Amy Klobuchar, regressive prosecutor

Being a prosecutor has long been a steppingstone for lawyers who aspire to higher office. But this might not be true anymore for Democrats.

The problem is that Democrats have become ambivalent about law enforcement, and hostile towards the police. This puts Democratic prosecutors in a bind. They risk the early derailment of their career if they are ambivalent about law enforcement and hostile towards the police. Just ask Baltimore’s Marilyn Mosby. But they now risk incurring the ire of the party’s base if they take the side of law enforcement and the police.

Thus, former prosecutor Kamala Harris is under attack for being tougher on crime and criminals than the prevailing left-liberal orthodoxy dictates. She stands accused of being a regressive prosecutor.

And now, the same charge has been leveled at Amy Klobuchar. From the Washington Post:

Christopher Burns, a 44-year-old black man, was unarmed and at home in Minneapolis with his fiancee and three young children when the police arrived in response to a domestic violence call. The officers put him in a chokehold, and he died on the scene, according to the medical examiner.

The 2002 incident marked the third killing of a black person by the city’s police department that year, prompting local activists to stage rallies and demand that the two officers involved in Burns’s death face charges.

The focus of the community’s anger was Amy Klobuchar, the up-and-coming attorney of Hennepin County, who had declined to prosecute police accused of using excessive force against black suspects.

“WE MUST NOT LET THEM GET AWAY WITH THIS!” one activist group wrote in a newsletter. “Many people are watching to see if she will really fight for justice in this case.”

Klobuchar, then 42, declined to bring charges against the officers, and a grand jury she convened did not indict them.

Nothing in the Post’s account shows that the officers deserved to be indicted. The fact that Burns was unarmed doesn’t demonstrate this, and his race certainly doesn’t.

But facts don’t matter. Viewed from a distance of 17 years, it’s clear that Klobuchar was on the wrong side of identity politics and the wrong side of Black Lives Matter, a movement that did not then exist. In short, she was regressive:

As chief prosecutor for Minnesota’s most populous county from 1999 to 2007, Klobuchar declined to bring charges in more than two dozen cases where people were killed in encounters with police.

At the same time, she aggressively prosecuted smaller offenses such as vandalism and routinely sought longer-than-recommended sentences, including for minors. Such prosecutions, done with the aim of curbing more serious crimes, have had mixed results and been criticized for their disproportionate effect on poor and minority communities.

It’s quite possible that Klobuchar has ready responses to these criticisms. The Post provides no evidence of police wrongdoing in any of the encounters in which people were killed. And it’s not Klobuchar’s fault if members of the poor and minority community committed a disproportionate number of vandalism crimes.

But Klobuchar can’t make these defenses without running afoul of current Democratic orthodoxy. So, instead she counters that the prison incarceration rate for African Americans in the county declined during her tenure.

But this won’t satisfy the base any more than it satisfies the Post. It sniffs that “experts said [the decline in the black incarceration] did little to ameliorate a dramatic disparity between black and white prison rates.”

Blacks could have ameliorated the disparity by obeying the law to the same degree as whites. But Klobuchar can’t say that.

I admit to feeling a little bit sorry for the Minnesota Senator. How could she know in 2002 that the Democrats would do such an about-face on law and order. Bill Clinton had brought Democrats out of the wilderness by taking crime seriously.

Moreover, as the Post eventually gets around to noting, when Klobuchar took office, “the Twin Cities were recovering from a long wave of violent crime and many communities were demanding help.” Minneapolis had earned the nickname “Murderapolis” in 1995, according to the Post.

Thus, Klobuchar used Clinton’s eminently reasonable and highly successful playbook. So did Joe Biden when, in the 1990s, he helped lead the charge for tougher sentencing of criminals.

Kamala Harris is a somewhat different case. She became a prosecutor later than Klobuchar did and served as one through 2016. I imagine there was less pressure on her than on Klobuchar to crack down on crime.

Even so, most, if not all, of Harris’ offenses against the new orthodoxy occurred pre-Ferguson, before it had fully carried the day. Therefore, even Harris has been blindsided to some degree.

Now she, Klobuchar, and Biden must make amends. They must move hard left on crime. The pander-fest will be something to behold.

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