The Murder Spike.

            As the Covid-19 pandemic tide ebbs, all sorts of things come into plain view.  One unsightly revelation is the sharp rise in homicides during 2020.  Overall, the number of murders in major cities rose by more than a third (37 percent) over 2019.[1]  The number of the slain rose by 40 percent in New York, 58 percent in Atlanta, 62 percent in New Orleans, 74 percent in Seattle, 78 percent in Louisville, and by 95 percent in Milwaukee.  Taking New York City as an example, in 2006 there were 596 homicides; in 2009, there were 471 homicides; and in 2017, there were 292 homicides.  During 2020 there were 447 homicides.[2]    

            The resulting sorrow is unevenly distributed.  The violence hit the borough of Brooklyn hard: homicides rose almost 70 percent.  More strikingly still, 10 of the city’s 77 police precincts, representing 13 percent of the city’s population, accounted for 34.2 percent of the homicides. 

            What brought down the number of homicides?  What caused them to surge upward once more?  The truth is that no one is sure.  In some minds, the murder spike resulted from “frustration, anger,…trauma and mental health challenges” inflicted by the pandemic and its attendant lock-downs.[3]  In some minds, two decades of aggressive and targeted policing brought down murder rates; while the progressive reforms of recent years handcuffed the police.  The 1994 Crime Bill added 100,000 police to American forces, while greatly increasing prison space.  Policies like “stop and frisk” in high-crime areas, high cash bail and long periods awaiting trial, and mass incarceration, it is argued, cut down the freedom of action allowed to criminals.  These policies may—or may not—have driven down crime levels.  They undoubtedly spawned a political backlash that decried mass incarceration and disparate effects of policing. 

            New York City embraced the new attitude.  In 2014, the city stopped appealing a court verdict against “stop and frisk” policing; the police then greatly reduced their use of the practice.  In 2019, the city announced a plan the close the gigantic Riker’s Island jail and to limit the city’s jail population to a much lower total of 3,300 inmates.  In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, the City Council passed further reforms.  These included a $1 billion cut in the police department’s budget, and explicit restrictions on the use of things like choke-holds.[4]  The budget cut led the NYPD to skip recruiting an entire class of new officers.  The state did its part as well.  In 2017, it raised the age of criminal responsibility, making it more difficult to charge 16- and 17-year olds as adults.  In 2020, it passed bail reform to reduce cash bail. 

In short, say conservatives, the reformers shifted the balance of forces on the streets of crime-plagued areas between the police and the criminals.  One result, they say, is that many police have backed off from pro-actively enforcing the laws, while others have retired. 

For the last decade, Blacks and Hispanics have born the burden of gun violence (95 percent) and that trend continued through 2020.  If Black Lives Matter, then do all Black lives matter or just those taken by the police?  It’s a choice facing progressives.  


[1] Heather MacDonald, “Taking Stock of a Most Violent Year,” WSJ, 25 January 2021. 

[2] Rafael A. Mangual, “The Homicide Spike Is Real,” NYT, 20 January 2021. 

[3] Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, quoted in MacDonald, “Taking Stock.” 

[4] For what it’s worth, see Joseph Wambaugh, The Onion Field, where the opinion is offered that it is really hard to subdue those resisting arrest without using choke-holds. 

By the Waters of Babylon 2.

In 2019, the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) estimated that 51.5 million Americans suffered from some sort of mental illness ranging from minor to severe.  Of these, NIMH estimated that 13.1 million suffered from a Serious Mental Illness.[1]  About two-thirds received some kind of treatment.  Women were much more likely than men to suffer from SMI, but also much more likely to receive treatment.  Young people (18-25) were much less likely to receive treatment than were older people. 

A couple of recent high-profile cases have brought attention to the interaction of the mentally ill with law enforcement.[2]  Entangled as they are with other social issues, the mental illness issue has faded into the background.  What gets missed is the sheer complexity of the problems and the wide ranges of people who are affected.   

            During 2019, the second chapter in a small tragedy concluded.  In January 2015, Thomas Gilbert, Jr. shot and killed his father, Thomas Gilbert, Sr.[3]  From January 2015 to May 2019, Tom Jr. languished in jail as the court tried to figure out if he was competent to stand trial.  Eventually, the presiding judge found him competent. 

