We still debate the reasons that crime fell in the 1990s. Better policing? Longer jail sentences? An aging population? Removal of lead from the atmosphere? They all may have played a role, along with other factors we are probably missing.
That debate is now academic. Crime has been rising for several years now. The new concern is why, and how we can get it to stop. Again, there are many factors, but the rise of leftist prosecutors who are soft on crime must be at the head of the list.
In my hometown of Philadelphia, crime as a general matter has been getting worse for years, and there are statistics to prove it. Philadelphia, like many big American cities, is experiencing more violent crime than at any point in its history.
Murder rates are a good proxy for violent crime generally, not only because it is the most horrific crime, but because it is harder to obscure statistically. Whether the authorities want to report it or not, whether or not the police get called, it is hard to hide the fact that someone was killed. Looking at that statistic gives us a fair impression of the level of violence in the city more generally.
The trend is discouraging, to say the least. In 2021, Philadelphia shattered the previous record in murders, which was 500 in 1990. As of December 31, a total of 559 people have lost their lives this year in the City of Brotherly Love. After some of the safest years in decades, the murder rate has climbed steeply since 2016. This year now has more than double the murders of just five years ago.
Other crimes are up, too. Carjackings were nearly unknown in the city just a few years ago. They exploded in 2020 and are up another 80 percent this year, according to Philly police. Earlier this month a member of Congress, Mary Gay Scanlon, was carjacked in broad daylight in South Philadelphia. People who don’t live in Philadelphia will say that it was always unsafe, but this level of crime, this type of brazen lawlessness, just did not happen until recently.
What’s changed? Why now? Why here? Some national trends play into it. Crime is up everywhere, and local politicians would like to chalk it all up to pandemic frustration or the Black Lives Matter riots. Those surely played a role. School closures might well have led teenagers like the ones who carjacked Scanlon to turn to crime when the major source of structure in their life — public schools — abandoned them.
But crime started rising before anyone in Philly ever heard of Wuhan or George Floyd. Years before that, change was already underway when Philadelphians elected a district attorney determined to do anything but put criminals in jail.
Larry Krasner was one of many George Soros-backed progressives elected in Democratic cities, part of the far-left backlash against Donald Trump’s 2016 victory. Energized to do something — anything — to spite the man in the White House, lefty voter turnout soared and led to Krasner, a career defense attorney, being placed at the head of the city’s law enforcement regime.
It has been an unmitigated disaster. In the face of rising crime, the DA has alienated cops, forced out career prosecutors, and rigged the bail system to dump more criminals back onto the streets. Between intentional weakness on crime and more conventional ineptitude, all of the gains of the 1990s and early 2000s have been erased. The average Philadelphian has a greater chance of being the victim of a crime than ever before. This is the “progress” leftist prosecutors have wrought.
We all see the numbers, but every one of them represents a real person, a real family, a real community forever changed by violent crime. Earlier this year, Todd Shepherd of Broad + Liberty talked to the family of a seven-year-old boy killed in a shootout between criminals in his neighborhood. That child, Zamar Jones, was gunned down in 2020 by a man who had been arrested in 2018 on a felony gun charge that should have kept him behind bars for years. Instead, Krasner’s office let him enter a plea for a misdemeanor in 2019 and got him a sentence of three to nine months. This senseless death was avoidable, and it is not the only one.
Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a fellow Democrat, finally had enough of the exploding crime rate in his and other neighborhoods across the city, penning an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer about it on December 7. It is good that city Democrats are wising up on the mess in the DA’s office, but it would have been better to do so before reelecting Krasner to a new four-year term two months ago.
Philadelphia’s story is similar to a lot of big cities across the country. Crime is getting worse and will keep getting worse until prosecutors start getting tough and making the streets safe for law-abiding citizens again.