Why the big increase in U.S. murders? Andrew Sullivan has a theory which is his.

June 12, 2021 • 12:45 pm

We know two things: that the murder and shooting rate in America has gone sky high, especially in big cities, and we know that, at the same time, many on the Left are trying to defund the police. Now police reform is one thing (I do approve of social workers going along on calls that require that kind of treatment), but deeply cutting police budgets right now is a recipe for disaster—disaster for both human lives and for the Democratic Party.

In Chicago, for instance, 289 people have already been killed this year, and the year is barely half over. But that’s already 16 more people killed than in all of 2020! If you extrapolate the present rate to the entire year, it would represent an increase of about 96% over 2020! In the article below, which reports similar increases elsewhere and tries to find a cause, Andrew Sullivan summarizes the data, drawing from the New York Times:

Here’s the NYT summary of the data, to start with:

Homicide rates in large cities were up more than 30 percent on average last year, and up another 24 percent for the beginning of this year, according to criminologists … Homicides in Portland, Ore., rose to 53 from 29, up more than 82 percent; in Minneapolis, they grew to 79 from 46, up almost 72 percent; and in Los Angeles the number increased to 351 from 258, a 36 percent climb … Homicides in Philadelphia are up almost 28 percent, with 170 through May 9, compared with 133 in the same period last year; in Tucson, Ariz., the number jumped to 30 from 17 through May 13, an increase of 76 percent.

By any measure, that’s a huge increase. Yes, we’re still in a relatively low crime environment. But the suddenness of the rise and its scale are striking.

Clearly, now is not the time to reduce policing, and clearly not the time to eliminate policing, which some “progressives” do indeed want. For another thing is certain: reducing policing will just raise the rate of crime, especially violent crime, and will cost more lives. The increase in homicides isn’t explained by a big increase in murders by white police, but, according to stats compiled in recent years, largely by black-on-black crime.  Increasing the murder rate by reducing policing (a “solution” that both Sullivan and I deplore) will simply lead to a disproportionate loss of black lives.

Click on the screenshot to read the article:

Here are the possible reasons for the increase in murders and shootings considered by Sullivan, and why he rejects some.

a.) The pandemic.  Doesn’t seem feasible to Sullivan because lockdowns tend to reduce rather than increase crime, a reduction that in fact was observed in much of the world.

b.) Poverty caused by the pandemic. Again, doesn’t seem feasible because crimes that enrich the perp, like burglary, larceny, and drug offenses, dropped from previous years. So did “food insecurity.”

c.) “The fentanyl crisis”.  Doesn’t seem plausible because opioid peddling isn’t connected with much crime.

d. Defunding the police.  Not likely, for not much defunding has yet taken place.

But what does seem likely to Sullivan is the next hypothesis:

e.) A wariness by police to do “proactive” or heavy law enforcement following the murder of George Floyd and its sequelae, which included increased demonization of police. 

There’s no doubt that there’s a temporal correlation between homicides, shootings and the murder of Floyd, but of course correlation isn’t causation. Here, though, is a plot Sullivan presents of shots fired over time during the Floyd “era” (Minneapolis, of course, is where Floyd was murdered):

The spike in shootings followed Floyd’s death almost immediately, and has risen to double its pre-murder rate since then. Sullivan thinks that, in this case, the correlation does represent causality:

Of course, that is not causation. But it’s one hell of a correlation — and no other event seems relevant. It’s as if the Floyd murder, and the subsequent urban chaos, sent a signal: the cops are on the defensive. Which means murderers can go on the offensive. And once lawlessness establishes itself, it tends to compound. A few gang murders can soon morph into tit-for-tat urban warfare.

Sullivan supports this thesis with other data as well, including the widespread opprobrium directed toward the police, which partly explains, I think, the attrition of police forces in many places. Why be a cop when everybody hates you (“all cops are bastards”) and your job may be insecure?

After this relentless assault, regular police officers noticed. Many quit:

In Chicago, 560 officers retired in 2020 in a police department that had about 13,100 sworn officers as of March, records show. That’s about 15% more cops retiring than during the previous year, when the number of retirements rose by nearly 30%. In New York City, 2,500 cops retired last year, nearly double the number in 2019, according to the New York Police Department, which has about 34,500 uniformed officers. In Minneapolis, about 40 officers retired last year, and another 120 took leaves of absence. That’s nearly 20% of a police department.

But manpower was not the most significant factor. What truly mattered, Cassell argues, is that the police pulled back from the kind of aggressive, pro-active policing that has been shown to be most helpful in reducing fatal civilian shootings — but also most likely to lead to fatal encounters with the police. In Minneapolis, for example, “police stops and officer-initiated calls dropped more than half, use-of-force incidents fell by two-thirds while traffic-related incidents and patrols became far less common.” Residents complained that the cops were slow to come, or were in the neighborhoods with their windows up.

Plainclothes police details have been cut sharply in some places. All this, says Sullivan has taken its toll on the cops, who now “refrain from the kind of pro-active policing that can lead to exactly the kind of incidents that can become viral–aggressive intervention against armed criminals before they kill.

Now Sullivan admits that this is just a guess, but it’s at least supported by independent data, unlike my own earlier hypothesis, which was that the pandemic just made people edgy and desperate, leading to more killings.

Sullivan’s “guess” may well be right, though he hastens to add that he’s not arguing against police reform or shifting some police activities to mental health professionals.

Being a cop is a job I wouldn’t want to have, though I can see its appeal to authoritarian personalities. But it also appeals to those who want to make the community safer, for I do not believe that all cops are evil. I even believe that many cops are on an even keel, not racist, and try to do an honorable job (remember, if nothing else, that many cops are black).  But Sullivan sees a big irony here, for “defunding the police” is an official part of the Black Lives Matter agenda. So Sullivan ends this way:

This is not an argument against police reform or even against shifting some core responsibilities — mental health incidents, for example — to other kinds of professionals. It is an argument that pro-active policing has been more important in restraining crime than many have acknowledged; that removing it, before reforming the entire system, is extremely dangerous; and that elite complacency in the face of lawlessness and destruction in the summer of 2020 helped ignite a cycle of murder that is very hard to unwind. When crimes are committed with impunity, more crimes will be committed. And the victims will not be at Yale.