It seems obvious that he was mentally ill.  His mother recounted a promising life gone to ruin from his late teens on.  He “didn’t like to be controlled,” so he defied his father by quitting high school soccer.  He became obsessed about “contamination” by things and then by other people.  His washed his hands obsessively, discarded clothing, furniture, and even college roommates, and stayed away from places like Kennedy airport from fear of contamination.  He did a lot of drugs.  He left Princeton mid-way through his freshman year to surf in South Carolina, but ended up in a hospital in Charleston after going three days without sleeping.[4]  The young man resisted every effort by his parents to get him professional help or even to stay in touch with him.[5]  After he eventually graduated from Princeton, he couldn’t get or keep work. 

However, none of this is enough to establish mental incompetence or to support an insanity defense.  What makes someone “competent” to stand trial?  A “defendant is incompetent [only] if he or she is incapable of rationally communicating with his or her attorney or rationally comprehending the nature of the proceedings against him or her…..The threshold for establishing competency is often identified as notoriously low.”[6]  Moreover, in New York, the burden of proof is on the accused.  The prosecutor here argued that Tom Jr. had long intended to kill his father: he had driven to Ohio to buy the murder weapon seven months before the killing; he had sent his mother out of the apartment on a ruse just before he shot his father.  He killed his father because his father has cut off financial aid. 

Prosecutors also commonly argue that the accused is shamming.  If Tom Jr. was shamming, then he was doing a pretty good job of it in the early stages of his trial.  He repeatedly interrupted his own lawyer and objected to his mother’s testimony about his unraveling sanity. 

The trial dragged on into late June, when the jury found Thomas Gilbert, Jr., guilty of murder.  In September, the judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole until he had served 30 years.[7] 

At least in prison he can be denied access to firearms and be forced to take his medications.  His parents had no such power. 


[1] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml#:~:text=Mental%20illnesses%20are%20common%20in%20the%20United%20States.,severity%2C%20ranging%20from%20mild%20to%20moderate%20to%20severe.  Serious Mental Illness (SMI) defined as “a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.” 

[2] Walter Wallace, Jr. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_of_Walter_Wallace; Daniel Prude. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_of_Daniel_Prude 

[3] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/01/19/by-the-waters-of-babylon/ 

[4] So, maybe he was surfing at Folly Beach.  See: https://www.islasurfschool-charleston.com/journal/2018/6/11/5-things-to-know-about-surfing-in-charleston 

[5] For what it’s worth, see the article on the co-occurrence of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) with bipolar disorder (manic-depressive).  https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/bipolar-plus-ocd-which-treat-first  That seems to my un-tutored eye to be what was happening to Thomas Gilbert, Jr. 

[6] See the very useful discussion at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/insanity_defense 

[7] You can follow the story in the articles by Edgar Sandoval and others in the New York Times.  See: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/05/nyregion/thomas-gilbert-jr-is-fit-for-trial-in-wealthy-fathers-death-psychologist-says.html; https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/30/nyregion/murder-trial-thomas-gilbert.html; https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/07/nyregion/murder-trial-thomas-gilbert.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article; https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/18/nyregion/murder-trial-thomas-gilbert.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article;  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/28/nyregion/murder-trial-thomas-gilbert-verdict.html?auth=linked-facebook&searchResultPosition=1; https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/27/nyregion/thomas-gilbert-murder-sentence.html;

Guns and Mental Illness 19 August 2019.

The recent spate of mass shootings has poured gas on the smoldering debate over guns.  Broadly, perhaps over-broadly, two schools of thought confront one another.  Democrats want access to firearms massively restricted, starting with assault-style weapons.  This amounts to penalizing the many because of the crimes of a few.  Republicans call for improved mental health screening and treatment, while also calling for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act which expanded access to mental health services.  Democrats counter that most mass killers aren’t mentally ill: they’re inspired by racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and Donald Trump.

In the wake of the  El Paso and Dayton massacres, Richard Friedman argued that mass murderers are not so much mentally ill, as conquered by hate and sometimes sucked in by extremist ideologies.  Gun control, including enhanced background checks, offers a better course than concentrating on “mental health” issues.[1]

One problem for this line of argument is that a bunch of the mass shooters have been people with serious mental problems.  Jared Lee Loughner was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and ruled incompetent to stand trial.  After the Columbine shootings, the FBI concluded that Eric Harris was a psychopath, and Dylan Klebold was a depressive with violent ideation.  James Holmes was mentally ill (probably some variety of schizophrenic), but sane enough to stand trial.  Travis Reinking suffered from delusions (including that he was being stalked by Taylor Swift) and appeared in a pink woman’s housecoat before exposing himself at a public swimming pool.

Yes, a bunch of the mass shooters have been proponents of hatred and racism.  Many others have slaughtered family members in relationships gone bad, many others have slaughtered former co-workers, and many others haven’t seemed to care who they killed as long as they killed somebody.

On the same days as Friedman’s opinion piece, Kim Strassel made an important point.[2]    According to Strassel, in 2017, the Pew Research Center published a study of the “demographics of gun ownership” in America.  Strassel  reported some of its findings. The fact that Democrats living along I-95 or I-5 don’t like guns masks politically important realities.  Overall, well over a third (42 percent) of Americans live in a home with some kind of firearm.  This includes 58 percent of people in rural areas, 48 percent of political Independents, 41 percent of people living in the suburbs, and 25 percent of Democrats.

About 75 percent of these people are determined to keep their firearms, which they regard as “essential to their own sense of freedom.”  “For today’s gun owners, the right to own guns nearly rivals other rights laid out in the U.S. Constitution—freedom of speech, the right to vote, the right to privacy, and freedom of religion.[3]

In short, the sort of gun control envisioned by Democratic activists and politicians face serious political opposition from gun owners who threaten no one.  Given the importance of the right to keep and bear arms to gun owners, it could cost the Democrats the White House in 2020.  The problem is how to include psychological screening in enhanced background checks.  JMO.

[1] “Letters to the Editor: Probing the Psyches of Mass Killers,” NYT, 18 August 2019.

[2] Kimberley Strassel, “Going to Extremes Against Guns,” WSJ, 9 August 2019.

[3] Indeed, the right to keep and bear arms looks something like a religion.

City Lights.

The “Baby Boom” (b. 1945-1963) formed the first memorable demographic mouse to pass through the institutional-cultural snake of American society.  Then “Gen X” (b. 1977-1987) marked a low-birth saddle between the high-birth “Baby Boom” and “Millennial” generations.  .  The “Millennial” generation (b. 1980-2005) has stretched the snake even farther than their predecessors.  Neither big generation has fully run its course so far.  Yet both have had profound impacts.[1]

One feature of the “Baby Boom” appeared in the flood tide toward the suburbs.  In a sense, the children of the “Boomers” motivated this migration.  The “Boomers” wanted bigger, newer houses with yards to play in and good schools.[2]  The life-blood drained out of older American cities as a result.

The “Millennials” reversed this course to some extent by moving back to urban cores in search of a more cosmopolitan life style.  They wanted walkable neighborhoods, other young people who shared their own culture, and—for people on the far side of many rights movements–diverse communities.

Moreover, a sharp fall in the violent crime rate made cities seem much safer than when their parents fled in previous decades.  Violent crimes—and not just homicide—has been falling since 1991.[3]  Studies have begun to reveal that people with higher incomes and more education are alert to changing crime rates.  They have shown a greater willingness than other groups to “gentrify” re-claimed areas.[4]

Apartment houses, starter houses, and many services thrived as a result.  City governments that benefitted from this population movement crowed over their present revival and contemplated their future prosperity.

Now, however, there are signs that this process may be cresting.[5]  Two factors may be at work.  First the number of “Millennials” moving into cities has fallen short of rose-tinted projections.  Second, the in-flow of younger “Millennials” is being off-set by the out-flow of older “Millennials”—those who are married with children and in their Thirties.  Many “Millennials” entered the job market during the “Great Recession.”  They’ve faced slow income growth and tight competition for affordable housing.  Many of them may have delayed starting families.  As they do, however, they may well hear the siren-song of more affordable housing and better schools in the suburbs.  Piling on to these forces, at least in some cities like San Francisco, are sharp rises in rents as the very well-off crowd out the only moderately well-off and everyone lower on the income ladder.[6]

It remains to be seen whether the urban renaissance of the early 21st Century will be sustained or will begin to retreat.  Sustaining the renaissance probably will require a complicated mix of school funding coupled with school reform, effective policing that keeps crime rates down without alienating people predisposed to see the police as a problem, and a thoughtful approach to keeping housing prices within reach of ordinary people.

