America’s Trumped-Up Crime Problem
September 30, 2016 (Fault Lines) – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has, in part, built his campaign on America’s rising crime rate. The Donald paints a bleak picture of our modern-day nation. Between Mexican murderers and rapists, and the dangerous black and Hispanic neighborhoods, it’s a miracle any of us make it through the day without ending up laying in a chalk outline.
Of course, the slightest bit of research reveals holes in Trump’s claims. They just aren’t true. So why is he making them? Is he a liar? Unaware of the facts?
Actually, the real answer is that he knows his audience.
Jacob Sullum over at Reason looks at the numbers behind the claims that America is in the midst of a historic crime wave. They paint a very different picture from the lawless landscape Trump is claiming.
FBI numbers released the day of the debate refute Trump’s portrait of a nation besieged by violent criminals. While murders did rise by 11 percent in 2015, that increase was driven mainly by a small number of cities, and the violent crime rate is still much lower than it was in the early 1990s—lower, in fact, than in all but two years since 1971.
The homicide rate in 2015 was 4.9 per 100,000, half the rate in 1991. The violent crime rate was 372.6 per 100,000 last year, up 3.1 percent from 2014 but still half the 1991 rate. The property crime rate, which fell 3.4 percent last year, was twice as high in 1991.
In case all those numbers make your head explode, they simply describe a statistical picture of crime in America. And it ain’t half bad. Murders went up last year, which sucks. But violent crime in general is down significantly, and at one of the lowest points in almost half a century. Property crime is down. And seven violent cities pretty much double the national crime rate, even though some of those cities have currently declining crime rates.
At the Republican National Convention, Trump described a national crisis, with an out of control crime rate causing violence and chaos in the streets. In the debate Monday night, he pointed out the danger of inner cities and the “really bad things” happening in “many different places.”
The icing on the cake is his solution, which is to burn the Constitution and start random stop and frisks. As Andrew Fleischman pointed out earlier this week, that’s not how it works here.
Whether you love or hate Trump (which seem to be the only two emotions directed towards him), he is not a complete idiot. He has made it to a presidential election, which is a rather difficult thing to do. So is he trying to sabotage himself by tossing out false crime narratives?
Nope. He just knows you will lap it up. People today love to be experts on crime and law and the justice system. The people’s feelings are a perfectly good basis for all kinds of law and policy. It’s why politicians name laws after little kids. It’s why you can usually find multiple laws outlawing the same thing. It’s why bottom-feeder street crack dealers face the same harsh sentence, if not harsher, as the guy who imports the dope.
You love it. You are a sucker for it. And every politician knows it. In fact, as Sullum points out, this shouldn’t even be an issue in a presidential election.
Even if the local police tactics Trump advocates were constitutional and effective, he would have no power as president to implement them. When he promises that “safety will be restored” once he takes office, he offers false assurances about a nonexistent crisis.
Certainly someone in the campaign has pointed out the little influence a President Trump would have over day-to-day law enforcement activities. But at the same time, that someone has probably pointed out that a public who falls in love at first sight with any law that sashays by them with a wink will love all of this hyperbole.
Why do we love laws so much? Why are we so quick to forgive the police for shootings? Why are we so eager to be protected by the justice system? Why don’t we understand when the system protects the people it was actually meant to protect (the accused)?
Easy. We are scared and we don’t understand. Statistics from the FBI would tell us we are probably as safe as we have ever been. Yet people are still ready to jump on board with just about any solution to a non-problem.
A voter fondly thinks back to the good old days, when he or she felt safe and good and knew the police were friendly and your neighbor wouldn’t shoot you. The same voter looks around today and sees “thugs” running the streets and wild shootings in all sorts of public places. In response, the people are quick to turn their back on the Constitution and reach out for the “law and order” security blanket.
Yet you are statistically safer now than you were back in those good old days. So the idea that an out of control criminal element needs to be reined in by harsher laws and tougher policing is a con. But that’s not a Trump problem. That’s a you problem.