(CNN) — In their rush to punish African-Americans for exercising their First Amendment rights and pushing an end to oppressive law enforcement tactics, defenders of police brutality have lost all touch with common sense.
“As Violence Spikes in Some Cities, Is ‘Ferguson Effect’ to Blame?” asks NBC News. “How many New Yorkers must die before the mayor brings back stop-and-frisk?” blares the New York Post. In the Wall Street Journal, longtime defender of bad cops Heather MacDonald penned an utterly misleading piece on “The New Nationwide Crime Wave” blaming agitation on the part of those upset about the criminal justice system’s failure to hold police responsible for the killing of innocent citizens.
The strategy is simple. First, gin up fears of a new nationwide crime epidemic with cherry-picked or misleading stats. Second, blame the supposed epidemic on protests against police violence or on reforms of policing tactics long sought by black, brown and poor Americans. Just don’t provide any objective evidence of a link.
Do not be fooled — this is nothing more than a deliberate campaign to demean Americans for daring to speak out against unlawful police violence.
Apologists for law enforcement brutality start with hyperbolic claims about a new nationwide crime epidemic. But their arguments are hilariously riddled with holes.
For starters, Heather MacDonald’s piece is a classic example of how apologists cherry-pick the data. Even if crime is increasing in some cities, what about all the others? If it has jumped in certain neighborhoods, what about the others? Is crime staying flat? Is it decreasing? The people shouting loudest about an all-expansive crime wave never say.
Here is something else they never say: Crime reached historically low levels in 2013 and 2014 in many places. So any increase in 2015 is more likely to be a simple “return to the mean.” Like a ball bouncing down the stairs, the yearly numbers will go up and down even as crime rates decline overall.
I could go on. Overall crime is actually down 6.6% in New York City. Small numbers are routinely twisted into scary statistics — one murder in 2014 and three in 2015 could mean violence levels are historically low, but still be presented as a misleading “300% increase.” And statistics are often given completely false interpretations.
The New York Post recently claimed: “You are 45% more likely to be murdered in Bill de Blasio’s Manhattan,” basing their claim on an increase in murders from 11 to 16. This is hysterically bad math. Even if the increase is something other than statistical noise, someone needs to explain to them that a 45% increase does not make every single person 46% more likely to face violence.
I’m reminded of the old Mark Twain line, of unknown origin: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
What then of claims that this alleged “crime wave” is the fault of protesters in Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, and elsewhere? Or that it is the inevitable result of curtailing mass racial profiling and unconstitutional stopping and searching of African-American, Latino, or poor Americans? These claims are even more flimsy.
MacDonald does not even try. She says “the most plausible explanation” is agitation against police departments, but provides exactly zero evidence of this fact. None at all.
Let us actually examine the evidence. The Ferguson protests erupted in the summer of 2014. But by MacDonald’s own admission, crime continued to decrease through the end of the year. Shouldn’t we have an immediate increase, if African-Americans were to blame for lawlessness?
Or take stop-and-frisk in New York. From 2011 to 2013, the number of police stops dropped by 75%, but the number of shootings and murders also decreased, by 29%. Murder in New York City was at a historic low in 2013. In 2014, in de Blasio’s first year in office police stops declined, and yet the murder rate also fell to another historic low.
For better or worse, stop-and frisk has not disappeared, it has simply been curtailed. For more than a decade, the NYPD stopped nearly 4 million people, most of them with black or brown skin. And the gun recovery rate was a pathetic 0.016%. Last year, police stopped only 46,235, but 18% resulted in an arrest or summons, up from 12% in 2013. And even now, black leaders point out that innocent people are still caught up in the police dragnet.
Finally — say that there is, in fact, an increase in crime. Could it not simply be statistical noise after historic lows the past years? Could it have something to do with the eighth year of a struggling economy in which unemployment in communities of color is double that of white America? Could it have something to do with an unseasonably warm year, with more young men out in the streets earlier than ever?
Apologists for police abuse never say. Instead they make the far more tenuous leap that violence must be the result of hurting the feelings of police.
I have no doubt that some police officers feel slighted. And I am also sure that great teachers are hurt when their entire profession is attacked. America’s public servants who protect us abroad, preserve our air and water, and help our seniors with Social Security undoubtedly suffer low morale when they are criticized. But they continue to do their jobs, and no one blames those who spoke up for bad results. By contrast, today, there is compelling evidence and local citizen complaints of deliberate slowdowns on the part of police.
If police stopped and frisked entire Tea Party rallies to catch one militia member, there would be unending screams of oppression. If teens in tricorner hats and “don’t tread on me” shirts were stopped, arrested, beaten, or murdered by law enforcement, it would be widely agreed that it represented government tyranny.
And yet, this has been the reality for many black communities for decades. And when we engage in our constitutional right to protest, the same people who profess to love the Constitution so much declare us responsible for a new nationwide crime wave that may not even exist.
It would be laughable — if it were not so despicable.
Van Jones is president of Dream Corps and Rebuild The Dream, which promote innovative solutions for America’s economy. He was President Barack Obama’s green jobs adviser in 2009. A best-selling author, he is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy. Follow him on Twitter @VanJones68. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.