So this scenario prompts a question of supreme irony: what if the final legacy of Black Lives Matter is that it actually succeeds in its core goal, and that in the future, far fewer African-Americans are shot by the cops. And what if the price of this symbolic victory is, in fact, a huge increase in the numbers of innocent black lives lost to civilian murder? That’s a trade-off worth discussing, before it becomes a new norm that’s very hard to undo.

Life without parole: man receives “third strike” sentence for possessing more than an ounce of pot

May 14, 2021 • 12:00 pm

Reader Ken sent me this article from the Associated Press (click on screenshot) which shows how brutally insensitive the prison system is in America—at least in Mississippi and other “three strikes” states. Those are states in which, if you’re convicted of three successive felonies (one of which in Mississippi must be a “violent offense”), they lock you up for life and throw away the key. You’ll leave prison only in a box. You cannot get probation, and the governor cannot parole you.

It recounts the story of Allen Russell, aged 38, who received his third felony conviction for possessing between 44 and 80 grams of marijuana—more than 30 grams, an ounce—is a felony). Before that, Russell served 8 years for two home burglaries and was released from prison in 2014. This was not a violent offense, though now all burglaries are considered “violent offenses.”.  Then felony #2: Russell was found in possession of a weapon as a convicted felon. For that he served two years.

Finally, on November 29, 2017, Russell was arrested for carrying somewhere between 44 and 80 grams of marijuana, which is a felony since the amount exceeded 30 grams.

Under state law, Russell was then sentenced, after the third “strike”, to life in prison without possibility of parole.  He appealed the sentence, saying that it was “cruel and unusual punishment and is grossly disproportionate” to possessing a smallish amount of marijuana.

But in their opinion, which you can find here, the court appears to have been split 4-3), they majority said that he wasn’t being sentenced for the marijuana alone, but because he was a “habitutal offender,” and thus subject to Mississippi law, which remains in force.

Here’s a bit of the majority opinion (my emphasis):

The jury convicted Russell of possession of marijuana in an amount greater than 30 grams but less than 250 grams. During the sentencing hearing, the State presented evidence of Russell’s prior felony convictions. In April 2004, Russell pled guilty to two separate charges of burglary of a dwelling and received two concurrent fifteen-year sentences in MDOC’s custody. The State presented evidence that Russell served eight years, seven months, and three days on each charge for burglary of a dwelling before being released from prison in February 2014. In October 2015, Russell then pled guilty to possession of a weapon by a convicted felon and received a ten-year sentence in MDOC’s custody, with two years to serve, eight years suspended, and five years of post-release supervision. Based on the State’s proof of Russell’s two prior felony convictions, the circuit court found Russell to be a violent habitual offender and sentenced him to life imprisonment without eligibility for probation or parole. Russell unsuccessfully moved for a new trial or, alternatively, a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Aggrieved, Russell appeals.

Now in what world should a 38 year old man be locked up for life for two burglaries committed at the same time, possession of an illegal firearm, and a smallish amount of marijuana? Is there no possibility of rehabilitation? It’s not like Russell committed three murders, rapes, or armed robberies. He burgled two houses without violence, had possession of an illegal firearm that he didn’t use in another instance, and then was found with a few bags of marijuana. For that he deserves to rot in jail forever?

From the minority opinion:

The purpose of the criminal justice system is to punish those who break the law, deter them from making similar mistakes, and give them the opportunity to become productive members of society. The fact that judges are not routinely given the ability to exercise discretion in sentencing all habitual offenders is completely at odds with this goal. Additionally, “[t]he discharge of judicial duties requires consideration, deliberation[,] and thoughtful use of the broad discretion given judges under the laws of this State.” White v. State, 742 So. 2d 1126, 1137 (¶44) (Miss. 1999). In instances such as these, the duty of the judiciary, as an independent branch of government, is frustrated because courts are not allowed to take the facts and circumstances surrounding a habitual offender’s prior offenses into account at sentencing. In cases like Russell’s any discretion really lies with the prosecution rather than the judiciary. Once an offender is charged and convicted as a habitual offender, courts have no option but to “rubber stamp” the decision by sentencing an 20 offender under section 99-19-83 instead ofsection 99-19-81.10 In fact, situations like the one currently before us are a prime example of why many people have called for criminal justice reform with regard to sentencing.

I’m not sure how many states have a “three-strikes-you’re-out” policy, but even one is too many.

Conservative Supreme Court takes away a route to rehabilitation for juveniles convicted of capital crimes

April 23, 2021 • 11:30 am

The tweets below alerted me to the fact that yes, the Supreme Court is acting conservatively, as we expect, but in this case it’s also changing course. In the just-decided case of Jones v. Mississippi, the judges ruled 6-3 that giving a juvenile a mandatory sentence of life without parole for a crime committed under the age of 18 does not, as it did before in Mississippi, require a finding that the criminal be “permanently incorrigible”. The dissenters were, as expected, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Breyer—the three liberals on the court. (The decision, written by Brett Kavanaugh, is here, which includes Sotomayor’s strong dissent. Have a look at that dissent.)

As Nina Totenberg reports at NPR, Brett Jones, now 31, was only 15 when he stabbed his grandfather to death in a fight about Brett’s girlfriend. Despite his age, Jones was sentenced to life without parole.  There was no finding of “incorrigibility” involved, as the law required. His lawyer took the case all the way up to the Supreme Court, arguing that the defendant at least deserved a chance at parole, especially because he’s been a model prisoner over the past 16 years and graduated from high school while incarcerated. As Jones stated, “”I’ve pretty much taken every avenue that I could possibly take … to rehabilitate myself … I can’t change what I’ve done. I can just try to show … I’ve become a grown man.”

