Stop Progressive Left’s Assault on Rule of Law

Stop Progressive Left’s Assault on Rule of Law

NYPD crime scene markers in the street near the scene of a shooting in Brooklyn, N.Y., July 13, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

No rational political mind should have any trouble rejecting an agenda that would sacrifice public safety to advance progressive political objectives.

The heartbreaking death of a six-year-old caught in a crossfire last month in a Washington, D.C., neighborhood ought to be the catalyst for a political wake-up call to all those standing idly by as the progressive Left pushes ahead with an assault on the rule of law. That neighborhood, ironically known as Congress Heights, is within sight of the Capitol dome. The death of a child in D.C., caught in the crossfire of thugs, ought in particular to shake Congress out of its acquiescence and seeming lack of concern about crime. The progressive Left’s assault on the rule of law has hastened the wave of violence washing over the nation’s urban cores. For far too long, America has tolerated a level of violent crime in inner cities, principally victimizing racial minorities, that would be totally unacceptable in tonier suburbs. As opposed to the imagined insults that progressives see flowing from institutional “whiteness,” tolerating a different standard of acceptance for the robbery, rape, and killings, including too often of children, in inner cities is a real mark of racism.

The mainstream media — mainly from a distance — report now that crime is “running rampant” in U.S. inner cities; that is an understated cliché. Rather, current conditions and trends are better expressed by reference to the number of dead and wounded in those places — a national tragedy. Trends in 2020 — continued halfway through 2021 — include a 25 percent increase in murders nationally over 2019. Chicago 2020: 770 murders, a 50 percent increase over 2019, plus 1,000 more shooting victims; New York 2020: 150 more homicides than in 2019, a 40 percent increase, plus 700 additional shooting victims. In 2021, New York, Chicago, and other cities have reported attacks on passersby, even in Times Square.

There really is a war on cops, and that child and all those newly dead and wounded statistically summarized above are its bloody casualties. But “defund the police” and similar nonsense is just one piece of a frontal assault by the progressive Left on the rule of law. That cultural and philosophical war should rightly be seen to threaten all who believe in our constitutional system and who seek public safety anchored in ordered liberty.

Ordered liberty, that is, securing both liberty and order through adherence to the rule of law, is a fundamental principle in our constitutional system. Adherence to that principle exalts individual liberty while at the same time protecting communities of individuals with rules necessary to public safety. Progressives want none of that. For them, the individual must be subservient to the state, and individual rights are an obstacle to statist controls over individual choice: The rule of some replaces the rule of law.

I am well aware that “experts” will disagree with me as to the “root causes” of the crime surge. They will cite the pandemic, economic factors, pent-up anger, etc., etc., etc. Maybe some of that explains part of the motivation behind some individual crimes of violence. The wave of violence, rather, has been generated by what millions saw in 2020 going completely unaddressed by the criminal-justice system: widespread criminality, looting, shooting, arson, no-cop zones, and other criminal acts of violence and destruction coupled with the progressive mantra of “death to the police.” To the progressive-Left mind, police are oppressors of minorities and instruments of majoritarian oppression.

The progressive Left’s disregard for the rule of law could not have gained the foothold it has in our country without the political support that the Democratic Party has improvidently provided. The president, who once touted the tough 1994 “Biden Crime Bill,” seems to have fallen prey to the political need to serve the leftist agenda of his party, one that gives short shrift to government’s core responsibility to secure public order. The absurd risks these policies visit on our citizens are so apparent that real pros among Democratic pols must be recognizing that, because they are in charge of the national government as well as many major-city governments, they are on the cusp of owning a huge political liability by presiding over a massive breakdown in public order. Thus, recently the White House hastily assembled a meeting with law-enforcement types and the president, designed no doubt to provide shots for some future campaign video that might attempt to put some distance between administration policy and the results of the progressive Left’s assault on the rule of law. But I am not sure that the voting public will buy it now because the bodies are piling up too fast, and fear for public safety is expanding into new constituencies. It may be just plain too late for them to wrest control of Democratic Party policy and convince anyone that they give a damn about urban violence.

