What Hath Wokeness Wrought?

by James A. Bacon

The surge in homicides in Virginia continued unabated for the third straight year in 2022, with number of deaths from homicide and non-negligent manslaughter reaching 621.

The homicide epidemic in Virginia disproportionately affected Blacks. Blacks accounted for 90% of the increase in the number of murder victims since 2019, the year before the George Floyd protests sparked an outbreak of lawlessness, a crescendo of anti-police rhetoric, and a wave of legislation designed to reduce Black incarceration rates.

The toll in Black bodies has increased from 253 in 2019 to 436 last year, a three-year increase of 183 victims and a one-year increase of 54. By contrast, the number of White murder victims climbed from 157 in 2019 to 173 the following year and has plateaued at that level since.

The latest data from the Virginia State Police compiled in the 2022 Crime in Virginia Report demolishes the argument proffered by many on the left a year or two ago that the spike in homicides could be attributed to COVID-related lockdowns rather than the wave of leftist rhetoric and public policy changes.

The COVID hypothesis was never credible to begin with — the lockdowns affected everyone, but the jump in homicides occurred overwhelmingly in the Black community, was muted among Whites, and was invisible among Asians. (The report did not break out Hispanics as a separate racial category.) But the continued increase in homicides among Blacks in 2022 after the lockdowns ended indicates that something besides COVID was responsible.

The explosion in violent crime — the aggravated assault rate increased, too, though not as markedly as homicides — followed the wave of protest over the death of George Floyd. Virginia, like much of the country, was roiled by anti-racist and anti-police rhetoric. Criminals were released earlier from prison. Bond laws were scrapped. Progressive commonwealth attorneys in Blue localities began applying “social justice” principles to the prosecution of minorities. Ideology triumphed over common sense, and the inhabitants of poor Black communities paid the price.

The total number of criminal incidents reported was lower in 2022 than three years previously — 355,000 compared to 375,000 — primarily due to the decriminalization of marijuana and the reduction in drug-related offenses. Yet the level of violence, primarily in inner-city localities dominated by Democratic elected officials, continued rising without letup.

I do sense a change today. The rhetoric has moderated. Denunciations of police have dimmed and calls for defunding the police have all but ended. Insofar as low police morale created a “George Floyd effect,” the term used by writer Heather MacDonald to describe how police under withering criticism back off from encounters with the public, morale and the quality of policing should be improving. Replenishing under-staffed police departments remains a challenge, but the task should be easier as the demonization of police diminishes. The softening of inflammatory language by pundits, politicians and militants and a growing sense of outrage by law-abiding residents of poor communities also could signal a shift in community attitudes.

But there are unknowns. Of most concern to me is what appears to be a continued social breakdown in inner cities and other pockets of poverty and crime — not just among Blacks but among Whites. Disorder reigns in many schools. In parts of our society, adults have relinquished authority and feral children are out of control. The nature of the killings is changing. There is more indiscriminate mayhem. Drive-by shootings, often motivated by social media-engendered conflicts, catch innocent bystanders in the crossfire. The social breakdown has a dynamic all its own that is impervious to public rhetoric and policing tactics. If social conditions continue to deteriorate, violent crime in those neighborhoods could continue to worsen.

I am cautiously optimistic that Virginia’s tide of violence has peaked, But the numbers are still a tragedy for the 183 Black victims of post-George Floyd “anti-racist” rhetoric and policy. Black Lives Matter… except when they don’t.