Since the 1960s, crime has come in waves. The civil unrest of the 1960s, and particularly the crack epidemic of the 1980s, led to crackdowns such as an increase in incarceration rates and California’s Three Strikes Act of 1994. About a decade ago, the cycle was reversed, leading to prison reforms like California’s Proposition 47 in 2014.
And the atmosphere of reform has led to the election of progressive district attorneys, such as B. Chesa Boudin in San Francisco, which was recently recalled; and George Gascon in Los Angeles, who may be recalled in November. Then there are deplorable police abuses like the deaths in police custody of George Floyd in Minnesota two years ago and homeless man Kelly Thomas in Fullerton in 2011.
For some reason we can’t do it right: keep the streets safe but not become a police state. But in the end, people prefer fighting crime to banging their heads.
One crime researcher I’ve enjoyed reading for years is Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald, who recently returned to her native California. She spoke to local community and civic leaders at an Aug. 3 event hosted by the Pacific Research Institute at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach.
“The state must put the interests of the law-abiding and diligent ahead of the interests of the criminals and dissidents,” she said. “We must state unequivocally that the expectation of safety and freedom from fear is not a manifestation of white privilege. It is the fundamental right of everyone living under a constitutional government. No one should apologize for wanting to live in a clean, tidy environment. This is not a form of racism. It’s a form of reason.”
In the Q&A I asked if the exodus of people from California would affect the crime rates of those left behind. “It’s always bad when law-abiding people leave your neighborhood,” she said. “And it leaves less of a bulwark. Policing is not the ideal solution to crime. It’s the second best solution. The best solution is families and communities and a return to the days when neighbors were willing to name antisocial behavior.”
She also said the exodus could lead to “an even more radically divided state, with the very wealthy in their limousines with their chauffeurs, preferring not to see the homeless tents around them.” Conservatives used to brand such people as “limousine liberals.”
One positive development, I would add, is the recent decision by the US Supreme Court to end restrictive laws against concealed carry permits. Coincidentally, our editorial board interviewed California Attorney General Rob Bonta earlier in the day that Mac Donald was speaking. Bonta advocates more gun control and defied the court’s lawsuit. But he told us he’s instructed every California sheriff to enforce the court order and relax the rules on concealed carry.
As John Lott and other gun scientists have shown, crime began to fall rapidly when other states began liberalizing their concealed carry laws three decades ago. Criminals feared being shot by the victims. That could well happen here. In another context, theft, Mac Donald said criminals are surprisingly well acquainted with criminal laws. I’m assuming the crooks are already gauging what a better armed citizenry means.
She also lamented that the liberal media does not cover the story she is telling. Fox News and the Wall Street Journal do this. But CNN and MSNBC don’t. After five cops were shot dead in Dallas in 2016, shortly after her book War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe came out, CNN initially booked her for an interview, which would seem obvious, and said it then off it. She didn’t follow the “narrative,” as progressives like to say.
Finally, Mac Donald praised Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, who was only reelected in June. Our editorial board had disagreements with him, but he won our approval with sensible reforms of the department he inherited, which ensured people’s safety while protecting everyone’s civil rights.
Mac Donald’s work, based on the latest crime statistics, contributes to similar solutions in other areas of California and the country.
John Seiler is a member of the SCNG Editorial Board.