Unsolved killlings, what do they tell us?

The Washington Post has a long article about unsolved killings in American cities. It studied homicide data from 50 cities, encompassing 52,000 such crimes. In the process, it identified areas where killings are frequent but arrests are rare. These “areas of impunity” are located in poor neighborhoods where minorities (almost always African-Americans) reside.

The first thing that jumps out at me from the Post’s study is that in the 50 cities studied, the overall homicide arrest rate is only 49 percent. Only half of homicides result in an arrest. We know the arrest rate is much lower for certain other crimes, especially drug crimes where neither the seller nor the buyer will even report the offense.

So much for any argument that arrest rates overstate the amount of recidivism in America. Sure, the police will occasionally arrest the wrong person. But in vastly more cases, the police won’t arrest anyone. Thus, those tragically high recidivism rates, based on arrests, that I quote on Power Line (sometimes as high as 70 percent after several years) actually understate recidivism.

The Post’s point is a different one. It suggests that the low arrest rate for homicides in poor areas — less than 33 percent — demonstrates law enforcement’s indifference to the murder of poor blacks. Officers would rather sit behind their desks than do real police work in rough neighborhoods, the Post tells us. And it quotes family members of victims who complain that police officers just don’t care. More evidence of racial bias by the police, we’re led to believe.

But wait! I thought police officers were eager to arrest young black males in the interest of “incarceration nation.” And the Justice Department found that the Baltimore police department spends too much time policing poor black neighborhoods. The police force has backed off with dire consequences. Baltimore is one of two cities (Chicago is the other) called out by the Post as especially poor at solving homicides in black neighborhoods.

If the police wanted to incarcerate black males, one would expect officers to be hyper-aggressive in solving homicides in black neighborhoods. Catch the killer and he likely spends decades, if not life, behind bars.

In reality, it’s more difficult to solve homicides in neighborhoods where crime is rampant. For one thing, the nature of the killings in these areas presents special challenges. Drive-by shootings and stranger-on-stranger killings are especially hard to solve, according to a criminologist quoted by the Post.

When gang violence is involved, as is so often the case in these neighborhoods, the difficulties are compounded because potential witnesses fear retaliation, the Post acknowledges. In Indianapolis, a local gang posted a YouTube video titled “Ain’t no tellin,” filmed at a cemetery. In it, gang members act out a scene in which a young man is bound, doused in gasoline, and set on fire — presumably for cooperating with police.

The Post acknowledges too that many of the unsolved crimes in poor black neighborhoods are related to “drug activity and distribution.” Yet, the leniency movement wants us to believe that felon drug distributors are non-violent offenders.

In reality, the possibility of homicide is inherent in drug trafficking. And aggressive policing of drug trafficking should reduce the number of homicides to solve. The reverse should also be true, as it’s proving to be in Baltimore.

The Post says that solving homicides in poor black neighborhoods is especially problematic because potential witnesses simply don’t trust the police. If one factored out the difficulties cited above, would arrest homicide rates still be lower in poor black neighborhoods due to distrust of the police?

I don’t know. It’s possible, especially given the steady drumbeat of claims by the media, “civil rights” groups, and the Obama administration that police officers are racist. When you demonize the police, you shouldn’t be surprised when people don’t trust officers.

The police can’t win the game its enemies on the left are playing. Aggressively police poor black neighborhoods and be accused of singling them out in order to arrest blacks. Be less aggressive and be accused of not caring about black lives.

The left doesn’t just want it both ways, it wants it every which way. What it doesn’t want is an honest discussion of the social pathology that underlies both the shocking homicide rates (the Post is too delicate to cite them in its article) and the relative inability of the police to solve the homicides.

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