From the NPR report:

Over the past two decades, the law on juvenile sentencing has changed significantly. The Supreme Court — primed by research that shows the brains of juveniles are not fully developed, and that they are likely to lack impulse control — has issued a half dozen opinions holding that juveniles are less culpable than adults for their acts. And the court has also ruled that some of the harshest punishments for acts committed by children are unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

After striking down the death penalty for juvenile offenders, the court, in a series of decisions, limited life without parole sentences to the rarest cases — those juvenile offenders convicted of murder who are so incorrigible that there is no hope for their rehabilitation.

But all of those decisions were issued when the makeup of the court was quite different than it is now. This case was the first time the court has heard arguments in a juvenile sentencing case with three Trump appointees on the bench, including new Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who replaced the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Previously, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired in 2018, repeatedly was the deciding vote in cases involving life sentences and other harsh punishments for juvenile offenders. But with Kennedy retired and replaced by Kavanaugh, and with Ginsburg replaced by Barrett, the court in this case indicated that it is not inclined to go the extra mile to protect juvenile offenders from the harshest punishments.

What this means is that the Supreme Court has blocked a way for juveniles to show sufficient rehabilitation to be considered for parole.  Yet as we know, one of the purposes of incarceration is supposed to be rehabilitation, and in the last 16 years Jones has shown encouraging signs of that. But it’s no use: given the decision, he’ll probably spend the next four or five decades, until he dies, locked up for a crime he committed at 15.

I think this is unfair, coldhearted, and a repudiation of what “punishment” is supposed to effect.  Is there no possibility of rehabilitating these prisoners? At least there used to be a procedure for determining if an incarcerated juvenile was “permanently incorrigible”. Now that’s gone in the state. And according to NPR, 25 states do not allow “life without parole” sentences for juveniles.  Six others have nobody serving such a sentence. The other 19 are like Mississippi, allowing sentences of life without parole for those who kill as juveniles.

The upshot: the conservative Justices don’t give a rat’s patootie about rehabilitation, for their view of justice is retributive. If you think someone like Jones can be reintergrated safely into society, what is the point of taking away any chance of parole?

NPR’s conclusion:

Thursday’s ruling will certainly make it more difficult for juvenile offenders like Jones to show judges they deserve another chance at freedom somewhere down the road, says Cardozo Law School’s Kathryn Miller. “It’s going to be much harder to convince judges” that evidence of rehabilitation is relevant, she says.

“A lot of times these judges really want to still focus on the facts of the crime” even though it is years or decades later, she said. “They’re not interested in the rehabilitation narrative.”

Neither, it seems, is the newly constituted conservative Supreme Court majority.

Here are tweets by Mark Joseph Stern about the case; he’s a legal reporter for Slate:

Verdict reached in Derek Chauvin trial: Guilty on all three charges

April 20, 2021 • 2:53 pm

UPDATE: The verdicts:

Second-degree murder: GUILTY

Third-degree murder: GUILTY

Second-degree manslaughter: GUILTY

Chauvin, who was remanded into custody, faces up to 40 years in prison.

____________________

 

According to many sources, including the New York Times, the jury in Minneapolis has reached a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial. That means that it’s unanimous.

And if it’s that quick, I’m betting on at least one “guilty” verdict. In fact, I’d bet $200 on that outcome. (The charges are second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.)

I’ll post the verdict itself, which is supposed to be announced in an hour, right here. I hope that, if a guilty verdict is reached, it’s the kind of guilty verdict that won’t incite riots  because it’s the “wrong” verdict, one not perceived as bringing “justice.”

In the unlikely event that Chauvin is cleared of all charges, batten down the hatches.

Stay tuned.

Discussion thread: the trial of Derek Chauvin and other matters

March 30, 2021 • 11:00 am

How about a discussion thread while I’m on the road? Here’s one possible topic, but feel free to bring up anything.

As you know, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is now on trial for the murder of George Floyd in the infamous kneeling-on-the-neck incident. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. The jury has a mixed racial composition, so reports the media, but that reporting itself implies that jurors will judge the case based on their race.

I’ve been loath to call the death of Floyd “murder” because there wasn’t a verdict yet, and because even the news doesn’t do that, but it sure looks as if Chauvin showed some sort of wanton depravity, kneeling on Floyd’s neck much longer than necessary.

Here’s CNN’s Van Jones analyzing the case in a seven-minute segment. Jones apparently thinks that Chauvin is guilty, and saying that “the system is on trial”: if Chauvin gets away with it, police officers across the U.S. will feel free to do the same thing.  But the jurors cannot try the system: they are trying Derek Chauvin. The purpose of a trial is to see if an individual broke the law under a particular set of circumstances, not whether the American system of policing is flawed. That said, like Van Jones I can’t imagine how Chauvin’s conduct could be found acceptable.

I suspect there will be a guilty verdict on at least one of the charges.

The coverage will be live (an unprecedented even in Minneapolis) at the site below:

Discuss your take.  Should the system be on trial? Is Chauvin guilty? If so, of which of the charges?

There are too many guns in the U.S.!

March 24, 2021 • 12:30 pm

When I write about gun control, I know that I’ll get substantial pushback on either this site or on email. Americans love their guns, and can give many reasons why they should have them (including  semiautomatic weapons).

These reasons include the Second Amendment, which has, in my view, been misinterpreted by the courts to allow nearly anyone to have guns, handguns, assault rifles, and the ability to open carry. All that to ensure “a well regulated militia”!  But we no longer have militias!

I’ve always advocated for strict gun control—along the lines of Britain or even Scotland—as a way to reduce homicides in the U.S. The counterarguments I hear include the famous mantra “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns: the idea that making guns harder to buy will ensure that only criminals will have guns. But there are a slew of other arguments for why loose gun control in America isn’t responsible for mass shootings, some of them addressed in the NYT column below. These include the claim that the U.S. is an especially violent nation, is full of mentally ill people who commit mass shootings, have racial divisions that exacerbate homicides, and so on. Those arguments now appear to hold no water.

