One way to understand the story of the last 75 years of American social life is by looking at the ebb and flow of serious crime. There was a golden age of low crime after World War II and before the “Age of Aquarius.”
Lulled into optimism by the 1950s—during which critics belabored the oppressions of “conformity”—a more nuanced view of criminal responsibility, a turn towards the promise of rehabilitation, and a general skepticism of punishment took place. “Radical chic” became popular. The death penalty went away, and the prison population plummeted, along with that of the psychiatric wards.
Then, all hell broke loose.
The Post-1960s Crime Wave
Violent crime of all kinds underwent a sustained rise after the tumultuous atmosphere of the 1960s and the associated weakening of the criminal justice system. The cause and effect were obvious, but there was a lot of head-scratching about what to do.
Confined by the straightjacket of liberal morality, cities and their leaders were powerless to respond, ensnared by their anxieties about being associated with the very oppression from which they thought they were liberating us.
One of the many background factors in the Republican political successes of the 1980s was that regular people were not persuaded by the elites, but rather became extremely sick of this state of affairs. Toughness on crime became a popular component of the Republican brand. Democratic presidential candidates Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis could never shake the perception of weakness at home and abroad.
Politicians adapted. “New Democrats” like Bill Clinton supported the death penalty. Joe Biden voted for the 1994 crime bill, which is now supposedly a mark of shame. Long prison sentences, for drugs and everything else, kept a lot of bad people off the street. Critics said this was mass incarceration and warehousing criminals, and that all may be true, but victimization still dropped.
As the economists would say, the supply curve of criminals is not infinitely elastic.
The Consequences of Disorder
Thomas Hobbes figured out many centuries ago that without order, there is nothing.
In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.
We have seen both sides of this ledger, the hollowed out cities of Baltimore and Detroit, and the return of life to our big cities like New York and Washington, D.C. after their massive drop in crime. For the latter, “Arts . . . Letters . . . and Society” all flourished.
Some credited the drop in crime to long prison sentences. Others gave the credit to more holistic “broken windows” policing, which focused on small-scale disorder as a precursor to more serious crimes. Others pointed to the proliferation of concealed carry legislation nationwide, although even pro-gun researcher John Lott gives greater credit to the certainty of arrest and conviction among offenders.
In any case, the combination of these tougher policies led to a significant, sustained, and nationwide drop in crime of all kinds, particularly violent crime. After decades of being labeled “soft on crime,” Democrats had seen, embraced, and benefited from “get tough” policies.
Even for those who didn’t go along, crime became less of a political issue because of its decline. During the interregnum, we all forgot what rampant crime was like.
The BLM Crime Wave
Beginning in the second part of the Obama Administration, this all started to change. The idea of the noble, oppressed criminal as a warrior for racial justice gained currency. Rather than supporting law enforcement and condemning criminal violence, President Obama and the mainstream media spread lies about “gentle giant” Michael Brown and St. Trayvon Martin.
Angry riots began to happen with some regularity. Police were vilified once more. As in the “radical chic” era, the smart set wanted to decriminalize drugs, release the incarcerated, and achieve “equity”—whatever that means.
Republicans were not immune to this talk. At their 2020 convention, various speakers—including President Trump—repeated leftist talking points on race and crime issues. This was totally out of tune with the explosion of violence nationwide that summer, as well as the GOP’s parallel message about “law and order.” Law and order and incarceration go hand in hand, but at the time Trump was listening to the counsel of the politically inexperienced Jared Kushner.
A number of stories this week caught my eye as exemplifying the spirit of our age.
First, in Los Angeles, we have all seen the footage of the rail yards covered with debris and boxes from mass looting of rail cars. This is an extreme example of the “broken windows” problem. Such lawlessness fuels disrespect and disregard for society as a whole. It invites crime with the following message: if we can’t stop this, we probably can’t stop you. Such scenes are repeated nationwide in smaller ways.
Second, the killer of a young Columbia University co-ed received the statutory minimum of 14 years. Unlike Officer Derek Chauvin, who was sentenced to 22 years, this incident was not the product of negligence in the line of duty, but a stabbing that took place in connection with a robbery. Such paltry sentencing is a nationwide scandal, but increasingly common under the combined weight of left-leaning judges, leftist prosecutors, and legislative changes in the name of decarceration.
Then we heard of a young retail clerk in Los Angeles murdered by a homeless man with a long criminal record and the physical appearance of a lunatic. People appealed on Twitter not to publicize the man’s race lest they encourage stereotyping and racist comments. We live in a demented time when words are deemed worse than murder.
Finally, Steve Sailer has done yeoman’s work in exposing the massive, sustained increase in murders nationwide. Murders are apparently up 45 percent from 2019 to 2021. He has also shown that the victims are disproportionately young black men. As he put it, “It’s almost as if the murder rate in Chicago depends upon whether the authority figures in our society are on the side of the cops or the criminals, and The Establishment ought to finally learn that cheap virtue-signaling gets a lot of poor people murdered.”
What an irony that a movement ostensibly dedicated to Black Lives Matter has unleashed forces that have resulted in thousands of lost black lives. The reasons why are obvious. Cops will take fewer risks when they are not supported by communities and themselves face prison for taking the ordinary risks required for effective police work. And all of us are endangered when violent, repeat offenders are running loose out of some misplaced notion of equity.
Amnesia and Ineptitude
No society that has stopped believing in its right to exist and the majesty of its laws can deter lawlessness.
It is becoming nearly a daily occurrence for someone with a mile-long rap sheet to commit a horror show offense, such as shoving a woman onto train tracks or stabbing a retail clerk to death. Using nihilistic language, the media labels this all “random,” as if it were not the entirely predictable consequence of policy. These crimes are the fruit of the backwards moral reasoning of the Left, which downgrades victims while bending over backwards to champion the rights and interests of offenders. The real inequity is that more of these monsters are not locked up or sitting in the electric chair.
We are not the first society to deal with an explosion of violence and crime. Indeed, our own society dealt with such a wave within living memory and, more or less, succeeded in beating it back. But the solution requires sound judgment, force, and an appropriate sense of righteous indignation.
The leftist critique of society as deeply corrupt because of “white supremacy” undermines the moral and political self-confidence necessary to impose long-term incarceration of the violent, regardless of whether these actions lead to racial disparities in punishment. We should no more be concerned about this than we are about the fact that most prisoners are men; the offenders are responsible for their choices individually.
While crime itself is committed in a racially disproportionate way, the benefits of serious punishments are also disproportionate. Tough-on-crime policies will benefit the majority of every race, who do not resort to crime and prey upon their neighbors, but will particularly benefit black Americans, who are presently being terrorized by the criminal element in their midst.
Rather than groveling for approval or attempting to navigate the maze of their alternative morality, soft-headed leftism should be rejected out of hand. The Left’s indifference to consequences and manifest record of failure renders them moral imbeciles, and the blood of innocents is on their hands.