By Wilfred Reilly, Sept. 20, 2022
Black Lives Matter has yet to receive a requiem, a summation in print. More than seven years into the globally unavoidable anti-police movement, there certainly exists a sizable BLM academic literature, dealing – as my political science colleague Bob Maranto has pointed out – with questions ranging from how the movement impacted on youth-voter turnout to the social impact of Ben & Jerry’s selling politically themed flavours of ice-cream.
However, almost no one has examined how well Black Lives Matter met its initial goals: reducing the police violence that was invariably presented as ‘epidemic’ or ‘genocidal’ and reducing crime more broadly, as brothers and others came to trust a fairer criminal justice system. For that matter, whatever happened to the literally billions of dollars donated, in good faith, to national and local BLM chapters?
This article takes a shot at those tough questions. In most cases, unfortunately, the blunt but real answer seems to be: Black Lives Matter had few, if any, positive impacts. Police violence is down slightly, if at all, while overall crime in BLM-affected areas has sky-rocketed back to 1990s levels. As Dr Maranto and I recently noted for Commentary magazine, rates of fatal shootings of civilians by US police – per an authoritative database from the Washington Post – appear to have hardly budged during the post-2014 BLM era. There were 994 fatal police shootings in toto in 2015, 958 in 2016, 981 in 2017, 993 in 2018, 999 in 2019, and 1,020 in 2020.
Not only was this change in rate clearly not significant in statistical terms, police shootings of citizens actually increased almost three per cent during the period under review. Fatal police shootings specifically of black Americans followed a very similar pattern year-on-year, with 258 black men and women shot in 2015, 236 shot in 2016, 222 in 2017, 228 in 2018, 251 in 2019, and 243 in 2020. The same was true for killings of unarmed persons: 95 ‘fatal shootings of an unarmed individual’ did take place in the outlier year of 2015, but we then saw 64 in 2016, 71 in 2017, 58 in 2018, 54 in 2019, and 60 in 2020 – a variance of less than seven per cent between the first typical year given here and the last.
It should be noted, honestly, that shootings specifically of unarmed (32) and black (178) individuals did decline sharply in 2021, following the Summer of Floyd. However, it is not obvious that this represents the start of any sort of novel pattern: at least 20 unarmed individuals had already been shot and killed by police when I fact-checked this year’s Washington Post database back in July. Furthermore, overall rates of police violence appear actually to be on the rise: 1,054 citizens were fatally shot by law enforcement officers in 2021, versus 1,020 in 2020, and the US is currently on pace for approximately 1,100 such killings in 2022 (we stand at 744 three weeks into month nine of the calendar). The picture here is complex.
In contrast, the post-BLM picture of American trends in street crime is quite simple: serious crime has sky-rocketed in recent years. The most reliable annual crime data are the homicide figures, and as Jason Johnson – police researcher, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, and former deputy police commissioner of Baltimore – points out: ‘[In 2020] the United States tallied more than 20,000 murders – the highest total since 1995 and 4,000 more than in 2019.’ This surge is remarkable when analysed at the level of any hard-hit individual city: NYC ‘added more than 100 additional homicides’ in 2020 and endured a 58 per cent overall increase in the murder rate.
New York hardly suffered alone. In the ‘Second City’ of Chicago, my hometown, the already world-famous murder rate increased by 65 per cent. Our friendly southern rivals saw surges of the same kind. Murders in St Louis hit the highest level in half a century, reaching a benchmark of 87 killings per 100,000 residents (the rate in El Salvador today is 61.8 per 100,000). The criminologist Jeff Asher points out that homicides in my new home of Louisville (KY) had jumped 80 per cent – from 78 in 2019 to 139 in 2020 – by the time he compiled his primary data set in October of the latter year.
The same pattern that explains each of these specific case studies was also easy to see more generally. The 2020-21 report from the Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice (CCCJ) points out that, across basically all of 21 major US cities that opted to provide the project with data, ‘murder rates jumped more than 30 per cent fall-over-fall and more than 40 per cent summer-over-summer from 2019 to 2020’. Across the set of cities contributing information to this initiative – recall that 331 US cities currently have a population of more than 100,000 – murders soared by 610 between 2019 and 2020. And, importantly if unsurprisingly, almost all other serious violent crimes followed the same pattern: ‘Aggravated assaults went up by 15 per cent in the summer and 13 per cent in the fall of 2020; gun assaults increased by 15 and 16 per cent.’ To the extent that they are available, many – though not all – 2021 crime figures show the continuation of very similar patterns.
