Politicians must stand up to criminal justice radicals who are making our world less safe
In their moment of need and for however long it takes, crime victims must be able to turn to the state to deliver justice for them.
That’s an important part of the social contract and ensures that we do not become a society riven with distrust and enmity, where people live in compounds surrounded by 8-foot walls, electric fences, guard dogs and guns flying off the shelves (as they have been of late in America.). That, unfortunately, is what urban settings the world over look like. It is, ironically, the only way the lives of Third World residents mirror virtue-signaling arm-guarded Hollywood celebrities.
While criminal-justice reform has had some results all fair-minded people can welcome, it’s important to recognize that a small number of ideologues will never be satisfied. They know that demanding a perfect criminal-justice system means no justice system at all.
Blinded by political cant, they have steamrolled the mainstreaming of false and dangerous claims: People’s fears are irrational and immature. Police and prosecutors purposefully target the innocent. The only persons of concern in the justice system should be offenders. Reformed policing is no policing. Victims, who are overwhelmingly minorities in most urban places, must pay the price until the day “root causes” are solved — whatever that means — because no crime is as monstrous as incarceration.
A small group of highly energized people has turned organizing for local political offices into a paid business. It has successfully captured low-turnout primary races with a breezy phrase-making extremism that silences the more practical and nuanced views of the non voting majority.
But now, as people recognize the erosion of government’s commitment to protecting them, safety is back on top of the agenda and there is long-overdue pushback against screwy ideas that all too often affect the poor and the powerless, not the self-anointed deep thinkers who spout them:
- Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, trailing badly in the polls ahead of next month’s election, is having an 11th-hour conversion as, incredibly, a public-safety advocate — this after demonizing and all but dismantling the nation’s second largest police department. Cops there can barely protect themselves, much less intervene on behalf of others. In the three years before Lightfoot took office, an average of 20 people opened fire on cops. In her first two full years in office, 130 did.
- The Los Angeles mayor’s race this past November should have been a cakewalk for the Democratic candidate, but Angelenos outraged over unaddressed festering safety issues missed electing a Republican challenger by a whisker.
- Up north, San Francisco voters removed a “prosecutor” who mocked and diminished victims.
- Even Portland’s Messmaker In Chief, Menace to Society Mayor Ted Wheeler, now proclaims, “Our No. 1 responsibility to the people in this community is their safety.”
Government always involves the wedding of high principles with lived practicality. Elected officials should not hesitate to override ideologues where protection of life, limb and community well-being is imperiled.
Gov. Hochul is now taking steps to do that, it appears, raising reservations about discovery laws, funding new state trooper positions and fusing together efforts to apprehend dangerous offenders.
Shoveling over pretrial materials to defendants so the culpable can exploit minor blemishes in a case risks depriving victims of the fair trial to which they are entitled. Victims should not be required to render a perfect account of an out-of-the-blue, traumatic gunpoint robbery or be penalized for not stating their precise GPS coordinates at the time they were accosted. The justice system should not be a 100-trivia-question obstacle course for victims nor, for prosecutors, a set of technicalities and tripwires designed to maximize the release of the truly guilty.
Likewise, police officers now face prosecution for flawed recollections of dangerous unscripted interactions that do not exactly comport with video or written evidence.
A justice system that gratuitously revictimizes crime’s casualties is a farce.
Those attacking progressive reforms should be offering ideas of their own, not simply sitting back waiting to reap the political rewards of safety implosions.
The justice system need not always require a heavy hand when a nudge will do. Relatively few people end up behind bars, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t many ways individuals can be held accountable. Ask terrorized small-business owners, taxi drivers and hot-dog vendors — to name but a few groups who must play by the rules — how scary non-incarcerative rules and regulations can be.
A graduated system of penalties and punishments can be leveraged to smart target conduct that puts others at risk or hurts communities. Where are the pols willing to work cross party to build a fair justice system that works best to deliver justice for the greatest number of people?
Eugene O’Donnell is a John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor and former NYPD officer and Brooklyn and Queens prosecutor.
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