GREENVILLE, SC — Jeb Bush spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement during a campaign event in South Carolina on Friday, defending police but also admitting that data does not support the so-called “Ferguson effect.”
During one of his last events before the state’s primary on Saturday, Bush fielded a question from a 17-year-old student who wanted to know what Bush would do to ensure that police officers are valued.
“Ultimately we need to make sure that we support law enforcement to keep us safe, because if you don’t, we’re going to have chaos,” Bush responded. “And I think the Justice Department should be balanced in how they deal with all these issues. It seems to me that they are very public when they go after police in a way that discourages police from being able to do their job.”
But unlike other Republican presidential candidates who attempt to cite evidence that police have slowed down and crimes have risen in response to scrutiny of police, Bush qualified his statement.
“That’s anecdotal,” he added. “There’s not any evidence of that other than what I watch on TV.”
Bush is correct. Any evidence of the Ferguson effect is entirely anecdotal, and the U.S. Department of Justice has repeatedly said it there is no data to support that the phenomenon is occurring. “While certainly there might be anecdotal evidence there, as all have noted, there’s no data to support it,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Bush is the only Republican candidate to admit that the data just isn’t there, and one of the Democratic candidates even gave the idea credence last year. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) held a Senate hearing to discuss the “war on police” and how it is causing crime to skyrocket. But even in that hearing, the director of the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and a former police chief said that “there really is no data to suggest that there is a Ferguson effect and that somehow that’s linked to any increase in crime in certain cities.”
A report released by the Brennan Center in November similarly found that crime rates have remained unchanged over the past year, despite the media hype of skyrocketing crime rates over the summer. But the number of black men and women killed by police has been increasing.
Bush also mentioned on Friday the shooting of Walter Scott, a 51-year-old father who was killed by a white police officer in North Charleston last year.
“In the isolated cases where young black men, unarmed, are shot, the justice system needs to work,” he said. “It needs to work as it should. The case here in Charleston that we’ve seen on television — video cameras don’t necessarily show the whole story but it’s a pretty compelling story, and there should be clarity that that’s not tolerated in a justice and loving society.”
But after mentioning Scott’s death, he shifted to the common Republican talking point about crime.
“Having said that, the great majority of crimes that are committed are black on black crimes that don’t relate to the police,” he said. “And the police do their jobs well. And we need to make sure we have the back of law enforcement so that they don’t pull back.”
Seventeen-year-old Nicholas Stathopoulos traveled to Greenville from Charlotte, North Carolina to hear Bush speak and to ask him about police. Stathopoulos told ThinkProgress after the event that Bush likely discredited the data behind the Ferguson effect because he feels like he needs to be politically correct.
“If I were personally a cop and I saw black people committing a crime, I’d be scared,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be the next person on the news who shot a black person for no reason… If he’s not mentioning it directly, he’s probably a little bit on edge and being politically correct.”