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Worried about rising violent crime? You can thank today’s progressives

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President Biden is scheduled to deliver a speech today outlining his administration’s anti-crime strategy. As we enter the summer months, during which violent crime traditionally surges, it already has been soaring in cities across the country. While Democrats would like to blame COVID-19 for that, the surge started before the pandemic hit, and it was turbo-charged by the rioting and “defund the police” campaigns that followed George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police 13 months ago.

A preponderance of crime victimizes urban communities, particularly Black communities. The reason is something you will never hear from President Biden. Violent crime, especially gang crime, tends to be local, and it is simply a fact that young African American males engage in such crimes at higher rates than other demographic groups.

You can never understand a phenomenon, much less devise a strategy to address it effectively, absent a willingness to understand it. Biden and today’s Democrats, led by hardline progressives who call the tune in the major cities riven by lawlessness, do not want to grapple with the harsh realities of crime. Their objective, instead, is to weave a political narrative that shifts responsibility for crime, from cultural dysfunction that is exacerbated by progressive policies to cultural dysfunction that is said to trace to America’s “systematic racism.”

The narrative is patently foolish. But it thrives in a fortress of political correctness. The in terrorem effects of cancel culture warn that speaking frankly about crime will get one ostracized as a racist. This, notwithstanding that the failure to speak and think honestly about crime harms Black communities more than any others.

The progressive narrative about crime holds that America is an inherently and, it seems, indelibly racist society, in which police are the armed front lines preserving the white power structure. They must be defunded — if not to the point of being zeroed out, then at least to the point of being defanged, with swaths of their budgets transferred to social services. Only then can the power structure be dismantled, replaced by a more just system (i.e., a government of progressives, by progressives, and for … everyone — whether they want it or not).

Progressives would have you believe that the large number of young Black men who are arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned — a number that is disproportionately high compared to the less than 6 percent of total U.S. population this demographic represents — is a function of inherent racial bias, which supposedly plagues the criminal justice system.

It is an absurd story, but one that makes it convenient to overlook the true reason for this state of affairs: the disproportionately high incidence of offense behavior.

Cities where violent crime is spiking, such as New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis and San Francisco, are run by progressives. The judicial system, which processes criminal cases, is run by elite lawyers — members of the profession which, with the possible exception of university academics and administrators, is the most unabashedly progressive in the nation. The notion that they would abide racism — let alone systemic racism — in systems over which they exercise suffocating control is laughable.

Moreover, police in the United States are today more representative of the racial and ethnic make-ups of the communities they protect and serve than at any time in U.S. history. 

Take Atlanta, for example. The city’s population is about 51 percent African American; its police department is about 58 percent African American. It boasts a Black police chief, a Black assistant chief, and Black commanders of the critical airport and special operations divisions. Yet, a few months back, when a Black man named Rayshard Brooks first assaulted police who were lawfully arresting him, then was shot to death during a chase in which he shot at one of the cops with a stun-gun he had taken from them, the left wailed: another Black man killed by the police, as if that were all you needed to know.

Here is the most significant reason why you know the systemic racism narrative on crime is nonsense: The principal source of our knowledge about who commits crime is not police observations; it is victim reports. Progressives, with their preternatural interest in the welfare of criminals (because the “system” is supposedly the problem) have precious little to say about those on whom the criminals prey. But the victims overwhelmingly inhabit poor urban communities where crime — gang crime, in particular — is rampant. We know that young Black males are violating the laws at disproportionately high rates because Black neighborhoods are ravaged by crime at disproportionately high rates.

Police do not encounter Black offenders because, acting on inherent biases, they target Black men as crime suspects. They encounter the offenders because police are dispatched in heaviest concentrations to the communities in which victims report crimes. There is nothing racist about that. If we had physicians departments, like we have police departments, we would not deploy doctors in healthy communities; we’d send them where the highest concentration of sick people was, and we would not presume racism on their part based on who their patients were.

Joe Biden used to know this. As Judiciary Committee chairman in 1994, he steered through the Senate the Clinton crime bill that ratcheted up penalties for crack-trafficking. The legislation had significant support in the Congressional Black Caucus, precisely because members were hearing from constituents who were besieged by violent gang crime, which always goes hand-in-hand with the storage and distribution of drugs and money. 

When enforced, the new laws resulted in high rates of prosecution and incarceration of Black defendants. That was not because of inherent racism; it was because of offense behavior — the epidemic of which was why the laws were enacted in the first place. The incarceration terms were more severe because the punishments prescribed for crack trafficking — in legislation principally drafted by a Democratic-controlled Congress and a Democratic administration — were significantly higher than for powder cocaine. 

It is fair to argue that this disparity (which has since been reduced) was too extreme. That, however, had nothing to do with the politicized fable that crack was “the Black drug” while powder cocaine was recreation for rich whites. Crack was punished more harshly because of its association with high rates of addiction and violent crime. The law’s more routine application to Blacks was because of offense behavior, not to some sinister plan or to the unthinking wages of a racist system.

Enactment of the 1994 law was one of several factors that led to a generational plummeting of crime rates — a historic achievement that progressives have made it their mission to undo. Thus did Biden, in his 2020 presidential campaign, distance himself from the 1994 legislation — which, in his characteristically shameless self-promotion, he used to gloat about as “the Biden Crime Bill.” Meantime, in cities across America, the approach now taken by progressive prosecutors is to decline to enforce special sentencing enhancements for gang crime, on the rationale that they are — all together now! — systematically racist.

To call offense behavior an afterthought would be an overstatement. We’re not supposed to think about it at all.

Though its effects are more damaging, crime is like any other problem: It can’t be effectively managed, much less solved, until we are ready to see it for what it is. Crime is not a racialized morality play. It is real life, with real victims.

As a senator, Biden once understood that. A generation ago, it was mainstream Democratic thinking, and Biden always has been a mainstream Democratic weathervane. But those Democrats are gone now. There is a new, far-left mainstream, and President Biden is its tribune. So, as someone likes to say, “here’s the deal”: It’s going to be a long, hot summer.

Former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at National Review Institute, a contributing editor at National Review, and a Fox News contributor. His latest book is “Ball of Collusion.” Follow him on Twitter @AndrewCMcCarthy.

Tags defund the police Institutional racism Joe Biden Law enforcement violent crime

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