Media outlets are baselessly linking an increase in murders in Baltimore and other cities to “increased scrutiny” of police, without noting the legitimate reasons why such scrutiny of local police departments is needed.
Homicides have spiked in the last month in Baltimore, with 43 killings reported in May, the most in one month since 1971 and the highest monthly per capita rate on record, according to The Baltimore Sun. At the same time, arrests have plummeted, with a WBAL-TV investigation finding arrests have gone down 32 percent since the curfew was lifted, and the Sun reporting arrests in May this year were less than half the number in May last year.
Several right-wing media figures are attributing these numbers to increased scrutiny of police, and this narrative is seeping into mainstream coverage. On the June 1 edition of Fox & Friends, during an interview with author Kevin Jackson, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle argued that “police are more concerned about their own well-being. They don't want to be arrested or persecuted for just putting on the blue every morning.” She added that “when you have individuals like [Baltimore City State's Attorney] Marilyn Mosby going aggressively against the police,” this “undermines the ability of law enforcement to keep people in the community safe,” linking the increase in homicides to Mosby's decision to charge six Baltimore police officers in connection with the death of Freddie Gray.
On the May 31 edition of Fox & Friends Sunday, National Review Online contributor Heather Mac Donald similarly claimed the U.S. is “in the grips of a hysteria against cops,” saying “cops have gotten the message that they should back off of policing.” She faulted the “mainstream media, the university presidents talking about assaults on blacks and of course the president and former attorney general.” Mac Donald, who has a history of deeply offensive commentary on race, was discussing her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, in which she argued that the “most plausible explanation of the current surge in lawlessness is the intense agitation against American police departments over the past nine months.”
The previous week, National Review editor Rich Lowry also advocated for increased incarceration in response to the spike in violence, and cited anonymous police officers who “say they feel that city authorities don't have their back, understandably enough when city leaders are loath to call rioters 'thugs.'”
And now the Associated Press is adopting the same language. In a May 31 report on Baltimore homicides, the AP stated that “Some attribute the drop [in arrests] to increased scrutiny of police following the April death of Freddie Gray from injuries received in police custody.”
Aside from the obvious problem with this argument -- that there is no evidence these feelings attributed to the police have resulted in an increase in murders -- this coverage has also missed a significant reason why people have called for increased scrutiny of police officers since the deaths of men like Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray: the fact that police killings and police brutality disproportionately affect people of color.
On May 30, the Washington Post released a study on police killings, which found that two-thirds of unarmed victims of police shootings were minorities, and “blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities when adjusting by the population of the census tracts where the shootings occurred.” Their figures represent far greater total than the FBI statistics on police killings, which are "widely considered to be misleading and inaccurate": FBI records show about 400 shootings per year, compared to 385 so far this year in the Post's data. Three of the 385 shootings the Post reported on resulted in the officer being charged, or less than one percent. And over the last several years, the Department of Justice has found that numerous local police departments have engaged in a "pattern or practice" of improper discrimination against residents of color, and have disproportionately targeted them for stops and arrests.
Faced with stark numbers like these, any media outlet should feel compelled to at least contextualize claims of a “hysteria against cops” with this evidence of disproportionate police violence against minorities.