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Why Trump thinks he understands Chicago crime

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

He endorses the notion that those who protest police misconduct are waging a "war on police," as if civilian lives and rights don't matter.

He backs Attorney General Jeff Sessions' declaration in August that "New York City continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city's 'soft on crime' stance."

In fact, we now know that the Big Apple continued to enjoy a quarter-century-long decline in violent crime, ending 2016 with fewer than 300 homicides, the city's lowest number (matched by similar statistics for most other violent crimes, except rape) since the 1950s.

And contrary to the lock-'em-up crowd's expectations, the crime drop has been accompanied by a 50 percent drop in the city's prison population over the past 20 years, according to a study released last year, even as the city's overall population increased.

Yet this has led one leading crime expert, Heather Mac Donald, a scholar at the conservative Manhattan Institute, to the conclusion that New Yorkers can credit their crime drop to white hipsters and gentrification.

In an essay in National Review titled "We Can't Take the Wrong Lessons from New York's Murder Drop," she attacks unnamed "libertarians" and the "anti-cop Left" who she claims oppose all "proactive policing" as "irrelevant to crime levels."

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Noting statistics on several gentrified communities that gained white population and lost people of color, she credits "urban hipsters ... flocking to areas that once were the purview of drug dealer and pimps" and bringing new commerce, street life and public safety.

True, but she omits how the drop in crime in those gentrified communities began several years before the local population shifted from mostly nonwhite to mostly white. Worse, she omits data that would show how changes in education and income had more to do with the neighborhood improvements than racial change alone.

But Mac Donald is hardly the first expert to reach out for simple, one-size-fits-all solutions to urban crime. Nobody has all the answers to it. We're still learning how to ask the right questions.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

(c) 2018 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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