American Elephants


“A Retreat from Proactive Policing Has Unleashed Mayhem in the City by The Elephant's Child

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from City Journal

Chicago on the Brink

Heather MacDonald

Violence in Chicago is reaching epidemic proportions. In the first five months of 2016, someone was shot every two and a half hours and someone murdered every 14 hours, for a total of nearly 1,400 nonfatal shooting victims and 240 fatalities. Over Memorial Day weekend, 69 people were shot, nearly one per hour, dwarfing the previous year’s tally of 53 shootings over the same period. The violence is spilling over from the city’s gang-infested South and West Sides into the downtown business district; Lake Shore Drive has seen drive-by shootings and robberies.

The growing mayhem is the result of Chicago police officers’ withdrawal from proactive enforcement, making the city a dramatic example of what I have called the “Ferguson effect.” Since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, the conceit that American policing is lethally racist has dominated the national airwaves and political discourse, from the White House on down. In response, cops in minority neighborhoods in Chicago and other cities around the country are backing off pedestrian stops and public-order policing; criminals are flourishing in the resulting vacuum. (An early and influential Ferguson-effect denier has now changed his mind: in a June 2016 study for the National Institute of Justice, Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri–St. Louis concedes that the 2015 homicide increase in the nation’s large cities was “real and nearly unprecedented.” “The only explanation that gets the timing right is a version of the Ferguson effect,” he told the Guardian.)

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel warned in October 2015 that officers were going “fetal,” as shootings in the city skyrocketed. But 2016 has brought an even sharper reduction in proactive enforcement. Devastating failures in Chicago’s leadership after a horrific police shooting and an ill-considered pact between the American Civil Liberties Union and the police are driving that reduction. Residents of Chicago’s high-crime areas are paying the price.

……………………………………..(Do Read the whole thing)

The statistics are shocking. What we must pay attention to, however, are the incentives involved. When you tell residents of black neighborhoods that the reasons for many members of their families going to prison is not really because they committed a crime, but because the cops are racist, and the system is crooked, and tell them often enough, they’re apt to begin to believe it.

When neighborhoods come to believe that the cops are racist and don’t care about the black people they shoot, the police are inclined to back off a little more. When a cop is killed in the line of duty because the neighborhood believes they are racist, the police are more wary of stopping suspicious drivers or wading into s situation that looks like trouble.

That could all be perfectly innocent — just human nature. Policemen have families and want to go home at night. People in a neighborhood find it easier to believe the worst of cops than of their family members or next door neighbors. And so it escalates.

When the news on television blames the police, or the President of the United States suggests that he is going to pardon large numbers of federal prisoners because they are unjustly imprisoned by an unfair system — that seems pretty official, and likely true.

That hardly begins to touch on the incentives involved. When crime rates are high, fewer businesses are willing to locate in the neighborhood. With fewer businesses, there are fewer jobs, particularly for young men of an age to need their first working experience. If there are no jobs, there are drugs and gangs and petty theft and hatred of the police. Heather MacDonald enumerates the escalating steps, tragedy by tragedy, and on the other side the breakdown in order and control.

Accusations of endemic racism, economic injustice, housing segregation, mass incarceration, white privilege, disparate impact are problematic words that hurt more than they help.  Heather MacDonald’ s calm and careful analysis is important, and all parties involved would do well to understand her analysis.


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