Black Lives Matter II. The Ferguson Effect


A recent post, “Black Lives Matter,” discusses the perhaps surprising fact, that the black-white life expectancy gap has been decreasing in recent years.  One aspect of this trend is that the death rate by homicide for blacks has been falling faster than it has been for whites. This may be about to change.
As recently reported by Heather MacDonald in the Wall Street Journal, “The Nationwide Crime Wave Is Building,” since Michael Brown was shot and killed by a policeman in Ferguson MO in August 2014, cops are disengaging from discretionary enforcement activity especially in big cities.
Capture4This “Ferguson Effect” is likely responsible for rising violence in urban areas.  For example:

  • Homicides increased 9% in the largest 63 cities in the first quarter of 2016.
  • These increases are on top of last year’s 17% rise in homicides in the 56 biggest U.S. cities, with heavily black cities showing murder spikes above 60%.
  • A study of gun violence in Baltimore showed an inverse correlation with proactive drug arrests. When Baltimore cops virtually stopped making drug arrests last year after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, shootings soared.
  • In Chicago, where pedestrian stops have fallen nearly 90%, homicides this year are up 60% compared with the same period last year.

As Ms. MacDonald notes, “If a powerful segment of society sends the message that proactive policing is bigoted, the cops will eventually do less of it. Ultimately, denial of the Ferguson effect is driven by a refusal to acknowledge the connection between proactive policing and public safety.”
Conclusion: If “Black Lives Matter” is going to be more than a slogan, it has to be tied in with sensible policies to reduce violent crime.  Demonizing law enforcement is exactly the wrong way to make things better.

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18 thoughts on “Black Lives Matter II. The Ferguson Effect

  1. Jack,
    Sometimes I simply don’t know where to begin when I read your use of the Wall Street Journal as a primary base, in this case Mrs. MacDonald’s essay. So this time I will explore the philosophical methodology of her essay. Before doing so, I ask, “Why do you generally begin with using only a Conservative viewpoint. I am asking not just because of its one-sided position but rather because it is only one perspective. If that is what will remain your approach, why don’t you identify the basic premises of Conservatism, particularly those of the Wall Street Journal? For instances, what are the ideals of Conservatism? Who should be educated and why? What is a fair profit in a capitalistic system?

    And to Mrs. MacDonalds’ essay, I have two questions. First, as I have so often said only police have the right to kill in this civilian society. What are the roles of government as distinct from the private industrial sector? Only one letter separates the words ‘police’ and ‘polite’. The remainder of the population can only rely upon ‘polite’ or please. Is force our only solution, as it seems for Mrs. MacDonald?

    And second, drugs are material things why do we make different legal distinctions for something that is an inanimate object, particularly when they are all categorized as psychoactive substances?

    I cite these questions as an example of what I think we should be exploring in our budding group at the Unitarian Universalist Church.


    • I use only what I consider to be credible sources as background information for my posts. My two main sources are the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, both of which I consider to be highly credible. I don’t keep a record but I suspect that I use each of these two sources in roughly equal measure.
      In todays post, on the Ferguson effect, what I am citing from the WSJ are the data on increases in homicides in our largest cities since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Freddie Gray in Baltimore. These data have nothing to do with conservatism or liberalism, they are totally empirical.
      The Ferguson effect is real. If proactive policing drops off in our biggest cities, there will be more violent crime, more homicides and especially more black homicides. It is that simple.
      How can you argue with my approach at least on this particular topic?

      • Jack,
        I think I can say ‘fairly correctly’, “any action taken in society by any members of the four institutions can hardly ever be simple. Any form of analysis requires several premises, i.e. historical development, differences in racial and class communities, job opportunities, breakdown of the families, the absence of equality of legal services, are ones that immediately come to mind. The two intellectual constructs of conservatism and liberalism are at best limited as change agents and those two newspapers are inherently status quo oriented. The difference is only one of degree for neither wishes to challenge the basic societal structures.

