The new FBI crime statistics for 2016 are out this week. They'll surely be dissected in every which way, and one feature that will receive a lot of comment is the alarming two-year, double-digit spike in murders. But most of the arguments I've heard so far maintain that this isn't necessarily something to worry about too much.
One argument for not taking the spike too seriously is that just a few cities and even just a few neighborhoods in those cities might account for much or most of the national problem. But viewed another way, this should probably be a reason to become more, not less worried about rising crime rates.
We tend to think of the U.S. as having become a much safer place since the 1990s. And in terms of murders, that's true — but only if you're white.
Americans of different races have not experienced a uniform improvement in public safety. Look at the FBI's victim statistics for homicide, and you can see the stark trend we've written about previously: If you're white, you live in a much safer country today than you did 20 years ago. If you're black, that isn't the case. In terms of homicide victimization, the recent rise in violent crime has given back pretty much all of the gains you've enjoyed statistically since the mid-1990s.
Obviously, blacks are way over-represented as murder victims in general, and that's been the case for a long time. But the more noteworthy fact here is that the disparity has been getting bigger, as we pointed out when the numbers came out last year. There were more black victims last year than had been 10 or 20 years ago, and for the sixth year in a row an actual majority of U.S. murder victims were black — something that was never the case in any year between 1996 and 2010, and may never have been the case before then.
If we as a society were to decide to rhetorically and politically downplay a disease that killed blacks in a disproportion like the above, a lot of people would assert that that's a racist decision. And they'd probably be right. So why isn't this the case here? Why is it acceptable — politically correct even — to pretend that a large double-digit increase in murders over two years (15 percent and then 12 percent) isn't that big a deal, when the people affected most are black?
When you see these numbers, you have to believe there is a sleeping giant out there in the form of black voters who want to hear a classic "law and order" message on crime from their politicians. Or that there will be someday.