We already know that private ownership of guns causes the deaths of far more innocent people than of home invaders or other miscreants. We also know that the U.S. leads the world in per capita gun ownership (see below), with nearly as many guns (270 million) as people (328 million, but that includes kids and the aged).

The column below (click on screenshot) attacks the notion that the ease of gun ownership in the U.S. has nothing to do with the huge number of mass shootings. And it dispels the claims that other peculiarities of American culture are the real reason for mass shootings.

This plot shows the total number of guns per country and how much of an outlier we are in both the number of mass shootings and the number of guns:

Below: the correlation between per capita gun ownership and per capita number of mass shooters. Now if you remove Yemen (which has even more mass shootings per capita) as well as the U.S., there might not be a statistical correlation, but the analysis in the article apparently shows that there is, and it isn’t due to complicating factors like an American “culture of violence”.

Here are some data and citations from the article (quotes are indented). You can check the sources for yourself; I haven’t read them.

Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.

. . . Worldwide, Mr. Lankford found, a country’s rate of gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting. This relationship held even when he excluded the United States, indicating that it could not be explained by some other factor particular to his home country. And it held when he controlled for homicide rates, suggesting that mass shootings were better explained by a society’s access to guns than by its baseline level of violence.

. . . More gun ownership corresponds with more gun murders across virtually every axis: among developed countries, among American states, among American towns and cities and when controlling for crime rates. And gun control legislation tends to reduce gun murders, according to a recent analysis of 130 studies from 10 countries.

Other factors that didn’t correlate with mass homicides included suicide rates (well, there are fewer mass shootings in countries with higher suicide rate), playing video games, racial diversity, general amount of criminal behavior (though American crime is “simply more lethal” than that in other developed countries), or mental health issues.

And here’s a comparison with China, suggesting that the lethality of weapons makes a difference in the homicide rate, at least in this case:

In China, about a dozen seemingly random attacks on schoolchildren killed 25 people between 2010 and 2012. Most used knives; none used a gun.

By contrast, in this same window, the United States experienced five of its deadliest mass shootings, which killed 78 people. Scaled by population, the American attacks were 12 times as deadly.

The authors of the NYT piece,, Max Fisher and Josh Keller, note that even in countries with high gun ownership, like Switzerland—second only to the U.S. among in gun ownership among developed countries—which has a higher than average rate of homicides, it’s still only a fraction of the U.S. rate (in Switzerland it’s 7.7 per million people; in the U.S. it’s 33). The authors add at the end that “The United States is only one of three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with. . . . the assumption that people have an inherent right to own guns.”  That’s again pretty scary for us, but many Americans cling to the wonky interpretation of the Second Amendment.  It would be nice if the courts interpreted the amendment as I believe (as do others) it was intended.

According to this article, if you want reduce mass homicides in America, regulate our guns. There’s no sign that pervasive gun ownerships keeps America (or gun owners) safer, and lots of people get killed as a byproduct of “legal” gun ownership (viz., children, domestic disputes, and, of course, the mass killers). Reports of mass killings seem to be almost a monthly event now. Most Americans want stricter controls on guns. It’s only the NRA and the Republican Party that are preventing enacting the will of the people.

The article ends with a sad prognostication:

“In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

It should not be bearable. When I was a kid, we had “nuclear attack drills”, when we would pretend the Russians were bombing us and we’d hide under our desks. Those days are gone; now they have “mass shooter drills.”

Bret Stephens in the toaster

March 23, 2021 • 9:30 am

For a while, NYT columnist Bret Stephens has had, as the saying goes, “One foot on a banana peel and the other in the grave.” The banana peel is his columns, which are not only semi-conservative in politics, but also against the policies of the paper itself. (For example, Stephens wrote a column criticizing Dean Baquet’s views on the n-word, with Baquet arguing that uttering the word in any circumstance was a grave journalistic misstep, and “intent didn’t matter”.  Stephens’s column got spiked and then was published in The New York Post.) At the time I wrote that Stephens was “bucking for a pink slip” from his newspaper. The pink slip (or a resignation) is the grave.

That pink slip is closer to arrival now that Stephens has published another contrarian column in his paper.  In this case he will anger his editors in three ways:

a. Stephens calls out the ideological bias of casting the Atlanta spa murders as Asian “hate crimes,” saying that there’s no evidence for that. While that’s true, and while federal prosecutors have so far seen no evidence for a “hate” charge, this doesn’t matter. All the protestors seem to already know the motive. It’s a sign of the times that saying we need more evidence for such a motivation, especially when there is none, is regarded as a racist view.

b. Stephens goes against the way his own paper, as well as others, have reported on the crime, emphasizing over and over again its roots in hatred of Asians. While this is likely true for other attacks on Asians, it may well not be true for the mass shooting in Atlanta. As Andrew Sullivan wrote of the NYT last Friday,

Accompanying one original piece on the known facts, the NYT ran nine — nine! — separate stories about the incident as part of the narrative that this was an anti-Asian hate crime, fueled by white supremacy and/or misogyny.

I believe the count is now closer to a dozen. Stephens, of course, won’t mention this, as they’d either spike the column or make him leave that out.

c. Stephens notes that many (I estimate at least half, though the media tends to hide this fact) of the recent assaults on Asians were done by people of color, mostly African-Americans (see some data below). This goes against the Critical Race Theory view that now dominates the New York Times.

How long will Stephens be allowed to stay on? (I suspect he’s already a pariah in the newsroom.) And will he move to Substack, the refuge for journalists expelled by the Woke? We shall see. It would be odd of the paper didn’t have any  conservative columnists, though!

Click on the screenshot to read the piece; it’s not long.

And here’s what he says about a) and c), though he doesn’t go after his paper explicitly:

The ideological bias:

And the motive, while still requiring scrutiny, is confessed: The killer claims to have been struggling with a sex addiction at odds with his evangelical beliefs. According to The Associated Press, “All three businesses where people were fatally shot Tuesday have detailed recent reviews on an online site that leads users to places that provide sexual services.”