Many truly innovative, and sometimes entertaining, explanations for this massive nationwide surge in crime have been advanced on the American political left – readers with a sense of humour might want to check out this article from Vox. However, Dr Maranto, Johnson, and I and most other serious scholars writing in this field have no issue linking the crime wave to specific policies championed by Black Lives Matter and similar groups. While drastically reducing police budgets, which several major cities truly did do, can hardly have helped with the crime problem, the most obvious such policy was plain ‘police pullback’ – the reduction of officer stops of suspicious individuals and vehicles, ‘stop-and-frisks’, and other basically voluntary interactions between law-enforcement officers and citizens.
The data bear this out. In NYC, Chicago and Louisville, the just-mentioned surges in homicide followed decreases in officer-initiated stops (and subsequent arrests) of respectively 38 per cent, 53 per cent, and 45 per cent. In NYC, between June and December of 2020, the NYPD recorded an amazing 45,000 fewer arrests than it had during the same ‘six-month fiscal’ the year before. The results were predictable.
They were also nothing new. The modern leftist ‘kinder and gentle’ approach to the policing of tough urban areas has been tried over and over since its genesis during the 1960s, and the results have always been basically the same. Back in 2016, during the first wave of what has now been seven or eight years of BLM unrest in the US, a neighbourhood Chicago paper – with a heavily black readership – ran the tear-jerking but unremarkable headline: ‘Chicago Police Stops Down 90 per cent… Gun Violence Sky-Rockets.’ Decades before this, the Miranda v Arizona and Escobedo v Illinois legal cases, fruit of the poisoned-tree evidence doctrine, both shifted the balance of power in interrogations in favour of suspects. Meanwhile, the community policing movement, ‘maximum sentence’ campaigns and so forth of the 1960s led directly to a brutal new normal for American crime, which endured until the Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani backlash of the fed-up post-OJ 1990s.
Of what do I speak? For those too young to remember 1990s dramas like Kids and New Jack City, it is important to remember how bad crime in urban America used to be. Between 1963 and 1993, murders, rapes and robberies on an annual basis increased from baselines of 8,640, 17,650, and 116,470 respectively to 24,530, 106,010, and 659,870 – increases in the 500 per cent range that far outstripped any effect of population growth. The ‘Post-BLM Effect’ has been similar if smaller: US murders had dropped to 14,164 in 2014, before surging back over the hated 20,000 mark today. And there seems little doubt of a causal relationship here. The highly professional CCCJ report notes that: ‘Homicides, aggravated assaults and gun assaults rose significantly beginning in late May and June of 2020.’ As we know, George Floyd died on 25 May 2020, and widespread unrest and police pullback began almost immediately afterward.
Did Black Lives Matter help any ‘Black folX’ live better black lives, a wit might ask? Setting aside some genuine good works by local chapters like Hawk Newsome’s, a cynical but real answer would seem to be that the movement certainly helped its original founders, current leaders, and their favourite charities. As The Economist pointed out, donations to BLM-related causes – the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (BLMGNF) and other NGOs at the heart of international BLM – between May and December 2020 amounted to $10.6 billion. And most regular American black working men or anti-racist British punks would likely be a bit bemused to find out where most of that money has gone.
Per my investigative article for spiked on this topic, a shortlist of causes to receive at least a six-figure grant from BLMGNF includes: ‘Trans United, the Audrey Lorde Project (Trans Justice), Black Trans Circles, the Transgender District, the Black Trans Travel Fund, the Okra Project, For the Gworls, the Trans Justice Funding Project, the Trans Housing Coalitions Homeless Black Trans Women’s Fund, Black Trans Media, and Black Trans Femmes in the Arts.’ Very probably, BLMGNF – an entity which is ‘unapologetically queer’ – has committed more money to gay and particularly trans-advocacy organisations than to black groups focused on improving the ‘hood’ or fighting police brutality. Indeed, a collective of urban Black Lives Matter chapters known as the #BLM10, which includes the significant New Jersey and Hudson Valley branches of the organisation, has publicly complained that its chapters have received ‘little to no financial support’ since BLM’s launch in 2013.
Be that as it may, organisational contributions and individual speaking fees have certainly enabled a pleasant lifestyle for the Black Lives Matter national leadership team, as well as those affiliated with the charities they support. During 2020 and 2021, former BLMGNF CEO Patrisse Cullors made headlines repeatedly because of her taste in luxury real estate – purchasing ‘a custom ranch … featuring a private aeroplane hangar’ on 3.2 acres of prime Georgia land, and a 2,370 square foot Topanga Canyon property including ‘two houses on a quarter acre’, as well as checking out a third property in a trendy Bahamas resort ‘where Justin Timberlake and Tiger Woods both have homes’. These new toys joined the two homes she already owned: an $800,000 property in Inglewood, and a $720,000 home in diverse but gentrifying South LA. From the balcony of any of those, glass in hand, revolution must seem a fine thing indeed.
From my perspective on a typical American street, however, a quick and negative summary of the effects of BLM comes immediately to mind: Black Lives Matter got a lot of black people killed.