December 12, 2022
With near daily mass shootings and constant media attention to crime in America, it has become increasingly difficult to deny that the United States is considerably less safe than other wealthy nations. During the lead-up to the midterm elections, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle turned to what has long been regarded as the common sense response: calls to increase funding for police and prisons. And for the first time in recent memory, this electoral strategy failed.
Despite being subjected to intense political and mass media rhetoric about a supposed “crime wave” for months on end, only 11 percent of people in exit polling stated that crime was their primary concern. Meanwhile, criminal legal reformers such as Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman, who stood by his advocacy for clemency in cases of people who had been convicted of violent crimes rather than shying away from it as if a vulnerability, won despite the fearmongering strategies of their opponents.
Similar results were seen in places as varied as California, Minnesota, and Texas. This signals potential for a major shift in American politics, and an opportunity to change how we as a nation conceive of crime, violence prevention, and public safety.
Millions of Americans, including many living in criminalized Black and brown communities, have been inculcated, via decades of crime journalism, copaganda, and “tough on crime” campaign rhetoric, to reflexively support such policies in the belief it will protect them. But after a half-century of this policy playing on repeat—and endless studies of its effects from researchers—there is no good evidence that more police or incarceration reduce crime or violence. Instead, there is abundant data showing police-centric public safety policy undermines public health, harms families, makes millions of Americans sick, and leads to a plethora of long-term social and economic harms.