Back in August we noted the research of Thomas Abt, senior research fellow with the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, which indicated that rising crime rates around the country were likely the result of what other political commentators have dubbed “the Ferguson Effect.” Writing for The Marshall Project, Abt discussed a “phenomenon called legal cynicism” in which he argues that communities tend to become increasingly violent when the police and criminal justice system is viewed as “illegitimate” effectively eroding the implicit authority of cops to enforce the law.
It is unclear what is driving the problem, but my own hunch – and it is still just a hunch at this point – involves a criminological phenomenon called legal cynicism. Multiple studies have demonstrated that, controlling for other factors, when communities view the police and criminal justice system as illegitimate, they become more violent. When people believe the system is unwilling or unable to help them, they are more likely to take the law into their own hands, creating the cycles of violent retribution that were chronicled so vividly last year in Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside.
Therefore, it should come as little surprise to our readers that a female police officer in Chicago has been hospitalized after being “severely beaten” by a violent criminal primarily because she was afraid to use her firearm because of the national backlash she may have faced as a result. The encounter happened yesterday on Chicago’s violent West Side when cops responded to a car accident. The attacker, apparently under the influence of drugs, launched a brutal attack against responding officers that resulted in three cops being hospitalized. Per ABC:
“She thought she was going to die. She knew that she should shoot this guy, but she chose not to, because she didn’t want her family or the department to have to go through the scrutiny the next day on national news,” Supt. Johnson said.
“It is terrible. It is total disregard for law enforcement. They put their lives forward every day for us and to see somebody do this, to pummel the police officer is terrible. It is a terrible thing,” business owner Louie Rainone said.
Of course, this story won’t get the kind of national media attention it deserves because it doesn’t really fit the narrative that cops are “implicitly biased.”
While we’re at it, we have to ask once again, whether comments like these by Obama might cause people to “view the criminal justice system as illegitimate”?
September 2014 Comments at the Congressional Black Caucus Awards Dinner – “Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness. We know that, statistically, in everything from enforcing drug policy to applying the death penalty to pulling people over, there are significant racial disparities.”
November 2014 Comments Regarding Ferguson grand jury decision – “The law too often feels like it’s being applied in a discriminatory fashion….Communities of color aren’t just making these problems up….These are real issues. And we have to lift them up and not deny them or try to tamp them down.”
May 2015 Comments at Lehman College – The catalyst of those protests were the tragic deaths of young men and a feeling that law is not always applied evenly in this country. In too many places in this country, black boys and black men, Latino boys, Latino men, they experience being treated differently by law enforcement — in stops and in arrests, and in charges and incarcerations. The statistics are clear, up and down the criminal justice system; there’s no dispute.
But, rather than have the difficult conversations it’s probably better to just keep blaming lack of gun control even though basically all of the states with the lowest homicide rates per capita in the country inexplicably received “F” grades on their gun laws from the Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence. Meanwhile, Chicago has perhaps the most restrictive gun laws but the highest homicide rate. But who needs facts when you have a “narrative”…stories are much more fun.
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