Tales Of The Great Stupid: Clarence Darrow’s Worst Idea Takes Hold In New York City

America’s greatest trial lawyer, Clarence Darrow, defended guilty criminals in part because he believed that it was cruel and unjust to punish citizens who committed crimes, even violent ones. Darrow, a pioneering progressive, lectured, debated and wrote that people committed crimes because of conditions beyond their control: bad parents, stupidity, mental illness, no education, poverty. Since those who committed crimes literally couldn’t stop themselves, punishment was revenge without reason. Sending someone to jail, far from advancing civilized conduct, not only destroys the life of the perpetrator but also creates a false sense of accomplishment, ignoring the socioeconomic “root causes” of crime. Nobody born free, the lawyer fervently held, should lose his or her liberty because of bad genes or bad luck.

It was and is a batty theory, and until very recently, one wouldn’t find anyone advocating it who wasn’t lying, ignorant, or a criminal himself. No longer. Today Darrow’s worst idea is running amuck in several big cities in the grip of woke Democratic government, and where it stops, nobody knows.

Take New York City…please.

The Big Rotten Apple has decided not to prosecute “quality of life” offenses, from littering to public urination to jumping subway turnstiles, with the predictable result that the quality of life for law abiding New Yorkers has cratered. Last summer, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice crowed that “the number of New Yorkers held in New York City jails had shrunk by 27% in 10 weeks, bringing the city’s incarcerated population down to the lowest level since 1946.Wow! Isn’t that great? Of course, by some coincidence, murders and shootings were rising more quickly than ever before.

Meanwhile, in a truly Bizarro World development, calling the police is itself is being redefined as a form of violence. After all, since the police routinely commit brutality against blacks and actively seek the death of all black men, it is unconscionable to call the police except in the most extreme situations; it’s like ordering a black citizen’s execution, right? I’m being sarcastic, but the ascendant Black Lives Matter-poluted activists are not. Alvin Bragg, who will probably be the next Manhattan district attorney, opposes jail time for people convicted of violent felonies, and warns that calling the police on black criminals risks “the police shooting of another black man.” Oh, oh…I feel Major Clipton coming on again…

Equally irresponsible, indeed fruitcake nutty, is treating violent crime involving guns as a “public-health issue.” Mary Bassett, former NYC health commissioner, wanted “community-based interventions” to deal with shootings, using “credible messengers” and “community mobilization techniques that aim to mediate conflicts between individuals and groups and prevent retaliatory violence before it occurs.” Leprechauns would also be effective, I hear. Yet these “violence interruption” programs get taxpayer funding and are pushed every year as an innovative solution to violent crime. “Innovative,” however, is not a synonym for “rational.”

Eric Adams, the alleged law and order Democratic Party mayoral nominee, last year urged Brooklyn residents not to call the police to report the shooting off of illegal fireworks, and instead to “go talk to the young people or the people on your block who are using fireworks” and ask them to stop. Good plan! One woman who took his advice was murdered.

Again I insist—even after a lively debate last week with commenter Humble Talent on the topic—that when the government stops punishing citizens for anti-social conduct it once formally prohibited and enforced penalties for those engaging in, the government has endorsed the conduct.

Mayor de Blasio’s Marxist wife, Chirlane McCray, said she wants witnesses to violent hate crimes to “just try interrupting it” by “distracting” the perpetrator—for instance, by asking the victim of an ongoing beating to tell you the current time. No, I’m not kidding; she really advocates this as a better response than calling the police. Wait…Sidney Wang has a trenchant comment!

Seth Barron, the managing editor of The American Mind and author of The Last Days of New York, sums up the phenomenon neatly in his article for the City-Journal:

“Crime is a problem to urban progressives, but apparently not for the reasons that bother everyone else—that crime victimizes people and has huge costs. The problem, from the progressive standpoint, is that the race of many perpetrators is a political inconvenience.”

Bingo. On the plus side, however, Clarence Darrow would be happy to see his theory tested on a grand scale.

14 thoughts on “Tales Of The Great Stupid: Clarence Darrow’s Worst Idea Takes Hold In New York City

  1. “…when the government stops punishing citizens for anti-social conduct it once formally prohibited and enforced penalties for those engaging in, the government has endorsed the conduct.”

    He who is silent is understood to consent, after all.

