A tale of two recalls.
California’s Criminal Stupidity
If the Golden State’s way of handling crime spreads, we’re all in trouble.
Crime might put a Republican back in the California governor’s mansion.
Murders in California jumped 31% last year, the most in over a decade. And minorities bore the brunt of it. Black people, for example, are only 6% of California’s population but made up 31% of all murder victims. For all Democrats’ talk about the racial injustice of mass incarceration, you’d think there’d be at least equal talk about the racial injustice endured by crime victims. You’d be wrong.
Their message: we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.
Last month, Governor Gavin Newsom said “[We’re] not going to back off on our commitment to reform [that has] proven successful in this state.” Unfortunately for him, Californians don’t like that “commitment to reform” very much. A plurality of voters say Newsom is doing a poor job on crime and criminal justice, according to a poll by U.C. Berkeley, not your typical conservative pollsters.
The problem is that California Democrats just aren’t serious about crime. We saw it in 2020 with their calls to “defund the police.” Rhetorically and literally, this was never a good idea. When you demonize all police officers—by saying “All Cops Are Bastards” for instance—you put a target on their backs. When you put a target on their backs, you make it more dangerous to police high-crime minority communities. This, in turn, causes a reduced police presence in the very places that need it the most. You know what else reduces police presence? Actually defunding the police, which Los Angeles did by some $89 million. Not only did Democrats dissuade police officers from policing minority communities, they also hampered their ability to do so. This might explain why cities that have seen BLM protests have also seen a 10% increase in murders shortly after, without including the summer of 2020.
Progressive policies and prosecutors are making the situation worse. They’re lessening sentences and letting criminals out of prison to counteract mass incarceration. It doesn’t take a PhD in criminology to guess where this might lead. Reducing the punishments for crime reduces the disincentives to commit crime. It should be no surprise when crime goes up. For example, Prop. 47 in 2014 reclassified thefts under $950 from felonies to misdemeanors. Four years later, here’s what the LA Times had to say: “California voters’ decision to reduce penalties for drug and property crimes in 2014 contributed to a jump in car burglaries, shoplifting and other theft.” Who would have thought?
To make the social science a little more concrete, consider Walgreens. As William Voegeli, senior editor of the Claremont Review of Books, pointed out in his most recent essay, Walgreens had to close 25% of its stores in San Francisco over the past five years. Why? Because its losses from theft were four times greater there than the average of all its locations across the country, causing them to spend 35 times more on security guards. They even had to lock up the beef jerky.
To add insult to injury, Democrats have privileged the perpetrators of murder, hate crimes, and sexual abuse over their victims. In 2018, a 16-year-old girl and her sister were found dead in a torched Westchester apartment. They had been shot at close range. The killer was the girl’s boyfriend who, at the time, was one-month shy of 18. Lucky for him, ultraprogressive prosecutor George Gascón was elected as L.A. County’s District Attorney and took over the case. Before the election, prosecutors were planning to charge the killer as an adult, which would have put him behind bars for decades. Now, however, he’ll be out by the time he’s 25, thanks to Gascón’s blanket policy never to try juveniles in adult court, regardless of the crime. Gascón claimed he lost sleep over the case. That didn’t change a thing.
What about the victims who survive these crimes and the families of those who don’t? How should they interpret Gascón’s policies—like getting rid of all sentencing enhancements—which a judge later ruled was illegal—other than as a blatant disregard for their suffering? Progressives like Gascón and Newsom want criminals out of prison as quickly as possible, no matter the crime. And they’re not shy about it.
Reasonable criminal justice reform is possible. Police officers who abuse their power should be held accountable. They should be trained better. Sentences for minor, nonviolent crimes should be reevaluated. Prison conditions should be improved. But if there’s one thing Democrats in California have proven, it’s that they can’t be trusted to do any of this. They’ve privileged criminals at the expense of victims. And, frankly, people have had enough.
If California is any indication of where progressives hope to steer the rest of the country—well, we better make sure they don’t get the chance.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.