Our current P4P author, Matthew Desmond is the co-author with Andrew Papchristos of an important opinion piece in the New York Times on September 30th on the impact of police violence.
In the article they write,
…police violence rips apart the social contract between the criminal justice system and the citizenry, suppressing one of the most basic forms of civic engagement, calling 911 for help. The promotion of public safety requires both effective policing and an engaged community. We cannot have one without the other.”
SINCE the year began, police officers have killed 804 people, roughly three a day. In recent weeks, police officers fatally shot Terence Crutcher in Tulsa and Alfred Olango in a San Diego suburb. Both men were black and unarmed.
When the police beat or kill an unarmed black man, what impact does it have on a city and on its black community in particular? Until recently, we have been unable to answer this question with solid data, even as the national debate about this issue has grown more contentious.
One well-known contribution to this debate has been Heather Mac Donald’s notion of the “Ferguson effect,” the idea that, after an episode of police violence, crime spikes in cities because ensuing protests cause the police to stop proactive tactics, emboldening the bad guys. “The most plausible explanation for the surge in lawlessness,” Ms. Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, writes in her book “The War on Cops,” “is the intense agitation against American police departments that began in the summer of 2014,” following the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray. To support her claim, Ms. Mac Donald cites crime trends and interviews with several police chiefs and politicians, including Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, who remarked last year, “We have allowed our police departments to get fetal.”
If you look at crime numbers since the Clinton presidency, you see a plummeting trend — what the criminologist Franklin E. Zimring calls “the great American crime decline.” But if you focus on any single year, you see squiggles. Those squiggles are what commentators tend to focus on when they say that crime is up. It is true that violent crime has jumped in some cities that have also experienced police violence followed by public unrest. Murder and manslaughter increased by 10 percent last year, a trend that seems to be driven by some cities more than others.
Critics of the idea of the Ferguson effect have pointed out that there is little evidence to support it. But up to this point there’s been none to debunk it, either.
In a recently published study that we conducted with our fellow sociologist David Kirk, we bring fresh data to bear on this issue. The study focuses on what happened to crime-related 911 calls in the wake of one of Milwaukee’s most publicized cases of police violence against an unarmed black man: the beating of Frank Jude in October 2004. Mr. Jude was attacked by several white off-duty police officers — and one who was on-duty — after being accused of stealing a police badge at a party. Officers boot-stomped his face, snapped his fingers and pressed pens into his ear canals. The lost badge was never recovered.
The months after were quiet. The officers returned to work, and Mr. Jude began a slow recovery. But on Feb. 6, 2005, a Sunday, readers of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel were met with the following front-page headline: “Police Suspected in Man’s Beating,” accompanied by a photographtaken at the hospital of Mr. Jude’s swollen face
Our study shows that residents of Milwaukee’s neighborhoods, especially residents of black neighborhoods, were far less likely to report crime to the police after Mr. Jude’s beating was reported in the press and the subsequent fallout shook the city. In our work, we controlled for crime rates, previous calling patterns and several other neighborhood characteristics. The effect lasted for over a year and resulted in a loss of approximately 22,200 911 calls, a 17 percent reduction in citizen crime reporting, compared with the expected number of calls. It is one thing to disparage law enforcement in your thoughts and speech after an instance of police violence makes the news. It is quite another to witness a crime, or even to be victimized, and decide not to report it.
In the six months after Mr. Jude’s story was published, homicides in Milwaukee jumped 32 percent. Our research suggests that this happened not because the police “got fetal” but because many members of the black community stopped calling 911, their trust in the justice system in tatters. Research showsthat urban neighborhoods with higher levels of legal cynicism also have higher rates of violent crime: When citizens lose faith in the police, they are more apt to take the law into their own hands.
Our findings confirm what the people of Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and other cities have been saying all along: that police violence rips apart the social contract between the criminal justice system and the citizenry, suppressing one of the most basic forms of civic engagement, calling 911 for help. The promotion of public safety requires both effective policing and an engaged community. We cannot have one without the other.
No act of police violence is an isolated incident and it should not be treated as such. Each new tragedy contributes to and reawakens the collective trauma of black communities, which have been subjected to state-sanctioned assaults — from slave whippings and lynching campaigns to Jim Crow enforcement and mass incarceration — for generations. If acts of excessive police force result in community-level consequences, then cities should implement community-level interventions in the aftermath of such acts.
To restore their legitimacy in the eyes of all citizens, police departments could begin by acknowledging their role in past injustices. In his response to our study, Edward Flynn, the police chief of Milwaukee, had the opportunity to do just that. Instead of addressing the implications of our study’s results, though, he dismissed them by claiming that our data were affected by technological quirks in the 911 system. But our study accounted for these considerations by showing that not all 911 calls went down after Mr. Jude’s beating made headlines, just calls reporting crime to the police.
What explains our finding is not some administrative glitch but the fact that police violence against an unarmed black man was registered in the collective memories of black Milwaukeeans as part of a larger pattern. Before Frank Jude, there was Justin Fields, an unarmed black man shot in the back by a Milwaukee police officer in 2003. Before Justin Fields there was Mario Mallett, a black man who, handcuffed and shackled, died in the back of a police wagon after a struggle with officers. Before Mario Mallett there was Thomas Jackson, a mentally ill man who suffocated after police officers placed their knees in his back while he was handcuffed. Before Thomas Jackson, there was James Philips III and Nicholas Elm Sr., who died in police custody; before them, there was Tandy O’Neal, shot in the back during a police raid; before him, there was Ernest Lacy, a black man falsely accused of rape, who died after officers used excessive force while arresting him. Some of us have forgotten these names; some of us cannot.