After years of largely ignoring the issue of crime in America, and especially crime in black neighborhoods nationwide, Fox News and the conservative press in recent days have become fixated on the topic. Using the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial to expand the debate about Trayvon Martin's killing into one about race in America, the right-wing media have been relentlessly painting a violent picture of American cities, of "urban decay," and accusing President Obama of ignoring the inner city crisis.
On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace suggested the attention paid to Zimmerman's killing of Martin was misplaced because black-on-black crime is the real issue facing minorities. Appearing on CNN, conservative pundit Newt Gingrich decried inner city violence and lamented how Obama's Department of Justice supposedly hasn't done anything to stop the violence against “those people of color killed,” while National Review Online's Heath McDonald suggested only white neighborhoods are safe, implying cities are not. And yes, conservatives have used “black-on-black” effortlessly as code to discuss urban violence since the Zimmerman verdict.
Commentator have specifically targeted Obama's adopted hometown of Chicago and proclaimed it to be a key example of urban violence run wild. Fox's Bill O'Reilly likened the murder rate in Chicago to “many Holocausts.” And recently, conservative radio talk show host Dana Loesch attacked Trayvon Martin protesters who failed to express adequate outrage over “the out-of-control murder of young blacks in Chicago,” as one sympathetic blogger put it. (Loesch also claimed Trayvon Martin “riots” had “raged” in New York City following the Zimmerman verdict. False.)
But the accusation that while allegedly obsessing over the Martin killing (by simply addressing it), Obama has been ignoring urban areas ravaged by escalating crime stands in stark contrast with crime statistics compiled since Obama took office four years. Even casual new consumers should know that.
A headline from The Washington Times editorial in 2010: “Obama cuts crime; Credit to the administration for a drop in the murder rate”
The Atlantic in 2011: “Don't Fear the City: Urban America's Crime Drops to Lowest in 40 Years.”
The Christian Science Monitor in 2012: “US crime rate at lowest point in decades. Why America is safer now.”
And this chart from The Society Pages, a social science site, helps put the recent crime rates in perspective:
It's true that for the most recent statistics released in 2013, the rate of violent crime inched up 1.2 percent in 2012, according to the FBI. But since Obama first took office, the crime rate overall is still down 13.5 percent. All that good news stands in contrast to the image conservative commentators have presented of runaway crime, and of the White House's supposed indifference to it.
The sudden focus on inner city crime appears to be part of a larger conservative effort to shift the focus in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict; to suggest the killing of an unarmed teenager wasn't really an important issue because young black people are killed all the time, and that liberals (and Obama) are being hypocritical for giving the Martin shooting so much attention, while ignoring the daily violence.
The allegation, as Breitbart's Ben Shapiro inelegantly put it, is that “the media do not care about dead black Americans, unless those blacks are murdered by whites.” But conservatives do care about dead black Americans. At least that's the spin. And Obama should care too, because “black-on-black” crime is running rampant in his hometown.
As Media Matters noted last month, despite the constant right-wing media cries about Chicago and the far right's attempt to directly blame Obama for the violence that occurs in the city, Chicago's murder rate is actually down this year, and down significantly. At the end of April, the city was on track to post its lowest murder tally since 1963. (The most recent numbers indicate murders have declined 24 percent from last year.)
The truth is, America's crime rate has been dropping for years. (Sadly, the number of U.S. gun deaths continues to rise.) Criminologists were particularly surprised when the crime rate continued to fall after the economic collapse of 2008 helped usher in a deep recession. Traditionally, lawbreaking spikes during bleak economic times.
As Slate noted in 2010, the plummeting crime rate defied tradition [emphasis added]:
In the first half of 2009, homicides plummeted an astounding 67 percent over 2008 in Minneapolis, 47 percent in Seattle, 39 percent in Charlotte, 31 percent in New York, and 17 percent in Los Angeles. As surprisingly, these declines occurred in black communities, which suffer disproportionately from unemployment and stagnating wages and from crime (about half of all violent crimes in the United States involve blacks)--even as the growth in the prison population, also disproportionately black, has halted.
So yes, it's an undeniable fact that violent crime has decreased under Obama and that overall, U.S. cities are safer today. But you'd never know that from tuning into Fox News during the last week, where urban crime is hyped as an growing (black) problem.