[1] Conor Dougherty, “Cities May Be Starting to Run Out Of Millennials,” NYT, 24 January 2017.

[2] It seems foolish, if indelicate, to ignore the reality of “white flight” as an important factor.  See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/05/21/white-flight-from-baltimore/

[3] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/01/16/legacies-of-the-violent-decades/

[4] Emily Badger, “To Predict Gentrification, Look for Falling Crime,” NYT, 6 January 2017.

[5] Still, nothing’s set in cement except Bo Weinberg.  See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Weinberg

[6] See: What Government Can Accomplish 1.  https://waroftheworldblog.com/2016/12/29/what-government-can-accomplish-1/

Emeralds.

Celts[1] (pr. Kelts, not Selts) often have red hair and green eyes.  If a man is involved with a woman of Celtic descent, then he starts thinking about buying her stuff that is red or green.  A dark green dress, for example, or a Mandarin red silk wrap with gold and black dragons embroidered on it.  Or jewelry, if you’re at that stage of life (i.e. career, i.e. income) that allows you to go beyond the basic clear white diamond engagement ring.  Rings, ear-rings (clip or post depending on whether you’ve been smart enough to notice if she’s had her ears pierced), and necklaces.  Green or red jewelry means emeralds or rubies.

Here’s where things get complicated.  The best rubies come from Myanmar (Burma).  Mostly the mines are in central and northern Burma.  These regions fell under British control after the Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885).  In 1948, Burma became independent of Britain as a republic.  Subsequently it took the name of Myanmar. It has had a military dictatorship for decades and, more recently, there has occurred the whole unfortunate genocide of the Rohingyas thing.  But that’s another story for another time.

The best emeralds come from Columbia.  The tectonic plate movement (up-thrust and subduction) along the western edge of South America pushes hot rock and gases up through yielding sedimentary rocks.  Those gases include beryllium, chromium, and vanadium.  They flow into gaps in the sedimentary rocks, cool, and harden into emeralds.  As it happens, most of these deposits are found in the Boyaca (pr. Boy-yaka) and Cundinamarca districts, which lie on the eastern slopes of the Andes.  Much of this territory was first explored by Spaniards under the command of Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada (1496-1579).  (Jimenez led several disastrous-to-catastrophic expeditions into the interior, then died of leprosy.[2])  Much later in the bloody history of Columbia, a conventional civil war between left and right[3] molted into a decades-long struggle between the government, leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitary groups, and drug cartels.  Tens of thousands of people have died.  The leader among the left-wing rebels is the “Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia” (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia or FARC).  They started off as peasant Communists sponsored by Fidel Castro’s Cuba back when it was trying to export its own revolution.  Communism didn’t work out, so they turned to Capitalism[4]: dealing drugs and kidnapping people for ransom.  Not that FARC was alone in the resort to drug dealing.  Columbia soon became the major source of cocaine imported into the United States.[5]

Nor was FARC alone in the kidnap and ransom trade.[6]  They were just very good at it.  The movie “Proof of Life” (dir. Taylor Hackford, 2000) examines the business.  The movie is about Columbia, thinly disguised at the fictional country of “Tecala.”  During the filming, Meg Ryan had a steamy interlude with Russell Crowe.  Her eyes are blue, not green.  He would have given her sapphires.  So much for the hoped-for symmetry in my little essay.

Control over the emerald mines has become a key source of wealth for all the combatants.  A black market has developed.  Hence, Columbian emeralds are considered “conflict gems.”  Tiffany’s and Cartier don’t sell emeralds.  Hard thing to learn at Christmas.

[1] People who trace their distant ancestry to Ireland, Scotland, Wales.

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gonzalo_Jim%C3%A9nez_de_Quesada

[3] See, La Violencia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Violencia  A version of this appears in the novel by R.M. Koster, The Prince, as “La Rabia.”

[4] Kind of like post-Communist Russia and the Peoples’ Republic of China avant le fait.

[5] For one aspect of this issue, see Mark Bowden, Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw (2015).

[6] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kidnappings_in_Colombia and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kidnap_and_ransom_insurance

“It Must Be a Peach of a Hand.”