        Finally, i have great difficulty in seeing how facts are simply empirical, if you mean neutral. The subjectivity and the limitations of one means for selecting and emphasizing specific data refutes any notion of ‘pure’ objectivity’. Data cannot stand alone, unless you wish to study rocks. Perhaps then there is not a lot of change except erosion.

        It may be that our dialogues can serve as a kind of warm up for what we want to do in the reading group.


  2. I certainly agree that the NYT and WSJ have different perspectives. I think they are both trying to move society forward, from their own ideas of good and bad, right and wrong.
    Your responses often cause me to think about my own role in the whole process. I’m clearly not an original source of information. I simply latch on to other’s facts and data, hopefully credible to begin with, and then add my own perspective. I think of myself as a moderate, drawing conclusions which are mostly just common sense, without ideological bias. Obviously, others can and do interpret things much different than I do.

  3. I think that you are arguing different points, while I agree with Jack that the short term effects of a change in police enforcement due to the deaths of black individuals in police situations has caused an increase in black deaths, what Doug is saying is that increased police involvement is not necessarily the best long term solution, and he is citing things he thinks are the root causes, like a breakdown in family structure, which an improvement in would help cure. While they may be better long term solutions, it should not necessarily preclude us from availing ourselves of a more immediate solution and save lives while continuing to realize that the more difficult to solve and long term solutions are continually pursued, recognizing that the police solution is a stop gap, and not the ultimate cure, which I have to admit that would take some long term perspective that today’s society does not possess. The danger is in thinking it is more than a band aid on a more intractable problem.

    • I completely agree with you. We do need long term approaches to lessen the social inequality between blacks and whites. Personally I think education is the key here, and especially a much bigger emphasis on early childhood education. And I think that we are moving in that direction, even if very slowly while we get started.

      • It is nice to read a third viewpoint. Yes, I think you (? he or she?} do summarize nicely some of our differences, particularly long and short term solutions. Having some forty years of providing drug/alcohol and mental health services to the general population and more specifically to people of color, I have little confidence that law enforcement addresses anything but locking people into an overburdened legal system. Education is surely one solution. But again, I am suspect. To be blunt, I am not sure that in the past 40 years racial practices by the dominant members of society have receded or reduced.

        Thanks to both of you

  4. Jack,
    I think I am asking you to think more about the origins of your own perspective. I also would ask what does “forward” mean for either newspaper?

    • Both the NYT and the WSJ have strong points of view which guide their work. They think their point of view is best for society, meaning more progress and faster progress toward improving American society.
      I also have a strong, and to me very clear cut, point of view which I also think is the best way to move forward, i.e. to improve society.
      I think it is highly desirable for us to have confidence that what we are proposing is the best way to go. That doesn’t mean that we should be rigid in our views and unwilling to change them on occasion if we change our mind.

  5. I think that the quality of life for blacks is slowly getting better, especially in comparison with whites. More blacks are graduating from high school and going to college. This enables them to get middle class jobs and move out of the ghetto. Progress is slow but steady. Racism won’t disappear until the social-inequality between the races has completely disappeared which will be a long time from now.

  6. To Jack and Thomas,
    It is nice to read another’s perspective. I had posted a reply but my ignorance in using the internet must have caused me to lose it when I thought I had posted. I will try again. Thomas, yes Jack and I are addressing two different issues, a short term and a long term approach. First, after more than 40 years working with people in drug/alcohol and mental health programs, and especially people of color, I have little faith in police intervention as a solution, unless there is a clear and present danger. Force rarely has long term benefits, such as our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I can appreciate Jack’s hopes in reference to education. However, keep in mind that we sought integration of the schools a half century ago. We are probably close to that same ratio with segregated schools. To be as straight-forward as I can, I do not see anything on the horizon that gives me much hope.

    To me, the core problem stems from an inherent hostility that people have towards one another and in relation to people of color, it is compounded. What most unsettles me are the ongoing failures of the working class and declining opportunities for the falling middle class. We have two powerful groups in opposition–the angry, white males who feel deprived and wish to attack the people of color and of different religious persuasions against the long suffering of people of color. Ultimately, if I chose a specific failure, it would be the breakdown of the 2-party system and the absence of any clear middle-of-the-road course of action.