So how do we get headlines like “The Atlanta Spa Shootings and the Year of Hatred Against Asian Americans” on a news story from U.S. News & World Report? And why has reporting of the incident by so many news outlets emphasized the race of six of the victims when there is, as yet, only one rumored bit of evidence (in a South Korean newspaper) that the victims were attacked on account of their race?

The reason is that we have two things that, separately, are important and true, but that are being dubiously conjoined for reasons of ideological convenience.

The two things are:

1.) Hate crimes against Asian-Americans are on the rise, at least in 16 U.S. cities, and have risen by 149% in 2020 over previous years, while hate crimes in general have decreased 7%. This clearly shows (given that the sample size isn’t terribly small) that there’s a significantly disproportionate increase in hate crimes against Asians during the pandemic.

2.) Donald Trump “stoked anti-immgrant hatreds that very likely contributed to the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the 2019 massacre at a Walmart in El Paso.” And don’t forget his incessant references to the “China virus” and the “Kung Flu.”

And Stephen’s lesson, which will irritate his editors most:

But if the news media should have learned one thing over the past 20 years, it’s to be exceptionally wary of trying to map one truth onto another for the sake of a compelling narrative.

. . . Now we have a rising rate of anti-Asian hate crimes, and a horrific crime in which the perpetrator is white and most of his victims were of Asian descent (although two were white). The powerful ideological temptation is to treat this as yet another shooting in the vein of Pittsburgh and El Paso — or, as one CNN headline put it, “White Supremacy and Hate Are Haunting Asian-Americans.”

Tempting — but mostly baseless. The same study that found last year’s rise in anti-Asian hate crimes also notes that the overall incidence of these crimes is relatively small, both in absolute numbers (122 incidents in 2020, out of a total of 1,717 hate crimes), and compared with other victimized groups. It should go without saying that one hate crime is one too many, but even though reports of these incidents may be a small fraction of the overall crimes, proportions matter.

And while data about the identity of perpetrators is hard to come by, the New York Police Department did keep tabs last year. It found that out of the 20 anti-Asian hate crimes in which arrests were made, two arrestees were white, five were white Hispanic, two were Black Hispanic, and the rest were Black.

Well, had I been Stephens, I would have left out the argument that the overall incidence of crimes is small, as it looks like an attempt to minimize something that angers a lot of people. Yes, it’s true that hate crimes occur less often than most people think, but that’s not all that relevant here. What is relevant is that more blacks than whites committed hate crimes against Asians, and that the proportion of blacks who commit hate crimes on Asians is twice their proportion in the population. This definitely contradicts the white supremacy trope wielded by CRT, and explains, I think, why it’s hard to find from news reports the ethnicity of those committing hate crimes on Asians.

As I wrote a few days ago:

Here’s some data from 2018 on the proportion of different groups who were subject to violent crime, and the ethnicities of the criminal. These were tweeted by Wilfred Reilly. Now the data are three years old, and don’t reflect the uptick in crimes on Asians that’s said to have occurred. At least back then, Asians were not predominantly assaulted by Whites, but Whites, Blacks, and other Asians assaulted Asians with roughly equal frequency.

In 2019, the total population percentage of these groups from Census statistics were:

White: 76.3%
Black: 13.4%
Hispanic: 18.5%
Asian:  5.9%

Stephens does refer to hate crimes from 2020, but only in New York City:

And while data about the identity of perpetrators is hard to come by, the New York Police Department did keep tabs last year. It found that out of the 20 anti-Asian hate crimes in which arrests were made, two arrestees were white, five were white Hispanic, two were Black Hispanic, and the rest were Black.

What can one conclude from this limited data? Not a lot, except that the idea that white supremacy is what haunts Asian-Americans rests on empirically thin ice. Like so much else in public discourse today, it’s another capital-T ideological Truth in search of lower-case-t factual truths to validate its predetermined, overstretched hypotheses. That it has the laudable goal of “raising awareness” and “combating hate” does not relieve journalists of the responsibility to report facts scrupulously, not play to fears in the service of a higher good.

His indictment of journalism is, of course, an indictment of the New York Times as well, as is his last sentence, which he adds after saying that people also want to know how the perp was able to buy his gun on the day of the killing, how religious fanaticism can lead to such a killing, and why local authorities overlook the sex trade that goes on in spas.

All of this would be journalism in which the public could have confidence. Instead we have morality plays.

The toast is burning. . .

Here: we’ll have a poll.

Is Bret Stephens going to be fired or resign from the NYT this year?

View Results

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h/t: Carl

Sullivan on the Atlanta “hate crime”

March 20, 2021 • 12:00 pm

Yesterday I discussed the murder of 8 people, six of them Asian women working in spas, by accused killer Robert Aaron Long. What prompted me to write was the assertion, against all the evidence, that the crime must be a “hate crime” motivated by an animus against Asians. This, speculated many, was simply another in the rash of assaults on Asians in the last year, many of which seem to come from blaming Asian-Americans for the coronavirus.

What made this crime different was not only the lack of a “hate” motive—the accused perp told the police that he was trying to eliminate the temptation of sex, as he apparently, against his religious beliefs, sought sex from those two spas—but the fact that it was a mass killing. The mainstream media and college administrators immediately sent out messages of solidarity with Asians, as this seemed to be the last straw in a string of xenophobic violence.

It may well be true that the previous assaults were indeed “hate crimes”—it’s really hard to judge motive if the perp doesn’t admit it or there’s other evidence—but in this one there’s no hard evidence of bigotry, and pretty strong evidence instead of violence derived from a twisted, religion-inspired cognitive dissonance, with the murdered women being Asian because Asians provided sex in convenient spas. The crime itself is absolutely reprehensible, leaving the families and loved ones of eight people bereft. But it gets worse if the crime is sold as a “hate crime” when it’s not, for that gets an entire community of Americans scared and feeling ostracized. This is why the media needs to report responsibly, emphasizing the difference between what we know and what we don’t.  They did not.

