Conservative media misleadingly claim Rep. Ocasio-Cortez called concerns over rising crime “hysteria”

Right-wing media took recent comments from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) out of context and claimed her warning about a knee-jerk reaction to rising crime was dismissing concerns as “hysteria.” 

During a June 25 virtual town hall with Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Ocasio-Cortez touched on the issue of rising crime this year compared to during the pandemic lockdowns of 2020, and the reaction from both the media and the public. Toward the end of the event, she clarified that while “any amount of harm is unacceptable,” it is important to make sure that the coverage “doesn’t drive a hysteria and that we look at these numbers in context so that we can make responsible decisions.” 

The Twitter account RNC Research, which is managed by the Republican National Committee, tweeted out a 23-second video clip of her comments that same day, writing that “Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls the concerns over the spike in crime ‘hysteria.’”

That misleading narrative quickly spread across right-wing media, with headlines accusing the New York Democrat of dismissing concerns about the issue completely. 

However, most of the potential media overreaction that Ocasio-Cortez was warning about has also come from right-wing outlets. Fox News specifically has bent over backwards to disingenuously blame the rise in violent crime on media coverage and efforts to reform the criminal justice system -- going so far as to declare it “a war on police” -- despite there being no evidence to suggest the spike is directly correlated with law enforcement funding, the number of police officers, or other focuses of reform.

Violent crime has increased over the past year, and 2020 was the deadliest year for gun violence in decades. But Ocasio-Cortez is right that those numbers need to be put in context. While the murder rate did increase from 2019 to 2020, “residential burglary, larceny, and drug offense rates dropped by 24%, 24%, and 32%” respectively, according to a December 2020 study by the nonprofit Council on Criminal Justice. According to the Gun Violence Archive, gun violence and gun crimes are likely to continue rising throughout 2021: As of June 3, more than 8,200 people have been fatally shot this year so far; in 2020, “that total number of fatalities was 19,402.”

State and local governments do need to combat this rising violence, and the White House has released a strategy on how federal resources can offer support. However, local officials can and should learn from past mistakes when trying to reduce crime. 

Policies like “Broken Windows,” which was introduced in New York City in the 1980s, operated on the theory that aggressively policing petty crime would prevent more violent crime. However, there’s little evidence to suggest this practice actually worked and much research that it instead led to over-policing of minority communities. Similarly, the New York City policy of “stop-and-frisk” -- which was billed as proactive policing based on “reasonable suspicion” of supposed criminal activity -- had a questionable effect on reducing crime. The practice did, however, have a disproportionate impact on Black and Brown residents and a detrimental effect on young people. Students exposed to stop-and-frisk were more likely to have difficulty in school and experience anxiety or depression.

By putting the current violent crime numbers in context, as Ocasio-Cortez suggested, local governments can attempt to reduce them with sustainable policies rather than knee-jerk reactions which do little more than traumatize vulnerable communities. But Fox News and other right-wing media outlets instead chose to mislead about her remarks and hype the very “hysteria” she had warned about.