In spite of the confident assertions on the right and the left, violence in America is full of puzzles and contradictions.  First, murder rates have fluctuated.  In 1980, America had a murder rate of 10.2 per 100,000 people.  The rate drifted downward for the next ten years, then began to fall sharply from about 1990.  By 2014 it had fallen to 4.5 murders per 100,000 people.[1]  Then, in 2015, the national murder rate increased to 10.8 percent.  However, the sharp increase can be attributed to selected cities (Baltimore, Houston, and especially Chicago).  There murder rates jumped to highs not seen in half a decade.  For example, by about 22 November 2015, Baltimore’s homicide tally hit 300 deaths.  This is 42 percent higher than the total for 2014 and we still had the holidays to go.  Most of the rise seems to have come since the rioting that followed the arresting-to-death of Freddy Gray.[2]  That’s scary because the last time the US had an increase like this came in 1971, at the dawn of several violent decades.[3]

One question to ask is if these changes reflected government action or some other influences.  A second question to ask is, if it did reflect government action, then did it reflect federal, state, or local action?  A third question to ask is, if it reflected some other influences, what were those influences?

Second, superficially at least, declining murder rates were tracked by declining support for the death penalty.  In 1994, fully 80 percent of Americans supported the death penalty for murder, while 16 percent opposed it and 4 percent were unsure.  By March 2015, 56 percent supported it.  By October 2016, 49 percent supported the death penalty.[4]  Similarly, the use of capital punishment continues to decline in the United States.  It fell from 98 in 1999 to 35 in 2014 to 20 in the first two-thirds of 2015.  Extrapolating from that latter figure, there would be 30 in all of 2015.  Even in Texas, the state most prone to impose the death sentence, no one has been sentenced to death so far in 2015.[5]

Third, just over half (55 percent) of Americans think that gun ownership can be restricted without violating the constitution (and the Second Amendment be Damned!) and slightly more (57 percent) want a ban on assault weapons.  Conversely, 43 percent of Americans believe that gun ownership cannot be restricted without violating the constitution and 25 percent oppose banning even assault weapons.  All the same, almost three-quarters (73 percent) of Americans support universal background checks.[6]

Fourth gun control is bad for gun control.  After the liberal characterization of the San Bernardino terrorist attack as a “mass shooting,” gun sales zoomed upward.  In December 2015, Americans bought 3.3 million guns.  All of these sales have been from licensed gun-dealers because the government background check system has been swamped.  Attorney General Loretta Lynch has asked for the hiring of 430 additional people just to process the background checks of Americans complying with the existing gun laws.[7]

In spite of the obvious violation of individual civil rights, most (80 percent) of Americans favor banning people on terrorist watch-lists from buying guns.  A small minority (17 percent) suspect that the ban would not be very effective.[8]  There are 25,000 to 40,000 Americans on terror watch-lists.  Of these people, 244 of them tried to buy firearms in 2015.[9]  That is, about one tenth of one percent sought to buy weapons.  People on terrorist watch lists buy guns at lower rates than do “ordinary” Americans.

Fifth, what is a “mass shooting?”  Orlando or Newtown, right?  Actually, the EffaBeeEye’s definition is a little more expansive: a single event in which four or more people get shot.[10]  So, criminals probably commit the bulk of the mass-shootings as a by-product of their business or personal lives.  By the EffaBeeEye’s standard, there have been 133 mass shootings in 2016.  Florida has suffered 15 (or 11.2 percent) of them.

Americans are sharply divided over how to interpret Omar Mateen’s massacre in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL.  Most (60 percent) Democrats see it as an example of “domestic gun violence,” while most (79 percent) Republicans see it as an example of “Islamic terrorism.”[11]  The trouble is that the partisan filter on the vision of observers inhibits both understanding and civil discourse.  The further trouble is that both are right.

America is becoming a less violent place in comparison to the past, if not in comparison to Denmark.  Murder rates are generally trending downward; support for the death penalty is trending downward; and support for gun-control seems to be rising.  However, the politics of gun-control may well be hampering further progress.  It is common to blame the National Rifle Association for this problem.  It is common to use “terrorism” and “mass shootings” as labels that justify pushing ahead rapidly with strict gun-controls.  All that this does is to put the backs up on gun-owners.

