The United States is reaching a grim milestone: One million murdered Americans.
The FBI just released the Uniform Crime Report for 2016, and it contains good news and bad news. The report’s two main categories are property crime (burglary, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson) and violent crime (rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and a category called “murder and non-negligent manslaughter,” or what non-bureaucrats simply call murder).
The good news is property crime in 2016 continued the decline it began 25 years ago. Property crime in 1991 had swelled to three times its 1960 per-capita rate, but as of last year, it has receded to only 142 percent of the 1960 rate.
The bad news is that violent crime in 2016 continued the resurgence it began three years ago. It has increased nearly 7 percent in two years, finishing 2016 almost two-and-a-half times what it was in 1960. And of violent crime’s four categories, murder saw the steepest increase since 2014.
That’s not the worst of it. As the practice of emergency medicine has improved greatly since 1960, murder increasingly understates the rate at which Americans have suffered murderous attacks. As Massachusetts sociologist Anthony Harris observed in 2002: “People who would have ended up in morgues 20 years ago, are now simply treated and released by a hospital.” Harris estimated that without medical advances, the murder rate would be three times what it has been with them. He suggested that criminologists and policymakers pay more attention to aggravated assault than to murder when looking at crime trends.
Aggravated assault peaked at more than five times its 1960 rate, and remains almost three times that level today.
Putting the figures for murder into raw numbers: From 1960 through the end of last year, well over 900,000 Americans had died violently at the hands of another. The annual totals range from 8,530 murders in 1962 to 24,700 in 1991, the year which marks the crest of what can truly be called America’s Great Crime Wave. Although murder had receded to 14,164 by 2014, it rose to 15,883 in 2015 and to 17,250 in 2016, bringing the cumulative body count since January 1960 to 985,496. At that rate, we will have passed the million-victim mark by the end of this year. We already may have passed it.
Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin is supposed to have said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” Americans may now consider ourselves a statistic.
I regret to say the criminals who created the statistic, the ones who have been slaughtering us by the tens of thousands year after year, were not paying attention that day in January when Donald Trump stood on the steps of the Capitol, took the presidential oath, and declared, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
One man who was paying attention to the president, however, was Aaron Blake, a reporter for the Washington Post. Blake harrumphed: “This is a very dark passage. ‘American carnage’ is a phrase that will be replayed on cable news over and over again. Inherent in Trump’s brand of populism is a kind of dystopian view of the way things currently are. . . . His Republican National Convention speech in July was similarly dark.”
Blake’s comments, so typical of the mainstream media line, can be found by clicking the highlighted portions of the WaPo’s annotated transcripts of Trump’s inaugural address and his convention speech. The “dark” passage in the latter would be where Trump vowed: “I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon—and I mean very soon—come to an end. Beginning on January 20th, 2017, safety will be restored.”
Blake remarked: “This is an amazingly bold claim that is impossible to fulfill. . . . It’s one thing to say [crime] will be reduced; it’s another to promise it will end.”
“What’s more,” he added, “crime isn’t actually up these days, as Trump contends.”
Mr. Blake, call your office. Violent crime is up, and Americans—the folks a populist like Trump plays to, and a great many others besides—are fed up with it.
Further, while crime in this world may never be ended altogether, it can, in fact, be suddenly and dramatically reduced—so much so that we’d be able to say, at long last, “The crime tsunami that swept over us 50 years ago has finally come to an end.”
Make Capital Punishment Great Again
The key to that happy outcome is not midnight basketball. It’s not even more cops on the beat. It’s not the construction of more and bigger prisons where violent predators may be held forever, with none to brutalize but each other. And it’s not the redoubling of what Midge Decter once called “the ministrations of society . . . in the form of special teachers, guidance counselors, attendance officers, social workers of every variety, family courts, therapists, particularly drug therapists, posing as athletic coaches, gang advisers, and on and on.” We’ve been doing all that stuff for decades. Whatever good it is capable of giving has already been received, and it is not enough.
The key is the one thing we haven’t done, despite all the polls showing hefty majorities in favor of it. That is to greatly increase our enforcement of the death penalty against murder.
I’ve argued the case at American Thinker, at National Review, and here at American Greatness, showing how frontier history and modern research both point in the direction of capital punishment. And it’s not just deplorable people like me who would get on board for that. So would many of the Democrats for whom Will Rogers was a hero and role model. So would the countless black Americans whose tough-on-crime views belie the rhetoric of their race-obsessed, well-heeled “leaders.” So indeed would the millions of Americans whose views are in accord with great Christian voices ranging from Martin Luther to Augustine and Aquinas to Désiré Cardinal Mercier and C.S. Lewis.
A Constitutional Challenge
One big thing stands in the way: the United States Supreme Court, whose death penalty jurisprudence—though known by one and all to be without basis in the Constitution as originally understood, accepted, and ratified by the nation—has for all practical purposes reduced capital punishment to a dead letter.
The Court’s extra-constitutional obstacle course can be swept aside, however, if We the People decide to do it. This needn’t involve defiance of judicial authority, nor must it mean we just sit, waiting and a’hoping that some fine day we’ll have placed enough law-and-order justices on the court to reverse its policy. With enough effort, the job can be done in months, the old-fashioned way—by devising a constitutional amendment to make the Court return to the original meaning of “cruel and unusual punishments,” whether it wants to or not. Through such an amendment, the people of the United States would tell the Court something like this:
The sense in which this Constitution’s eighth article of amendment was accepted and ratified by the nation shall be the guide in expounding it, precedents to the contrary notwithstanding.
So that the perpetrators of violent crimes may meet with swift and certain retribution, the courts’ effort to protect them in their rights shall not be perverted into permitting any mere technicality to avert or delay their punishment.
Rules governing law enforcement shall be so designed as to protect the individual without imposing a disproportionate loss of protection on society.
Those three sentences are drawn from the writings of James Madison, Theodore Roosevelt, and Benjamin Cardozo, respectively, with the word “retribution” supplied by Mercier and Lewis. Let’s call it the Madison-Roosevelt-Cardozo Amendment.
Whether President Trump goes that route or finds another, better path to the goal, he needs to do much more about crime than he’s done thus far. Trump could enlist millions of Americans for the war on crime he promised us, and he could win over millions more who are open to persuasion on the subject if he would only put his mind to it.
To gain the supermajority support necessary to ratify a constitutional amendment, Trump would need to give much thought and effort to that task of persuasion. And to slip past the ferocious left-wing demagogues who now hold sway with so many of our fellow citizens, he’d need to approach people in the spirit of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the great Russian dissident who once told a complacent West, “The yes-man is your enemy, but a friend will argue with you.”
True, ending the Great Crime Wave is only one of many promises Trump has had trouble keeping. Obamacare is not yet repealed; The Wall is not yet built. Those battles will continue, with many ordinary people on the other side seeking, and most likely obtaining, a softer solution than some Trump voters might desire.
On crime, however, only the limousine liberals and their pet hoodlums are on the other side. And the one thing Trump has been a roaring success at is trolling the liberal elite. On one issue after another, he has exposed the gulf separating elite opinion from popular sentiment. Nowhere is that gulf wider than it is on crime and punishment, yet in the war on crime Trump has not yet begun to fight.
Mr. President, it’s time to get started.