A law and order re-run?

For most of 2014, the big story was the worsening of the security situation in key parts of the Middle East and the growing threat to U.S. national security resulting from the rise of ISIS in that region. Late in the year, however, a new big story emerged — the growing threat to U.S. domestic tranquility.

One aspect of this threat became manifest with the cyber-attack on Sony. We will not be domestically tranquil if our computer systems — like those of our banks and power companies — experience successful cyber-attacks.

But the main aspect of the emerging threat became manifest in more traditional kinds of disturbances — rioting, looting, and physical attacks on police officers.

Demonstrators demanded “dead cops now.” Soon thereafter, there were several attempted assassinations of police officers, including the successful execution of two in New York City.

According to reports, New York cops are now delaying their response to calls for help in some instances, to make sure they have backup. In addition, reportedly, they are letting some minor violations slide. If so, this is a repudiation of the “broken windows” approach to policing that many believe is responsible for the dramatic reduction in crime that New York City has enjoyed during the past 20 years.

Are the lower crime rates we have come to take granted in jeopardy? In Washington, DC, they appear to be. The Washington Post reports that a year-end surge pushed homicides in the District over the 100 mark for the second year in a row.

The Post highlights the rise in killings of very young children, which speaks to the further deterioration of family bonds. But old-fashioned street killings are also well up since 2012.

Violent crime also jumped by 12 percent in Los Angeles, the first increase in 12 years. And it rose in Boston for the first time in four years.

In New York City, by contrast, the number of killings continued to decline. The murder rate in New York is one-fourth of that in Washington DC (on a per capita basis). But if, as its critics demand, the NYPD curtails the kind of policing that many believe helped produce the decline in violent crime, we can expect the rate of violent crime to begin soaring.

For those of us who lived in big cities during the chaotic 1970s, any hint of a reversal of the hard-earned gains in law enforcement since then is alarming. But those who should be most alarmed are the urban poor and the Democratic Party.

The threat to poor neighborhoods is obvious. That’s where most of the additional violence will occur. But the upscale whites who have “gentrfied” substantial portions of many cities will also suffer.

As for the Democratic Party, it has profited greatly from the demise of “law and order” as a major political issue. In the 1980s, Democrats finally realized how fatal the issue was for them. At that point, we stopped hearing that “law and order” is “code for racism.” Supporting the police became a bipartisan project.

President Obama, who no longer needs to worry about running for office, has made “law and order” a partisan issue again. Whether this makes him partially responsible for the unleashing of the furies we seemed to witness at the end of the year is open for debate.

But if the furies have been unleashed and if the Democrats are seen as soft in responding to them — as pressure from their base may compel them to seem — then we could be in not just for bad times, but also for a political game-changer.


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