The “broken windows” theory of crime control calls for fixing vandalized windows so as to provide notice that the rule of law will be applied to matters great and small. The nation gaped last summer as perpetrators in full view openly smashed windows with impunity, giving all of us a view through the broken glass of what a nation surrendering to disorder looks like. First, urban leftist leaders turned a blind eye and had an impotent response to the unchecked violence that had rioters, looters, and other criminals making a mockery of public order in the summer of 2020. Then the criminals got the message that the cuffs were off, and now the echo of gunfire reverberates through urban neighborhoods, toward which the suburbs look warily. The progressive Left’s agenda includes no response to that ensuing wave of violence.

Government, at all levels, has obviously evolved to serve a multitude of purposes, including many that fall into the “social welfare” category. We should hope for many such programs’ success even while despairing at their history of failure. Those are things that government might do if they really could be effective. But there are some things governments must do because they are part of its core, mandatory responsibilities. The response to September 11 so strongly united the country and crossed political lines because it was necessary to rectify a failure by government in the core function of providing for the national defense. Such core responsibilities of government are fundamental, a product of the social compact whereby the people give their consent to be governed and to allow government itself, in return for which the government provides the means for peace and tranquility in our communities.

Has violent crime suddenly increased because there is an uprising among criminals that has abruptly evolved? Not at all. Rather, criminals are taking advantage of a number of progressive initiatives that are simply providing them with more opportunity to engage in more criminal acts. These include abandonment of hard-won laws and judicial decisions that reformed bail and sentencing provisions to recognize that some criminals need to be incapacitated from committing more crime. Progressive policy has freed too many of those who would otherwise be in prison for a prior conviction or in jail awaiting trial, having been shown in either case through a lawful process to be a danger to the community at large.

Progressive thought cannot abide that there are some individuals whose propensity to commit crimes, including violent crimes, means that unless they are incapacitated, they will be committing crimes. That isn’t a belief; it is a statistic. Every day, people are arrested who have demonstrated this propensity by virtue of their criminal record. Rap sheets irrefutably attest to a propensity that becomes statistically undeniable. Once in a while, before some agonizing judge, this leads to a point when the undeniable propensity for crime moves even the self-described liberal mind to recognize that the choice is either incapacitation or further victimization of innocents. It takes a lot of prior victims to get there, though.

Another reason crime is rising alarmingly is that some are free to violate the law because, even if they are caught by the police, progressive-minded prosecutors are dropping whole categories of cases. Those prosecutors oppose the broken-windows approach to crime control, the effectiveness of which was measured and proven in combating the crime epidemic that peaked in the ’90s. Today’s progressive prosecutors think we must abide petty violations. Anyone who has successfully raised children knows that is a failing strategy. Some of those prosecutors even think we should let serious violations, such as violent crimes with victims, go unaddressed as well, because the criminal and the crime are our fault, the product of social injustice, not the result of an individual’s refusing to conform his or her conduct to the requirements of just laws that apply equally to all. Broken-windows, in contrast, worked because it clearly marked boundaries that the law establishes. You do not have to worry about being over the line if you learn to stay away from it. We have remarkable freedom inside those boundaries. Take those boundaries down, and we will see what mayhem results when we fail to police ourselves by respecting the concept of ordered liberty. That mayhem takes liberties from all.

Yet another cause of the crime surge is the progressive war on the police function itself, which is far more broadly waged than just through “defunding” law enforcement. As anybody familiar with life on the street can tell you, policing is a tough business requiring cops who have the experience, the training, and the good judgment to be equipped to best address on the street those determined to commit crime. “Stop and frisk” worked in part because it was a way for the law to provide notice of a lawful boundary on behavior to those prepared to disregard it. It said that the law is watchful of those testing the line. Progressives in charge of city governments undid that, as well as other effective means of identifying crime hot spots that merited more-intensive police presence. Good policing is not just putting more cops on the street. It requires sound policies, practices, and good judgment born of training and experience.

