FiveThirtyEight & Libertarian — and the Media in General — Can’t Face the Obvious: The “Ferguson Effect” is Likely Happening & Trump May Have a Point About Crime

With 31.5% homicide jump, thousands more people died in the last two years of Obama’s presidency. But let’s not call it a “crime wave” or “unprecedented”?

It appears that FiveThirtyEight is in denial about their own graphs. This one-year spike looks “unprecedented” to me, even if the total murdered in 2016 isn’t “unprecedented.”
Screen capture of Time Magazine’s graph highlighting of a 58% increase in homicide in Chicago as one of the five largest U.S. cities.
This is an ideological distortion by my one-time favorite subversive cartoonist. There are only a handful of unarmed black persons shot and killed annually, just as there are several counterexamples of unarmed white individuals shot and killed. Newsweek may factually report the significant drop to 16 black men (and 1 black woman) out of 48 total killed in 2016 (5% of total killed by cops), but for some reason won’t mention “white” once on this story. If they did, they could accurately write, “More white unarmed people were shot and killed in 2016 than black unarmed people.”
My third time reposting this New York Times graphic I “fixed” on Medium.
Typical rebuttal to Trump Tweets. And it’s obvious why Trump goes after “Chicago” and not other cities — he’s trying to rub Obama and Rahm’s face in it. What’s interesting is that with a 58% increase, Chicago would have been down by Louisville at the bottom if they remained the same as last year. All I ask is: Let’s not downplay the tragedy which was 2016 in Chicago, which is continuing in 2017.

In the United States, white people and black people, as individual demographic sets, are roughly 40% of those in prison and 40% of criminals and crime victims in many categories. But police in 2016 shot and killed just less than 1000 persons — 5% unarmed (down from 9% and 90 total in 2015, according to the Washington Post) — and about 50% were white and 25% were black.

What researchers don’t know is vast. A breakdown in police-community relations after the McDonald shooting could have played a role, but without regular public surveys on the issue, there’s no reliable data to prove the effect. “You could anecdotally look up stories and what you find in the press, but that’s not a particularly scientific way of actually assessing where those relations stand,” he said. Another possible factor is an increase in gang feuds, but for obvious reasons, those are harder for researchers to study.

“That may well explain what’s going on but there’s really no way to verify it because nobody keeps track of data on a month-by-month basis,” Kapustin said. “I wish they did, it’d make our lives a lot better. For the most interesting explanations, the ones that really grip people, we just don’t have a way of knowing.”

Perhaps because there were so many prominent incidents involving unarmed black men in 2014 and 2015, family members of those killed, as well as activists, the media and some lawmakers now seem too eager to claim the deceased was unarmed, even if the evidence suggests otherwise, or there is not enough information available. For example, early evidence suggested that Keith Lamont Scott had a gun when police shot and killed him in Charlotte, North Carolina, in September. But in a video of the confrontation, his wife says, “He doesn’t have a gun.” That is the version that stuck for many. The New York Times had to issue a correction after initially referring to Scott as “an unarmed black man.” Hillary Clinton tweeted, “Keith Lamont Scott. Terence Crutcher. Too many others. This has got to end.” Around two weeks later, Bernie Sanders tweeted, “I am tired of seeing unarmed African Americans shot in cold blood.”

In October, protests erupted in Los Angeles following the fatal officer-involved shooting of Carnell Snell, a black man. Activists described Snell as unarmed in a tweet published to more than 10,000 followers, and in a widely shared Facebook post, a woman who said she had taught Snell in school wrote, “Witnesses say that his hands were up when he was shot in the back.” Days later, the Los Angeles Police Department released a video that appeared to show Snell with a gun moments before police killed him.

Law enforcement experts also point out that an unarmed person can still pose a threat to police and bystanders. “You can talk to any officer and he’ll say in any confrontation with a violent or resisting suspect, there’s a gun involved, and that’s the officer’s,” says Mac Donald, of the Manhattan Institute. In her book, she scrutinized the Post’s 2015 data. At least five of the unarmed black men killed that year had reportedly tried to grab an officer’s gun or beat an officer with his or her own equipment, she wrote. Two more of the men “were struck by stray bullets aimed at someone else in justified cop shootings.” In one case, a bystander was killed by police — not the suspect. “That older man happened to be black, but his race had nothing to do with his tragic death,” she wrote.

