Despite what the DOJ claims, Portland, Seattle, and New York have among the lowest murder rates in the country of any large city. Violent and property crimes are actually down in those cities, when compared to 2019.
Donald Trump’s Department of Justice (DOJ) branded New York City, Portland, and Seattle as “anarchist” jurisdictions last week, but a new analysis of crime data published in the New York Times refutes that narrative, showing the three cities actually have among the lowest murder rates in the country.
Of 59 cities with 250,000 or more people for which data is available this year, all three cities rank in the bottom quarter for murder rate. As of July, crime analyst Jeff Asher points out in his data, Portland had experienced only 6.5 murders per 100,000 people, while Seattle was at 5.7 and New York at 5.4. In contrast, St. Louis, which has far and away the worst murder rate in the nation, sits at 90.4 per 100,000.
Murder is on the rise in the three cities singled out by the DOJ, but it’s on the rise virtually everywhere, as the stress of the pandemic, the erosion of jobs and the social safety net, and increasing political and racial division have contributed to higher rates of gun deaths across the country.
“COVID-19 lays bare the health disparities that have existed for a long time: the lack of investment, education, and jobs are all ultimately root causes of gun violence and will increase gun violence,” according to Joshua Horwitz, the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
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But even with this increase taken into account, Portland, Seattle, and New York are actually on pace to have murder rates roughly at or below the national average. And even though the DOJ claimed the cities had “permitted violence and destruction of property to persist” during recent protests against police brutality, violent and property crimes are actually down in the cities, when compared to 2019, Asher found.
That reality has not stopped Trump, who has tried to campaign on a “law and order” theme, from arguing that the nation’s rising murder rate—which has occurred under his watch—is somehow the fault of Joe Biden and other Democrats.
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But that narrative, much like the DOJ’s, is not borne out by the facts. While the murder rate is rising—15% nationally, according to the FBI, and 28% in the 59 cities studied by Asher—Trump is wrong about it being a Democratic problem. The Times piece found no significant disparity in murder rates between Democratic and Republican-led cities. The murder rate is up 29% over 2019 in Democratic led-cities and 26% in Republican-led cities, and while most cities are led by Democrats, five of the 13 cities on pace for record-high murder counts in 2020 have Republican mayors.
These numbers may seem dramatic, and indeed a 15% increase would be the largest one-year increase in modern history. But even if the murder rate rises that much, the country’s murder rate would still be in line with where it was in the mid-2000s, which is about 40% below where it stood in 1990.
It remains to be seen whether the trend of the surge in violence is a one-year anomaly due to the pandemic, or if it ushers in an era of rising violence.
Trump appears to be banking on, and at times, even hoping for the latter.