July 21, 2016

Lucky we're not living under Reagan and Giuliani


Speakers at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland portray a country teetering on the brink of an apocalypse conveyed by criminals, terrorists, immigrants and Black Lives Matter. No one expressed that louder than New York's former mayor.

“The vast majority of Americans today do not feel safe,” bellowed Rudy Giuliani Monday night. “They fear for their children and they fear for themselves. They fear for our police officers who are being targeted, with a target on their back.”

Crime fear-mongering has been on Page One of the Republican political playbook since 1964, when the disastrous GOP nominee Barry Goldwater used crime as a proxy for race when he suggested that law-abiding whites were being menaced by riotous African-American “bullies and marauders.” For good measure, he added the blatant dog whistle, “Our wives, all women, feel unsafe on our streets.”

By any measure, America has had far less crime under President Obama than during the Reagan years. But that context is lost in the daily headlines (and the countless tweets) about the latest crime atrocity, says Jeff Asher, a crime data expert based in New Orleans.

I compared national crime statistics from 1987, after seven years of Reagan anti-crime policies, to 2014, Obama’s sixth year (and the most recent for which FBI Uniform Crime Report data is available). Here are a few takeaways:

The overall violent crime rate under Reagan in 1987 was 612 instances of violence for every 100,000 people.

In 2014, the violent crime rate was 365 per 100,000, a decline of 40 percent.

In real numbers, Americans in 2014 reported about 320,000 fewer violent crimes than in 1987, including homicide, robbery, rape and serious assault. Murder declined from 20,096 cases in 1987 to 14,249 in 2014.

 Robbery, regarded by experts as a better bellwether than murder of a community’s overall safety, has declined sharply since the Reagan years—from about 518,000 cases in 1987 to 326,000 in 2014, a decline of more than 50 percent when adjusted for the country’s 30 percent population growth over those 27 years.

Property crime, by far the most prevalent form of lawbreaking, has also declined sharply.

The total number of burglaries, larcenies and vehicle thefts declined by nearly 4 million, from 12 million cases in 1987 to about 8.3 million in 2014. That was a drop of 48 percent when adjusted for population growth.

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