Murder, Inc. Meets 'Calvin and Hobbes'

I recall with fondness the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes,” in which cartoonist Bill Watterson reminded us of the youthful joys of playing “pretend.” Calvin was a 6-year-old boy; Hobbes was his stuffed tiger, but when Calvin was alone, Hobbes came to extraordinary life, becoming a mordant philosopher, sage, and most of all loyal companion on Calvin’s imaginary adventures.

My favorites appeared on the occasional Sunday, when Calvin, in the persona of his alter-ego Spaceman Spiff, rocketed through the cosmos to battle all manner of hideous alien creatures, smiting them with his “frap-ray blaster." By the final panel, though, Spaceman Spiff most often crash-landed back on Earth, where the space monsters were revealed to be his teacher Miss Wormwood, babysitter Rosalyn, or classmate Susie Derkins. For all the joy we may have experienced in joining Calvin on his flights of imagination, Watterson could always be counted on to bring Calvin – and us – back to cruel reality. How we long for someone to do so today.

Yes, it’s fun to play “pretend,” but one can only play it for so long. For too many people in America today, it has become far too easy to pretend that, to cite just a few examples of fashionable delusions, the president and vice president are competent, that inflation is not a problem, that the southern border is secure, that men can become women and vice-versa, and, most troubling to those in my profession, that crime can be reduced by being kinder to criminals.

The New York Times recently reassured us that murder across the U.S. has trended slightly downward this year after a dramatic rise that began, not coincidentally, in the summer of 2020. This is welcome news, certainly, but there is little to indicate violent crime will return to its pre-George Floyd levels anytime soon.

And why would it? Our media and academic elites, wracked by misplaced guilt over what they have labeled “mass incarceration,” have cowed politicians into enacting policies that have hamstrung the police and emboldened criminals, with the result being an increase in crime, reversing a trend that began when crime peaked in the early 1990’s. Despite the minor decline cited in the New York Times, crime and disorder will in all likelihood increase until those same politicians, like Calvin in the final panel, crash land back in reality, or else are voted out and replaced by others already so grounded.

And how was that crime wave stemmed? By the simple acts of identifying and arresting lawbreakers, then keeping them incarcerated for long periods, thereby removing them from the society of their law-abiding fellow citizens. In New York City, for example, murders peaked at a horrifying 2,245 in 1990, or more than six every day. This high-water mark, or to put it more grimly but accurately, high-blood mark, came after the yearly number had remained at over 1,500 since 1972.

Owing to the innovative police practices instituted by William Bratton, who was appointed commissioner of the NYPD in 1994, murders in the city declined to 983 by 1996, when Bratton resigned, and continued falling steadily until 2019, when the figure was 319, a remarkable achievement in any case, but especially so given the two million increase in the city’s population over the same period.

And yet, since the death of George Floyd in May 2020, when the great national game of “pretend” spread more rapidly and thoroughly than even Covid, it’s being undone. There were 468 murders in New York City in 2020 and 488 in 2021, figures that are acceptable to the city’s pols and those in Albany, who coldly calculate that the added deaths are an acceptable price to pay for greater “equity” in the criminal justice system, which in turn yield favorable mentions in the sacred text of the modern left, the New York Times.

While the national murder trend is slightly downward, some cities in the country are still experiencing frightening increases. In Birmingham, Ala., murders are up 34 percent from the same period last year, the same increase seen in New Orleans. Phoenix, Long Beach, Calif., Denver, and Milwaukee have all seen slightly smaller but still worrying increases.

And the murder numbers don’t tell the whole story. In Chicago, murders have fallen 16 percent, year over year, but a sense of ungovernable disorder has gripped the city. Violent crime has long been considered a fact of life on the city’s South and West Sides, but neighborhoods once thought to be safe, like Lake View, Lincoln Park, and even the Gold Coast, have seen a sudden spike in robberies and carjackings. Chicago’s media, including its two major daily newspapers, do their best to ignore or downplay the city’s crime problem, but websites like CWB Chicago and HeyJackass.com keep Chicagoans  informed. On any given day a visit to CWB Chicago will present the latest person accused of a killing or attempting to kill someone while out on little or no bail for a pending felony case (the total is 42 so far this year).

Also on the website are videos of the wanton violence plaguing Chicago, incidents like this one, in which a man was robbed and beaten on a CTA train, or this one, in which a man was robbed at gunpoint in the Wicker Park neighborhood. The victim managed to escape, but a final thumb in the eye for him, and for all honest citizens of Chicago, came when police officers spotted the robbers’ car but were forbidden from giving chase due to the city’s ridiculously restrictive pursuit policy. Detectives believe the crew is responsible for at least ten other robberies, a number that will surely increase as the thugs know that to escape apprehension all they have to do is drive away.

