Republicans repeat misinformation about ‘crime-ridden’ American cities, but stats say otherwise

Marc Conger of Old Bridge, N.J., packs up "Charley Trump" and other Trump items for sale in June outside of the Donald Trump campaign rally the Liacouras Center at Temple University. (Elizabeth Robertson/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

While inflation and the price of health care top Americans’ list of the country’s biggest problems, crime is never far from people’s minds — even though it’s actually declining throughout the United States.

That may be why candidates looking for glory in elections four months from now continue to emulate the rhetoric of former President Donald Trump, who said earlier this year at the Conservative Political Action Conference that America under President Joe Biden has been awash in “bloodshed, chaos, and violent crime.”

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That narrative is part of a “misinformation campaign, pure and simple,” said Matt Jordan, director of the Pennsylvania State University News Literacy Initiative, and a misinformation expert.

“It’s all about cultivating the perception that American cities are ‘crime-ridden,’” Jordan said in an interview, “and that the GOP is about restoring law and order to cities such as Philadelphia.”

Like the country as a whole, both Philadelphia and the entire state have seen crime numbers drop significantly in the last year.

Nevertheless, at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference in April, Republican Joe Pittman, the Pennsylvania Senate majority leader running for reelection, proclaimed, “There is no doubt we are a nation devoid of law and order.”

“The City of Brotherly Love,” he said, “has become a crime-ridden embarrassment.”

Pittman represents the 41st Senatorial District in Armstrong, Indiana, Jefferson and Westmoreland Counties.

Similarly, U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser (R., Luzerne), also running for reelection, said on the House floor in March that the left has fostered “a failed social experiment” that has “resulted in high levels of crime … We must correct course …”

Meanwhile, State Rep. Craig Williams (R., Delaware), who had a legislative leadership role in a Republican effort to impeach Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, said that in Philadelphia, “looting, carjacking and murder are out of control …” Williams lost the Republican primary in April in the race for Pennsylvania attorney general.

And Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry painted his opponents with a wide brush of criminal mischief when he named the Ku Klux Klan the “military wing” of the Democratic Party in May during a closed-door briefing for lawmakers on antisemitism Tuesday, according to CNN.

The former leader of the House Freedom Caucus is running for reelection in Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District, which includes Dauphin County and parts of Cumberland and York Counties.

Sociologist Judith Levine, director of Temple University’s Public Policy Lab, said in an interview that Republicans’ harping on crime even when rates are diminishing is a “tried and true approach to tap into people’s fear and insecurity.”

She added, “It connects to racial animosity — using crime as a code word to tap into white people’s fear of being taken over, of being under attack.”

Republicans seeking office have also echoed Trump’s repeated attacks on immigrants, particularly his assertion that Mexicans coming into the country are “drug dealers, criminals, rapists.”

Such characterizations, which include the charge that immigrants raise the crime rate, also qualify as misinformation, Jordan of Penn State said. And scholarship appears to prove it.

Stanford University economist Ran Abramitzky and his coauthors found that in the 140 years of American history they researched, there has been no evidence of newcomers spiking crime.

And, he added in a statement from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, “recent waves of immigrants are more likely to be employed, married with children, and in good health — far from the rapists and drug dealers that anti-immigrant politicians claim them to be.”

Still, Abramitzky wrote, “from Henry Cabot Lodge in the late 19th century to Donald Trump, anti-immigration politicians have repeatedly tried to link immigrants to crime, but our research confirms that this is a myth and not based on fact.”

Less of a scourge

Although crime is still a scourge — as evidenced by a July Fourth shooting in Southwest Philadelphia that left eight people injured and one dead — it’s becoming less of one, statistics show.

Homicide declined by 10% in 2023 nationwide, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. There were also drops in reports of assaults, gun assaults, burglary, and larceny.

In 2022, Philadelphia saw 741 shootings between January and May. During that same period in 2023, the number had fallen to 422, according to an analysis by The Inquirer.

In Baltimore, murders also declined by roughly 20%, falling below 300 in 2023 for the first time since 2014. Similarly, New York City saw nearly 50 fewer homicides in 2023, a drop of roughly 11%.

Overall, violent crime dropped by 11% in cities with populations of 1 million or more, according to FBI data — the very cities, according to NBC News, that Trump assails as being big, dangerous, and blue.

In Pennsylvania, the total number of offenses dropped from 315,621 to 113,342 between 2022 and 2023, according to figures calculated by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office. And thus far in 2024, violent crime has been lower from January through May than it was during the same months last year.

While it’s difficult to say definitively why crime is down, some social scientists believe that factors such as growth in income and an aging population have affected the trend.