As of now, we don’t have a really solid idea of motive, but what we know goes against the narrative that this was a crime of hatred and bigotry. Nevertheless, as I maintained, some people seem to want it to be a hate crime. In his big piece on the Weekly Dish, Andrew Sullivan goes further and argues that people want it that way because it fits a convenient narrative of “social justice”: oppression, divisiveness, and hatred.

Click on the screenshot to read his column, though it may be paywalled. (I subscribe.) Of all the Substack columns you can subscribe to, I find Sullivan’s and John McWhorter’s the best so far, as Bari Weiss is still finding her feet in this venue. Glenn Greenwald is too splenetic, and also seems to hammer the same few topics over and over.

Sullivan, who follows the “mainstream media” (MSM) far more than I, agrees that Long’s motive was unclear, but doesn’t point towards “hate”. And he uses the MSM’s slant in that direction to indict it for abandoning objectivity:

. . . this story has also been deeply instructive about our national discourse and the state of the American mainstream and elite media. This story’s coverage is proof, it seems to me, that American journalists have officially abandoned the habit of attempting any kind of “objectivity” in reporting these stories. We are now in the enlightened social justice world of “moral clarity” and “narrative-shaping.”

Here’s the truth: We don’t yet know why this man did these horrible things. It’s probably complicated, or, as my therapist used to say, “multi-determined.” That’s why we have thorough investigations and trials in America. We only have one solid piece of information as to motive, which is the confession by the mass killer to law enforcement: that he was a religious fundamentalist who was determined to live up to chastity and repeatedly failed, as is often the case. Like the 9/11 bombers or the mass murderer at the Pulse nightclub, he took out his angst on the source of what he saw as his temptation, and committed mass murder. This is evil in the classic fundamentalist sense: a perversion of religion and sexual repression into violence.

We have yet to find any credible evidence of anti-Asian hatred or bigotry in this man’s history. Maybe we will. We can’t rule it out. But we do know that his roommates say they once asked him if he picked the spas for sex because the women were Asian. And they say he denied it, saying he thought those spas were just the safest way to have quick sex. That needs to be checked out more. But the only piece of evidence about possible anti-Asian bias points away, not toward it.

What the media did, and it’s quite unbalanced, if not mendacious:

And yet. Well, you know what’s coming. Accompanying one original piece on the known facts, the NYT ran nine — nine! — separate stories about the incident as part of the narrative that this was an anti-Asian hate crime, fueled by white supremacy and/or misogyny. Not to be outdone, the WaPo ran sixteen separate stories on the incident as an antiAsian white supremacist hate crimeSixteen! One story for the facts; sixteen stories on how critical race theory would interpret the event regardless of the facts. For good measure, one of their columnists denounced reporting of law enforcement’s version of events in the newspaper, because it distracted attention from the “real” motives. Today, the NYT ran yet another full-on critical theory piece disguised as news on how these murders are proof of structural racism and sexism — because some activists say they are.

That last link, which appears to be a “news” rather than an “opinion” piece, is particularly invidious, as it blithely assumes that the killing was inspired by the intersection of racism and misogyny, when in fact it could have been something completely different.

And the woke weigh in:

Nikole Hannah-Jones, the most powerful journalist at the New York Times, took to Twitter in the early morning of March 17 to pronounce: “Last night’s shooting and the appalling rise in anti-Asian violence stem from a sick society where nationalism has been stoked and normalized.” Ibram Kendi tweeted: “Locking arms with Asian Americans facing this lethal wave of anti-Asian terror. Their struggle is my struggle. Our struggle is against racism and White Supremacist domestic terror.”

When the cops reported the killer’s actual confession, left-Twitter went nuts. One gender studies professor recited the litany: “The refusal to name anti-Asianess [sic], racism, white supremacy, misogyny, or class in this is whiteness doing what it always does around justifying its death-dealing … To ignore the deeply racist and misogynistic history of hypersexualization of Asian women in this ‘explication’ from law enforcement of what emboldened this killer is also a willful erasure.”

In The Root, the real reason for the murders was detailed: “White supremacy is a virus that, like other viruses, will not die until there are no bodies left for it to infect. Which means the only way to stop it is to locate it, isolate it, extract it, and kill it.”

Trevor Noah insisted that the killer’s confession was self-evidently false: “You killed six Asian people. Specifically, you went there. Your murders speak louder than your words. What makes it even more painful is that we saw it coming. We see these things happening. People have been warning, people in the Asian communities have been tweeting, they’ve been saying, ‘Please help us. We’re getting punched in the street. We’re getting slurs written on our doors.’” Noah knew the killer’s motive more surely than the killer himself.

I’m loath to quote too much of Sullivan, as you should read him on his site, not here (only $50 per year), but I’ll give two more excerpts:

What you see here is social justice ideology insisting, as [NYT editor] Dean Baquet temporarily explained, that intent doesn’t matter. What matters is impact. The individual killer is in some ways irrelevant. His intentions are not material. He is merely a vehicle for the structural oppressive forces critical theorists believe in. And this “story” is what the media elites decided to concentrate on: the thing that, so far as we know, didn’t happen.

And an analysis:

But notice how CRT operates. The only evidence it needs it already has. Check out the identity of the victim or victims, check out the identity of the culprit, and it’s all you need to know. If the victims are white, they don’t really count. Everything in America is driven by white supremacist hate of some sort or other. You can jam any fact, any phenomenon, into this rubric in order to explain it.

The only complexity the CRT crowd will admit is multiple, “intersectional” forms of oppression: so this case is about misogyny and white supremacy. The one thing they cannot see are unique individual human beings, driven by a vast range of human emotions, committing crimes with distinctive psychological profiles, from a variety of motives, including prejudices, but far, far more complicated than that.

