It took several months for the first iteration of the Ferguson Effect to become obvious. Michael Brown was fatally shot by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer in August 2014, triggering local riots and a national narrative about lethally racist police. Officers backed off proactive policing in minority neighborhoods, having been told that such discretionary enforcement was racially oppressive. By early 2015, the resulting spike in shootings and homicides had become patent and would lead to an additional 2,000 black homicide victims in 2015 and 2016, compared with 2014 numbers.
Today’s violent-crime increase—call it Ferguson Effect 2.0 or the Minneapolis Effect—has come on with a speed and magnitude that make Ferguson 1.0 seem tranquil. George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police in late May was justly condemned—but the event has now spurred an outpouring of contempt against the pillars of law and order that has no precedent in American history. Every day, another mainstream institution—from McDonald’s to Harvard—denounces the police, claiming without evidence that law enforcement is a threat to black lives.
To be sure, the first manifestation of the Black Lives Matter movement had a mouthpiece in the Oval Office, lacking now. It doesn’t matter. Presidential imprimatur or no, the reborn Black Lives Matter has gained billions of dollars in corporate support, more billions in free round-the-clock media promotion, and a ruthless power to crush dissent from the now-universal narrative about murderous police bigots. During the two weeks of national anarchy that followed the death of George Floyd, cops were shot, slashed, and assaulted; their vehicles and station houses were firebombed and destroyed. American elites stayed silent. Since then, police have continued to be shot at and attacked; the elites remain silent. Monuments to America’s greatest leaders are being defaced with impunity; anarchists took over a significant swathe of a major American city, including a police precinct, without resistance from the authorities. And a push to defund the police gains traction by the day.
The rising carnage in the inner city is the consequence of this official repudiation of the criminal-justice system. The current tolerance and justification for vandalism and violence; the silencing of police supporters; and police unwillingness to intervene, even when their own precincts are assaulted—all send a clear message to criminals that society has lost the will to prevent lawlessness. In Minneapolis, shootings have more than doubled this year compared to last. Nearly half of all those shootings have occurred since George Floyd’s death, according to a Minneapolis Star Tribune analysis. On Father’s Day, a mass shooting on a crowded street uptown struck 11 people. The next day saw a chain of retaliatory shootings—the first next to a park filled with children, the next, 90 minutes later, on a notorious gang-dominated street intersection. In nearby St. Paul, reported firearms discharges have more than doubled. The same gangbangers are getting shot repeatedly. One 17-year-old boy has been shot in four different events over the last month and a half.
In Chicago, 18 people were killed and 47 wounded in drive- and walk-by shootings last weekend. The fatalities included a one-year-old boy riding in a car with his mother (the gunman drove up alongside and emptied his gun into the vehicle) and a 10-year-old girl struck in the head inside her home; a group of youth on the street outside her house had started shooting at another group of youth nearby. The previous weekend in Chicago, 104 people were shot, 15 fatally. The deceased included a three-year-old boy riding in a car with his father on Father’s Day—his gangbanger father was the intended victim—and a 13-year-old girl shot in her head in her home.
New York City’s homicide rate is at a five-year high; the number of shooting victims was up over 42 percent through June 21 compared with the same period in 2019. The number of shootings in the first three weeks of June was over twice that of the same period in 2019, making this June the city’s bloodiest in nearly a quarter century, according to the New York Times. At 4 a.m. last Sunday, a 30-year-old woman was shot in the head in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at a house party. On Saturday afternoon, a man and a woman were shot to death outside a Brooklyn home. Early Friday morning, a 19-year-old girl was shot to death in the heart of Manhattan, near Madison Square Park, on East 26th Street.
Milwaukee’s homicides have increased 132 percent. “In 25 years, I’ve never seen it like this,” a Milwaukee police inspector told the Police Executive Research Forum, referring to the violence and the low officer morale. Shootings are spiking in Indianapolis. Other cities will show similar increases once their crime data are published.
By now, these drearily mindless gang shootings echo one another. Another three-year-old boy was shot in Chicago with his gangbanger father on another Father’s Day, this one in 2016; the boy is paralyzed for life. The young children recently shot inside their homes also recall Ferguson 1.0 incidents. In August 2016, a nine-year-old girl was shot to death in Ferguson on her mother’s bed while doing homework. The gunman was a 21-year-old felon on probation from a robbery conviction who deliberately shot at least six bullets into the home, located near a memorial for Michael Brown. But the pedigree of these domestic drive-bys is longer and more ominous. In New York, children used to sleep in bathtubs before Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner William Bratton began restoring lawfulness to the city in 1994; we are fast returning to that pre-Giuliani era.
So far this year, more people have been killed in Baltimore than at this point in 2019, which ended with the highest homicide rate on record for that city. June’s killings, which eclipse those of June 2019, include a 23-year-old woman who was eight months pregnant and her three-year-old daughter. They were gunned down in their car by the father of the woman’s unborn child, according to the police.
