Is New York “Soft” on Crime?

The Trump Justice Department has just said that it is.

What is this all about?

To understand this, you need to look at the “soft on crime” argument from a historical perspective.

After the second war, American cities faced a series of huge challenges. Blue collar jobs started leaving the cities in droves. At the same time, the suburbs were opening up,  which attracted the middle class to move out of the cities. Cities faced a double whammy crisis.  The loss of jobs meant rising poverty. Businesses moving out along with the middle class meant declining tax revenues and therefore fewer city services.

It was no huge surprise that many cities, including New York, went into a period of decline. And with that decline, there was a surge in street crime. The conservative answer was to “get tough on crime”.   Strengthen the hand of police to stop, frisk, detain and arrest. Strengthen prosecution with mandatory prison sentences. And this argument prevailed.

The result was a massive increase in the US prison population. I do not believe that the intention was overtly racist. It is hard to ignore that the effect was. Black men were hit hardest.

As time went by, cities began to find ways to pull themselves back from crisis. Young folks started to move back. New types of jobs opened up. And new thinking about crime and punishment was discussed and implemented. All of this led to significant reductions in city crime and significant improvements in city life.

In other words, even if getting tough on crime had been needed — which is debatable at best — it is not needed now. To the contrary, overly tough police tactics and excessive punishments for non-violent crime are causing urban problems rather than solving them.

At the same time, conservatives remember that the slogan “get tough on crime” got them elected in the past. And so, some are trying it again. This time around, they point to protests against abusive police tactics as the justification for even more abusive police tactics. Trump’s justice department appears to be leading the charge.

Silly? Of course it is! Will reason prevail? that remains to be seen.

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