Supplemental: Have urban homicide rates gone up?


We offer our standard excuse:
Have homicide rates gone up this year in the nation’s big cities?

We don’t know, and we offer our favorite excuse. We read the New York Times!

If you read yesterday’s Times, you might have thought the paper said that urban homicide rates actually have gone up.

If you thought the Times said that, you were pretty much wrong. Here’s why:

Monica Davey’s news report was the featured report on the paper’s front page. Under a Milwaukee dateline, this is the way it started:
DAVEY (9/1/15): Cities across the nation are seeing a startling rise in murders after years of declines, and few places have witnessed a shift as precipitous as this city. With the summer not yet over, 104 people have been killed this year—after 86 homicides in all of 2014.

More than 30 other cities have also reported increases in violence from a year ago. In New Orleans, 120 people had been killed by late August, compared with 98 during the same period a year earlier. In Baltimore, homicides had hit 215, up from 138 at the same point in 2014. In Washington, the toll was 105, compared with 73 people a year ago. And in St. Louis, 136 people had been killed this year, a 60 percent rise from the 85 murders the city had by the same time last year.
Please note what Davey wrote:

She didn’t write that some cities across the nation “are seeing a startling rise in murders.” She didn’t write that many cities “are seeing a startling rise.”

She wrote that “cities across the nation”—no qualification—“are seeing a startling rise in murders.” From that, you may have thought that Davey can show that the homicide rate has gone way up in American cities in general.

In fact, Davey makes no such demonstration in her front-page report. Many readers will think she established that fact. But she plainly didn’t.

Might we note a second point? By her second paragraph, Davey seems to be playing her readers.

You may have thought she said, in that paragraph, that “more than thirty other cities,” aside from Milwaukee, have also reported increases in murders. But as you can very plainly see, she actually didn’t say that.

She actually said that more than 30 other cities “have also reported increases in violence.” And yes, we’ll guess that she was choosing her words carefully there. Later on in her report, you’ll note that she says this:
DAVEY: Urban bloodshed—as well as the overall violent crime rate—remains far below the peaks of the late 1980s and early ’90s, and criminologists say it is too early to draw broad conclusions from the recent numbers. In some cities, including Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Newark, homicides remain at a relatively steady rate this year.

Yet with at least 35 of the nation’s cities reporting increases in murders, violent crimes or both, according to a recent survey, the spikes are raising alarm among urban police chiefs.
She doesn’t say that 35 cities are reporting increases in murders. In a way big reporters once called “Clintonesque,” she clearly says something different.

Has the homicide rate in our big cities gone up this year as a general matter? It’s certainly possible, but Davey never tries to establish that claim. While we’re at it, let’s note how limited her claims really are.

Davey includes a graphic showing ten cities where homicide rates have risen. That said, there are a lot of cities in the U.S., and Davey goes fairly far down the list to offer those ten examples.

How far down the list does she go? According to the leading authority, Milwaukee—her prime example of that “startling rise in murders”—is the nation’s 31st largest city. She also includes Kansas City, the 37th largest city; New Orleans, the 50th largest; and St. Louis, which is 60th on the list.

Some of our biggest cities are on her list too, including New York, Chicago and Philadelphia (numbers 1, 3 and 5). But Philly’s increase is just four percent, and New York City’s is only nine. What’s happening in all the other cities, the ones Davey doesn’t mention?

Has the homicide rate in our big cities gone up this year as a general matter. Note how hard Davey seems to have worked to avoid addressing that question:

At the bottom of her graphic, the Times describes the source for its data: “City police departments.” Couldn’t the Times have checked with the departments of the 30 or 40 largest cities to create an overall statistic for our biggest cities?

The thought doesn’t seem to have entered Davey’s head. At no point does she explain why she hasn’t presented some such compilation. To all appearances, we’re left with some clever phrasing and possibly with some cherry-picked cities, which in some cases are quite far down the list of biggest burbs.

This news report has the form of a classic Times “trend story.” It creates a clear impression, but it lacks the kind of data which can justify the impression. And then, to experience real despair, consider what happens when such reports fall into the hands of our pundits.

Yesterday, on Morning Joe, the gang paused its trashing of Clinton long enough to cluck about the Times report. To watch them try to conduct a discussion, you can just click here.

Needless to say, no one noticed the shaky nature of the Times’ statistical claims. Things got worse when Scarborough asked the scribes to explain the alleged one-year increase in murders.

Bless their hearts! First Mike Barnicle, then Jonathan Capehart, took a try at punditsplaining the alleged one-year jump. Each pundit attributed the jump to social factors which have been around for roughly a million years.

