Those Violent Red States

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Crime is again a top story, both in the national media and on this blog.

Many on this blog seem to think they have identified what is behind the recent rise in crime, especially homicides and other violent crimes. Two years ago, Jim Bacon pointed out that the Commonwealth had the fourth lowest crime rate in the nation. Now, he does not seem so optimistic, lamenting, “What we’re seeing now is the result of a thorough de-legitimization of the criminal justice system by America’s political, media and cultural elites.” Other commenters voice the same alarm, blaming progressives, “woke” prosecutors, and general soft-on-crime policies. Essentially, they blame Democratic leaders. See here, here, and here.

The facts tell a different story. According to the most recent data from the FBI, Virginia still has one of the lowest crime rates in the nation. Its rate of 208.7 violent crimes per 100,000 population is the sixth lowest, lower than even that of super-conservative Wyoming (234.2). For a table showing all the violent crime rates, see Crime rates.

On a national scale the data belie the claim that crime is rampant in Democratic areas. Of the ten jurisdictions with the highest violent crime rates in 2020, seven were carried by Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Of that group of ten, only the District of Columbia, New Mexico, and Arizona were carried by Joe Biden. (Arizona could be put in either column for the purposes of this argument.  Although narrowly carried by Biden, it has a Republican governor and legislature.) Only two Republican states, Idaho and Wyoming, are in the 10 states with the lowest violent crime rates.

Murder is the violent crime that garners the most attention. Republican states top the list on this measure as well.

Using 2019 and 2020 murder data from the annual crime reports of each state, one study found that “murder rates are, on average, 40% higher in the 25 states Donald Trump won in the last election compared to those that voted for Joe Biden.” Of the ten states with the highest murder rates, only two, Georgia and New Mexico went for Biden. (Like Arizona in the previous comparison, Georgia could have gone in either column as a state with a Republican governor and legislator, but which went narrowly for Biden.)

With the exception of New Mexico, the states in the “top ten’ were all Southern or border states. Mississippi’s murder rate (20.50) was 400% higher than New York’s (4.11), 250% higher than California’s (5.59), and 120% higher than Illinois’s (9.20).  Furthermore, between 2019 and 2020, murder rates increased faster in Trump-voting states than in Biden-voting states.

Many of the commentaries blaming Democrats focus on cities, citing the increasing number of murders in those municipalities. For example, Hans Bader, in raising the alarm about the national increases in murders, pointed to these specific cities and the increases in their murder rates:  Seattle (74.7%), Minneapolis (72.3%), Chicago (55.5%), Boston (54.1%), New York (39.2%), St. Louis (34.5%), and Los Angeles (30.4%).  It is not a coincidence that all these cities have Democratic mayors.

Perhaps because the complaints about progressive prosecutors and other Democratic policies (see here and here) fail to explain what has been happening in Republican-led cities, as well, they conveniently omit those cities from their cries of alarm. That would include the increases in the murder rates of the following cities:  Tulsa (39%), Fort Worth (62%), and Fresno (64%).

Then there is Jacksonville. It is known as the “murder capital” of Florida and has had a Republican mayor for six years. Despite their similar sizes, Jacksonville had 128 more murders than San Francisco in 2020.

Speaking of San Francisco, the homicide rate in the Nancy Pelosi’s city was half that of Bakersfield, the home of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and a city with a Republican mayor and that overwhelmingly voted for Trump. In fact, the homicide rate for Kern County, in which Bakersfield is the largest city, is the highest of any California county.  One security site has ranked Bakersfield in the top 10 most dangerous metro areas in America.

My Soapbox

The underlying causes of crime and abrupt changes in crime trends are varied and complex. Attempts to put a partisan spin on these issues do not hold up under scrutiny and do not contribute to an understanding of the problem.