How Will Violence Surge Impact The Politics Of Public Safety?

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It seems we can’t click on a local news site anymore without hearing about some kind of violence. Every major city is seeing an increase in violent crime, particularly homicides, and people are concerned, to say the least.

Yet leading up to this surge in murders, we watched as the politics surrounding crime swung toward lenience toward criminals and accused criminals.

Will that change now that we’re seeing this surge? From a discussion at FiveThirtyEight:

sarah (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): New data released by the FBI last week showed a spike in homicides in 2020, while major crimes overall in the U.S. fell. This marked one of the biggest one-year increases on record, and in addition to the sheer numbers involved, it was also notable that it wasn’t a regional or big-cities-only story — it was a story that affected nearly every part of the U.S.

maggie.koerth (Maggie Koerth, senior science writer): Oh, that’s a really interesting question, Sarah, because it’s bigger than crime statistics. I think it’s about whether people feel safe in their communities. And that can be based on a lot of things. Some real risk to life and limb and some perceptions of risk.

I remember being really struck by the work of Wesley Skogan, who worked in Chicago in the 1990s, documenting the things that people who requested police assistance wanted solved. And what he found was that people were often thinking about things like litter and loud music as emblematic of safety problems or their fear for their communities — even when those things aren’t, strictly speaking, crime.

ameliatd: The terms can get pretty mushy here, too. If we say that violence is rising, are we talking about murders? Aggravated assault?

As Jennifer was suggesting, “crime” and “violence” can mean different things to different people that don’t map easily onto the data we have. And of course, politicians don’t make clean distinctions when they’re talking about crime and violence.

lisa.miller: I agree with Amelia that violence is what drives fear, though Maggie’s point is really important, too — sometimes a lot of things get conflated. But in my own research, as well as in others’, rising violence is something that really registers for people.

Honestly, reading this is just kind of a mess because this was apparently in a chat program they just copy pastaed into their site editor, and published as it, but I find it fascinating that there’s really any doubt here.

The truth of the matter is that violent crime–particularly things like murder and aggravated assaults–has gone up and people see this. They see it and it does a number on them.

For the most part, it’s gang members killing one another, but they’re also shooting at their enemies in crowds, in homes, at parties, and so on, meaning innocent people are being caught in the crossfire, so those concerns aren’t completely out of line. The fact that anyone can look at that and not think it’ll have some impact on the political landscape is beyond me.

Especially when you look at things like criminals being let out of jail due to COVID-19 fears, bail requirements being eliminated for thousands of accused violent criminals putting them back on the streets, calls for more lenient sentencing, the whole “defund the police” thing, and so on. People are going to look at that, look at the headlines that surrounding them now and think, “Maybe the people who pushed this don’t deserve another term in office.”

It’s not really a stretch here.

Of course, not mentioned here is how the mainstream media and those that aspire to be the mainstream media will typically run interference and try to muddy the waters in hopes that voters won’t make that distinction. However, voters aren’t quite that stupid, now are they?

The fact that the question of whether the increase in violence would impact politics even came up is baffling. If ever there were a no-brainer question, that was it.