Over the past several months, there's been a growing narrative among defenders of aggressive police that criticisms of law enforcement are scaring cops from doing their jobs, leading to a spike in crime. The premise is that police are very worried they'll be captured on camera doing something that looks bad, so they just don't do their jobs, and therefore can't stop criminals from committing violent crimes.
On Monday, The Daily Show's Trevor Noah captured just how absurd this whole idea is. He said, sarcastically:
The police are just trying to make a basic point: People are treating them unfairly just because of who they are and how they look. People keep following them around with cameras, watching everything they do, suspicious that they're always about to break the law, leaving police afraid to even get out of their cars for fear that someone might whip out a phone and brutally film them. Who can imagine how that must feel? And if you listen carefully, all the police are saying is "phones down, don't shoot."
Noah is essentially turning the tables here: He argued that cops who feel they're being treated unfairly are simply echoing the kinds of feelings black Americans feel when they go outside and are hassled and harassed by cops just because of their skin color.
The difference, of course, is that cops' suspicions of certain minority groups can end up getting someone innocent killed, as we've seen far, far too many times in the past couple of years. Meanwhile, someone trying to hold a police officer accountable will very likely cause no harm unless the cop is actually caught doing something bad.
There's no evidence of a "Ferguson effect"
As Noah points out, there's also no research to support the idea of a "Ferguson effect" — the theory that police are too scared to do their jobs, so criminals are emboldened, because of criticisms that began with the Ferguson, Missouri, protests. In fact, some of the rises in crime and drops in police activity predate the protests over the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the police killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore — two critical points in the movement against racial disparities in police use of force.
But that hasn't stopped some defenders of law enforcement, including FBI Director James Comey, from claiming that there really is a Ferguson effect. The reality is that cops are simply being held accountable for the very important job they do, and any feeling of unfair treatment they have is exactly how many black Americans feel toward them on a daily basis.