Skip to navigationSkip to content

Trump’s Republican National Convention speech massively distorted national crime statistics

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Donald Trump addresses the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

When Donald Trump took the stage in Cleveland on Thursday night (July 21), he immediately made some strong comments about law and order. They were, however, in typical Trump fashion, a rather blatant distortion of the facts.

“Homicides last year increased by 17% in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years.”

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog indeed reported in early 2016 that homicides rose by 17% in the country’s 50 largest cities. But these upticks are still, relative to history, quite low, and can be considered normal statistical variation in a maintained downward trend.

The country has essentially halved its national homicide rate since 1991.

“In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60% in nearby Baltimore.”

Meanwhile, New York’s homicide rate declined by 25% over the last three months. Homicides in Boston have reached a ten-year low. Violence in “urban America” simply can’t be depicted with the typically broad Trumpian brush.

“In the president’s hometown of Chicago, more than 2,000 have been the victims of shootings this year alone. And more than 3,600 have been killed in the Chicago area since he took office.”

Nearly 60% of guns involved in Chicago crimes were purchased outside the state of Illinois. Twenty percent of those were purchased next door, in Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana.

“The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50% compared to this point last year.”

It’s actually closer to 44%. Twenty-six officers have been killed in the line of duty over that time span, which is tragic—but when we’re dealing with such small numbers, even a moderate increase translates into a huge jump in percentage.

“Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”

“Criminal records” is a deliberately broad term. It includes convictions along the lines of damage to property, littering, vandalizing, possession of very small amounts of illegal drugs, fishing or hunting without a license, jaywalking, and riding public transportation without paying a fare.

But, of course, Mr. Trump would rather leave viewers to fill in the blanks with their imaginations.

“They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.”

It’s common knowledge that undocumented immigrants are less likely to exploit public resources because doing so might expose them to authorities who might deport them. They often refrain from going to emergency rooms to have injuries or sudden illnesses treated for this reason; and it’s also why a disproportionate number of children of undocumented immigrants are kept out of public schools.

“One such border-crosser was released and made his way to Nebraska. There, he ended the life of an innocent young girl named Sarah Root.

She was 21 years-old, and was killed the day after graduating from college with a 4.0 grade point average. Her killer was then released a second time, and he is now a fugitive from the law.”

It goes without saying that the vast majority of homicides in the US are committed by Americans. By highlighting the tragic case of Sarah Root, or Kate Steinle, for example, Trump is implying that immigrants (in particular, immigrants of Latino extraction) are inherently more susceptible to violent crime.

This kind of dog-whistle racism is as old as America itself.

Now, why would Trump so transparently distort crime statistics on national television? One word: fear. Fear is what fuels the engine of reactionary politics; and the only universe in which Donald Trump makes it to the White House is a universe in which every American feels they must constantly be looking over their shoulder.

Donald Trump needs Americans to think the country is more dangerous than it really is. Because to accept that things are imperfect, but generally improving, is to admit Americans don’t actually need him.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.