A Call To Tamp Down Rhetoric On Crime And Back Approaches That Work


The increase in homicides in many big U.S. cities appears real, but there is no broader national crime wave, says Thomas Abt of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Abt’s hunch is that the problem stems from “a criminological phenomenon called legal cynicism.” Writing for The Marshall Project, Abt says studies have found that, “When communities view the police and criminal justice system as illegitimate, they become more violent. When people believe the system is unwilling or unable to help them, they are more likely to take the law into their own hands.”

Cynicism about the law might explain why the recent homicide spikes happened in places like St. Louis, Baltimore, and Milwaukee, where there was unrest after controversial uses of police force, and why Boston, a place with positive police-community collaboration, had the largest single decrease in homicide of any large city, Abt says. He urges addressing cynicism “in our public conversation about guns, crime, and punishment.” Some successful antiviolence approaches get little support because they “don't provide fodder for our next partisan debate,” Abt writes. He hopes that in this election year, politicians “move past our pre-approved talking points and get down to the business of saving lives, because peace in our streets has no political affiliation.”

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