By: Jason L. Riley – wsj.com – November 8, 2022
One reason Republicans were projected to make big gains on Election Day is that GOP candidates have highlighted crime, which has risen nationally in recent years and in some big cities has hit elevations not seen since the early 1990s. For anyone paying attention, however, the writing has been on the wall for some time now.
Philadelphia is on pace to surpass last year’s record number of murders, and state lawmakers have filed articles of impeachment against District Attorney Larry Krasner over his soft-on-crime policies. In addition, 2021 saw the election of mayors in Atlanta, New York and Seattle who all ran on public-safety platforms.
This history would seem to suggest that progressive criminal-justice reforms haven’t resonated with most voters, not even in some of the nation’s bluest precincts. In the past few years, we’ve conducted a natural experiment in defunding police departments, releasing prisoners before they complete their sentences, stripping judges of discretion in holding suspects until trial, and effectively decriminalizing so-called minor offenses such as retail theft.
The upshot has been lower morale among law enforcement, higher crime rates and more crime victims, particularly among the low-income minorities on whom violent criminals tend to prey. The Democratic Party’s embrace of Black Lives Matter activism has turned out to be not only bad policy but also bad politics.
Alas, not everyone has gotten the memo. As of Jan. 1, Illinois is poised to adopt some of the same policies that have failed so badly in other parts of the country. Chicago has long been the poster child for big-city crime run amok. Its homicide rate is roughly five times New York City’s and 2.5 times Los Angeles’s. “Overall crime is up 37 percent over 2021 and 20 percent over pre-George Floyd 2019,” reads a September report from Wirepoints, a local watchdog group. “Carjackings are set to hit nearly 2,000 this year, or one every 5 hours. And this year alone, 35 Chicago children have been murdered so far.”
No matter. In 2021 Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a criminal-justice bill called the SAFE-T Act, and in less than two months the state is set to eliminate cash bail entirely and impose stricter limits on pretrial detention. Under the new law, which is supported by Chicago’s left-wing mayor, Lori Lightfoot, the “threat to the community” detention standard will be abandoned, and it will become much harder to detain suspects accused of battery, assault, arson and various weapons felonies.
According to Wirepoints, since 2017 more than 15,000 crimes have been committed by suspects released on bond while awaiting trial. When officers risk their lives arresting dangerous suspects only to see them quickly released, disrespect for police increases and department morale suffers. The Chicago Police Department is down 1,700 officers, or about 13%, since 2019, while attacks on cops have risen, and nothing in the SAFE-T Act seems likely to reverse these unsettling trends.
Matt Rosenberg, a journalist for Wirepoints and author of “What Next, Chicago?,” a book about the city’s social disorder, told me in an interview last week that proponents of the legislation were not unaware of how these criminal-justice reforms have played out elsewhere in the country. They just didn’t care.
“There was little hesitation on the part of Democrats to pass this bill,” he said. “They have supermajorities. This is effectively a one-party state, and particularly so in the state Legislature. The political culture of Chicago, which is where most of the bill’s lead sponsors came from, is also a hard-left, progressive monoculture, so there was no threat of real pushback.”
The priorities of progressive utopians who disregard inconvenient facts are unlikely to change regardless of Tuesday’s results. Still, there are growing indications that the left’s preoccupation with racial balance in arrests and prosecutions, despite the racial imbalance in lawbreaking, is costing Democrats key voters.
“The Republican Party is winning support from a larger share of Black voters than in other recent elections and has improved its standing in the past few months among Latino voters,” the Journal reported this week. In a Pew Research Center survey published earlier this year, black respondents listed “violence/crime” as their top concern and “racism” near the bottom.
If more minorities are leaving the Democratic Party, maybe it’s because they’re tired of being used as guinea pigs by progressive elites who think social justice is more important than public safety.
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