In his State of the Union address last week, President Biden declared, “The answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them.” This line conflicts with Biden’s radical posturing after George Floyd’s death in 2020, but he’s right to talk about the necessity of adequately funding law enforcement. Over the past two years, homicidal violence has become a national crisis, with little coverage in the mainstream media.
As data from CDC and FBI crime reports released last fall demonstrate, 2020 saw the largest ever year-to-year increase in homicides. Following the George Floyd protests, cities such as Minneapolis, Portland, and New York City experienced an explosion in violence not seen in decades. The mayhem continued to mount in 2021, as under-resourced and demoralized police departments across the country struggled to quell rising neighborhood violence. At least a dozen cities nationwide shattered historical homicide records last year, including Portland, Austin, and Philadelphia.
Austin, Texas, saw one of the sharpest homicide spikes in 2021, with murders skyrocketing 86 percent. The city has never witnessed a higher homicide toll in a single year. “Typically, in Austin, homicide detectives average 3-4 homicides per year. 2021 was different,” Austin police lieutenant Brett Bailey told KXAN. “Several of the detectives were nearing [investigation of] their 10th homicide for the year.”
A new study on 2021 homicide trends released by the Council on Criminal Justice found an additional 5 percent rise in homicides (on the heels of a 30 percent increase in 2020) in 22 major American cities. Los Angeles, Louisville, and Washington, D.C., among others, saw homicides increase by more than 10 percent.
Activists, leading media, and politicians continue to pin the homicide wave on economic disruptions caused by the pandemic, but a far more plausible factor is the increasingly dysfunctional criminal-justice system that fails in its fundamental duty to protect the most vulnerable members of society.
Last year, police retirements were up nearly 50 percent and resignations by 18 percent across 200 police departments nationwide. Portland—which, since the summer of 2020, has seen sustained nightly violence in its downtown perpetrated by far-left radicals—now has fewer police officers on the force (789) than at any point in the past 30 years. Mayor Ted Wheeler was previously sympathetic to the national “defund the police” movement but has recently admitted the city’s police-staffing crisis: “There is such a thing as too few officers. . . . I can objectively say we are critically short staffed.”
In Philadelphia, which last year suffered more homicides than in 2014 and 2015 combined, the police department is short about 300 officers after mass departures in the aftermath of the local police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. last fall and the death of George Floyd. Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, says of the national staffing shortage, “It is an evolving crisis.”
The costs of inadequate policing are not equally distributed across the population. Black Americans accounted for 65.6 percent of the increase in homicide victims in 2020, though only representing about 13 percent of the population. Sylvia Bennett-Stone, director of Voices of Black Mothers United, says, “We have seen a rise in Black children killed in crossfire. I have never had so many calls from young mothers who have lost babies or children barely out of diapers.” A 2021 USA Today poll of Detroit residents found that 24 percent of black residents viewed crime as the biggest issue facing the city, while only 3 percent named police reform. Among white residents, however, 12 percent were most concerned with police reform compared with 10 percent for crime.
Recent victims of surging gun violence in Detroit include a 12-year-old shot in an upstairs bedroom, a 15-year-old shot and killed on the street at night, and a four-year-old child shot twice as a gunman allegedly tried to steal the mother’s purse. These tragedies took place over the span of just four days—January 7 through 11.
Yet progressives continue to downplay the carnage. Earlier this year, CNN’s Brian Stelter decried the “imagined drama” of rising crime presented by Fox News. Residents of inner-city communities continue to suffer the toll of violence that is anything but imaginary, but liberal elites remain silent.
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