoral race — and changed the national debate on crime and policing.

Within hours, Eric Adams, a retired police captain and mayoral candidate, used the scene as the backdrop for a press conference making his claims that he Law and order filter. Adams rejected activists’ calls to “defund” the police and instead promised to send more officers into the streets to tame the raging gun violence.

Seems to have worked: In Tuesday’s Democratic primary, he took home an award most votes, reinforcing how a contest that began as a debate on how to revive a city stricken by the coronavirus epidemic has been overtaken by concerns about crime and public safety.

The next day, at the White House, President Joseph Biden appeared to sing a similar tune. “Now is not the time to turn our backs on law enforcement,” Biden said, announcing measures to crack down on gun violence — from helping communities hire more police to targeting illegal guns. In an effort to fend off a promising streak of Republican attack, Biden said his administration is “addressing bad actors who are doing bad things to our communities.”

Violent crime, which was waning a generation ago in America, is back on the political agenda after a nationwide wave of shootings and killings.

Homicides are up 18 percent from that point in 2020 — the year homicides rose, too — according to a a sample of 72 cities by New Orleans crime analyst Jeff Asher, and many experts expect the worst to come during the summer.

In New York City, shootings are up 53 percent as of June 20, and more than 100 percent over the past two years. The 1,402 shootings in Chicago over the same period were a 58 percent increase from 2019. In Atlanta, escalating violence has given new impetus to pushing residents of the affluent Buckhead neighborhood to separate from the larger city so they can create their own. Police Department.

Republicans are grasping at the issue, denouncing anarchy in “democratic cities” and blaming progressive demands for police “defunding.” The party this week accused Biden and his fellow Democrats of doing “everything they could to sabotage law enforcement.”

But the violence is widespread and not limited to Democratic-controlled areas. A database maintained by the Gun Violence Archive has recorded 26 mass shootings since June 15—from places like Newark, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., to Aurora, Colorado, Anchorage, Alaska and Albertville, Alabama.

said Mike Lawlor, a professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven who also served as a Democrat in the Connecticut House of Representatives. “Shooting everywhere.”

Most criminal justice experts believe the pandemic has played a role, either by exacerbating economic deprivation, closing courts or trapping young people in crowded neighborhoods with few means of diversion.

William Bratton, who led the New York City and Los Angeles police departments, also erred on some criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing prison populations, which he believed were excessive. Among them: New York’s move to end cash bail for all but the worst crimes.

The most politically charged suggestions for a rise in murders point to anti-police protests over the summer in response to the killing of George Floyd, or a decline in police activity as a result. But the data belies such simple explanations, according to Asher.

He said that the killing increases occurred in cities of all sizes, not just in the places where protests erupted, and he said: “If you do comparing calculations between the places that have had the most protests or have the most violent protests, and the rates of murder increase, there is no relationship over there “.

Bar chart of percentage change in homicides from 2019 to 2020, by demographic group showing more homicides in U.S. cities of all sizes

While shootings and murders have risen, other crimes, such as burglary, have continued to decline over the past year. This led Lawlor to a more accurate theory.

He notes that shootings tend to be concentrated among individuals known to law enforcement and often result from cycles of gang revenge. Police have become adept at reining in them in recent years by identifying potential perpetrators and then recruiting trained community leaders to intervene.

Those face-to-face encounters to gather intelligence and build relationships have not been possible during the pandemic — even less so after last year’s police killing of Floyd that damaged relations between minority communities and law enforcement.

“If a society doesn’t trust the police — and the police abandons the community — then that falls apart,” Lawlor said. Meanwhile, officers left frustrated departments in droves.

For the moderate establishment of the Democratic Party, the escalating violence is a challenge to overcome progressive calls to “defund” — and even abolish — the police while avoiding the aggressive impulses of the 1994 crime bill signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Biden spent much of his last presidential campaign regretting black voters for his earlier support of legislation that brought mandatory provisions, “three-strikes” rules, and a racist-themed debate about “super predators” on city streets. Several Republicans, including Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, have also now lamented.

While Biden promised more cops this week, he also offered funding for job training programs. Not everyone was impressed. Kofi Ademola, a counselor for the Chicago-based anti-violence group Good Kids Mad City, said violence is “good” when it’s concentrated in poor neighborhoods, but when it moves to richer areas, “that’s when it becomes an emergency.”

“Looking at Biden’s plan, you’ll see more dollars going to the police than purported summer jobs or evidence-based work,” he added.

The group doesn’t want more policing, and is instead calling for a city ordinance that would take 2 percent of the police budget, and about $35 million, and spend it on youth employment programs, counseling and mediation, and stopping violence.

Christopher Hayes, a professor of urban studies at Rutgers University, has expressed concern that the most effective policies to reduce violence may not be the easiest to sell to voters.

It’s politically convenient to look at this and say, “Things are out of control. We need to get down on this with a hammer,” Hayes said. The inappropriate thing is to say, ‘A lot of the people involved in this are poor.

Assuming he becomes the next mayor of New York City — the final count is expected within weeks — Adams, who is black, may be the best test case for Democrats’ ability to tackle crime without causing toxic side effects. For months he has been promising voters he has unique experience targeting violent hotspots and removing guns from the streets while at the same time repairing the department and repairing community relations.

As Adams said in a recent interview, “I support closing the Rikers prison (the island prison), but I also support closing the pipeline that feeds the Rikers.”

Soon New Yorkers – and the nation – will see if this is possible.

Additional reporting by James Politi in Washington and Claire Bushey in Chicago



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