Bret Stephens: The progressive approach to crime has been a disaster for American cities

AP Photo/Teresa Crawford

In today’s NY Times, Bret Stephens argues that the progressive experiment with crime and public disorder has been a disaster for many American cities. For instance, what look like bail reform efforts by a progressive DA in Wisconsin seems to have played a role in the Christmas parade killings by Darrell Brooks.


Brooks already had a lengthy rap sheet and had reportedly run over a woman with the same S.U.V. early this month. But, as The Times reported, he had been “quickly freed from jail on bond after prosecutors requested what they now say was an inappropriately low bail.”

What happened in Waukesha on Sunday is among the consequences of easy bail. And bail reform — that is, reducing or eliminating cash bail for a variety of offenses — has been a cause of the left for years.

You can literally say that progressives saw this coming. John Chisholm, the progressive DA in Wisconsin who has now admitted Brooks’ bail was set too low, previously predicted that at some point his approach to reform would get someone killed:

“Is there going to be an individual I divert, or I put into [a] treatment program, who’s going to go out and kill somebody?” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2007. “You bet. Guaranteed. It’s guaranteed to happen. It does not invalidate the overall approach.”

Not only are progressives okay with that in theory, they are okay with it in practice. Indeed, as Jazz pointed out earlier, AOC is taking this moment, as at least a dozen people are still clinging to life, to argue for more bail reform. And then there’s the looting, the shooting and homelessness to consider:

In the meantime, shoplifting has become endemic, brazen and increasingly well organized, culminating in mobs of looters ransacking stores and terrifying customers in the Bay Area last week. Local shops are closingneighborhoods are decayingencampments of drug addicts have proliferated, and streets are befouled by human excrement — a set of failures Michael Shellenberger calls in his thoroughly researched and convincing new book, “San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities,” “the breakdown of civilization on America’s West Coast.”

As for the rest of the country: Can anyone seriously say that ChicagoLos AngelesPortlandSeattlePhiladelphia or New York has been improved in recent years under progressive leadership? Why did rates of homelessness register their biggest jumps between 2007 and 2020 in left-leaning states like New York, California and Massachusetts — and their biggest decreases in right-leaning ones like Florida, Texas and Georgia?


Just a year ago, the progressive left was all in on defunding the police, an idea which has quickly proven to be a disaster, contributing to the largest single-year spike in murders in the nation’s modern history (since data tracking began in 1960). The only good news here, as Stephens argues, is that voters seem to increasingly have a good idea who is to blame. He writes, “progressive misgovernance has now tattooed the words “soft on crime” on Democratic necks, and the country has noticed. It will take years to erase.”

I had a look at the comments responding to this piece and there are some good ones, including the top upvoted comment:

I am a lifelong liberal who finally gets it: life is not a fairy tale of noble victims and evildoers in blue. It’s an unsteady balance of individual freedom and social responsibility. It can’t be manufactured with noble intentions. It must be lived daily on the streets and sidewalks where cities either flourish or die from petty crimes and drug abuse.

If you’re more intent on playing the blame game, as Mr Stephens’ critics here demonstrate, you’ll take comfort in hgih-flown rhetoric about the evils of capitalism, etc. This is millennarian nonsense spread by idealists who imagine some perfect future once everyone agrees with them. We don’t have the time for this utopian drivel. Democrats are going to lose in epic fashion if we don’t recalibrate our politics to match the mood of the times. People want security before justice, which is basic to civilization. If we forget that, we’ll end up with neither. Donald Trump already knows that. Do we?


Another one suggesting they can only keep playing this game a little bit longer:

Judging by these comments, it is apparent that many of the left are in utter denial about the realities that Mr. Stephens accurately portrays. One may quibble with the magnitude, but much of the country agrees with him.

Ironically, the left decry the anti-Democracy of the right, but what should really terrorize liberals, is that simple democracy at next November’s election will produce a conservative landslide. The votes will be there as the progressives and their policies are failing at an accelerating rate.

Last one:

Without order and safety, we have nothing. I am worried about the uptick in crime and I think it’s directly related to the progressives’ messaging about contempt for police at the 2020 protests or riots. Remember when Harris said she was proud of Jacob Blake? Remember when she contributed to bail funds for people arrested at the 2020 protests? I won’t vote for anyone who supports Trump but other than that I might even consider a Republican if they can restore order to my city.

Progressives are free to believe they are on the right side of history but I think they’re going to learn very soon that a majority of Americans don’t agree with their approach.

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