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Jeff Sessions Can Help Stop the "American Carnage"

Originally published in Real Clear Policy

Criminal Justice

by Sean Kennedy

OP-EDS

JANUARY 24, 2017 Bookmark and Share

The Senate Judiciary Committee meets today to consider the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions for U.S. Attorney General. Sessions has been a near lone voice on fighting the rise in crime and opposing efforts to weaken our federal sentencing laws for serious offenders.

Despite the crowing from media outlets and crime deniers, Trump’s inaugural promise to stop “the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential” was apt and true for many Americans who live that reality. Sessions is the right pick to make good on this promise.

The claims that Trump “lied” or engaged in hyperbole when he called our country’s violent crime “this American carnage” are belied by the facts.

Crime is not at historic lows; it’s been rising rapidly recently, especially violent crime and murders. In 2015, violent crime rose by 3.7 percent overall, while rape jumped 6.3 percent and murders increased by a staggering 11.8 percent, according to the FBI’s data. Last year, the FBI reported that violent crimes continued to climb, especially in big cities.

Overall, the FBI found that violent crime was up 5.3 percent in the first half of 2016 over the first half of 2015, with murders spiking another 5.2 percent in that period. Big cities, defined as those with populations over 250,000, took the hardest hit: murder spiked 14.5 percent in 2015 and rose again rise in the first six months of 2016. Cities with more than 1 million inhabitants had an average murder spike of 21.6 percent, while cities between 250,000 and half a million saw a 6.1 percent jump.

The second half of 2016 was as bloody for big cities as the first according to investigative journalist Jeff Asher, who found murder rose 11.3 percent in the 73 cities where data was available. Based on all 82 cities with populations over 250,000 in population, this author estimates the 2016 murder spike in large cities to be 10.4 percent on top of the 2015 increase of 14.5 percent.

One year may be an outlier, but two consecutive years begins to look like a trend.

What’s more, these trends are highly concentrated in certain cities and disproportionately impact certain populations. In 2015, nearly half of murders nationwide occurred within the city limits of the 82 largest cities, although those cities account for only 19 percent of all U.S. residents.

St. Louis, which ranks as the nation’s murder capital for the third-straight year. The city tallied 188 murders in 2016 or a murder rate of nearly 60 per 100,000 residents, surpassing Baltimore (51.1 per 100,000), New Orleans (45.2 per 100,000), and Detroit (44.6 per 100,000). Beleaguered Chicago ranks in eighth place in per capita murders at 28 per 100,000 residents.

A decade’s worth of criminal-justice reform in Texas is now giving way to death and destruction in that state, too, with the number of murders spiraling out of control in its largest cities. Murder is up 48 percent in Dallas, 47 percent in San Antonio, 33 percent in Austin, and 25 percent in Houston from 2014 figures.

In many cities, most of the victims are people of color. In Chicago, over nine out of 10 victims were men, and nearly 90 percent of them were black. The demographics for Baltimore’s murder rates are similar. And, according to a 2016 study by Chicago’s Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, murder rates for the young, black men have skyrocketed since 2005.

Nationwide, 80 percent of murder victims are men; the murder rate for young, black men is almost four times the national average.

Meanwhile, Obama’s Department of Justice has made it harder for those who protect and serve to do their job, issuing “consent decrees” and investigations against police departments in Chicago and Baltimore when they should be helping them get killers off the streets.

Rather than burying their heads in the sand and denying that crime, especially murder, is on the uptick, the new administration is poised to tackle the crisis head on. They have already taken the first step by acknowledging the facts.

As Attorney General, Sen. Sessions should map out a plan to reverse these trends and restore hope to those in the inner cities, who are experiencing this carnage first hand.

Sean Kennedy is a visiting fellow at the nonprofit Maryland Public Policy Institute, a conservative think tank. He previously worked as an aide in the U.S. Senate.