Matthew T. Mangino
July 10, 2015
Crime has not been an issue in U.S. presidential politics in 25 years. In 1988, crime was front and center in Vice President George H.W. Bush’s successful campaign over Massachusetts Gov. Mike Dukakis.
Willie Horton was the lifer who was furloughed and committed a rape while Dukakis was governor. Horton’s furlough was effectively used by Bush in television ads that showed a menacing African-American man going through a revolving prison door.
In 1992, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton made a point of returning to Arkansas to oversee a brain-damaged inmate’s execution during the 1992 presidential campaign.
In 2016, crime and violence will once again be an issue in the presidential race as a result of yet unanalyzed data indicating that the tide may have turned after years of declining crime rates.
According to the USA Today, several major American cities have experienced a dramatic surge in homicides and violent crime during the first half of the year.
Milwaukee, which had one of its lowest annual homicide totals in city history last year, has recorded 80 murders so far this year, more than double the 39 it tallied at the same point last year.
Homicides are up 20 percent in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Violent crime is up 12.7 percent in Los Angeles and 25 percent in Sacramento. In Minneapolis, violent crime rose for the first time in three years — even Fargo, N.D.’s crime rate has jumped above the national average for the first time ever.
Meanwhile, in Chicago the homicide rate increased 19 percent and the number of shooting incidents increased by 21 percent during the first six months of 2015.
In Baltimore, where riots broke out after a suspect, Freddie Gray, died in police custody, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired Police Commissioner Anthony Batts. “We need a change,” Rawlings-Blake announced this week. “This was not an easy decision but it is one that is in the best interest of Baltimore. The people of Baltimore deserve better and we’re going to get better.”
So far this year, Baltimore has recorded 155 homicides, including three people who were killed this week near the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus. The 2015 homicide toll is 50 higher than it was at the same time last year.
Some have suggested that the surge in crime can be attributed to the “Ferguson Effect.” A couple months ago, author Heather MacDonald, wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the prospect of a nationwide crime wave. She wrote, “The nation’s two-decades-long crime decline may be over.”
She blamed protests against police violence in Ferguson and Baltimore for rising crime rates in those and other cities.
Not everyone agrees. Some have suggested that the surge in crime is bunk.
University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist Richard Rosenfeld published a report for the Sentencing Project recently examining whether various factors in the aftermath of alleged police misconduct and heavily publicized protests are driving crime up. He found contradictory evidence, depending on where one looks.
Some cities have not experienced any increase in any major crime, while some have seen a mixed bag and others are seeing crime up across the board. Rosenfeld told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the result is a “cherry picker’s delight” of data.
Berkley professor Franklin Zimring provided some perspective on the idea of “cherry picking” for the New York Daily News. “Let’s start with the uptick in violence in New York City. … At their current rate, killings in New York City would end 2015 as either the third or fourth lowest year in the city’s modern history.”
Radley Balko, who quoted Zimring in a column for the Washington Post, wrote, “Fear of crime is a powerful political motivator.” That is why crime and the money federal, state and local policymakers spend on preventing; prosecuting and punishing it will be political fodder for 2016.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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