The victims in these shootings are overwhelmingly black. So far this year, 78 percent of all homicide victims in Chicago are black, though blacks are less than a third of the population. But the defund-the-police advocates and the Democratic establishment have said nothing about the growing loss of black lives.
Instead, the Black Lives Matter movement is tweeting about police defunding, last weekend’s gay pride marches, and NASCAR’s Bubba Wallace, the subject of yet another hate-crime hoax. DeRay Mckesson, an early BLM organizer in Ferguson, is retweeting about whether homophobes are secretly gay. Activist Shaun King, who recently called for vandals to destroy stained-glass windows portraying the Baby Jesus and Mary, is retweeting that Mount Rushmore is an act of vandalism. Ja’Mal Green, a Black Lives Matter organizer in Chicago who was arrested in 2016 for assaulting and attempting to disarm an officer, offered a $5,000 reward on Saturday for information on the killing of the one-year-old boy in Chicago, but coupled that offer with another call to defund the police. Since then, Green has been tweeting about abortion rights and the extradition of President Trump to Iran. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is tweeting about abortion rights, gay pride, and Trump’s culpability for the coronavirus epidemic. The Vera Institute for Justice, a liberal criminal-justice think tank, announced on Monday that “now is the time to spend less on policing” in order to “create safer communities for Black people.”
Actually, now would seem not to be the time to spend less on policing, with gunslingers retaking control of urban streets. The timing of the defund movement was always a puzzle, coming as it did after weeks of destructive riots during which law enforcement was wildly overmatched. Such a demonstration of the violence that lies just beneath the surface of civilization would not, one might think, be the best opening pitch for an argument to shrink police manpower and resources further. Yet the defund idea took off, with the media making sure that the looting and arson became a hazy memory (at least for those whose life’s work did not go up in flames) while alleged police racism remained in the headlines. The establishment, in further proof of the elite betrayal of the principle of law, was happy to forgive and forget the riots as an understandable release of black rage. And now, the self-described champions of black lives are pressing ahead with their anti-cop campaign, with a breezy indifference to countervailing evidence.
While 307 people have been murdered this year in Chicago, the Chicago police have killed three suspects, all armed and dangerous. In 2018, the New York Police Department recorded its lowest number of fatal civilian shootings—five—since records were first kept in 1971. (Data from 2019 have not been published.) All five victims were threatening or appeared to be threatening officers with guns or knives.
The Minneapolis Effect will not be confined to intra-racial gang violence. Sadistic and gratuitous attacks on elderly citizens have been accelerating in recent weeks—a 78-year-old woman punched casually on the head in Brooklyn; an 80-year-old man knocked to the ground, dragged, and robbed in the Bronx; and a 92-year-old woman slammed into a fire hydrant in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park. The high-volume delegitimization of American justice and the incessant drumbeat about white supremacy will likely result in an increase in black-on-white violence, which already accounts for 85 percent of all interracial attacks between blacks and whites.
Meanwhile, criminal-justice leaders themselves are surrendering. The New York Police Commissioner has disbanded the department’s most effective tool for getting illegal guns off the street, the plainclothes Anti-Crime Unit. Officers across the country are being told to ignore low-level offenses, and urban D.A.s are refusing to prosecute public-order arrests, on the ground that Broken Windows policing is racist—until, that is, an outbreak of particularly irksome disorder becomes too widespread, as is the case with the current fireworks discharges. The head of the Lieutenants Benevolent Association in New York has advised its members to use their “utmost discretion” in responding to fireworks complaints unless New York mayor Bill de Blasio “unequivocally commits to having our officers enforce fireworks infractions AND the District Attorneys verbally commit to processing fireworks offenses” (emphasis in original). Otherwise, warns the LBA president, officers are merely being set up for a new slew of phony civilian complaints.
Ambushes await officers who respond to gunfire alerts, illegal house parties, and other crimes. This weekend, New York officers were assaulted with bottles and garbage by a group of about 500 people at 3:45 a.m. in Harlem as they tried to find the source of a shooting picked up by ShotSpotter technology. A Baltimore officer was shot in the stomach earlier this month while trying to break up a large party in West Baltimore. Such parties are the seedbed of gun violence; the day before, a gunman had shot into a crowd at another large Baltimore party. One of Baltimore’s defunding groups, “Organizing Black,” was unmoved. “ABOLISH THE POLICE is the goal,” it wrote on Twitter, “FUCK THE POLICE is the Attitude.” Two car thieves in Chicago struck an officer with their stolen car and dragged him a short distance this June. In late May, crowds threw glass bottles at Chicago officers as they tried to arrest gun suspects; in one case, the crowd tried to free the suspect from a patrol car.
These are no longer the warning signs of a possible breakdown of civilized life. That breakdown is upon us. If local and national leaders are unable to summon the will to defend our most basic institutions from false and inflammatory charges of racism, they have forfeited their right to govern. Unless new leaders come forth who understand their duty to maintain the rule of law, the country will not pull back from disaster.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images