    • I would say that there really is a middle-of-the-road course of action being taken by society at large. The two parties may go tooth-and-nail at each other but the great mass of people in the middle more or less ignore the fighting on the fringes and move things forward independently.

      • Jack,
        Measuring progress is so difficult to confirm. I am going to suggest that we try and determine what particular principles or thinkers that seem most in accord with our own views in order for each of us to know the basic values and principles that reflect one another’s views of the individual and society at large. For instance, what are your beliefs about living a worthy life, of what should be done to remove the suffering we see every day, whether it be through the media or giving a few dollars to the homeless on 72nd and Dodge.

        Once we have a base for knowing the other we can follow the logic and moral base of whatever is said or written by one another. For example who are the conservative thinkers that attract you.

  7. As we proceed, I would ask that you define that “middle-of-the-road” course. Other than the Affordable Care Act and the Drug Care bill for seniors, I know of no major social legislation since the 60s. I would hardly call Clinton”s reform of welfare practices a progressive path. And surely, the restrictions of voting rights throughout the nation do not suggest benefits either to the lower class or people of color.

    I hope we can move this debate to specific principles that serve as a societal premise or ideal to serve as a guide for our beliefs. For example what are the liberals’ and conservatives’ positions on the responsibilities of the government as from those of the individual?


    • Clinton-era welfare reform may not be progressive in an ideological sense but it certainly does represent progress from my point of view, because it greatly strengthened work requirements. After all, the goal of welfare is not just to meet immediate needs but to help people get back on their feet, i.e. to become self-supporting by being able to hold a job.
      Again, I don’t want to get tied up in ideological, liberal or conservative, knots. I want to focus on policies which solve specific problems.

    • My perspective is that the government that governs least governs best. The responsibility of the government is to establish a fair playing field for people to live in, which includes protecting people from bad actors. Programs or laws that favor one group over another establish discrimination and encourage entitlement. Social welfare programs should be seen as a temporary solution to meet very basic needs, not a lifelong support and should encourage people to pursue a better life through working to meet their wants. The welfare reforms were definitely a step in the right direction or “progress” at least from my perspective. What do you see as restrictions of voting rights? I am in favor of any policy that would improve the general electoral knowledge of the issues, and do not like policies that allow voter fraud in the name of making voting easier. There should be some responsibility on the part of the voter to prepare for the voting process, whether that is obtaining an ID or becoming knowledgeable about the candidates. The ability to vote is both a right and a responsibility. The responsibility of the individual is to love your neighbor as yourself, not forcing everyone to through government taxation. Charity is very important, but is an individual choice.

      • Thomas,
        I may like the idea that the best government is the government that governs least in some respect. However, I find it too abstract. I think the question is what is the role of a government in domestic affairs. I understand the role of defense. But domestic matters is much more complex. Should we have public education? I think so for it assures everyone has the opportunity to learn. Should we have public health? I think everyone should be entitled to health as they are to education. Each is to assure everyone has equal access. If people want private schools so should they have private health care. But everyone should be entitled to both education and health.

        Should we have tax deductions on home loans? I think not. Such deductions advance home builders and buyers but so many have little to no opportunity to buy a house.
        Should we have investment deductions for businesses? I think not. Businesses, by their very nature of taking chances must make it on their own.

        On the matter of welfare reform, I think we should pay more attention to the word welfare. Many of us still say “Farewell” when we depart. I have simply changed the order of the word. Not every one has the same chances into the future. Our system surely treats the poor and mentally ill at a horrible disadvantage.

        I could go on. My point is that first we need to designate the differences in the roles of business and government.


  8. I agree that progress is difficult to confirm in an objective way but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any. To my way of thinking we in the U.S. are better off today than are ancestors were 100 years ago. And 200 years ago it was even worse and so on. That represents progress.
    I am mildly conservative but mostly I’m a moderate, looking for good policies rather than ideological solutions which probably wouldn’t work in practice.

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