Instead of shaming campaigns (satisfying though they are to many liberals), perhaps the best answer to a violent America is education campaigns.  Between 1964 and 2004, the number of Americans who smoked fell every year.  But in 2004, the decline bottomed out at 20.8 percent.  It stayed there through the end of 2007.[12]

Still, in these regards, America is a better, safer place to live than when I was a child.  Unless, of course, you are living in one of the broken cities where the War on Drugs spawns the “war for corners”; and where the “war for corners” spawns a confrontational style among young men with no better future.

This doesn’t end up exactly where I wanted to go when I began writing.  It just ends up where some random facts led me.

[1] “Noted,” The Week, 29 July 2016, p. 16.

[2] “Noted,” The Week, 27 November 2015, p. 16.

[3] “Noted,” The Week, 7 October 2016, p. 16.

[4] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 14 October 2016, p. 17.

[5] “Noted,” The Week, 25 September 2015, p. 16.

[6] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 5 August 2016, p. 17.

[7] “Noted,” The Week, 5 February 2016, p.8.

[8] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 1 July 2016, p.7

[9] “Noted,” The Week, 1 July 2016, p. 16.

[10] “Noted,” The Week, 24 June 2016, p. 20.  By this standard, the “Gunfight at the OK Corral” was a mass-shooting.  Especially if you were one of the Earp brothers.  If you were a Clanton or a McLaury, then it was a mass getting-shot.

[11] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 1 July 2016, p.7.

[12] “Noted,” The Week, 23 November 2007, p. 16.  Why did the decline stop?  What has it done since then?  Who are the remaining smokers?    I don’t know.  Perhaps they constitute a libertarian revolt against the intrusive nanny-state of liberal fascism.  Perhaps the people who rush to buy guns and ammo (as opposed to buying Guns and Ammo) are operating under the same star.

Both Black and Blue Lives Matter.

This is ill-timed, so it is probably ill-considered.  Probably mealy-mouthed as well.

Generally, crime rates in America are down markedly from two decades ago.  (This is not true if you live in Chicago.)  The drop has not entirely been explained.  One explanation, advanced by the police is that aggressive street policing (e.g. “stop-and-frisk”) has taken criminals off the street, deterred many others, and stopped a downward spiral of civic demoralization.[1]

Effective or not, the policy had unhappy consequences that were not, but could have been, anticipated.   First, African-Americans are victims of crime at much higher rates than are whites.  Since we live in a still-segregated society, this means that most crime is intra-racial, rather than inter-racial.  African-Americans are disproportionately both victims and victimizers.  Concentrating policing on high-crime areas inevitably assumed a character that could easily be construed as “racist.”

Second, the vast majority of people living in high-crime areas are not criminals.  As a result, “stop-and-frisk” involves stopping and frisking lots of innocent people in order to catch a few guilty ones.  All those innocent people have every right to feel that they are being harassed merely because they fit some demographic profile.  Not much effort seems to have been committed to trying to ease this feeling, if it even would be possible.

Third, policing appears to be a “coarse art,” instead of a “fine art.”  Ordinary fallible and flawed human beings have to figure out how to carry out the strategies defined by their superiors.  Often they have to carry out these policies while in contact with difficult, non-compliant people.  Moreover, America is awash in firearms.  Far too often, these interactions end in violent death.   Often, but not always, the circumstances are gray rather than black and white.  Afterwards, prosecutors, judges, and juries are more inclined than not to reject condemning the police.  Politicians pile-on, affirming that the laws are applied in a discriminatory way, or voicing platitudes, or asserting an unquestioning integral defense of police conduct.

If you stay at this policy long enough, you’re going to anger an awful lot of people.  It’s like building up the “fuel” for a forest fire.  All that is required for a conflagration is a lightning strike or a series of them.

Trayvon Martin.  Michael Brown.  Eric Garner.  Laquan McDonald.  Walter Scott.  Freddy Gray.  All were lightning strikes that set off a conflagration.  On the one hand, the “Black Lives Matter” protest movement sprang up.  On the other hand, American views on the state of race relations shifted from optimistic to pessimistic.  Recently, Baltimore prosecutors have suffered a series of stinging defeats in the effort to prosecute police officers in the arresting-to-death of Freddy Gray.  Then, police in Minnesota and Louisiana shot to death two black men in what should have been minor incidents.  More lightning strikes.

