Horowitz: Learning all the wrong lessons from Memphis and Tyre Nichols

Everyone in the country now knows the name Tyre Nichols and associates Memphis with police brutality, as if that is the most serious and pervasive criminal justice issue ailing the city. That’s because every black individual who dies in police custody – both justified and unjustified – is reported on like the death of Princess Diana. But what you won’t hear about is how Memphis has become one of the most violent cities in the country, with crime spiraling out of control, reaching a crescendo last September after a mass shooting killed innocent civilians not involved with gangs and the brutal kidnapping and murder of Eliza Fletcher, both allegedly at the hands of repeat violent offenders out of prison.

Overall, in 2022, there have been over 100 kidnappings in Memphis. In both 2020 and 2021, Memphis set new homicide records and now boasts the ninth-highest homicide rate in the country and is ranked the most violent metro area in the country. Even as violent crime receded off its peak toward the end of 2022, property crime rose by 20%.

While there are plenty of cases of white homicide victims such as Eliza Fletcher, and nobody tries to make that racially motivated, black victims bear the brunt of the excess homicides that have spiked since the death of George Floyd and the accompanying “criminal justice reforms.” After declining for more than two decades, homicides have shot up since 2020, averaging roughly 22.5K annually over the past three years instead of 16.5K in 2019. With more than half the victims being black, that is a total of close to 10,000 excess black homicide victims since 2020! The homicide rate for black Americans rose 34% – from 22.9 per 100,000 in 2019 to 30.7 in 2020 post-BLM. For all other Americans, the increase was a more modest 18.7%.

We can train the police in de-escalation tactics night and day and root out every bad cop, but it doesn’t change the fact that so long as violent criminals are not punished commensurate with their crimes and repeat offenders are not removed from the streets, we will be facing more civilian deaths, black-on-black homicides, and violent police interactions – most of them justifiable, but some notably not. It doesn’t mean we can’t have a discussion about police brutality in its own right. As someone concerned with the creeping totalitarianism in this country ushered in by the FBI and by COVID fascism, the concern of police overreach has certainly grown on me. But it clearly has nothing to do with race and clearly is not the cause of the murder epidemic among black people in places like Memphis. In 2021, black people composed roughly 60% of both homicide offenders and victims nationwide, according to the FBI, but only 25% of the total 1,000 killed by police in a given year (most of them justifiable, and just seven deceased at the hands of police were unarmed in 2022).

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In general, the debate over crime should focus more on tougher sentencing and limits on bail and parole for repeat violent offenders more than discussions about policing – funding, tactics, and training. The fewer criminals on the street, the less crime there is, and the fewer volatile interactions you will have with the police. In this case, in particular, it’s hard to draw conclusions because none of the tactics used were in accordance with any police training and some of them seemed to be hired outside the traditional standards since 2020, which raises questions about the lowering of standards – both in the attempt to appease the gods of diversity and also to staunch the personnel bleeding of talented cops retiring precisely because of the BLM onslaught.

So, if each of these incidents continues to monopolize the discussion of criminal justice and focus it solely on the reaction to crime rather than crime itself, it won’t save a single life and will only exacerbate the existing crisis. You never hear about the victims of crime due to negligent de-incarceration policies; you never hear about the more ubiquitous black-on-white crime, and you never hear about police brutality against white people. The imbalance in focus is designed to drive the very failed policy outcome Republicans have credulously bought into for so long.

For example, nobody in America knows about Gonzalo Carrasco Jr., a police officer near Fresno, California, who was gunned down by a repeat violent offender this past Tuesday. The suspect, a gang member with a history of robbery and weapons offenses, was released early due to prison realignment and placed on post-release community supervision. But this happens in red states like Texas too. In October 2017, Houstonian Jonathan Vera was charged with murdering Silvano Cortez during a home invasion. Shockingly, his bond for the capital murder charge was lowered to just $50,000, and he was released in March 2021. Shortly after, he was convicted for another murder. Even now, he’s only serving a 35-year sentence with a chance of parole, and life or the death penalty.

Houston is infested with repeat violent offenders, and the legislature has failed to deal with this for years. Gangs, repeat violent offenders, and liberal release programs form the core of the problem with our public safety and are the antecedent to the entire debate over policing. Tougher sentencing for violent offenders is the way to de-escalate crime in our streets and staunch the decline in talent and resources of police departments. In other words, true criminal justice reform is the exact opposite of what BLM is pushing for.

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