The result of those earlier tough-on-crime measures was oppression — of criminals — and the liberation of neighborhoods previously subject to their grip. Now, per progressive policy aims, the police are not merely being defunded, they are being defanged — that is, robbed of the well-developed tools and technology and the proceeds of years of learning that can establish how to best police a community in order to maintain peace. Liberal Democrats have opted to support this progressive agenda, including by using the power and authority of the Justice Department to hamstring legitimate police functioning with rolls of red tape imposed under federal consent decrees. Have some minorities been treated unequally and unfairly by some police? Yes, without question. Some cops are bad. So are some drivers dangerous. So, should we set a national speed limit of 25 mph? Instead of focusing on removing rotten apples in police ranks and being a force for reform among police departments, the DOJ approach too often brands an entire department as rotten and imposes all-encompassing procedures that result in a weakened police function. This serves progressive-left aims well.

What happens if the progressive Left’s assault on the rule of law prevails, and the criminal-justice system, starved for both resources and the tools it needs to succeed, collapses? The progressive Left’s future crime policy could make the MAGA response to being a forgotten American look like a lawn party compared with a Make America Safe Again movement. A militia could too soon be a vigilante squad. It is imperative that policies that provide for more crime, not less, be actively opposed. A majority of people in the inner city want to be safe, and they have a right to be so. Republican senior officials ought to take up the mantle of leadership on criminal-justice issues critical to inner-city minorities. Republican outreach needs to embrace those inner-city people who shoulder a grossly disproportionate share of being victimized by violent crime. The tent needs to be big enough to bring in urban leadership — black, white, or Hispanic. Bring them in to fight the common enemy: boundless violent crime in their constituent communities flowing from progressive Democrats’ uncaring disregard for their well-being while arrogantly assuming nonetheless that they’ll continue to win those communities’ votes.

The response to the ’90s crime explosion was to impose order through law, utilizing federal as well as local law-enforcement authority. Sometimes, an unflinching, tough approach to policing is the only way to start wresting control of community order from the hands of criminals who, without policing, would control it to their benefit. The faces of organized crime — from neighborhood gangs to international cartels to the Mafia — are all good examples of why tough criminals merit tough countermeasures. But there can be more to good policing policy. There is a place for other types of expertise in the effort to maintain peace and good order. Mental-health professionals can aid the police function, especially since mental-health crises and issues underlie many difficult-to-manage police–citizen encounters. The same is true of social services and enlightened policies that may help bring hope to members of a community frustrated and angry about the lack of access to economic opportunity and quality education.

But none of those have proven capable of deterring the repeat offender awaiting any propitious opportunity to commit crime. As outlined above, the progressive Left is creating the opportunities in obvious ways. Taking those opportunities away is not just a job for the police, but for law enforcement more broadly and for the criminal-justice system as a whole. The people and their elected representatives need to demand sound public-safety policies, procedures, and resources. A recent poll of Detroit residents is a great example of urban residents, particularly minorities, needing and wanting to put a high priority on public safety. City-core dwellers are too often forced to cower behind barred windows while criminals roam free on the streets. Reversing that requires affirmatively rejecting the progressive Left’s anti-police and anti–criminal justice agenda. Democrats eager to keep their progressive wing happy are not doing so, and Republicans have largely just decried the problem without pursuing solutions.

The rationale — the principled basis — for rejecting the progressive Left’s assault on the rule of law is simple. No community of Americans should be subjected to the systemic violence that is visited upon too many of our cities today. Equal protection of the law in this context means just what those words state. A citizen ought to be as safe in the poorest inner-city neighborhood as in any of our toniest suburbs. They are not, because government is failing to live up to its responsibilities to secure ordered liberty. That sorry state of affairs is not only the result of bad policy and practice. It is trending that way because progressives want it that way; it is part of their rejection of the rule of law. With an understanding of their aim to undermine the rule of law as a fundamental principle in our society, no rational political mind should have any trouble rejecting an agenda that would sacrifice public safety to advance progressive political objectives.

George J. Terwilliger III is a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and previously served as a federal prosecutor and as Deputy Attorney General of the United States.

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