“Ferguson Effect” is myth, distraction from real movement

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In a speech at the University of Chicago Law School, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey stated that he believes the “Ferguson effect” is responsible for an increase in crime in cities across America.

According to a study in the [ITAL] New York Times [ITAL], the number of murders as of August has increased in many major cities. Milwaukee, for example, has seen a 76 percent increase, from 59 murders in 2014 to 104 in 2015. Murder rates have increased by 60 percent in St. Louis, 56 percent in Baltimore, and 22 percent in New Orleans.

In Comey’s opinion, one that is shared by several other law enforcement officials, this is at least partially due to the demands of Black Lives Matter protesters. He speculated that an increase in public scrutiny of police behavior after the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. has resulted in more hesitant policing.

According to Comey, police officers are increasingly reluctant to take action for fear of becoming the source for the newest hashtag or YouTube video condemning overzealous and downright unconstitutional police actions.

Other government officials, including White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, have countered that there is no evidence of a relationship between the protests and the current rise in crime. Numerous other causes have been suggested, from lowered gun prices to a rise in synthetic drugs to more people being released from prison.

True or not, Comey's claim could just be his attempt to oversimplify a complicated issue and point fingers. But if the “Ferguson effect” is, as [ITAL]The Atlantic[ITAL] proclaimed, nothing more than the “bigfoot of American criminal justice,” it is unsettling to see powerful people jumping to lay the blame for increased violence on social activists without any proof.

Combined with Comey’s use of the phrase “all lives matter,” thought by many to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement, it seems evident that he intends to merely bully those speaking out and return to a state where people turn a blind eye to police injustice.

Even if there were any evidence to support the Ferguson Effect, that would mean that police officers find themselves unable to properly do their jobs when there is a risk they may be filmed and held accountable for their actions.

If there is truly a trend developing where police are taking a hands-off approach thanks to the increased presence of civilian vigilance and recording devices, that means they feel that they can’t keep people safe without simultaneously disrespecting people’s civil rights. They know their misbehavior would not be supported under scrutiny, and yet they would rather do nothing than adjust their actions to comply with the law.

Black Lives Matter protesters are either viewed as a convenient scapegoat or an excuse to delay changing police behavior. Over a year after the shooting in Ferguson, it has again become clear that the issues brought to light that day have not disappeared. But if efforts to bring about reform are treated as almost criminal themselves, it may not be practical to expect things to change significantly anytime soon.