While the recent wave of violence in Milwaukee can be written off as an ephemeral reaction to another fatal police shooting (see "One Person Shot, Officer Injured In Second Night Of Milwaukee Violence Despite State Of Emergency") it is quite clear that long-term trends suggest that violent crimes are on the rise in metropolitan areas of the Midwest. As can be seen by data compiled by the Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee homicides went vertical in 2015, up 69% YoY and over 100% since the recent low recorded in 2007. In fact, in 2015 Milwaukee endured the highest number of homicides since 1993, a 22-year record high. Similarly disturbing increases in violence are playing out in Chicago neighborhoods as we've noted on numerous occasions (see "Chicago Records Deadliest Day In 13 Years As City Spirals Out Of Control" and "Chicago Suffers Deadliest May In 21 Years").
The key question is why the spike in violence now? Ask any "expert" to explain the cause of violent crime and you'll get a range of responses from systemic problems of poverty, unemployment, lack of education of inner city youth, breakdown of the family unit, etc. The problem is that none of those things explain the sudden changes in violence we're currently witnessing in the Midwest.
Thomas Abt, senior research fellow with the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, believes the issue is more likely what other political commentators have dubbed "the Ferguson Effect." Writing for The Marshall Project, Abt discussed what he thought might be causing the sudden spike in violent crimes in the Midwest:
It is unclear what is driving the problem, but my own hunch – and it is still just a hunch at this point – involves a criminological phenomenon called legal cynicism. Multiple studies have demonstrated that, controlling for other factors, when communities view the police and criminal justice system as illegitimate, they become more violent. When people believe the system is unwilling or unable to help them, they are more likely to take the law into their own hands, creating the cycles of violent retribution that were chronicled so vividly last year in Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside.
We have to ask, would comments like these by Obama cause people to "view the criminal justice system as illegitimate"?
September 2014 Comments at the Congressional Black Caucus Awards Dinner - “Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness. We know that, statistically, in everything from enforcing drug policy to applying the death penalty to pulling people over, there are significant racial disparities.”
November 2014 Comments Regarding Ferguson grand jury decision - “The law too often feels like it’s being applied in a discriminatory fashion….Communities of color aren’t just making these problems up….These are real issues. And we have to lift them up and not deny them or try to tamp them down.”
May 2015 Comments at Lehman College - The catalyst of those protests were the tragic deaths of young men and a feeling that law is not always applied evenly in this country. In too many places in this country, black boys and black men, Latino boys, Latino men, they experience being treated differently by law enforcement -- in stops and in arrests, and in charges and incarcerations. The statistics are clear, up and down the criminal justice system; there’s no dispute.
Obviously there is plenty of blame to go around. New video footage of cops using what many people would describe as "excessive force" seem to pop up every day which can also serve to "delegitimize" their cause.
But, rather than have the difficult conversations it's probably better to just keep blaming lack of gun control even though basically all of the states with the lowest homicide rates per capita in the country inexplicably received "F" grades on their gun laws from the Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence. Meanwhile, Chicago has perhaps the most restrictive gun laws but the highest homicide rate. But who needs facts when you have a "narrative"...stories are much more fun.