  2. (in a song cut from G&S’s “Iolanthe)

    Fold your flapping wings,
    Soaring legislature!
    Stoop to little things,
    Stoop to human nature!
    Never need to roam,
    Members patriotic,
    Let’s begin at home
    Crime is no exotic!
    Bitter is your bane
    Terrible your trials,
    Dingy Drury Lane!
    Soapless Seven Dials!

    Take a tipsy lout,
    Gathered from the gutter.
    Hustle him about,
    Strap him to a shutter.
    What am I but he,
    Washed at hours stated,
    Fed on filagree,
    Clothed and educated?
    He’s a mark of scorn,
    I might be another,
    If I had been born
    Of a tipsy mother.

    Take a wretched thief,
    Through the city sneaking.
    Pocket handkerchief
    Ever, ever seeking.
    What is he but I
    Robbed of all my chances,
    Picking pockets by
    Force of circumstances?
    I might be as bad,
    As unlucky, rather,
    If I’d only had
    Fagin for a father!

    I specialize in creating villains with lurid and horrifying backgrounds, a lot of whom experienced stuff no one should have to experience. However, what I’ll never do is justify what they do.

    • That’s one reason poor people (I include myself, relative to my country) need the ideals of personal accountability and responsibility the most. The rich can afford to be scoundrels; we cannot.

      Charlie Sheen or Hunter Biden can blow every opportunity life gives them with hard drugs, crooked business dealings, and illegitimate children. But Hunter has his rich and powerful family to catch him every time he falls, clean him up, and release him back into the wild. He gets book deals, positive portrayals in the media, and can sell his way-below-average art for millions of dollars. But if I, or any other poor person, go Hunter Biden for even one day, my life would be entirely derailed.

      When the Left presents their sick version of “sympathy” for the poor, the incarcerated, or the unlucky, it’s never out of a desire to help them not to be those things anymore. It’s pure self-interest; a desire to justify their own privilege by trumpeting how much compassion they have. I can’t even say they’re acting out of guilt; guilt necessitates some sort of introspection that might occasionally cause them to question whether their policies are actually helping anyone. They have proven that they don’t care about that. The only result that matters is that they can hold the “compassionate side” trophy.

      Every policy and every principle that helps people stay out of the gutter is mercilessly opposed and defeated by the Left. They hate school choice, they hate the Bible, they hate de-incentivizing poverty and crime, they hate talking about hard work or personal accountability. Their policies are designed to keep people just comfortable enough to stay miserable forever. Vote for them and they promise to feed you, keep your cage clean, and give you a sofa, a tiny apartment, and all the Netflix and Disney+ you can binge-watch. You’ll own nothing, and you’ll be happy.

  3. Do you suppose there might be a different POV from the leftist prosecutors if whites were committing crimes against non whites? If this is the attitude of NY why is Letitia James waging a war against Trump. It is clear that prosecutorial discretion is completely biased.

  4. George Soros has been funding these non-prosecuting DAs in cities all over the country. I wonder what he’s up to? Has he shorted municipal bonds?

  5. I remember when I was a teen in the mid 1960s and visited the World Fair in NYC. Back then things were a little different and I remember a security guy telling me sternly “Don’t walk on the lawn!” He’d probably get shot by some thug if he did that today.

  6. I once heard someone say that government can only have one of 3 ’P’s towards a topic – prohibit, permit, or promote. When something is no longer prohibited, it becomes de facto permitted. Also, because many people confuse legality with morality they make the illogical jump that since the government isn’t punishing it, it must be ok to do,

  7. The “criminals aren’t responsible” movement has a lot of overlap with the New Atheist movement, as a little-known tenant of many influential modern atheists is a denial that humans actually have free will. It is the position of atheist leaders Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris, for example, that atheism requires determinism. They believe that self-awareness and autonomy are more or less illusions. That is one reason why this train of thought is becoming more mainstream.

    Of course, if they are all correct, then the Christian concept of punishing crime as a deterrent is ineffective, and better results will be had if we never punish people but, at worst, only gently remove the most violent offenders from the larger group. Proponents of this often point to the very small-scale success of this approach in some of the most traditionally Christian, white, and homogenous places on Earth, in Western Europe, where crime is rare, culture is monolithic, and everyone’s ancestors going back generations were stoic, gentle Baptists or Lutherans. It turns out you don’t (or didn’t) have much crime in those places, and you could lock the occasional psychopath in a pink nursery for grown-ups, giving them lots of love, without many far-reaching repercussions. That success story is not holding up very well though, and everywhere else, the early returns are not good either.

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