We shouldn’t get accustomed to rising violence as part of an experiment with public safety

Bari Weiss’ Substack published a piece today from Leighton Woodhouse, a writer who lives in Oakland. Woodhouse describes what it’s like living through the increasing violence in the city and the equally shocking lack of coverage it receives as people get used to a situation that should be intolerable.

My wife and I are scrambling to find daycare for our 16-month-old son. We’ve had a “nanny share” up until now, which means we and another couple employ a nanny for both couples’ kids and split the cost. Our nanny is wonderful, and she lives just a few blocks from us. But a few weeks ago, someone walked up her street spraying bullets into random houses. One of the bullets found its way into her living room, as she and her family ducked for cover. At that moment, she and her husband decided they were moving their family out of Oakland.

The shooting didn’t even make the local news. Apparently, in the Bay Area right now, you can walk up a residential street firing your gun into houses, and you still won’t be able to compete for attention with all of the other sensational crimes.

He goes on to list a whole series of other crimes:

A few weeks ago, at nine in the morning, a 29-year-old mom on her way from Oakland to San Francisco for a job interview with her fiancé and two kids was randomly shot and killed in her SUV at the Bay Bridge toll plaza. In an interview, the victim’s mother recalled being heartbroken after hearing the story of an earlier crime, in which Jasper Wu, a two year-old who was sleeping in his car seat, was shot and killed by a stray bullet fired from another car driving in the opposite direction. It was not even two weeks later when she lost her own daughter the same way…

I have seen the unraveling over the past year in my own neighborhood. In October, about three blocks from my house, a neighbor was shot and killed in a home invasion. About a mile south in the same month, a 15-year-old girl was shot to death in an act of road rage. And just a few weeks ago, a little more than a half-mile west of me, another teenager was fatally shot.

Woodhouse says there’s not much mystery behind why this is happening. Random shootings and the random murders of moms, teens and infants didn’t just happen. Progressives cleared the way for this bloody chaos through a concerted push to defund the police. Those efforts weren’t always successful in defunding but did manage to demoralize officers around the country. Retirements and resignations followed and that meant fewer cops on the street and fewer interactions with residents. The results were entirely predictable.

Woodhouse argues the blame for this can’t be solely put on activists. There were a lot of well-off residents in these cities who, having little direct experience with violent crime, were willing to experiment a bit with reimagining policing.

The push to defund the police has typically been more popular in higher income areas of progressive cities like Oakland—areas where crime and violence are more of an abstraction than a daily reality. Not surprisingly, the two Oakland city council members who last summer voted against reducing the mayor’s proposed budget for the police represent the poorest, most dangerous neighborhoods in the city…

As the surge in violence has become less theoretical to white, middle class residents, Oakland’s mayor has been afforded the political space to push to restore the funds that were cut from the police budget. Suddenly, the nihilistic ideology of the progressive activist class has lost the cachet it was imbued with during the hot summer of 2020.

It really is astounding when you think about the big picture. Left-wing activists, with the willing help of the media, pushed an incredibly stupid agenda on the entire country and wound up creating the conditions for a surge of violence that has resulted in a host of new victims. And yet, when was the last time you saw anyone apologize or take accountability for this?

For example, the Daily Show hosted Patrisse Cullors to talk about defunding last year. Trevor Noah asked Cullors, “How do you go from a world of police for everything to no police or police for only a few things but not have that messy period in the middle where crime just goes up?” Cullors replied that she wanted to start by making just a few things no longer crimes (homelessness and addiction). But so far as I know, the Daily Show never had her back on to discuss the fact that we seem to have failed getting past that messy part in the middle where crime goes up.

But in September Noah did invite on another advocate of police and prison abolition who argued that police don’t make anyone safe and don’t reduce crime. Derecka Purnell claimed, “Sending police to go and arrest someone who committed a murder, it doesn’t prevent the murder.”

That’s certainly true but it overlooks at least two really obvious and important points. First, people who murder other people could murder again if they aren’t arrested. You can’t stop the murder that already happened but you can prevent the one that might happen next. Second, crime isn’t static. Like any other human behavior it responds to incentives and can rise and fall over time. If people pay a high price for murdering another person that’s a deterrence to others and violent crime drops. On the other hand if  murders are not punished that tells everyone that you can literally get away with murder and violent crime probably goes up.

Trevor Noah does ask Purnell about that messy middle part where crime could go up. He even suggested to her that her plan to reeducate the murderous impulses out of men sounds a bit utopian. Her response, “There is no abolitionist who I know, who I organize with who expects it to happen. What we do expect people is to be committed to experimentation, to figuring out how to get there.” [emphasis added]

And there you have it. This has been an experiment with public safety and we are all guinea pigs in these activists’ laboratory. The fact that the murder rate has spiked nationwide at an unprecedented rate and that literally thousands of people, including the aforementioned two-year-old asleep in the car or the 29-year-old mom at the toll plaza, are dead hasn’t discouraged these activists a bit. In any revolution you have to be prepared to break a few eggs, I guess.

If you have time, listen to these weak arguments and watch the way Trevor Noah makes no real effort to push back on any of them. He’s not dumb. He could ask a follow-up question but he just nods along like she’s making perfect sense. This is a microcosm of how we got where we are.

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