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!
“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.