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Two police officers arrest and handcuff homeless woman in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California.
Two police officers arrest and handcuff homeless woman in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California.
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Wealth & Poverty Review How Leftist Prosecutors Contributed To 2020’s Massive Crime Spike

Prosecutors across the country have ceased prosecuting certain crimes in the name of racial and economic equity and social justice. This dangerous trend denies justice to victims and increases crime. Originally published at The Federalist

The number of homicides in the United States increased around 30 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported last week, along with a 5.6 percent increase in violent crime in the same period.

This is no wonder, when prosecutors across the country have ceased prosecuting in the name of racial and economic equity. From Los Angeles and San Francisco to the Eastern seaboard, city attorneys are declining to prosecute cases, denying justice to victims, and creating dangerous cities.

Just as critical race theory has bled out of the big cities into small and unsuspecting jurisdictions, so too might prosecutors with visions of “reimagining” the criminal justice system come to a town near you.

Seattle’s Singularly Extreme Approach

Seattle deserves special recognition for its failure to provide even basic law and order, and things may be about to get worse as the city votes in November for a new city attorney. Responsible for prosecuting misdemeanors, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office has become a leftist experiment lab under Pete Holmes.

In 2019, Holmes’s office “declined to file charges in nearly half of non-traffic-related criminal cases, and of the cases it does charge, 42% did not have a meaningful resolution,” King 5 News reported. By the end of October 2020, his office had declined 143 of the 261 protest-related misdemeanor cases referred by the Seattle Police Department, NPR reported.

Last summer, the life of prolific offender Travis Berge came to a violent end – a tragic example of how Holmes’ leadership failed Berge and continues to fail Seattle. The notorious meth addict, who had boasted openly that he had beat the criminal justice system, had been arrested 47 times, racked up 35 convictions and violations, killed his partner, and then drowned himself in a tank of bleach. Instead of protecting Berge and his victims, the city of Seattle turned a blind eye, resulting in two needless deaths.

The situation in Seattle may soon go from bad to worse, as voters seem poised to replace a non-prosecuting prosecutor with a candidate who has actively encouraged criminal behavior. Holmes, city attorney since 2009, conceded a three-way primary race in August to his competitors: law-and-order moderate candidate Ann Davison and punishment opponent Nicole Thomas-Kennedy.

“I would like to abolish most of the criminal legal system,” Thomas-Kennedy told Fox13, “but it is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

As the city faces a 3,000 municipal court case backlog, Thomas-Kennedy would scale back prosecuting to even greater extremes. The Seattle attorney’s office “should immediately stop prosecuting nearly all misdemeanors – especially ‘civility’ crimes like trespass and petty theft,” she told The Urbanist weeks before the primary.

Worse still, she has made comments that appear to overtly encourage violent and illegal behavior. At the height of the riots following the death of George Floyd in 2020, Thomas-Kennedy tweeted, “Property destruction, at this point, is a moral imperative.” She has since deleted the tweet and, when confronted by a local journalist, waved it off as a joke.

Even traditional liberals see the dangers of electing someone like Thomas-Kennedy. Most recently, two former Democratic governors of Washington State – Christine Gregoire and Gary Locke – endorsed Davison. In a statement about her endorsement of the Republican Davison, Gregoire told Fox13 News that she couldn’t throw her support behind “a person who believes in anarchy” (referencing Thomas-Kennedy).

The dismal reality is that, combined, the non-prosecutor Holmes and the penalty-abolitionist Thomas-Kennedy received more than 66 percent of the Seattle vote. Moderate Davison, who wants to focus instead on enforcing the law and providing alternative support for those suffering from mental illness and drug addiction, received 33 percent. Seattle voters should think long and hard before reflexively supporting Thomas-Kennedy.

Reimagining Criminal Justice Across America

Seattle’s situation, although extreme, is not unique. The criminal justice system in cities across America is being hijacked by prosecutors who will do anything but prosecute. This dangerous trend denies justice to victims and creates cities flourishing with crime.

Boston District Attorney Rachael Rollins, for instance, published a memo in 2019 listing 15 misdemeanors her office would automatically decline to prosecute, including shoplifting, trespassing, and wanton or malicious destruction of property. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner released a similar memo. Steve Descano, the commonwealth’s attorney in Fairfax, Virginia, followed suit, as have others.

“As a group, they see the police as the enemy, and criminal defendants as victims,” write the Heritage Foundation’s Charles “Cully” Stimson and Zack Smith. “In practice, their policies harm the very people they pretend to care about the most: low income and minority individuals.”

The results of these policies are sobering. “In a survey of six jurisdictions where progressive district attorneys serve, every city or county logged a lower overall felony-conviction rate, as well as a lower conviction rate for violent or serious crimes, than did their predecessors,” writes Jason Johnson at City Journal. “On average, the profiled prosecutors dropped 20 percent more felony cases. Crime has risen dramatically.”

Your Locality Isn’t Immune

Lest you think your own locality is immune from such extremism, remember that the insidious and false “equity” ideas of critical race theory are being discovered throughout America’s schools, governments, and corporations – not just isolated to big, liberal cities like Seattle and L.A. Critical race theory has also made its way into the Midwest, the South, and widely used companies like Bank of America and Verizon. What starts among elites and in big cities too often spreads to the rest of the country, whether the general public desires it or not.

What might the solution be? It starts with an active and well-informed citizenry. The parental uprisings against teaching critical race theory in K-12 schools provide a suitable example of how concerns about malfeasance in the public sector can lead to decisive grassroots action. If you haven’t already been doing so, start paying attention to what is happening in your city government and local elections. Inform yourself on every candidate, their backgrounds, and their objectives.

Then, take action. Discuss your findings with your friends and neighbors. Attend public city meetings. Voice your opinion in those meetings. Vote accordingly. These prosecutors are elected by you, the general public, and it is you who holds the power to replace them with officials who will uphold the rule of law.

Caitlin Bassett

Caitlin Bassett is a Policy Analyst and Communications Liaison for the Center for Science & Culture and the Center on Wealth & Poverty. Her main areas of focus are in Big Tech and its impact on human freedom, as well as homelessness and mental illness. In her free time, she enjoys delving into Lewis and Tolkien, cosmology, and running around historical sites on the East Coast. She graduated from Liberty University in 2017 with her Bachelor’s in Politics and Policy.