The gun homicide rate is spiking in many major American cities, and Republican lawmakers and conservative news organizations say their political rivals are to blame. “The inner cities of our country have been run by the Democratic Party for 50 years,” Republican nominee Donald Trump said in a Detroit speech in August. And on the Democrats’ watch, a slew of societal ills, including violent crime, have gotten worse, he asserted.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, one of Trump’s most ardent supporters, has said a surge in Chicago homicides is the fault of Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who “has refused to do anything.”
Some perspective: National murder rates are at their lowest levels in decades. Since 2010, the number of homicides per 100,000 people in the nation has remained steady, fluctuating between a low of 4.4 and and a high of 4.9, year after year. Yet it is also true that after a long decline, murder rates have shot up in many urban areas, including Chicago, Houston, and Baltimore.
So what relationship, if any, is there between the political affiliation of a city’s mayor and the local homicide rate? The Trace examined five years of murder statistics from the 60 largest U.S. cities with populations that exceed 250,000. The analysis found that cities under Republican control were slightly less likely to have experienced an increase in homicides than those run by Democrats — but that the percentage difference, factoring in the very small sample size, is not significant.
Of the cities examined by The Trace, 44 were led by Democratic mayors. Twenty-six, or 59 percent, experienced a spike in their murder rates over that time period. Of the 14 big cities run by Republican mayors, half recorded an increase in homicide rates.
Our dataset excludes any city that had both a Democratic and a Republican mayor over the five-year period, from 2010 to 2015.
Michael Javen Fortner is a professor of Urban Studies at City University of New York. He says the political affiliation of a city’s mayor likely has little effect on crime rates. Far more important, he says, is the degree of support provided by the federal government, in terms of job creation and other initiatives for low-income communities.
Historically, both parties have failed at addressing the urban violence epidemic, Fortner says. During the post Civil Rights era, both left-wing and right-wing candidates ran on tough-on-crime platforms by using the dramatic increase in violence and homicides – particularly in communities of color – to woo middle-class and working-class white voters.
Trump, while attributing the spike in violence in large cities to Democrats, has declared himself the “law and order candidate” and has won the support of law enforcement by promising to clean up city streets with aggressive policing.
His opponent, Hillary Clinton, has proposed measures to curb gun violence, like implementing universal background checks, closing the so-called gun show loophole, and reinstating the assault weapons ban. It is not clear whether these strategies will lead to a reduction in shootings. Many criminal buyers in large cities obtain guns through illegal markets, fueled by straw purchases and thefts.
The Brennan Center for Justice has predicted a 13.1 percent increase in the national murder rate this year from the 2015 rate of 4.9 per 100,000. Half of the additional murders will happen in Baltimore, Chicago and Houston. Chicago has recorded more than 630 murders and is expected to surpass 700 by the end of the year.
“No one should have to live in a city or a community that has 600 murders at this point of the year,” said Fortner. “There’s something un-American about that.”
[Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo]