Global lens

Is rising crime a wake-up call for the Democrats?

Even in Democratic strong­holds, ‘voters are demanding a shift towards policies to combat crime’

When Chesa Boudin was elected in 2019 as district attorney for the liberal bastion of San Francisco, he seemed an apt choice, said Susan Crabtree on RealClearPolitics. A son of 1960s radicals, who had worked as translator for the socialist revolutionary Hugo Chávez, he had an unimpeachable “left-wing lineage”. And his agenda – reducing the city’s jail population, providing alternatives to harsh sentences, reforming the police – appeared to be in tune with the times.

Alas, it didn’t turn out well. Last week, Boudin became the face of a popular backlash against “Democrats perceived as soft on crime”, when he was removed from office in the middle of his first term, following a recall vote. San Francisco’s voters are fed up with the recent rise in brazen shoplifting and burglaries, the open-air drug use in parts of the city, the squalid homeless encampments, the human waste in the streets.

Boudin’s ousting should be a wake-up call for the Democrats, said Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic. Even in their strong­holds, “voters are demanding a shift towards policies to combat crime and restore public order”. In Los Angeles’s mayoral primary last week, the progressive candidate, Karen Bass, lost out to Rick Caruso, a billionaire former Republican. This may be the end of the “George Floyd moment” that followed his murder in 2020.

It marks a clear rejection of politicians with naive theories about how to re-order society, said Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal. “America is on a campaign to remove them, one by one. And this is good.”

To read some pundits, you’d think Democrat-run cities had descended into anarchy, said Henry Grabar on Slate. Not so. While there has been an uptick in property crime and some other offences, violent crime in San Francisco is still “lower than at any point since 1985”. And contrary to popular belief, the crime rise isn’t exclusive to Democrat-run cities: Jacksonville, Florida, the largest Republican-run city in the US, has a murder rate three times higher than New York.

Boudin has in some ways been unfairly scapegoated, as what voters are frustrated about is not so much crime as homelessness, which is not his office’s responsibility. It is the failure of Democratic leaders to confront this latter problem, often conflated with crime, that is causing the trouble. Alas, this backlash will cost the party a generation of progress on criminal justice and police reform. 

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