By David M. Greenwald
I was having an unrelated conversation yesterday and the person made the argument that one of the reasons that Democrats are going to lose badly today is that they have not taken public safety concerns seriously.
But there is another explanation: the right this week have won the narrative that places like New York and San Francisco, and many others have—to use one commentator’s words—declined “into a degenerate hellhole.”
I was reading an interesting piece by Tana Ganeva, who quoted from a Fox News pundit conversation. Brit Hume the long-time conservative media voice and Fox News reported noted that in New York “the streets are chaotic” and “it does remind me of the mess here in the ‘70s.”
But as Ganeva points out, “In 1973, there were 2,040 murders in New York and 135,468 incidents of violent crime. There were 678,881 property crimes. In 2019 there were 558, according to the same index, and 69,764 property crimes.”
There was a surge of homicides in 2020 coinciding with the first year of the pandemic, but they slowed in 2021 and began falling in 2022.
Ganeva pointed out, “New York today is nothing like the ‘70s.”
According to new Gallup polling, crime is the second most important issue for likely voters with the economy ranking first, and voters concerned with crime are more likely to vote for conservative candidates.
“Conservatives are resurfacing the failed policies of the 1990s and criticizing Democrats for supporting data-driven policies proven to create safer and healthier communities,” said Cristine Deberry, Founder & Executive Director of the Prosecutors Alliance of California.
The problem—Democrats are joining in.
As Deberry notes, “Ironically, Democrats joined Republicans thirty years ago in an era that led to America’s dubious distinction as the mass incarceration capital of the world, increased taxpayer spending by billions, all while failing to produce more safety. While many Democrats learned from this failure, it seems others are determined to repeat it.”
Republicans are attempting to paint the Democrats as soft on crime. And Democrats’ response to is tout their own tough-on-crime message.
“They’re slamming Republicans as the ones who are soft on crime and not ‘backing the blue,’ as well as attacking parole reform, bail reform, and efforts to no longer prosecute drug possession,” Ofer argues.
He notes, “While Republicans are leading this charge, both parties are playing with fire, as the political rhetoric being deployed this election season has the potential to trigger a new surge in incarceration, as occurred following previous election cycles that starred tough-on-crime rhetoric.”
This, he argues is the same process that between 1973 and 2009 led to “an exponential growth in incarceration, from approximately 300,000 people in prisons and jails in 1973 to 2.2 million by 2009, making the U.S. the largest incarcerator in the world, with a rate 5 to 10 times higher than Western Europe and other democracies.”
The party is more split than they were back in the 1990s when they joined with Republicans to implement draconian crime measures that increased mass incarceration without improving public safety.
For example, in NY, Democrats are bracing for what could be stunning losses in the Governor’s race and contests with as many as four Suburban House District. Many are pointing their fingers at Eric Adams, New York’s Mayor, “accusing him of overhyping the issue and playing into right-wing narratives in ways that may have helped set the party up for disaster on Tuesday.
“He was an essential validator in the city to make their attacks seem more legit and less partisan,” said one Democratic operative working on campaigns in New York cited by CNN last week.
But as CNN noted, there is a split.
“Other Democrats argue this has it backwards. While they accuse Republicans of political ploys they call cynical, racist and taking advantage of a situation fostered by the pandemic, they insist candidates would be in better shape if they had followed Adams’ lead in speaking to the fear and frustration voters feel,” CNN reports.
The problem I see is that while murder rates went up during the pandemic, the blame is less than clear.
The Prosecutor’s Alliance pointed out what we have been for months, “An exhaustive new study shows that homicides increased less rapidly in cities with forward-thinking prosecutors, and research shows 8 of the 10 states with the highest murder rates are red states.”
Furthermore, “in 2020, per capita murder rates were 40% higher in states won by Donald Trump than those won by Joe Biden.”
In California, the Los Angeles Times reported that “the biggest risks for homicides came in conservative counties with iron-fist sheriffs and district attorneys, places where progressives in power are nearly as common as monkeys riding unicorns.”
The Prosecutor’s Alliance argued, “These realities have not stopped Republicans from making misleading claims that attempt to connect increases in some crimes during the pandemic with modern prosecutors and democrats more broadly.”
The problem is not necessarily that it hasn’t stopped Republicans from attempting to make those connections, the bigger problem is that it hasn’t stopped ostensive Democrats like Adams in New York and Brooke Jenkins in San Francisco, and elsewhere from doing the same.
A partisan split on the crime issue would largely cancel itself out, but by feeding into the issue, Democrats are giving it strength and legitimacy. And just as they lost in 1994, they are going to lose in 2022.
We are not going to solve these problems by locking people in cages. We need to provide people with treatment—mental health and substance use—and we need to provide them with housing and opportunity. And until we do that, we are always going to be fighting a rearguard battle every time things get a little tougher—such as with a pandemic and an economic slowdown.