Why Democrats Self-Destruct on Crime
Progressives still deny rising crime even as it undermines Joe Biden's presidency
As progressives including Rep. Alexandria-Ocasio (left) and Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner (right) deny crime, President Joe Biden’s popularity suffers.
Over the last 18 months, many progressives and Democrats have argued that public concern over crime, particularly in liberal cities, doesn’t reflect reality. “Overall crime [in San Francisco] was down 25 percent from 2019,” noted Washington Post columnist Radley Balko in July, “and all major categories of crime remained well below their five-year average.” Said progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) earlier this month, “A lot of these allegations of organized retail theft are not actually panning out. I believe a Walgreens in California cited it, but the data didn’t back it up.” And, last week, Philadelphia’s progressive District Attorney, Larry Krasner, said, “We don’t have a crisis of lawlessness, we don’t have a crisis of crime, we don’t have a crisis of violence.”
But homicides, shoplifting, and crime in general did indeed rise in 2020, and rose even more in 2021, including well above the five-year average. Homicides, the worst of all crimes, increased 30 percent nationwide in 2020. Whether or not shoplifting was the sole or even main reason Walgreens has been closing stores in San Francisco, there is no question they were being regularly ransacked by shoplifters, harming revenues, and putting employees in danger. And burglaries increased 50 percent in San Francisco between 2019 and 2021, while brazen “hot prowl” burglaries, where residents are at home while criminals steal, doubled.
It’s true that some crimes declined in 2020, and that many crimes are still far below what they were in the 1980s and 1990s. The national murder rate in 2020 was still 40% lower than where it hovered in the 1980s and 1990s. There were 175 homicides in Oakland in 1992 in and 102 in 2020. As for San Francisco, wrote Balko, “Murders did increase in 2020, but only by 14 percent (from 41 to 47) from a 56-year low in 2019.”
But over two-thirds of America’s largest cities will have more homicides in 2021 than in 2020, and at least 13 big cities will set all time records for homicides, including Philadelphia, Austin, St. Paul, Baton Rouge, Rochester, Toledo, Indianapolis, Portland, Minneapolis, Louisville, Columbus, Albuquerque, and Tucson.
And many of the crimes that declined in 2020 did so due to covid, and have since increased. Car break-ins in San Francisco declined temporarily from reduced tourism in 2020 but have since skyrocketed to new heights, reaching 3,000 in November. Many San Francisco business leaders and residents say they no longer bother reporting crimes. Now, big cities are seeing a wave of spectacular smash-and-grab burglaries of luxury stores like Louis Vuitton by criminal gangs.
The downplaying of crime by progressive Democrats has provoked a backlash from moderate Democrats. Last Friday, former Philadelphia mayor, Michael Nutter, who is black, accused Krasner, who is white, of “white privilege” and “white wokeness… to have so little regard for human lives lost, many of them black and brown.”
Higher crime, and the downplaying of it by progressives, could hurt Democrats in 2022 and 2024 Congressional and presidential elections. In 2020, more voters said they trusted Republicans more than Democrats on law enforcement and criminal justice. Since then, crime has worsened. The share of Americans who say they support Biden’s handling of crime declined from 43 percent in October to 36 percent last week. And the percentage of Americans who say crime in their local area is getting worse rose from 38 to 51 percent between 2020 and 2021.
None of this should come as a surprise to Democrats. After the 2020 elections, Biden ally Rep. James Clyburn said that the progressive “Defund the Police” slogan was partly responsively for Democrats failing to win a stronger majority in the Senate. His complaints were widely publicized and debated. And many party leaders, including Biden, remember how, from the 1970s through the early 1990s, Democrats lost elections and political power due to the public perception that they were too soft on crime.
Why, then, do so many progressives and Democrats continue to deny the crisis of crime, violence, and lawlessness?