It’s now clear even to Joe Biden that the rise in violent crime poses a political problem for Democrats. The vote count in yesterday’s New York City mayoral primary reinforces that realization.
Thus, Biden has decided to
address talk about violent crime.
Biden is in a bind. The normal response to a violent crime wave is the one he embraced in the 1990s and that worked so well — more policing and tougher sentencing. But Biden, having just finished apologizing to the Democratic base for this embrace, can’t go there again. He can’t even advocate backing away from policies that constrain the police and put criminals back on the street.
Thus, Biden will resort to the only item in the Democrats’ toolbox he can try to pass off as an anti-crime measure — gun control. The Washington Post quotes White House press secretary Jen Psaki as follows:
The president feels a lot — a great deal of the crime we’re seeing — is as a result of gun violence. You can expect he’ll speak to that and his commitment to continuing to address gun violence and gun safety in the country.
Well, yeah, a great deal of violent crime is the result of gun violence. But that doesn’t mean speaking about guns will reduce the violence. Nor does it mean that passing more gun control legislation would do so. Nor, even if it could, would that effect take hold in the short term.
When Eric Dreiband, then an Assistant U.S. Attorney General, went to Minneapolis to meet with low-income minority group members fearful of rampaging gun violence, they didn’t ask him for more gun laws. They asked for more policing.
Of course. These folks may be poor, but they’re not stupid.
Eric Adams’ seemingly successful campaign for mayor of New York City didn’t neglect mentioning gun control. He is a Democrat, after all.
But Adams’ signature promise was more policing. By all accounts I’ve read, this theme is what lifted him above his more liberal rivals.
In the absence of effective policing, citizens must protect themselves. That’s the main reason why gun sales reportedly are way up these days.
Thus, quite apart from the fact that gun control legislation fails to address the real drivers of the violent crime surge — less policing and more criminals on the street — it may, on its terms, be an unpopular response.
I don’t want to leave the impression that Biden is ignoring the issue of policing. He and his fellow Democrats are pushing for modification of the “qualified immunity” doctrine that protects police officers to some degree from lawsuits.
The likely effect of this legislation would be to discourage proactive policing of the kind that a few decades ago helped slash the amount of violent crime. Why actively police where the criminals are if the liberal mayor won’t back you and you have lost important protection from being sued?
The Democratic left would like to abolish the police. Few Democratic politicians advocate going that far. Instead, they favor discouraging interaction between police officers and residents of high-crime (mostly Black) neighborhoods. If you can’t abolish the police, neutering it is the next best thing.
In sum, the Biden’s embrace of left-wing ideology leaves him and his party vulnerable and stranded on the issue of crime, even as that issue moves to the political forefront. All Biden and the Dems can do is hope that the wave of violent crime recedes.
That’s not likely to happen. Last year, the Dems deluded themselves into believing that the crime wave was due to the pandemic and/or unrest following the death of George Floyd. Now, they admit otherwise, as the Washington Post shows in this article.
The Post quotes Cleveland’s Democratic mayor Frank Jackson who says that violent crime “is going to get worse.” In Jackson’s view, “there’s nothing that’s going to be bring this down in the near future.”
Certainly, nothing the Democrats support will bring violent crime down in the near future. A surge in proactive policing coupled with an end to releasing criminals probably would. But these policies are off the table for Joe Biden and his party.
UPDATE: Late this afternoon, Biden presented his ideas for curbing violent crime. As expected, he emphasized gun control. As discussed above, gun control measures cannot be expected to reduce gun violence.
Biden also proposed stepping up programs to help recently-released convicts. There is no shortage of programs for rehabilitating cons and ex-cons. The lenient sentencing crowd has been touting such programs for years. Yet, violent crime continues to rise.
Here’s a better idea. Stop remanding dangerous criminals back into the community on supervised release, or otherwise. A study in New York City released by the de Blasio administration itself shows that its bail reform/supervised release program has contributed to an increase in crime in the city.
Biden had nothing to say about bail — at least not according to this report.
As for policing, Biden will allow $350 billion in federal stimulus money to be used to fund police departments in areas that have seen an increase in crime. Cities have the option of using funds for that purpose. It’s questionable whether cities where the “defund” movement is strong will take advantage of Biden’s offer, except maybe to hire social workers.
In any case, the money won’t mean much unless the mayors who control our cities, nearly all of whom are Democrats, give police officers the freedom and the incentives to police high crime areas proactively. As noted above, the current incentives all run the other way.
Moreover, any department that reinstitutes proactive policing risks the wrath of the Biden Justice Department. In particular, it risks the wrath of Kristen Clarke. She can be expected to use the shooting of black criminals by the police as grounds for federal intervention through which she can dictate policing practices to local police departments. The policies she dictates won’t include proactive policing.
Maybe Biden’s proposals will reduce violent crime. Maybe violent crime will decrease on its own. In either case, the nation will be better off and Democrats will have one less big issue to worry about.
But if, as I expect, Biden’s proposals have little positive impact and the violent crime wave continues on its present course or intensifies, the Dems will suffer. And now that Biden has acknowledged the problem and offered his solution, he will have nowhere to hide.