There’s much more, including data suggesting that assaults on Asians in general do not reflect white supremacy (there are slightly more Blacks than Whites who assault Asians despite the numerical predominance of Whites), and a summary of how the media has degenerated:

But the theory behind hate crimes law is that these crimes matter more because they terrify so many beyond the actual victim. And so it seems to me that the media’s primary role in cases like these is providing some data and perspective on what’s actually happening, to allay irrational fear. Instead they contribute to the distortion by breathlessly hyping one incident without a single provable link to any go this — and scare the bejeezus out of people unnecessarily.

The media is supposed to subject easy, convenient rush-to-judgment narratives to ruthless empirical testing. Now, for purely ideological reasons, they are rushing to promote ready-made narratives, which actually point away from the empirical facts. To run sixteen separate pieces on anti-Asian white supremacist misogynist hate based on one possibly completely unrelated incident is not journalism. It’s fanning irrational fear in the cause of ideological indoctrination. And it appears to be where all elite media is headed.

Given the kind of coverage I’ve read, which made me angry, I have to say that Sullivan is right. This is one of his better pieces, and I don’t see much to disagree with. The fact is that this one crime hasn’t fit the narrative that people demand it to fit (something I didn’t say yesterday), and so they try to force it into the Procrustean bed of the CRT narrative.

 

The rush to judgment in Atlanta

March 19, 2021 • 1:30 pm

Everybody knows that Robert Aaron Long killed 8 people in Atlanta on Tuesday, 6 of them Asian women who worked at two spas. He apparently was on his way to Florida to engage in more murders, but was fortunately caught by the cops before he could kill again. As far as we know, he wasn’t motivated to kill by hatred of Asians (see below), but it’s early days.  We also know that there are reports that genuine hate crimes against Asians have increased dramatically, said to be a form of “retribution” for the coronavirus.

In this climate, people are already characterizing the Atlanta shooting as a hate crime, even though there’s evidence that if there was hate involved, it wasn’t against a “protected group” per se, but towards women at spas whom Long paid for sex. If this is the case, the murders were not attributable to the victims being Asian per se, but to their involvement in Long’s violating his strict religious upbringing and church membership, which forbad extramarital sex.  Long had reportedly been treated for sex addiction, and, at least to the cops, said he was trying to “eliminate the temptation.”  (If this is true, it would be a case of “religion poisoning everything”, since the killing would likely not have taken place without those prohibitions).  Under Georgia law, this probably wouldn’t be a hate crime, though of course sex addiction is NOT an excuse for mass murder! What’s at issue here is whether Long was motivated by anti-Asian bias or by a twisted cognitive dissonance caused by religion and sex—or both, or something else.

As I said earlier, it seems that many people are eager to cast this as a hate crime. I’m not going to engage in psychologizing about this because that leads one down some unsavory roads. But let me say that HuffPost, at least, has managed to cast Long’s visit to Asian spas as a form of racism (see article below)—even if he wasn’t biased against Asians. (He was “fetishizing Asian women”.) But it’s not clear whether Long even did fetishize Asian women or had sex with them because they were the only ones available at spas (perhaps he abjured prostitutes working the streets).

On the NBC Evening News the night before last, they interviewed an Asian woman, and asked her, as I recall, how she knew that the crime was based on bias when there was no hard evidence for that yet. She replied that it was based on “unconscious bias” that is part of systemic racism. In other words, she claimed that a hate crime was committed when the perpetrator didn’t even know he was motivated by hatred—but she apparently did!

These are not helpful claims, since all we know so far is what Long told police and what his friends say about his religious commitment.  It’s way too early to judge this as a hate crime, much less to send out alarms about a mass murder based on anti-Asian bigotry. If that’s not the case, it’s not helpful to scare people unnecessarily.

Here are the questions I asked about this, but haven’t yet answered and probably won’t. I’ll wait for the news to answer them for me (if they ever will!).

A. Is there really an increase in the proportion of hate crimes against Asians? We know that assaults and murders of Asians have increased, but have they increased disproportionately to similar crimes committed on non-Asians? As we all know, there’s been a huge increase in violent crime, including homicide, during the pandemic. I have seen no data on the proportionality in the news, though I’m prepared to believe whatever the data say.

B. What is the racial makeup of those who attack Asians? Long is white, but we’re not sure what his motivations were. I know that some of those who have killed or assaulted Asians are Black, but it’s actually surprisingly hard to find data on this. For several reasons, though, one wants to know who, exactly, is attacking Asians. The most important is that the attacks are said by some to be motivated by “White supremacy.” Yet if most of the crimes are committed by people of color, you can’t make that claim. Further, there’s a well-known animus against Asians among many poor Blacks, for the same reason that many blacks disliked Jews—they were merchants in underserved communities and thus were perceived as exploiting people of color.

C. If there is an increase in the proportion of assaults on Asians, is it because they are Asian per se, or because they are perceived to have money and property? But I am not sure if this question is relevant to the issue of a “hate crime”, and I don’t know how one could answer it except by taking the word of a criminal.

By the way, if you know the answers to questions A and B, by all means weigh in below.

Finally, and this isn’t related to the above but did strike me: are Asian women disproportionately concentrated in sex work in spas? This seems to be the conventional wisdom, but I don’t know the data. But if it’s true, I’d like to know why. Are they driven to this by poverty, is there really a fetishization of Asian women that would cause this, or is it some custom based on where immigrant Asians have found work, perhaps based on those women being exploited?

My point is not, of course, to excuse the accused killer, but to argue that we shouldn’t rush to judgment about why he killed—especially when the evidence we do have does not point towards bigotry. That knowledge is useful in judging the extent of bigotry-based crime, which is the first step in trying to stop it. It’s also important in making sure that we don’t unnecessarily escalate fears, making those of foreign descent feel extra scared or unwelcome.

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UPDATE: Here’s some data from 2018 on the proportion of different groups who were subject to violent crime, and the ethnicities of the criminal. These were tweeted by Wilfred Reilly. Now the data are three years old, and don’t reflect the uptick in crimes on Asians that’s said to have occurred. At least back then, Asians were not predominantly assaulted by Whites, but Whites, Blacks, and other Asians assaulted Asians with roughly equal frequency.  (h/t: Luana)

In 2019, the total population percentage of these groups from Census statistics were:

White: 76.3%
Black: 13.4%
Hispanic: 18.5%
Asian:  5.9%

 

Should we retain the category of “hate crimes”?

