As the carnage continues, the rise in urban crime is “staggering” and “sobering.”
That’s not some police commissioner or Republican lawmaker decrying the surge in violence. It’s President Biden’s deputy attorney general, Lisa Monaco.
The spike in homicides and other major crimes is becoming a political albatross for the Democrats, who run nearly all these major cities. And that’s why Biden gave a crime speech Wednesday when he’d rather be focusing on vaccines or infrastructure or just about anything else.
Unfortunately for the president, and urban America, he has few tools at his disposal, which is why he’s concentrating mainly on guns, despite his failure to get any legislative traction on that subject or police reform. The Justice Department is creating several strike forces to go after illegal gun trafficking in the largest cities.
There is no, forgive me, magic bullet. But it’s no accident that a tough-talking former police officer, Eric Adams, leads the field after New York City’s mayoral primary over several liberal rivals. (The final results may take weeks because of the city’s ranked-choice method.)
A Politico piece portrays the Biden efforts sympathetically, saying that after one of several mass shootings in Chicago, a White House official called Mayor Lori Lightfoot and asked what they could do to help.
“White House officials,” says Politico, “are pushing back on attempts to paint the violence as a partisan issue, with aides and allies pointing to statistics showing a rise in violent crime during the Trump administration, including a 33 percent surge in homicides in major cities in 2020.”
OK, great. But Biden is in charge now, and in the first quarter of this year, murder is up 24% over the same period last year, and 49% over the first quarter of 2019.
Biden’s workmanlike speech mostly repeated talking points on gun control (the sellers are “merchants of death,” and we need a “ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines”).
He said other policies were “woefully underfunded,” calling for “more police officers, more nurses, more counselors, more social workers, more community violence interrupters.”
Biden has never been on the hard left when it comes to crime. He refused to embrace the idiotic “defund the police” movement during the campaign. He drew flak as an author of the 1994 crime bill, which is seen in retrospect as overly harsh in jailing people, especially minorities. But the president is a passionate advocate of gun control, which is anathema on the right.
Republicans have been viewed as the law-and-order party since the days of Richard Nixon. And during last year’s riots, it was the Democratic mayors of such cities as Portland and Seattle who seemed wary of cracking down on the lawbreakers and ceded whole areas to them. Biden denounced the violence, as well as excessive police force against Blacks, but never took on the mayors of his own party.
Crime is a gut issue that can blot out almost everything else, dominating our politics in the crack-ravaged 1980s and ’90s. If people don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods, they’re not going to worry much about climate change, or voting rights (another issue on which Biden is stymied after Tuesday’s successful Republican filibuster threat).
It’s the reason that Adams, an African-American, won not liberal Manhattan but Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, where violence has devastated entire sections and many minorities are victims.
When it comes to crime, federal laws matter, but Washington’s main role is to send money. Beyond the question of guns, Biden is proposing such initiatives as expanding summer programs and helping convicts reenter society, which just nibble at the edges of the problem. And such community-based approaches take time, when people want immediate relief during a crime surge.
The media are increasingly taking notice in recent weeks. “With Homicides Rising,” says The New York Times, “Cities Brace for a Violent Summer.”
“Officials Worry the Rise in Violent Crime Portends a Bloody Summer: ‘It’s Trauma on Top of Trauma.’”
That trauma will play out in a national political debate that so far has been as deadlocked as the Beltway culture itself.