An excellent speech given May 19 to the Hudson Institute and posted to his website, a speech espousing principles which our organization is completely aligned with.
This past Sunday, thousands of law-enforcement officers, their families, and other supporters gathered at the Capitol to observe Peace Officers Memorial Day.
Every speech given, every tribute paid, and every prayer offered was a poignant reminder: public safety and order in our country often come at a high cost.
Law and order in our communities doesn’t arise spontaneously; men are not angels, after all. Police officers put the badge on every morning, not knowing for sure if they’ll come home at night to take it off. Dedicated prosecutors toil long hours in our courts. Corrections officers and other professionals do the thankless work of administering punishment and, hopefully, providing a path for redemption. And neighborhood-watch groups and civic organizations take it upon themselves to raise standards of conduct in their communities.
During this police week, I also want to take a moment to also remember Deputy Sheriff Sonny Smith, one of Arkansas’s own. Deputy Smith was an 11-year veteran of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, and he also proudly served in our nation’s Navy. He was killed in the line of duty last year while responding to a burglary.
Deputy Smith’s story is a sad reminder that preserving the peace takes vigilance. It takes hard work. And it takes sacrifice-sometimes, the ultimate sacrifice.
This may seem obvious to those who dedicate their lives to keeping our streets safe. But it’s no longer so clear to some in these times of historically low crime.
We’re currently reaping the benefits of one of the great public-policy achievements in modern times: a dramatic, generation-long drop in crime. Violent crime is at a 40-year low. Property crime is at a 50-year low. Even more remarkably, this drop in crime followed a decade-long spike in crime arising out of the drug epidemic of the 1980s and early 1990s. That epidemic turned streets into literal battlefields, teenagers into foot soldiers, and too many citizens into casualties of the drug wars.
It may seem like a distant nightmare now, but make no mistake: 30 years ago, our cities were slowly dying.
Maureen Dowd, then a young metro reporter, described the ravages of the drug trade through the eyes of children living amidst it. She quoted a 10-year-old girl who called her neighborhood “the murdering area.” Other children chimed in as well: “Two days ago on the corner they stabbed a man,” said one. Another young boy confided in Dowd: “[T]he…raping, kicking, fighting. To death it scares me.”
At the peak of New York’s crisis, the city had 2,245 murders in one year-that’s over six murders every single day. In Los Angeles, a city half the size of New York, there were 1,094 murders. Nor was the crisis limited to the biggest cities. I have several family members living in Little Rock. At one point, Little Rock had the highest per capita murder rate in America, as memorialized in Gang War: Bangin’ in Little Rock, an HBO documentary.
This was the context, I would add, in which Hillary Clinton warned about so-called “super predators” while championing her husband’s crime bill, which is now much maligned by pro-leniency activists.
Many people in those days doubted whether our society could turn itself around. Maybe Central Park would forever be a no-go zone for law-abiding citizens. Maybe women would never be able to ride the subway alone again. Maybe drug gangs would always outgun the police.
These fears were understandable, but they were also wrong. We turned our society around and we made our streets safe again. But this didn’t just happen by accident; it happened because of policy changes like broken-windows policing techniques, mandatory-minimum sentences for violent criminals, 3-strikes laws, and other reforms. These sweeping changes to criminal-justice policy were championed by scholars like Jim Wilson, elected leaders like Rudy Giuliani, and tough police like Bill Bratton. These policies helped to take back our streets.
Too many people, it would seem, have forgotten these hard-learned lessons. They take our historically low crime rates for granted, acting as if safe neighborhoods are the natural state of man. They often speak and act as if criminals are victims, too.
This disturbing amnesia also comes with a policy agenda as ambitious as it is wrongheaded. Some members of Congress would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug traffickers and other violent felons, while giving liberal judges more discretion in sentencing again. Others want to prohibit employers from inquiring about criminal history in job-application forms; some states have already done so. Just last month, one governor restored voting rights to more than 200,000 felons, regardless of the offense committed or evidence of rehabilitation. And, of course, a nationwide movement is afoot to stigmatize law enforcement and the proven policing strategies of the last 25 years.
These policies are not merely wrong. They are dangerous. They threaten a return to the worst days of the 1990s, when law-abiding citizens lived in fear of their lives. Indeed, we may be living through the leading edge of a new crime wave. Over the last two years, murders across 56 of our largest cities are up 17 percent. The numbers are even more shocking in some cities. In Chicago, murders jumped 70 percent in the first quarter of this year alone. In Las Vegas, 81 percent. In Long Beach, 125 percent.
As a result, more and more Americans are worrying about the impact criminals are having on their communities. Last year, a Gallup poll showed that 53 percent of Americans say they personally worry “a great deal” about crime and violence, a 14-percent jump from 2014. That’s the highest figure Gallup has recorded in 15 years.
The ill-considered policies of criminal-leniency advocates and the resulting increases in crime reflect a badly misguided mindset. Criminals are not victims. Criminals are criminals. Victims are victims.