October 26, 2020

Mississippi has highest murder rate in America, despite GOP rhetoric about blue state crime rates

Lawmakers were stunned to recently learn from Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell that the state has the highest homicide rate in the nation.

Included in the information Tindell presented to legislative leaders last week as part of his budget request for the upcoming fiscal year were statistics detailing that the state’s homicide rate had increased 41% during the past five years and was currently the highest rate in the nation.

“It is expected that there will be over 500 homicides in the state for 2020,” the DPS document read.

“What in the world is going on?” asked House Ways and Means Chair Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia.

No doubt, such information conflicts with much of the current political rhetoric from Republicans and President Donald Trump’s constant refrain that most of the crime in the nation is occurring in blue states and cities.

“The places we have trouble were in Democratic-run cities and states,” Trump said during last week’s contentious presidential debate. “I think it is a party issue,” Trump later said, referring to what is a rising crime rate in some areas, though it should be pointed out that the crime rate is still much lower than its peak in the 1990s.

Even Gov. Tate Reeves, who, based on these statistics, governs the most dangerous state in America, is fond of parroting the president on this issue.

In mid-August, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot cited what she said was a steady supply of guns coming from Mississippi, where gun laws are lax. Reeves shot back on social media, saying, “It’s a pathetic excuse for the failure of left-wing experiments in undermining police and letting criminals run free.”

No doubt, Chicago has a crime problem. It is discussed just about every day by the president and his supporters. But Mississippi also has a crime problem and has had one for years.

According to 2018 data from the National Center for Health Statistics, Mississippi led the nation in terms of the number of homicides per 100,000 residents at 13.4. Seven of the top 10 states in 2018 in terms of highest homicide rates were — sorry to President Trump and Gov. Reeves — red states. The top five were Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri and New Mexico. New Mexico would be considered the only blue state in that group.

Illinois, home of the notoriously violent Chicago, came in at number 10. Among the 10 with the lowest murder rates, based on the 2018 numbers, are four red states. Oregon, home of Portland, another city often criticized by the president, had the 10th-lowest rate, and New York had the 15th-lowest rate.

Granted, most crime is committed in urban areas where there are denser populations. And most large American cities, though not all, are run by Democrats.

But is it fair to place all the blame for crime on local officials — Democrats or Republicans? Most experts on crime cite poverty, lack of opportunity and various other environmental and social factors for crime problems. Most of those issues require help from the state and federal government to solve.

And according to the National Center for Health Statistics, Mississippi also led the nation in 2018 in the number of gun deaths, and most of the other states at the top of that list were Southern states that generally have the most lax gun laws.

When legislative leaders asked Tindell about the high homicide rate in Mississippi, he cited the breakdown in the family where people “are coming up in a world where the taking of a human live does not mean anything to them.”

Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, asked Tindell if he would ensure that the Department of Public Safety, which includes the state Bureau of Narcotics and Bureau of Investigations, would work with Jackson and Hinds County in an effort to reduce the murder rate and to reduce other violent crimes in the capital city area.

Tindell said his agency would try to expand those efforts.

Jackson, no doubt, the state’s largest city, is responsible for much of that Mississippi murder rate and it is run by Democratic officials. Horhn, who serves on a state Department of Health task force dealing with the issue of violent deaths, said Hinds County is the “epicenter” in the state for murders, while Harrison County on the Coast is the epicenter for suicides.

He argued murder, like suicide, should be considered in many instances a mental health issue.

“It is very difficult,” Horhn said. “There are socioeconomic issues, a lack of opportunity, a lack of resources” that contribute to crime.

Solving the issue might require a little less political rhetoric and more working together across the aisle on the local, state and federal levels.

Article by Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter. Harrison covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature.