The Impact of Progressive Crime Policies
Since my college days in the 1960s when I began paying attention to such things, I noticed that whenever liberal/progressive/socialist policies had failed, the default response from proponents was always that the resources and time devoted to these policies were inadequate. This kind of deflection remains standard practice among liberals today. But there are a couple of places in the United States where the government’s investment in progressive criminal justice policies has been substantial and carried out for over a decade. No state has taken progressive sentencing and police reforms further than California, beginning in 2011 with Governor Jerry Brown’s groundbreaking Public Safety Realignment bill AB109. That bill qualified roughly 30,000 prison inmates for early release and eliminated state prison sentences as an option for car thieves, fraudsters, and most burglars and drug dealers.
After that bill became law there was an immediate spike in violent crime in California, which resulted in an uptick of criminals going to prison. The progressive response was to increase the investment with Proposition 47, the “Safe Schools and Neighborhoods Act of 2014.” Bankrolled by liberal billionaire George Soros and the ACLU, California voters believed the TV adds which explained that converting theft, drug crimes and even assault to misdemeanors would prevent non-violent offenders from incarceration and get them into programs which would make them law abiding, productive citizens. With county jails now full of car thieves, burglars and wife-beaters, there was no room to hold those arrested for misdemeanors. The elimination of consequences for such crimes, resulted in far fewer being reported to police, and those who were arrested were cited and released. 2014 is also the year that Governor Brown, responding to the possibility of additional court-mandated inmate releases, argued that “further releases would include inmates with violent records who thus pose a substantial risk of committing new and violent crimes.” For once he was right.
Two years later, as the prison population continued to rise due to increased violent crime, Governor Brown and Soros pooled roughly $10 million to sell the public on Proposition 57 the “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016”. Once again the campaign adds told voters that the initiative would reward non-violent offenders who behaved well and engaged in rehabilitation programs with time off their sentences. During the campaign, district attorneys and sheriffs warned that the measure would allow habitual felons with priors for rape and murder to gain early release. The Governor denied this but it in 2018, two years after voters adopted Proposition 57, a state appeals court and a superior court judge ruled that the warnings were correct. This year, Governor Gavin Newsom’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced that, utilizing the change in law under Proposition 57, they plan to make 76,000 prison inmates, including murderers and rapists, eligible for up to 1/2 off their sentences.
One of the major themes advanced by progressives supporting these “reforms” was that the old school “tough on crime” policies were racist because a disproportionate number of people of color were convicted and sentenced under them. Police, of course, had been labeled racists for decades by the same activists and politicians. That narrative went global in 2014 during the Obama Administration, following a police officer’s shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown and the weeks of riots that followed. By the time the Obama justice department announced a year later that the shooting was in self defense, black activists were openly attacking officers in large American cities and liberal politicians were enacting laws to reduce police budgets.
During the widespread protests and riots that swept across American cities over the summer of 2020, after the death of Minneapolis felon George Floyd, police in America’s woke cities were ordered to back off as crowds burned and looted businesses and killed at least 25. At the same time, because of the pandemic, progressive governors and mayors took the opportunity to extend criminal justice reform further by instituting zero bail policies and released thousands of inmates from jails and prisons to protect them from the virus. Although most Americans were sheltering in their homes over 2020, shootings, murders, auto theft and commercial burglary in most large cities skyrocketed.
Los Angeles stands out as ground zero for the progressive vision of criminal justice reform. This is due in part to California’s decade-long adoption of statewide sentencing and policing reduction policies along with that city’s almost complete subjugation to the Black Lives Matter movement. City leaders uniformly tarred the police as racists and voted to defund the LAPD. Public order laws, hated by progressives, had not been enforced for over a decade. Last year even the moderate black, female, district attorney was driven out of office by Black Lives matter in a campaign financed by Soros and San Francisco liberals. Her replacement; progressive former San Francisco DA George Gascon immediately put defense attorneys on his management staff and demanded shorter sentences for every offender arrested in the county. There is no place in the country more qualified to be the progressive reform demonstration project than Los Angeles.
So what has been the result? The murder rate in the city has increased by 31% this year compared to last year when it rose by 34%. The Los Angeles County Sheriff reports a 95% increase in murders. Shootings in both the city and county have set records in both 2020 and 2021. For the County auto thefts are up 40%, arson is up 22%, rape is up almost 8%, and aggravated assault is up 13%. While reported property crimes are down, due to Proposition 47, police budget cuts and de-policing policies, many property crimes are no longer reported or counted. Roughly 150,000 drug addicted and mentally ill homeless are camping on sidewalks, in parks and on beaches across the county and several die of overdoses or are murdered every day. Department stores, drugstores and specialty shops are routinely looted with security video on the nightly news. Nobody gets arrested. Drug dealing is rampant and fatal overdoses among the non-homeless population exceed numbers not seen since the 1960s. And what about the people of color these policies were supposed to protect? According to the Los Angeles Times “the surge in homicides in Los Angeles since the Covid-19 pandemic has played out almost entirely among Latino and black victims.” “In the 18-month period from January 2020 through this June, there were 266 Latino victims killed in L.A., compared with 182 Latino victims in the prior 18-month period — a 46.2% increase. There were 192 Black victims, compared with 151 Black victims in the previous period, for a 27.2% increase. Victims whose race was described as “other” were fewer in number, but increased more sharply — from 14 to 30, for a 114.3% increase.”
“Latinos account for 49% of the city’s population, according to U.S. Census data, and 50% of homicide victims during the more recent 18-month period. Black people account for just 9% of the city’s population, but 36% of the victims. Non-Latino white people account for about 29% of L.A.’s population, but less than 8% of the victims.” Increasing the investment in progressive criminal justice reforms to protect “people of color” is almost exclusively killing and injuring “people of color.”
Californians have figured this out. The Los Angeles Times reports that a statewide a CBS News poll released last Wednesday found that 68% of respondents deemed crime a very important issue and 26% called it somewhat important. Only 6% said it was not important.
Hopefully time has run out on the progressives and their experiment with public safety.