Uproar over “rising crime,” particularly gun-related crime, echoes on TV, in print and on social media. The scary rhetoric is amplified by candidates from both major parties. Fear of violent crime is being used to drum up support for expanded police powers. This is a blatant backlash against last year’s Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and the calls to defund police departments and implement civilian oversight of cops.
Demands for more cops with fewer rules governing them emanate from police unions and the politicians that back them. Both insist on more money, more so-called “tools,” and more freedom from accountability, to keep people safe from gun-toting criminals. Reality exposes a different picture.
Debunking the myths. Gun violence has been decreasing for a generation. And, even though there was a slight uptick in gun crimes in 2020, they remain well below numbers from 10 and 20 years ago.
The pandemic is no doubt one factor in the recent increase in violence. Over the past two years, many U.S. workers, battered by Covid-19, were living on the financial edge. Frustration was common. People faced business closures, locked-down schools and libraries, and dried up social services. Essential workers were abused and dying on the job. Domestic violence incidents rose.
But it wasn’t the minor increase in overall crime that frightened working-class communities. It was ruthless and relentless police violence. When the video of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis cops was broadcast internationally the situation exploded. Furious over years of unpunished police killings of men and women, a disproportionate number of them Black people, millions took to the streets and refused to go home. Protesters closed police stations, occupied parks and disrupted city and county council meetings to demand justice. Calls to cut police budgets and use those bloated budget dollars for housing, healthcare, food assistance and social services resonated nationally. Outrage over cop murders of people suffering mental health crises brought demands for medical and psychological professionals instead of law enforcement to respond to such calls.
Those now clamoring for so-called “law and order” never mention that over 60% of gun deaths (not counting cop killings) are suicides. The reasons for self-harm are varied: despair over incurable illness, poverty, homelessness, untreated mental illness, or a myriad of causes related to lack of basics needed to survive — like decent jobs.
The true offenders. Despite the overall decline in gun violence since 2000, police shootings of civilians are on the increase. There is no official mechanism to record these figures, but a civilian group, Statistica, along with the Washington Post, has kept records since 2015. Both sources acknowledge their numbers are incomplete. In 2020, there were 1,021 police murders, up 20% over 2019. More than 20% of victims were Black, despite being only 12% of the overall population.
Right-wing police officers from across the country were also part of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump insurrection attempt that invaded the U.S. Capitol in a bid to overturn the 2020 election. Off-duty cops have joined far-right neo-Nazi crowds, which openly carry military grade armaments.
Police, in lockstep with the corporate media and big business, promote the myth of out-of-control violence — mostly by Black and Indigenous people, other people of color, and immigrants — to create fear and gain public support for their budgetary demands for more “law and order.”
After the Seattle City Council voted to cut the police budget by 20%, the police still had a $15 million surplus for 2020 due to retirements and resignations. In 2021, after the Council restored most of the cuts, the police department wanted that surplus added back, over and above their proposed $410 million budget.
Democratic mayors and city councils are only too happy to oblige the cops and forget previous promises to slash police budgets. Eric Adams, a former police officer and current New York City mayoral front-runner, wants to bring back the racist stop-and-frisk policy. This allowed cops to arbitrarily stop any person they deemed “suspicious” and was already ruled unconstitutional.
The federal government already gifts cities across the country with millions in surplus military equipment and billions in grant money to hire and train more police.
Big business supporters want laws changed to allow police to more easily round up the homeless, break strikes and harass poor and immigrant communities. They spend a lot of money to elect politicians who will do just that. The über-masculine, militarized-to-the-teeth image that police present mirrors the neo-Nazis that cops regularly protect from crowds of anti-fascist protesters.
Real solutions. Some crime problems do need responses, but more cops are not the answer.
Instead, send mental health counselers out on domestic disturbance calls, one of the BLM demands. And shift taxpayer money to actually keeping people safe from hunger, homelessness, diseases, and police violence.
Build publicly owned, resident run low-cost housing, provide meals for the hungry, create union jobs, and improve schools. Federal grant money should go for local survival needs, more counselors and treatment infrastructure, not more officers and weapons.
An energized, organized national campaign to slash police budgets is needed to accomplish these goals. Massive public funding of these tangible solutions, in tandem with civilian control over the cops, is the real way to decrease crime and gun violence.