By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The horrific murder of Jacqueline Avant, the wave of smash and grab thefts and the spike in homicides paint an almost apocalyptic picture of unhinged violence and chaos plaguing Los Angeles and other cities.
Fox News, conservative blogs, websites and much of the media have had a field day pointing the finger at so-called liberal district attorneys, local and state officials and timid cops for the rise.
But the biggest culprit, they say, is the defund the police cry by Black Lives Matter and other police reform activists. That is mostly self-serving bunkum.
The Avant murder and the smash and grab thefts are certainly cause for public concern and anger. However, murder and violent crime have been on a decades-long downward spiral since the 1990s. Los Angeles, for instance, had nearly 1,000 murders a year during those violent-prone years.
In 2020, there were 357. That was an increase over 2019, but it came nowhere near the figures three decades earlier in a city with a much smaller population.
There is no evidence that violent crime and smash and grab type thefts are on the rise in other cities. There’s also no evidence that reforms in bail and the increased release of prisoners have caused thousands of ex-offenders to run wild in the streets.
This is just another cynical way to cower and bully criminal justice reform advocates, particularly Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón into submission. The submission is to turn the clock back to the past policies of harsh prosecution, sentencing and convictions for petty, low-level offenders.
The price is a loss of civil liberties, constitutional policing, community policing and just plain common sense in dealing with non-violent offenders. They are the ones who still bulge America’s jails and prisons, bloat prison budgets by billions while doing absolutely nothing to make the streets any safer.
Conservatives have been chomping at the bit to blame crime spikes on their real target, Black Lives Matter. The blame goes like this. Let a white cop gun down a young Black, and civil rights leaders storm the protest barricades demanding arrests, prosecutions, and throw the book at em’ jail sentences for the man or woman with a badge accused of the slaying.
That is an idiotic charge. It deliberately ignores the fact that civil rights leaders and organizations have staged countless marches, rallies and walks against murder violence in Black neighborhoods. They have lobbied hard for tougher gun laws and enforcement and have lobbied business leaders and elected officials to radically boost spending on education, job training, drug counseling and diversion programs for young Blacks, and greater support programs for needy families.
Civil rights leaders have repeatedly made the point that protesting police abuse and misconduct is worlds apart from protesting the police. Communities must be safeguarded from crime, especially violent crime, and sound, lawful community-based policing is the answer.
The smash and grab thefts are sensationalism, and much of the media has played these thefts up to the hilt, giving a false impression that all stores are being vandalized by criminal gangs or at dire risk of such. The police supposedly are so hamstrung by the reformists that they are reluctant to do anything about it. This is more bunkum.
The Los Angeles Police Department and other law enforcement agencies have made arrests. There are task forces to identify and arrest criminal gang members that pull off these thefts. This, of course, gets little media play. The public is left with the sense that officials are totally impotent in the face of the criminal threat.
The blame the victim shout has been the perfect rationale for the wild spending on and expansion of jails, and prisons. It spurred a massive ramp-up in spending on more police, judges and probation and parole officers.
It bludgeoned state and federal lawmakers into trying to outdo each other in shouting the loudest about getting tough on crime and torpedoing every sane and sensible initiative on crime reduction from expanded treatment to job and skills training programs. That also included attempts to scrap the blatantly race-tinged drug sentencing, three-strikes laws and the harsh sentences for non-violent offenders.
The prime reason that lawmakers have made some glacial movement toward pushing for a so-called “smart” approach to crime prevention is because of the skyrocketing and increasingly prohibitive cost of locking up tens of thousands of petty drug and non-violent offenders for years, if not decades. But even this movement toward more humane and cost-effective measures for dealing with crime is fragile, to say the least.
It still turns on public perceptions about crime. This tracks directly back to how the media plays up or sensationalizes violent crime. When that happens, it simply deepens public belief and fear that cities are lawless, violent, out-of-control killing zones. Notions of smart policing will always give way to draconian policing and sentencing, and perpetual crime fear and hysteria.
The Avant murder and smash and grab thefts are fearsome acts. Those who perpetrate those acts must be harshly punished, but not at the expense of creating fear and hysteria.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is “Duped — The GOP’s Lock on America’s Underclass” (Middle Passage Press). He also is the host of the weekly Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network Saturdays at 9 a.m.