Blaming black protesters for 'crime wave'

Van Jones | 6/17/2015, 7 a.m.
In their rush to punish African-Americans for exercising their First Amendment rights and pushing an end to oppressive law enforcement ...

— 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.