In an interview with the New York Times, Donald Trump was asked about the most dangerous place he'd ever been.
So what's the most dangerous place Trump has been? "Brooklyn," Trump replied, joking. And then, apparently serious, he continued: "There are places in America that are among the most dangerous in the world. You go to places like Oakland. Or Ferguson. The crime numbers are worse. Seriously."
Trump is correct that there are places in the United States that are the most dangerous in the world -- at least considering one particular data point, murder. A Mexican non-governmental organization called Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Publica y la Justicia (CCSP) tracks murder rates in cities with populations of 100,000 or more and compiles a list of those places where that rate is highest.
Even St. Louis, the highest-ranking city on that list, falls far behind the No. 1 city -- Caracas, Venezuela. And not only is St. Louis’s murder rate much lower than Caracas’s, its actual number of murders is also far lower. There were almost 4,000 murders in Caracas in 2015 -- 21 times the 188 in St. Louis. In fact, St. Louis had fewer murders than any of the top 30 cities on that list.
And notice something else that's missing from that list: Ferguson and Oakland.
Oakland does have a high crime rate. While the CCSP tracks only murders, the FBI tallies data on a range of violent crimes, including assaults and rapes. During the most recent year for which full FBI data is available, 2014, Oakland had the third-highest rate of violent crime -- after Detroit and ahead of St. Louis. (It wasn't in the top 10 on its murder rate.) It's hard to compare those figures to international figures; murder is much more uniform in its definition than is "violent crime."
Ferguson is a different story. Ferguson is near St. Louis, but doesn't itself have a high crime rate. In 2012, it had the 23rd-highest crime rate of all cities in Missouri, out of 75 for which data was available.
Ferguson was on the top of Trump's tongue for other reasons, of course. The police killing of Michael Brown that sparked nationwide demonstrations in 2014 has maintained relevance in the political conversation as questions about police use-of-force continue. For conservatives like Trump, "Ferguson" is often a shorthand for tensions between police and communities of color -- and support for the former.
The city itself isn't particularly dangerous, but it gets blamed for violence elsewhere. Increases in homicides in a number of large U.S. cities in 2015 has been blamed on the "Ferguson Effect," the idea that protests against excessive use of force by the police has spurred police to be less aggressive, resulting in more crimes. Our colleagues at Wonkblog looked at this in January, finding no link between police protests and the murder rate.
In November, after a Black Lives Matter activist was roughed up at one of Trump's rallies in Alabama, he tweeted an incorrect image suggesting that most whites were murdered by black people, which is not at all the case. The fact that the two cities he named are ones that have associations that overlap with racial politics is probably not a coincidence.
It's important to step back from Trump's comments, though, and consider the broader context. "Crime rates" -- meaning murder rates here -- are higher in some U.S. cities than some international ones, though the most dangerous cities internationally don't include either Oakland or Ferguson.
But Baghdad isn't dangerous because of what you might call run-of-the-mill violent crime. It's dangerous because it's a target of terrorists. It's clear that cities in Syria or areas targeted by the Islamic State are far more dangerous than St. Louis, for a number of reasons. Within the context of "how a city runs on a daily basis," sure, maybe Raqqa has some advantages over the worst neighborhood in the worst city in the United States. But expanding that context to "places where you are in danger" -- which is how one might normally define "dangerous" -- there's not really any comparison.
Trump's answer was a political one, meant to redirect a weakness (his lack of international experience) into an advantage (reminding people, among other things, that he stands with Ferguson police). But the idea that Oakland and Ferguson -- or even Brooklyn, for that matter -- rank among the most dangerous places in the world is without merit.
Update: The mayor of Oakland has a thought.