Killer Stats 2023

I’ve got some good news and some bad news about murder in 2022.

The good news: Urban homicides appear to have dropped in 2022 around 5 percent versus 2021.

The bad news: That marginal progress only gets us back to the brutal level of 2020, the first year of the ongoing “racial reckoning,” when homicides exploded by a record 30 percent over 2019.

Because I’m too impatient to wait around until the second half of 2023 for 2022’s official federal crime statistics to be released by the FBI and CDC, I just now created a convenience sample of 2022 homicide counts in 47 cities.

In the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when there’s no news other than celebrity obituaries, many local newspapers traditionally have a reporter call up the police department to get the scoop on how many homicides there were within the city limits this year, and to transcribe the police chief’s excuses or boasts for why the number of killings went up or down.

My quick study is not a random or necessarily representative sample—I’m just taking whichever cities for which I can find information. And many of the counts aren’t totally complete: I’m typically missing the last week of the year, or about 2 percent of 2022’s days.

But I’ve been doing this for several years now (for example, here’s my column from Jan. 5, 2022), and it has worked quite well at anticipating the CDC and FBI stats each time.

In the 47 cities, there were 38 percent more homicides in 2022 than in pre–George Floyd 2019. Of the 47 municipalities, 42 had more homicides in 2022. (By the way, murders are a subset of homicides—for example, justifiable self-defense homicides aren’t murders—but the two categories trend closely together and I use the terms as nearly synonyms.)

The worst percentage increase was in the former whitetopia of Portland, Oregon, the site of countless Mostly Peaceful Protests in 2020, which has seen homicides grow 167 percent from 36 to 96. Other cities that were wracked by Black Lives Matter riots in 2020 include Milwaukee (killings up 121 percent following the Jacob Blake riots in nearby Kenosha), Louisville (80 percent, Breonna Taylor), Seattle (71 percent, CHAZ), Minneapolis (67 percent, George Floyd himself,), and Atlanta (64 percent, Rayshard Brooks):

Two of the five cities that have seen tiny declines in homicides during the Floyd Effect since 2019—Baltimore and Charlotte—had their murder rates driven up earlier by Black Lives Matter riots during the more localized Ferguson Effect of the first BLM Era.

In other findings, New Orleans is falling apart again, with homicides up 131 percent to a rate of 71 per 100,000, second worst out of the 47 to only increasingly postapocalyptic Jackson, Mississippi (77 per 100k).

In general, the middle of the country, the Mississippi watershed and the Great Lakes, whether north or south, red state or blue state, is in bad shape these days.

Why? Perhaps it’s because the country used to rely more on water transit for heavy industry, so Rust Belt cities tend to be located on waterways. As industrial jobs have been outsourced, the more enterprising residents have left for jobs in more modern economies like that of air and land transport-oriented Dallas (homicides down 5 percent to a not-too-bad rate of 14 per 100k), leaving behind the unemployable to amuse themselves by shooting each other.

If this selection effect theory is correct, then high homicide rates in Rust Belt cities are less due to poverty per se than to the kind of people who aren’t looking for jobs coming to dominate numerically as the harder-working leave to find work. If you are not interested in earning visible means of support, then why not stay in your low-rent hometown?

If accurate, this helps explain the conundrum of why decaying cities have higher homicide rates but there also isn’t much correlation between trends in the overall state of the national economy and murder trends.

It’s widely assumed that killings are due to poverty as men murder to steal food for their families. But in modern America, homicides often go up in economic good times like the 1960s or the late 1980s and fall in bad times, such as during the Great Recession. In this century, for instance, homicides have become fairly closely correlated with traffic fatalities: Both are what I call “deaths of exuberance.”

Murders and especially mass shootings tend to be concentrated at African American social events because the more cash in the hands of the black underclass, such as during the crack years and during the Covid stimulus, the more partying. And thus the more likely one knucklehead is to get dissed by another knucklehead.

If the knucklehead of the first part has his illegal handgun tucked in his waistband or in his glove compartment because he’s no longer scared of the police due to George Floyd, he’s more likely to start blazing away than if he has to go home to get his gun and has a chance to think it over.

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