For an at-a-glance sense of how sharply Democratic politics has turned in two years, you could do worse than the African-American mayor of America’s biggest city accusing BLM of being indirectly responsible for a crime wave.
By the time we get to November, Dem politicians will be carrying around “thin blue line” flags to try to distance the party from the left’s “defund the police” message.
Eric Adams’s point here is more self-interested than that, though. He’s not worried about the midterms, he’s worried about the fact that he got elected promising to stamp out crime in New York City and crime … is not being stamped out. Someone must be blamed. He has a suspect:
“I thought Black lives matter?” Adams said in response to a @RuschellBoone question about a spate of shootings overnight. "If Black lives matter, then the thousand of people I saw on the street when Floyd was murdered should be on the street right now." https://t.co/GxH6Zaiu2b pic.twitter.com/nhzoTqqQXY
— Spectrum News NY1 (@NY1) April 13, 2022
It’s true that BLM protests police violence against blacks, not criminal violence against blacks, but I’ve never heard of criminals writ large being receptive to pressure from public protests. The state and its arms of coercion are expected to be accountable to the people. Adams’s point, I guess, is that BLM could exert whatever moral authority it enjoys culturally to try to influence broader public behavior. A full-bore PR effort to raise awareness about black victims of criminal violence might convince some would-be criminals to think twice about their actions, especially since some of those killed recently were innocent bystanders. A grievous example from the Daily Mail:
Sally Ntim was the 23-year-old bystander shot in the Bronx at around 8.40pm on Tuesday.
Cops said she had been sitting in her car alone when she was clipped by a stray bullet in the head and passed away at Lincoln Hospital…
Erica Palmer, who said she was a ‘second mom’ to Ntim, told the Daily News: ‘I can’t believe she’s gone. She’s a high school graduate, college kid.
Overall in New York City, notes the Mail, crime is up 44 percent this year with Adams in charge over the same period in 2021. Felony assault and rape are each up more than 15 percent. Some of that is probably due to different pandemic dynamics between last year and this year. In 2021, fewer businesses were open and even some criminals were likely staying off the streets so as not to be infected. In 2022, everyone’s making up for lost time.
Two years of self-isolation may also have made some people more volatile. Last month the Atlantic considered whether America’s crime problem can partly be blamed on COVID restrictions:
The pandemic loosened ties between people: Kids stopped going to school; their parents stopped going to work; parishioners stopped going to church; people stopped gathering, in general. Sociologists think all of this isolation shifted the way we behave. “We’re more likely to break rules when our bonds to society are weakened,” Robert Sampson, a Harvard sociologist who studies social disorder, told me. “When we become untethered, we tend to prioritize our own private interests over those of others or the public.”
The turn-of-the-20th-century scholar Émile Durkheim called this state anomie, or a lack of social norms that leads to lawlessness. “We are moral beings to the extent that we are social beings,” Durkheim wrote. In the past two years, we have stopped being social, and in many cases we have stopped being moral, too.
“We’ve got, I think, a generalized sense that the rules simply don’t apply,” Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, told me. In some places, he says, police arrested fewer people during the pandemic, and “when enforcement goes down, people tend to relax their commitment to the rules.”
Drug and alcohol use increased during the pandemic, more guns than usual were purchased (and used for crime in a short period), and those with mental illnesses were less likely to seek treatment. Put it all together and there are doubtless more people walking around today than there were in 2019 with the means and sense of disinhibition to commit violent crimes. In which case I don’t know that BLM publicly complaining about it is going to achieve much.
On the other hand, Adams is right of course that politics informs how different institutions treat some crimes versus others. The media is one such institution. Charles Fain Lehman recently looked at coverage over a two-year period to see how relevant newspapers deemed a suspect’s race to be when reporting on homicides. Result: 23 percent of stories identified the suspect’s race when he was white but only six percent did so when he was black. Papers were twice as likely to mention race in the case of a white offender than a black one prior to George Floyd’s death — and seven times more likely after it. Even in stories where a black suspect’s race was identified, those mentions tended to come much later in the article than they did in stories involving a white offender.
I think Adams is making a similar point at bottom about BLM, complaining about an imbalance in the attention given to some crimes over others. Even if police brutality takes top priority for the group, reducing violent crimes committed against blacks should be a high priority. Is it? If the easiest way to cut crime is by boosting the police presence in black neighborhoods, would BLM endorse that?
Anyway, nice soundbite in the clip above. But if he can’t keep his campaign promise to reduce crime, all the complaining in the world about woke activists isn’t going to save him when he runs for mayor again.
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