Zachary Hammond (teenager, white) shooting; the family asks, “Where is the outrage?”
U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in the presentation of the report “Investigation of the Chicago Police Department” by the Department of Justice released January 13, 2017:

“They hop out on you less,” Tray says of the police bowing out of aggressive stops in his neighborhood. The police still drive by and see young men selling drugs, but they don’t stop. They used to get out of their car the first time they passed by, Tray says. But now they’ll drive by twice without stopping, and only if the young men are still there on the third pass will they get out of their patrol cars.

“I tell them, ‘Be careful. Don’t be so aggressive out there. Think of your family before you go out there and do something,’” the detective says as he finishes his salad, laying out the advice he gives officers under his command. “Policing has changed. If you don’t change with it, you’re going to lose your job.”

Whatever your feelings about cops, the withdrawal of a city’s police force can hurt the fight against violent crime, according to Zachary Fardon, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. The current violence spike in Chicago followed four events late last year that kneecapped residents’ confidence in police and officer morale, he said in a speech in late September.

First, in November, the city released graphic dashcam video of a white police officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old who was walking away from police when he was killed. After protesters and the City Council’s Black Caucus demanded the ouster of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired him on December 1. Less than a week later, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would investigate the department, focusing on its use of force and whether any racial groups bore the brunt of it. Finally, the agreement between the city and the ACLU also requires police to fill out lengthy contact cards every time they stop someone went into effect January 1.

“I also think that the fallout in public confidence — the apparent embattlement of police on all fronts — created a sense of emboldened aggressiveness among gang members, especially in Chicago’s most violence-afflicted neighborhoods,” Fardon says. “Some gang members apparently felt they could get away with more, and so more bullets start[ed] flying.”

2015-present Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.

“Results indicate that race does have an indirect effect on police contact, but it is White individuals who are more likely to be questioned and arrested.”

“Although blacks are arrested disproportionately for most types of violent crimes, disagreement persists as to the extent to which official arrest data are indicative of differential offending behavior or selection bias on the part of law enforcement personnel Using data from the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), we assess the effect of an offender’s race on the probability of arrest for 335,619 incidents of forcible rape, robbery, and assault in 17 states during 1999. The baseline model for these comparisons is the equiprobability hypothesis that relative to violation frequency as reported by crime victims, the likelihood of arrest for white and black offenders is roughly equal. Multivariate logistic regression results show that the odds of arrest for white offenders is approximately 22% higher for robbery, 13% higher for aggravated assault, and 9% higher for simple assault than they are for black offenders. An offender’s race plays no noteworthy role in the likelihood of arrest for the crime of forcible rape. These findings suggest that the disproportionately high arrest rate for black citizens is most likely attributable to differential involvement in reported crime rather than to racially biased law enforcement practices.”

“The probability of arrest given the commission of a crime is higher for whites than it is for blacks for robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault, whereas for rape the probability of arrest is approximately equal across offender race. This suggests that blacks are disproportionately arrested for these crimes because they commit them at higher rates, not because law enforcement practices result in racially biased arrest decisions.[38]

The math wizard and crime analyst Jeff Asher at FiveThirtyEight says in January 2017 (from the fine print, clicking 1 & 2): “1. Big cities tend to correlate strongly with but also overestimate national murder trends. In 2015, for example, murder rose nearly 15 percent in cities of 250,000 or more, versus 10.8 percent nationally. 2. I was able to collect data through at least August for 78 of the 83 cities. St. Paul, Minnesota, is the only big city for which no 2016 data was available. In all cases, increases in murder totals compare the latest data available from 2016 to the same period in 2015.”

This year’s rise appears slightly smaller than last year’s dramatic increase. The big cities experienced roughly a 11.3 percent increase in murder in 2016, which is down from the same group’s 14.8 percent increase from 2014 to 2015. Still, the figures suggest that big cities have seen murder rise by more than a quarter in just two years, likely the biggest two-year increase since 1989 to 1991. The issue has drawn national attention, with Donald Trump repeatedly pointing to violence in cities as evidence of a breakdown in law and order under President Obama. Even after the recent increase, however, the murder rate remains low by historical standards.

A few points jump out while reviewing the change in murder in big cities in 2016.Chicago has gotten the headlines, and the Windy City’s 59 percent increase in murder accounted for fully 40 percent of the rise in murder among big cities. But Chicago was not the only big city to experience an alarming jump in murders in 2016.



Writer. Researcher. Designer. Human seeking better outcomes for all. Empiricism, relevant facts, and logical arguments > simple narratives.

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David Shuey

Writer. Researcher. Designer. Human seeking better outcomes for all. Empiricism, relevant facts, and logical arguments > simple narratives.