At the start of this year, America’s crime trends looked grim: Murders had spiked at a record speed in 2020 and increased further in 2021.
But now that the year is ending, it’s clear that the violence has eased.
Murders in large U.S. cities are down more than 5 percent so far in 2022 compared to the same time last year, according to the research firm AH Datalytics. Gun deaths, injuries and mass shootings are also down this year.
What happened? To regular readers of this newsletter, the explanations may be familiar: The causes of the murder spike have receded.
Covid disrupted much of life in 2020 and 2021, including social services that help keep people safe. That applies not just to policing, but also to places like schools and addiction treatment facilities that can help people — especially young men, the more common perpetrators and victims of violent crime — stay out of trouble. As life slowly returns to normal, these programs have reopened and helped suppress murders and shootings.
We also have additional distance from the murder of George Floyd in 2020, an event that not only spawned widespread protests but also strained police-community trust across the U.S.
How did the fallout from the horror of Floyd’s death tie into murder trends? Because those police-community tensions may have reduced law enforcement’s effectiveness by, for example, making people more skeptical of working with the police and leading officers to be too cautious in fighting crime. And the public’s loss of confidence in the police may have led more people to resolve conflicts through their own means, including violence, instead of through the justice system. The passage of time and efforts to repair trust have diminished those effects.
There is also a more abstract explanation: Covid, Floyd’s death, the 2020 election, the Jan. 6 attack and other events have made the past few years feel chaotic, damaging social cohesion and trust in institutions. Some experts argue that this kind of anomie can lead to more crime and violence. But at least some of it has lessened along with the pandemic and protests.
Add it all up, and Americans are now a bit safer from murders and shootings than they were last year.
Bad news bias
The drop in murders is genuinely good news — the kind that often goes unreported. Think about how many headlines you have seen about the rise in murders compared to stories about the subsequent decline.
That gap demonstrates another point that regular readers of this newsletter will be familiar with: The news media tends to have a bad news bias. Some of that is driven by journalists’ decisions, hence the old cliché that if it bleeds, it leads. Studies also suggest that negativity gets a bigger audience, so journalists are, to some extent, giving readers what they want.
That bias warps people’s perceptions of the world. As rates of murders and other crimes plummeted from the 1990s to mid-2010s, news outlets regularly covered shocking individual crimes, and a majority of Americans told Gallup that crime was trending upward. (Most Americans still say crime is up.)
There are still reasons for caution. Data from this year suggested other kinds of crime, besides murders and shootings, might have increased in 2022. Murders are still higher than they were in 2019. And it’s possible the trends reported in large cities don’t apply to the entire country (although they have in recent years).
But the data we do have suggests the country’s murder and shooting rates are heading in the right direction. As the year comes to a close, it’s good news you can celebrate.
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ARTS AND IDEAS
A ‘Titanic’ parody
In the nearly 25 years since the release of the epic blockbuster “Titanic,” its appeal has persisted. This year, “Titanique,” a 100-minute Off Broadway musical parody set to Celine Dion songs, drew a cult following.
“Titanique” opened in June in New York and mixes improvisation and a strategy of shattering the fourth wall. Through word of mouth and a passionate social media following, the show has consistently sold out, The Times’s Sarah Bahr writes. The musical announced its third extension last week.
“People feel like they’re part of something special every night,” said Constantine Rousouli, a co-creator of the musical who also plays its romantic male lead, Jack.