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Biden Gets Incomplete Grade on Covid-Crime Claim

When President Biden said in his Feb. 7 State of the Union speech that "covid left its scars, like the spike in violent crime in 2020," he suggested a clear linkage that isn't all that clear or simple, but he didn't outright lie, the Washington Post's Fact Checker reports. White House officials later tried to add nuance to the president's statement, saying the remarks only suggested the pandemic was a factor, not the only factor. The brief mention provides an occasion to dip into what the research does and doesn't yet show about trends in violent crime. Even three years after much of the world shut down their economies to halt the spread of the virus, analysts still are examining what might have sparked an upswing in violent crime. The culprits could include economic turmoil from the pandemic, social justice unrest after the killing of George Floyd and a sharp increase in gun purchases — or a combination of all three.


The 2020 pandemic shutdown coincided with the start of a social-justice protest movement sparked by the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Although the White House cited a study by the Council on Criminal Justice as one of the sources for Biden's claim, Richard Rosenfeld, co-author of that January 2023 study, said Biden "went too far" in linking the rise in violent crime to the pandemic. Rosenfeld's co-author on a previous CCJ report on pandemic violence, Thomas Abt of the University of Maryland's Violence Reduction Center, agreed the pandemic and social unrest were factors in the sharp increase in violence, particularly homicides. Another key factor, Abt said, was “the massive increase in legal purchases of guns, a higher percentage of which fell into the wrong hands, and more quickly, than in the past.” Rosenfeld, professor emeritus of criminology at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, said it “remains uncertain how much George Floyd’s murder and covid contributed to the most recent homicide rise, but both probably mattered. Homicide also spiked in 2015 and 2016, but that increase was only about half as large as the increase in 2020.” Aaron Chalfin, a criminologist at the University of California at Berkeley, said that Biden’s statement was “relatively ambiguous” and there is not enough evidence to clearly contradict it. “In my view, anyone who tells you that they know precisely what caused violence to rise in 2020 is selling snake oil,” Chalfin said. Thanks to that ambiguity, the Post left Biden's claim unrated rather than declaring it deceptive.

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