FBI Director James Comey made waves this week when he suggested that the Black Lives Matter movement is leading to a national rise in crime rates - in part because police officers have pulled back from doing their jobs, wary of the scrutiny that might come with a viral video.
"I don't know whether that explains it entirely," Comey said, "but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year." Is Comey right? Is crime actually on the rise? Or are law enforcement officials merely warding off scrutiny? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
JOEL MATHIS: Everybody wants to be safe. Nobody wants to be abused.See alsoCartoon: Looting in Black AmericaMore coverageOpinion and analysis about Ferguson
Are the two concepts in tension? It doesn't seem like they should be - it seems, in fact, like they're two sides of the same coin: If you're being abused, how can you feel safe? Too often in our history, the weight of law has been abusive and oppressive to black people in order to make white people feel safe. The Black Lives Matter movement, at its heart, simply expects that law-abiding people of color get to feel as safe as white folks traditionally do.
That's not anti-police. But it does demand police be the best they can be. It demands, at the very least, that officers not be bullies.
It is aggravating, then, to hear law enforcement officials suggest that such scrutiny could lead to more crime. As if the demand that officers not be abusive - that they obey the same laws they're sworn to uphold - is somehow burdensome. The reaction of Comey and his ilk feels menacing: "That's a nice town you have there," such officers seem to say. "Be a shame if something happened to it." Here's the truth about crime rates: They're up in some cities. They're not up in others. In St. Louis, where there is a murder spike, the rise began before the death of Michael Brown, which is what set off protests in the first place. What we do know is that even with an increase in crime this year, crime rates will still remain relatively low compared to their modern highs in the early 1990s. There's no reason to push the panic button just yet.
I believe that most police officers honorably want to serve and protect their communities. I believe that most Black Lives Matter activists want to see laws enforced and their neighborhoods kept safe and peaceful. I believe that safe, peaceful neighborhoods can be created even when police eschew racial profiling and abuse.
The question is: Do our law enforcement leaders believe that, too? Right now, they're acting as if they don't.
BEN BOYCHUK: It's an indisputable fact: Crime is on the rise in 35 major U.S. cities. Yet the Black Lives Matter movement advocates "reforms" that would likely only accelerate crime's upward trajectory. That's the problem here.
The New York Times in August reported a "startling rise in murders after years of decline." Since this time last year, murders are up 76 percent in Milwaukee; 60 percent in St. Louis; 56 percent in Baltimore; 44 percent in the District of Columbia; 22 percent in New Orleans; 20 percent in Chicago; and 9 percent in New York City.
It's true that murders in those cities are nowhere near the epidemic levels they had reached in the late 1980s and early 1990s. More than 2,200 people were murdered in New York City in 1990. As of Oct. 11, 275 New Yorkers had died violently this year.
The relatively small numbers, however, should not diminish the fact that the statistics are all headed in the wrong direction just about everywhere you look. And not just homicides. Rape is up. Robberies are up. Auto theft is up. Criminals are feeling emboldened again.
So why does Black Lives Matter deserve at least some of the blame for that? Because elected officials are taking their crackpot ideas seriously.
A lawsuit already forced New York to do away with "stop and frisk," which netted thousands of illegal guns and took repeat felons off the street. Black Lives Matter would also end "broken windows policing" in high-crime areas.
Neighborhoods where low-level offenses like public urination, loitering and drinking in public go unchallenged often become breeding grounds for more serious, violent crimes. But Black Lives Matter says enforcing those laws is oppressive, so "broken windows" must go.
Where policies go too far and police can no longer discriminate between the law-abiding citizen and the criminal, lawmakers must act. But Black Lives Matter goes much too far.
Fact is, every single Democratic presidential candidate has been dragooned into endorsing the Black Lives Matter agenda. It's a fair bet that not one of them will be called to account when that agenda leads invariably to the loss of more black lives as cities fall back into disorder.
Ben Boychuk (email@example.com) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal.