Opinion | Campaign

Rising crime issues will make Democrats a lot less safe in 2022

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

The 2022 congressional elections might be 15 months away but, absent a pandemic resurgence or a major military conflict, today's evidence clearly points toward crime being the issue most on voters' minds. That might not have seemed to be the case last year, or even  just a few months ago, when defunding the police was all the rage. But recent events have turned that all around. 

Take the just-decided New York City Democratic mayoral primary whose voters would be considered, by any standard, to be the ultimate progressives. When the primary season began, crime barely registered as an issue, at 13 percent in most polls. By the time the election was held on June 22, the crime issue had soared to the top of voters' concerns and the only aggressively anti-crime candidate, Eric Adams, emerged as the winner both on primary night and after the newly instituted ranked-choice voting process was finally completed weeks later. 

Adams has proclaimed himself the "new face of the Democratic Party,", emphasizing his opposition to defunding the police and pledging to reinstate plainclothes anti-crime units to get guns off the street as well as to implement a form of "Stop, Question and Frisk," while assigning more cops to high-crime communities, which are dominated by non-white minorities. It won't be easy to do all of that but, as a veteran cop who is also African American, Eric Adams might well be uniquely positioned to effectuate effective anti-crime measures.

The crime increase in New York began last year during the riots and looting which  followed the George Floyd killing. Since then, violent crimes have gone up 105 percent and homicides more than 40 percent, with the overwhelming majority of victims being African Americans. Television news is filled with videos of tourists being shot at in Times Square and gun battles raging in the streets in broad daylight, and many New Yorkers are still afraid to ride the subways. Decriminalizing quality-of-life crimes, such as prostitution, public urination and turnstile-jumping, add to the feeling of chaos and instability.

New York is not the only city with dramatic increases in violent crime and social ills. The weekend shootings and gang violence in Chicago, for example, resemble a shooting gallery, and the stories of innocent kids being murdered are truly heartbreaking.

The Biden administration has belatedly realized the prominence of the crime issue, but its response is lame, blaming it on guns and COVID-19. I'm a Republican who, as a congressman, voted for gun regulation. But guns have always been available to the bad guys and the gangbangers. The difference is that, in the past, police could combat illegal gun possession with elite street-crime units taking aggressive action such as employing "Stop, Question and Frisk." Progressives ended that, and voters know they did.  

We also have seen and heard the anti-police slanders from the left, such as President Biden telling Congress that the American criminal justice system is "systematically racist," or Vice President Harris' short-lived 2020 presidential primary campaign tweeting support for a group that posted bail for some anti-police rioters in Minneapolis. No wonder so many veteran cops are retiring and fewer qualified applicants want to be cops. 

As for blaming the rising urban crime on COVID-19, other major cities and countries around the world saw significant decreases in murders during the pandemic - London, down 16 percent; Italy, down 14 percent - which would make sense, with fewer people on the streets.

During the coming 2022 midterm campaigns, Republicans will talk about issues such as deficit spending, inflation, and rising gasoline prices, and each of these will have an impact with some voters. But nothing resonates with voters or crosses party lines with more impact than the fear of crime. Freedom from fear is a cherished American right. If Republicans address this issue in a responsible yet forceful and unapologetic manner, they will win back the House and, more importantly, save America from lawlessness and fear.

Peter King retired in January as the U.S. representative of New York's 2nd Congressional District. He served 28 years in Congress, including as chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Follow him on Twitter @RepPeteKing.