The crime issue is hurting Democrats, and it should


Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) during a debate Oct. 25, 2022. (AP/Mary Altaffer)

The crime issue is hurting Democrats, and it should

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“I don’t know why that’s so important to you.”

So said Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) on Oct. 25 in her only debate with her Republican opponent, Rep. Lee Zeldin.

What was the “that” that she was referring to? Zeldin had just said, “Well, we’re halfway through the debate, she still hasn’t talked about locking up anyone committing any crimes.” Hochul responded by saying, “Anyone who commits a crime under our laws, especially with the change we made to bail, has consequences. I don’t know why that’s so important to you. All I know is we could do more.”


Hochul’s problem was that under New York’s 2019 cashless bail law, the “consequences” that the large majority of those arrested face do not include jail time. They’re released on their own recognizance, and the result has been well-publicized cases of those back on the street committing violent crimes — rape, robbery, shoving people onto subway tracks. Zeldin’s campaign had no difficulty finding multiple New Yorkers — mostly, in the phrase of liberal analysts, “people of color” — to testify in his ads to their increased fears of violent crime.

Democrats in the press have tried to wave the crime issue away. Most officials up for election have no power to reduce crime, the New York Times tells us. Voters wouldn’t be so upset about crime, CNN’s sources argue, if New York’s Democratic Mayor Eric Adams weren’t making so much noise about it. Another Times story accuses Republicans of stoking fears about crime with a “rooted not so much in data or policy as in voters’ feelings of unease.” But other sources acknowledge the damage and accuse Hochul of “dragging down the whole ticket,” according to Axios’s Josh Kraushaar, referring to the six or seven close House races in New York state. As for Hochul, she argued that people are only worried about crime because of a “conspiracy going all across America.”

All of which starts to look like a Democratic circular firing squad.

Let’s put the issue into some perspective. Crime and urban disorder have been issues with local impact in states that have suffered particularly vivid episodes of crime: the weeks of antifa riots in Portland have made the Oregon governor’s race competitive for the first time since the 1980s, and the televised trial of Darrell Brooks, the man who drove an SUV through a crowd at a Christmastime celebration in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, may have contributed to Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s growing strength against Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

But violent crime is a national problem, one which has grown more severe and more visible since the death of George Floyd in May 2020 and the Black Lives Matter “mostly peaceful” protests and the 500 or so violent riots that followed in dozens of cities across the nation. The press and much of corporate America echoed the argument that police violence against black people was as bad as ever, and in response, the active policing tactics that had reduced violent crime by more than half starting in the 1990s seem to have been largely abandoned. The number of murders rose by 30% between 2019 and 2020, reports the Pew Research Center, more than in any one year in American history, and almost all of the increase occurred starting in late May.

The number of other violent crimes didn’t immediately increase in those months because of COVID lockdowns. But they did afterward, and the number of murders has either risen or remained at that high plateau. Contributing to this increase in violence were laws like New York state’s. Those arguing that voters shouldn’t be concerned about this level of crime claimed, accurately, that crime levels were lower than in the early 1990s and, they might have added, during most or all of the 20 years before that. But that surely doesn’t cut much ice with voters who remember that, not so long ago, crime rates were much lower.

Why blame the Democrats? Well, because they embraced the Black Lives Matter slogan “defund the police,” which the mayor of Washington, D.C., painted in letters visible from airplanes on Sixteenth Street a block from the White House. Democratic city governments from coast to coast — in New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and many other cities — actually did defund the police. Washington’s city council, as I write, is even considering reducing the penalties for violent felonies, including carjacking, whose incidence has spiked in the district. Liberal politicians, like Barnes, cheered them on.

The effect was a reduction in active policing, which resulted not only in more violent crime but in a sharp increase, contrary to a multidecade trend, in traffic deaths.

It is an unhappy fact that nearly half the violent crimes in America are committed by blacks, and that approximately the same percentage of victims of violent crimes are black. The data showed this before, when there was much less violent crime, and it remains the case now, when there is more. A corollary of that fact is that when crime was lower, as a result of policies initiated by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in New York, and imitated and adopted by his successor Michael Bloomberg and by mayors both Democratic and Republican in many cities, many fewer black people were being murdered and fewer young black men were in prison. The effect of the Black Lives Matter movement, sadly, appears to be more murders of black people and, in time, more young black men in prison.

But not everyone in the press, nor every Democrat, is trying to play down the crime issue. Listen to the veteran Democratic pollster and nuanced student of American life, Stanley Greenberg, writing in the American Prospect. Referring to the racial reckoning in the weeks and months after the death of George Floyd, Greenberg writes this month of “the choices they made in the tumultuous year of 2020 — moral, ideological, and strategic choices that I believe branded the Democrats in ways that alienated them from key parts of their own base.”

“Voters and our base,” he added, “hated the idea of defunding the police.”


How can Democrats talk about crime as they finish their election campaigns? “To be honest, Democrats were in such terrible shape on crime at this late point, I said, speaking as little as possible or mumble. Nothing they’ve said up to now was reassuring or helpful.”

“I don’t know why that’s so important to you,” Hochul said. Stan Greenberg begs to disagree.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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