The shocking images tell the tale. Mounds of debris strewn along miles of track. Untold thousands of rifled packages. Stolen goods from the high-end to the quotidian, from Tamara Mellon pumps and the latest in laptops to coveted Covid-19 antigen rapid tests. The photos and videos depicting Union Pacific routes along downtown Los Angeles belie hot-take comparisons to heists of the 19th century Wild West.
Those train robbers never had it so good.
Never before have such arrays of riches from the world over been so invitingly there for the taking. Unlike their frontier forebears, moreover, modern thieves have no concerns about capture. Sheriff’s deputies and hanging judges? In today’s City of Angels, grand larceny often doesn’t even rate a desk appearance ticket.
It is not enough to say the laws protecting property are not being enforced. The laws are not enforced by design. In 2014, the citizens of blue, blue California changed the law to make the stealing of up to $950 a mere misdemeanor. That’s the state of play even before the radical “progressive prosecutors” those citizens have elected get to exercise their discretion not to bring cases.
The breadth of the theft is astonishing. At a rate of 90 freight cars ransacked per day, Union Pacific estimates that thefts against its trains are up by more than 160 percent over the last year. In the year ending October 2021, the increase was a mind-boggling 356 percent.
The scheme is vast but simple. On portions of the route, the trains must stop or slow to a crawl – delays sometimes aided by thieves who jump on railcars and pull hand-brakes. The robbers then clamber aboard, armed with bolt-cutters for which the freight-car locks are no match. With the cars open, the free-for-all is on. Groups of robbers — some on their own, some working for stolen-property networks — ransack the storage shelves, rifle through packages, and grab what seems like a big score, discarding the rest and its packaging along the tracks. Other scavengers subsequently mine the mounds for valuables left behind. The remnant material mounts, swaying in the breeze and rotting in the sun.
There is no complexity here. This breakdown of order is happening because the bedrock of civilized society, the rule of law, has been abandoned. For Los Angeles district attorney George Gasćon, a paradigm exemplar of today’s progressive prosecutors, this is literally the express-track redistribution of wealth. Having cruised into his elected office thanks to the prodigious hard-Left funding streams channeled by the likes of George Soros, Gasćon is doing what he was sent there to do — ignore the laws.
The temptation, of course, is to say that this is democracy, so LA’s progressives should get the dysfunction they voted for . . . good and hard. Except this is not a just municipal issue, or even a California issue.
Fully 40 percent of goods imported into the United States come through ports in Southern California. A goodly percentage of that haul is transported from the West Coast to its eventual markets by rail. A lawless black hole into which billions of dollars in goods disappear is a national crime challenge. It is an interruption of not just interstate but international commerce, at a time when surging inflation, empty consumer shelves, and supply-chain disruptions are bludgeoning the U.S. economy.
Our governing structure vests police power in the states. Constitutionally speaking, the main reason for having federal law enforcement is to vouchsafe interstate and international commerce. The progressive expansion of federal power has intruded Washington and its administrative state into many areas of traditional state regulation; but protecting the facilities of interstate commerce and national markets is a core federal duty.
So where is the Justice Department on the California train heists? Where is the FBI? We would like to think they are building cases against the organized-crime enterprises and ad hoc theft-fencing schemes behind the crippling spate of train robberies. So far, though, they appear to be AWOL. Their passivity, like Gasćon’s dereliction of duty, is turning a national embarrassment into a national crisis.
At his press conference on Wednesday, President Biden assured Americans that he is not a captive of the Left — not a socialist, just a traditional moderate Democrat who wants Americans to be safe and prosperous. If the president is serious, the Justice Department and the FBI must restore the rule of law to the economically vital system of interstate rail shipping. Immediately.