President Trump recently claimed that the murder rate in the U.S. is the highest in the past 40 years. This statement certainly created fear in the hearts of millions of Americans. However, President Trump’s claim was blatantly incorrect.
Over the past 40 years, the homicide rate reached a peak in 1980 at 10.2 per 100,000. It stayed relatively high through 1993 and then decreased for the next 20 years. In 2015 the homicide rate was 4.9 — less than one half of the peak rate in 1980.
As professionals in the field we are profoundly concerned about this appalling misrepresentation of the facts by the president. Regardless of whether this error was intentional or the result of ignorance, we are deeply concerned about the ramifications for the national mindset. Such outrageous statements create fear, which can lead to tension in communities and acting out against others who are stigmatized as responsible for the claimed problem. Such fear and division among the people can lead to a blind following of authoritarian leaders who propose simple, yet unfounded, solutions to these supposed problems. As history shows, such false claims can also lead to the creation of harmful criminal justice policies.
Eric L. Jensen, Ph.D., Joseph DeAngelis, Ph.D., Kristine Levan, Ph.D., Melanie-Angela Neuilly, Ph.D., Brian Wolf, Ph.D., Moscow, and John M. Adams, J.D., Coeur d’Alene