Is the “Ferguson effect” real? Reflecting 10 months of sporadic, sometimes-violent anti-police protests over the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and black men elsewhere, the phenomenon, for some, is that criminal elements are feeling emboldened to question police authority, which in turn has meant a more hands-off approach by officers and a spike in some local crime rates, says the Christian Science Monitor. Others say the Ferguson effect more accurately describes a political movement where oppressed black Americans are standing up for their rights. Some political scientists say the arguments over the Ferguson effect, and whether it has really fueled a murder wave in cities like Baltimore, New York, and Atlanta, hint at a nation searching for a new equilibrium on how policing should look at a time when serious crime, for the vast majority of citizens, continues to be rare.
“If we're talking about a Ferguson effect where it means more people challenging police, more people filing suits against the police, and more people confronting police publicly, I think you are seeing that,” says George Ciccariello-Maher, a political scientist at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “The other dynamic of this so-called Ferguson effect is the notion that when people know their rights, they become dangerous criminals.” Ciccariello-Maher calls the latter idea “utterly absurd.”