Is the pandemic responsible for America’s violent crime wave?

Like so many big American cities, New York is experiencing an enormous increase in violent crime. Last year, the city’s murder rate rose by 47 percent, to a total of 468 people killed. So far this year, it has risen by 17 percent.

What happened last year that might have caused the spike in murders and other violent crimes? One thing that happened was anti-police activism on a large scale, with a resulting decline in proactive policing. Another thing that happened was the pandemic.

In theory, either of these phenomena (or both) might be responsible for the violent crime wave. However, it seems at least as likely that, with people off the street during a pandemic, the murder rate would drop rather than rise.

On the left, Josh Marshall supports the pandemic explanation. “My own sense,” he writes without providing evidence, “is that [the wave of violence] is overwhelmingly the result of the vast dislocations caused by the pandemic.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio concurs. He notes that “our entire lives were turned upside down [by a global pandemic], a perfect storm.” Murder, though, isn’t a necessary byproduct of having one’s life turned upside down.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, de Blasio’s fellow Marxist, subscribes to an economic theory of the murder wave. “Do you think this has to do with the fact that there is record unemployment, right now?” she asks.

The question is rhetorical, but deserves to be answered. One way to address it is to examine what has happened in other parts of the world where the pandemic has also hit hard, both in health and economic terms, to see whether they too have endured exceptionally high rates of murder and other violent crime. If they haven’t, then the supposed link between the pandemic and violent crime spree doesn’t hold.

Nicole Gelinas undertakes this analysis in a column for the New York Post. She points first to London:

In London, the global city that most closely resembles Gotham, the murder rate plummeted last year. It fell to 126 from 150, down 16 percent.

What about Italy and France? In Italy, hit hard and early by the pandemic, murders fell last year by 14 percent, to 271 from 315. In France, murders were down two percent.

In Japan, the murder level was the lowest it has been since World War II. “Heinous crimes,” including murder, fell by 10 percent.

What about cartel-ridden Mexico? There, murders fell by slightly less than half a percent last year, to 34,523 — the first decline in six years.

But perhaps most of these countries protected their populations with a bigger safety net than that provided by the U.S. Not according to Gelinas:

The United States, with supplemental jobless insurance ranging from $300 to $600 a week for the past 15 months, and with anti-eviction and anti-foreclosure orders in place, acted faster and far more aggressively [than the nations she compares murder rates with] to curtail individual economic pain.

In America, the only workers to see steep drops in income with no corresponding government benefits are people who were working here illegally, and thus were ineligible for benefits. But there is no evidence that they’re behind the spike in violent crime.

London, too, has hundreds of thousands of off-the-books ­migrant workers. The broader number of people still without work there in the pandemic, at more than 700,000, is slightly higher than it is in New York City, against roughly the same population. But people just aren’t stabbing each other because they’re desperate for something to eat.

Thus, it seems clear that the pandemic didn’t cause the U.S. crime wave — a view that, as noted, seems counterintuitive, to begin with. The problem, Gelinas concludes, is that “we have effectively halted all preventative policing [and] have also effectively stopped all incarceration of suspects and criminals short of murder.”

Absent the pandemic, these insane policies might have produced even worse violent crime wave statistics. In any event, they have produced alarming ones.

Responses