At first, Joe tried to challenge this logical problem. Soon, though, he gave up, and Mika stepped in to save the day. She made the suggestion all good pundits love:

“All right, let’s get to politics.”

Have homicide rates in our big cities gone up this year as a general matter? We can’t say that we actually know.

We offer our standard excuse.


  1. We offer our standard excuse. We have a lot of black kids who are caught in the backwash of our nation's brutal racial history.

    1. I'm a douchebag, so I try out several variants of this -- you can amuse, er, torture, yourself with them below at your leisure.

      However you feel about my "hilarious" "satire," my point is clear throughout: Somerby's just awful, and doesn't have a valid argument that our discourse is debased.

      Yes, my point is clear.

      Dead wrong, and presented as the incontrovertible work of an utter douchebag -- but clear.

    2. You've made your point, now go away

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  2. We offer our standard excuse. We can’t say that we actually know.

  3. We offer our standard excuse: You won't learn about those gains on MSNBC, where the fiery liberals would jump off a bridge before they'd discuss our black kids,

  4. We offer our standard excuse: Black kids are doing much better in school!


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  5. We offer our standard excuse: the professors’ basic claims are rather hard to parse. But they seem to say what doesn’t actually seem to be true. But it seems to be what the study suggests or alleges. At any rate, it would be easy to draw a false conclusion, It would be easy to think. The professors never actually say that, but it’s an easy conclusion to draw

  6. We offer our standard excuse: Wealth and fame are very destructive. Mixed with Trump-like self-adoration, wealth and fame really do kill.
    Should it be “deeply troubling” to see black kids being suspended from preschool “at such horrendous rates?”

    We’re not sure.

    1. Perhaps you are not sure because Trump is alive, well, and leading in the polls?

  7. We offer our standard excuse: Could it possibly be that the nation’s rising test scores are also tied to lead abatement? Could it be that lead abatement has helped produce those rising test scores—the rising scores your major newspapers simply refuse to report?

  8. We math folks are trained to use quantifiers ∀and ∃
    ∀x ∈ A, P(x), which claims: for all x in the set A, the statement P(x) is true.
    ∃x ∈ A, P(x), which claims: there exists at least one x in the set A such that the statement P(x) is true

    Of course, one can use a more precise quantifier than ∃ if one wants to describe the particular set of values for which the statement holds.

    A statement without a quantifier is an invitation to fallacious reasoning. Sadly, one sees statements without quantifiers all the time in media reports.

    1. We offer our standard excuse: An obvious question comes to mind: What kind of school would let a student take the same course six times in four years? And no, this isn’t the way it always has been done; traditionally, American students haven’t been required to pass Algebra 1 to get their high school diploma. Traditionally, kids like Gabriela Ocampo—kids who “worked hard and played by the rules”—were granted the dignity of their high school diploma without the requirement of passing this course.

      That said, between 2003 and 2013, when the most recent NAEP tests were given, the average math scores for Hispanic students in U.S. public schools rose nine points in fourth grade and 13 points in eighth grade.

  9. You also need to be careful using the term "city." City is a unit of government but not always one that corresponds to what people consider a "city."

    The city of Atlanta is a prime example. The city of Atlanta has less than half a million people. It is the 39th largest city, smaller than the city of Mesa and about half the size of the city of Austin.

    The "metropolitan statistical area" of Atlanta(-Sandy Springs-Roswell) has about 5.6 million people and is the 9th largest MSA. Mesa is part of the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale MSA which is 12th around 4.5 million. Austin-Round Rock is 35th around 1.9 million.

    It is therefore important to make clear how many cities you are looking at and what criteria you used. The 50 most populous cites, for example, excludes Arlington, Tampa, Anaheim, St Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincy, Newark, Orlando, St Pete, Buffalo and many others.

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  11. Wow, Bob's troll's meds must've run out yesterday. Refill your prescription, troll. You're a danger to yourself and others.

    1. Alas, Bob's friends don't care about urban homicide either.


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  13. This kind of razor-sharp analysis is what makes Somerby the best media critic out there.

    1. Plus it frees him to psychoanalyze the whole liberal race.

  14. As far as I know Somerby's the only one doing a critique of the relatively new-on-the-scene liberal corporate media, and high end establishment media, from a liberal perspective. Holding people who allegedly speak for my political interests in the mass media to a high standard. As it should be.

    1. Somerby is the only one doing a critique from a lazy, dumb, and of dubious morals perspective?

  15. Elites are afraid of people actually understanding the cause of crime. Steven Pinker dropped a huge poopy book on this where he literally blames young black libido for crime rates. He shunts to one side ideas about jobs and unions, cited in Rudolph Roth's American Homicide, which he mangles to sing the praises of the state.


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