January 19, 2021 • 12:00 pm

I’ve recently read several books on free speech, all of which emphasize a fairly strict construal of the First Amendment. That means that expressions that offend people, including “hate speech”, bigotry, and so on, while they may be offensive, are legal.

But while the verbal expression of bigotry is legal, the physical expression is not—not when it’s the motivation for a hate crime. And that got me thinking about the justifications for giving extra-harsh punishments for hate crimes. When I mention “hate crime”, I’m not referring to crimes that wouldn’t be crimes at all without the bigotry, so I’m not including Holocaust denialism or blasphemy (neither crimes in the U.S. but both in many other lands). I’m using the definition of hate crime given on the FBI website:

A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, the FBI has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.

And here’s the FBI’s explanation of what’s considered a hate crime:

Hate crimes are the highest priority of the FBI’s civil rights program because of the devastating impact they have on families and communities. The Bureau investigates hundreds of these cases every year, and we work to detect and prevent incidents through law enforcement training, public outreach, and partnerships with community groups.

Traditionally, FBI investigations of hate crimes were limited to crimes in which the perpetrators acted based on a bias against the victim’s race, color, religion, or national origin. In addition, investigations were restricted to those wherein the victim was engaged in a federally protected activity. With the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, the Bureau became authorized to also investigate crimes committed against those based on biases of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or gender.

We see here that the high priority for investigating hate crimes rests not on the motivation alone, that is, it’s not an explicit attempt to eliminate feelings and expressions of bigotry, which are protected by the First Amendment, but because of the higher impact such crimes are said to have on communities. They are seen as more serious crimes.

The American Psychological Association asserts that hate crimes have a disproportionately large effect on the victims themselves:

People victimized by violent hate crimes are more likely to experience more psychological distress than victims of other violent crimes. Specifically, victims of crimes that are bias-motivated are more likely to experience post-traumatic stress, safety concerns, depression, anxiety and anger than victims of crimes that are not motivated by bias.

Hate crimes send messages to members of the victim’s group that they are unwelcome and unsafe in the community, victimizing the entire group and decreasing feelings of safety and security. Furthermore, witnessing discrimination against one’s own group can lead to psychological distress and lower self-esteem.

But when thinking about hate crimes just in terms of the three valid rationales that I, as a determinist, see for punishing someone (deterrence, sequestering someone from society, and reformation), I see no obvious justification for punishing someone differently whether they, say, kill someone because he’s a Jew or kill someone because they don’t like him for non-religious reasons. Does a higher punishment for the same crime, but one motivated in part by bias, deter an offender? I doubt it, but I’m not sure we have good data on that.

In terms of sequestering someone from society, a higher punishment for hate crimes assumes that those who commit the are more dangerous than those who commit the same crime but with a non-“hate” motivation, and thus more likely to do damage if paroled at the same time. Again, I’m not aware of data on this, which this bears on the third rationale: reformation.

Is it easier to reform someone who commits a murder based on bigotry than someone who kills, say, simply for the thrill of killing? Who knows? Perhaps through treatment you can wean someone from bigotry more easily than a sociopath who simply hates people in general. Again, I’m sure we lack data.

The other issue is that for some “hate crimes” you must judge the motivations of the criminal, and ascertain that they play a significant role in the crime. Sometimes that might be easy, as in the case of a person who hates Muslims burning down a mosque (especially if you have a documented history of bias). In others that’s no so easy, but clearly we need to use a “beyond reasonable doubt” criterion for ascertaining motivation.

That might not always be easy. For example, all 20 of Ted Bundy’s victims were women. He sometimes had sex with the corpses. Other serial murderers rape women before they kill them. Is this because they are biased against women, or because part of their motivation is sex, or because they find it easier to overcome women, who are usually less powerful than men? In other words, did Bundy commit “hate crimes”? Well, in his case it hardly matters, for he was electrocuted. But for other crimes it may be hard to suss out a motivation, and we all know of criminals whose motivations are unclear.

It becomes even more difficult when bias is part of a pathology—as Bundy’s may have been. Mental illness, which can manifest itself as bigotry, is a mitigating factor for punishment, mandating psychiatric treatment instead of straight incarceration. Do you use the concept of “hate crimes” with criminals who have mental problems?

When thinking about whether an offender should be punished more strongly because he or she is motivated by bigotry, I don’t see a clear justification based on rehabilitation, sequestration, or deterrence. But that’s irrelevant to how many people think about hate crimes. In effect, they are saying that hate crimes are more serious crimes than the identical offense committed without obvious bigotry. In other words, burning a synagogue because you hate Jews is seen as a different crime from doing the same amount of damage by burning a building because you don’t like landlords. Behind the “hate crime” rationale, then, is the psychological damage that is said to be attendant on both victims and society.

I’m prepared to believe that this is the case, and understand that there are data supporting the excess damage, at least in terms of victims. But of course there’s more psychological damage caused to a person and a community when you insult their race, religion, or gender than when you simply call them a jerk. Offense is the price we pay for free speech. In light of that, is “excess fear” or “trauma” in victims a reason to increase the punishment for a crime, or create a new class of crime?

On balance, I think it is, but my mind isn’t fully made up on this issue. The same “harm” that attends legal free speech (and let’s face it—some people’s feelings are hurt by free speech) is also the same kind of harm that attends individuals and communities victimized by hate crimes. If someone calls you a “dirty Jew” rather than a “jerk”, you may be much more offended, even though no crime is committed. But if someone punches you because you’re a Jew as opposed to punching you because you’re a Republican, does the former crime, even if it causes more offense and trauma, warrant more punishment?

Weigh in below: do you think the concept of “hate crimes”, with the attendant higher punishment attached to them, a good one?