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Article - 'Ferguson Effect' Is Real, and It Threatens to Harm Black Americans Most

5/26/2016 12:00:00 AM

University of Missouri at St. Louis criminologist Richard Rosenfeld has had "second thoughts." Like many academic criminologists, he had pooh-poohed charges that skyrocketing murder rates in many cities in 2015 and 2016 result from a "Ferguson effect" -- a skittering back from proactive policing for fear of accusations of racism like those that followed the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.

Now, after looking over 2015 data from 56 large cities, he tells The Guardian that he has changed his mind. Homicides in those cities were up 17 percent from 2014. And 10 cities, all with large black populations, saw homicides up 33 percent on average.

"These aren't flukes or blips, this is a real increase," Rosenfeld told reporter Lois Beckett. "The only explanation that gets the timing right is a version of the Ferguson effect."

Rosenfeld thus parts company with the liberal Brennan Center, whose analysts argued that the 2015 homicide increase in large cities was not a "national pandemic." He parts company also with FiveThirtyEight analyst Carl Bialik, who dismissed a 16 percent homicide increase in 59 of the 60 largest cities in 2014 and 2015 as "a less dire picture than the one painted by reports in several large media outlets."

But a 16 or 17 percent increase in homicides in major cities that account for a large share of the national murder toll is, in historical perspective, very dire indeed. The most accurate word is "unprecedented." The only double-digit increases in national murder statistics going back to 1960 are 13 percent (in 1968), 11 percent (in 1966, 1967 and 1971) and 10 percent (in 1979). READ ARTICLE


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