Protests erupted in many cities.  In Dallas, a black sniper used the occasion of one such peaceful protest to kill five police officers.

It has been difficult to hold an intelligent conversation about these matters.  For one thing, the subject is both complex and painful.  For another, it coincides with other complex and painful controversies.  The white populist revolts in both major parties.  The mass shootings and terrorist attacks.  Are these issues inter-related, with a common solution, or is it just our bad luck that they arose at the same time?

[1] See Barry Friedman, “Thin Blue Lines,” NYT Book Review, 3 July 2016.  Friedman reviews Heather Mac Donald, The War on Cops:, and Malcolm Sparrow, Handcuffed.

The 1400.

Chicago has a population of about 2.7 million people.  In the first quarter of 2016, it had more than 1,000 people shot—of whom 141 died.  That makes the “City of Big Shoulders” the murder capital—sorry, tired phrase—of the United States.[1]  Most of the violence appears to spring from wars between drug gangs.

“Da Cops” think that 1,400 young, black men did most of the shooting.[2]  It appears that most of those young men belong to a group of “social networks.”[3]  In an interesting experiment that smacks of Philip K. Dick,[4] the police have been analyzing 10 variables[5] to assign a likely-to-be-involved-in-violence score to people on its “Strategic Subject List” (SSL).[6]  It may not be perfect, but it’s not inaccurate: 70 percent of those who were shot so far in 2016 were in the list.

One question is how to respond.  A “public health” response takes the form of visits to the homes of people on the SSL by teams of police officers, social workers, and community organizers.  The purpose is to warn them that they have come to the attention of the authorities, and to offer them what meager support a bankrupt city can afford if they want to go down another road.[7]  Any life redeemed is a win.  One official says that 21 percent of the SSL figures “they had succeeded in talking to”[8] had accepted the offer of help and only 9 percent had been shot since a visit.[9]

Another question is about civil liberties.  People who care about civil liberties (practically an endangered species in America, they’re going to end up being released into the wild in Yellowstone or something like that) might be concerned about the fact that 80 percent of those arrested for involvement in shootings, and 117 of the 140 people arrested in a spate of drug and gang raids also were on the SSL.  Do the police have any evidence or do they just “round up the usual suspects” based on the SSL?  That approach is more cost-effective and emotionally satisfying in a country in love with “getting tough” with everyone except ourselves.

What do the variables themselves tell us?  Take “having been shot.”  If somebody shot me, then I would certainly want to shoot that person.  Fair’s fair.  However, I’d settle for the police arresting that person and the courts trying that person, and the judge assigning some inadequate sentence.  Walk away grinding my teeth.  None of that is true for the shooters and the shot in Chicago.  They don’t accept the court system.  They don’t delegate “justice.”  They don’t walk away.  Probably, that would undermine what little personal dignity they possess.

[1] “Chicago in crisis,” The Week, 13 May 2016, p. 11.

[2] They’re mostly terrible shots.  If you take 14.1 percent lethality as a measurement, the ROI is low.  Still, what if the thrill of the experience is what people are after, rather than actually killing somebody?  Also, it’s not like there are lots of places to practice one’s aim and receive expert instruction.  I suppose the cops could subpoena the records of gun ranges.  Find out who is buying time on the range, renting muffs and safety glasses, buying 9-mm ammo.

[3] See Andrew Papachristos, http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/11/18/can-predictive-policing-be-ethical-and-effective/use-of-data-can-stop-crime-by-helping-potential-victms

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minority_Report_%28film%29

[5] The variables include things like “trend lines” of previous arrests, arrest for possession or use of a weapon, and having been shot.  They exclude race, gender, age, and geography.  Why include things that can be taken as a given, but which will end up in a lawsuit over profiling?

[6] Monica Davey, “Chicago Police Try to Predict Who May Shoot or Be Shot,” NYT, 24 May 2016.

[7] That aid includes drug treatment, housing assistance, and job-training.  To put the worst possible spin on it, become a minimum-wage food-service worker, so you can go to bed early and can get up before dawn to take public transit, and be a complete pussy in the eyes of everyone except your grandmother.

[8] That is, most weren’t at home because they were “at work” or laying up with a girl or just told them to go away.

[9] They visited 1,300 people.  So, 9 percent would be 117 people.  Out of 470 killed and perhaps 3,300 shot.  Murky.