[Google/YouTube has seen fit to "restrict" the video below, for no other reason than it depicts in an unflattering light several muggers in hoodies leaping from a car and attacking an innocent woman walking down a residential street in broad daylight. Click on it anyway:]

It has always perplexed me that a state so full of fine people can produce the most loathsome, corrupt, and inept politicians, but Illinois pols have truly outdone themselves with the passage of the ludicrously misnamed SAFE-T Act. Just as the Inflation Reduction Act will lead to higher inflation, the SAFE-T Act will make people in Illinois less safe. Among the many provisions in the law’s 800 pages, which was hurriedly passed in the final hours of the legislative session, is one that eliminates cash bail for those arrested for any offense conceivably punishable by probation, a list that includes almost any crime one could name short of first-degree murder.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is fond of pointing to the city’s 16 percent reduction in murders this year, but she is careful not to mention that even with this decrease, Chicago’s murders are 32 percent higher than they were before the Summer of George Floyd. The SAFE-T Act, which becomes law Jan. 1, will only make things worse.

We don’t have to accept this. We know how to combat crime because we did it in the 1990’s. How many hundreds or thousands more people will die before we stop playing “pretend”? I wonder what Hobbes would have to say about it.

Murder by Death

There is none so blind, goes the old saw, as he who does not want to see. Witness the intellectual contortions inspired by the FBI’s recent release of crime data for 2020. Murders rose 30 percent over 2019’s figures, the largest single-year increase since the FBI began compiling the data 60 years ago. There were 21,570 people murdered in the United States last year, almost 5,000 more than the previous year.

Our sophisticated betters in the media are at pains to explain this, attributing this horrifying surge in bloodshed to the Covid pandemic, poverty, and, naturally, the ubiquity of guns in our culture. Summing up perfectly the attitudes of east-coats elites was James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, who was cited in the Washington Post. The year 2020 was a “unique situation,” he said. He attributed the rise in homicides, as paraphrased by the Post, to “a confluence of factors, including the coronavirus pandemic, conflicts over politics and race and people just generally having too much free time.”

One assumes Mr. Fox’s views on the matter are more complex than reported. Or does he really believe people with too much free time are more disposed to homicide than others? “I don’t want to minimize what’s happened,” he told the Post. “I just don’t want people to believe that the sky is falling and that this is a permanent” trend. He added that even with 2020’s surge in killings, the situation is less dire than that experienced during the crack cocaine epidemic of the late 1980s and early ‘90s. This is akin to saying people who have experienced the disaster of a 6.5 earthquake should be comforted that it wasn’t as bad as the bigger one 30 years ago.

Who's afraid of the big bad gun?

And of course there were those who were quick to assign blame for the bloodshed to guns. John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, was quoted in the same Washington Post story. “This jump in murders,” he said, “is just the latest proof that we are experiencing a gun violence epidemic within the Covid pandemic. This death spiral will continue until we stem the flow of illegal guns and invest in proven intervention programs.”

Mr. Feinblatt ignores the fact that a gun is “violent” only when someone chooses to pick it up and put it to violent use. If the availability of guns is truly the key factor in homicides, perhaps Mr. Feinblatt can explain why the guns-per-capita data do not track with the murder rates in many states. The Hunting Mark website reports that Wyoming has more guns per capita than any other state, yet it’s near the bottom on a list of states and territories ranked by murder rate. What makes people in Wyoming so much less violent than those in the District of Columbia, which is second on the list of guns per capita but first in homicides? What about Louisiana, which has the highest murder rate yet is number 15 in gun ownership? And how would Mr. Feinblatt explain New Hampshire, which ranks fourth in gun ownership but 41st in homicides? Clearly there are other, far more significant factors at play here than the availability of guns.

What many in the media are loath to admit is that the rhetorical attacks on policing, which were well underway for years but reached a peak after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last year, have sapped the will of the street police officers charged with going out each day and arresting lawbreakers. In those neighborhoods most affected by crime, police officers tend to know who is responsible for it and devote most of their attention to these chronic offenders. But today, if an officer spots a gang member he suspects is carrying a gun, the officer knows if he attempts to stop the man it may result in a foot chase, a wrestling match, or even a shooting.

It's not the physical dangers inherent in these outcomes the officer finds daunting, it is the potential aftermath if things result in anything other than a textbook outcome, one free of injury or even offense to the suspect, especially if the racial calculus in the encounter tips a certain way. No cop wants to play the villain in the next viral YouTube video, a genuine risk if a stop goes awry. No matter how unblemished the officer's record or how lengthy the suspect’s rap sheet, people will stampede in judgment against the cop while lionizing the criminal.

His legacy lives on.

Criminals know this as well as the cops do and they respond accordingly. Absent any internal moral controls, they are restrained from their predations only by the risk of being arrested and imprisoned. When those risks are minimized as they have been in recent years, more crime will follow as night follows day.

It is the very people our educated elites purport to champion who suffer most from this. Blacks are just 13 percent of America’s population yet were 55 percent of 2020’s murder victims, a stable figure even as murder rates have risen and fallen over the years. This is acceptable to those who work themselves into a lather over every perceived instance of police abuse yet stand mute as the black bodies pile up in our country’s morgues.

It is politics that has led us here, the poisonous brand of racial politics to be precise, as our more craven politicos seek advantage in parroting the mantras of the professionally and perpetually aggrieved, and too many others refuse to oppose them for fear of the mob. Yes, things are not as bad as they were 30 years ago, but dare we be satisfied with this when the degree of success or failure is measured in human lives?