Talking Points

Murder rates are spiking in medium-sized cities. Where's the outcry?

This past weekend, with still more than a month to go in 2021, Philadelphia surpassed 500 homicides in a single year, a grim record set in 1990. Just a few days later, the number of murders has already climbed to 506.

You may have heard that talk about a national crime wave is overblown. This is true. Not all crime is surging. It's mostly violent crime, and especially homicide, the most violent of all, that is way up. And not everywhere. The murder rate in New York City over the past couple of years has been somewhat higher than in the recent past, for example, but it's nowhere near the stratospheric heights it reached in the early 1990s.

That's not the case in a long list of medium-sized cities across the country. Louisville, Cincinnati, Columbus, Baltimore, Trenton, Indianapolis, Cleveland, St. Louis, Memphis, Tucson, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Portland, Jacksonville, Rochester, Tulsa, Seattle, Denver, Albuquerque, Fort Worth — in all of these and other cities, homicide rates have hit or come close to hitting unprecedented highs over the past couple of years.

We can argue about the causes forever. What shouldn't be the least bit controversial is acknowledging that it's happening and that it is extremely bad — especially for Black residents of these cities. In Philadelphia, for example, 83 percent of those 506 homicide victims were Black. (Ten percent were Hispanic, 7 percent white, and 1 percent Asian.) The victims were also 88 percent male.

Critics of mass incarceration are right to point out how bad it is for the Black community when huge numbers of Black men are imprisoned. But it is also bad for Black men to be gunned down — both for the victims themselves, obviously, but also for their grieving families and the many others who continue to live in neighborhoods marked by the constant risk of violent death and its dire psychological and economic consequences.

A political system that can't protect its citizens from murder is a political system failing at the most rudimentary function of government. It should be considered a national scandal that this is permitted to happen in our country — and Democrats should be raising their voices about it. If they don't, Republicans will do so instead, reaping the political rewards while almost certainly failing to balance the need for order with the need for justice and mercy.