Dave Chappelle and the Death of Free Speech

Consider that somewhere in your city or town, in some cramped apartment or neighborhood coffee shop, there sits an aspiring young comedian pecking at a laptop or scribbling on a legal pad as he prepares the set he is soon to perform at a local comedy club. And as he pecks or scribbles, he looks over his five or ten minutes of material, moving bits up or down in the order in his desire to open and close with his strongest material. Then he reflects on one particular joke in the routine, one that when first written down he was certain would score with the audience but now must consider excising from the set. “Could this be the one,” he asks himself, “could this be the joke that gets me killed?”

In comedy’s long history, practitioners of the trade have been cloaked with what was once known as the “jester’s privilege,” a certain license that protected them from consequences when they made an observation that, from another’s lips, would have been viewed as transgressive. As should now be obvious to all, the jester’s privilege is dead.

'Tain't funny, McGee.

And dead, perhaps, is what Dave Chappelle might be had the man who attacked him at the Hollywood Bowl recently desired it. The alleged assailant, Isaiah Lee, 23, has pleaded not guilty to four charges: battery, possession of a weapon with intent to assault, unauthorized access to a stage during a performance, and commission of an act that delays an event or interferes with a performer. All of these charges are misdemeanors, carrying no greater sentence than a year in the county jail. Lee was originally arrested and booked on the felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon, but the district attorney’s office rejected the case and referred it to the city attorney for misdemeanor prosecution.

The D.A. in Los Angeles is George Gascón, with whom you may be familiar as a member of the crop of George Soros-funded “progressive” prosecutors lately installed here and there around the country, men and women devoted to “reforming” the criminal justice system. All available evidence suggests that wherever these so-called reforms have been instituted, increases in crime and disorder have followed, and Los Angeles is no exception.

Gascón is currently facing a recall campaign, and his refusal to file felony charges against Lee has stoked outrage among his detractors, whose number now includes podcaster Joe Rogan. Rogan took to Instagram to lament Gascón’s decision. “When you see that a person commits a clear crime,” says Rogan’s post, “and does it to one of the most loved performers alive, and does it in a very high profile public setting, and it gets captured on video, and you don’t charge that person for what they obviously did, it’s the kind of thing that makes people lose faith in law enforcement.”

Perhaps so, but loath as I am to defend Gascón, his rejection of felony charges in the Chappelle matter is entirely reasonable and indeed the only ethical choice. It may be true that Chappelle is, as Rogan describes him, one of the most beloved performers, and it is indisputably true that the Hollywood Bowl is a high-profile public setting, but neither of these factors weighs in the determination of the appropriate charge against Lee. He was arrested and booked under a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, but sober examination of the incident reveals his conduct did not match the elements of this crime under California law.

Gascon: why is this man laughing?

Yes, at the time Lee rushed the stage and assaulted Chappelle, he is said to have possessed a deadly weapon, to wit, a replica handgun built into which was a folding knife, but it was in a bag Lee carried and was never wielded at Chappelle or any of the men who pursued and subdued Lee backstage. Further, Chappelle was uninjured and continued his performance when the commotion settled. Not even the most aggressive, law-and-order prosecutor would file a felony charge given this set of facts.

Though Chappelle soldiered on and appeared unfazed, as his fans have come to expect, in his quiet moments since that day he surely must have wondered, as we all must have, what might have happened had Lee been more determined to cause him harm. Lee somehow carried his weapon through the Hollywood Bowl’s security measures, then to the foot of the stage and finally onto the stage itself. Lee easily could have inflicted a mortal wound on Chappelle with such a weapon. And consider that if a replica handgun passed through security with such apparent ease, what would have prevented Lee from bringing a real one?

Returning now to our aspiring comedian, what assurance does he have that one of his jokes will not ignite in some member of his audience a violent impulse similar to that which stirred within Isaiah Lee? If Dave Chappelle, with all his handlers and security team, can be attacked in front of 17,000 people at the Hollywood Bowl, what chance does an unknown have at the local comedy club should some lunatic try to take him out?

Dave Chappelle may well continue with his brand of comedy without the protection of the jester’s privilege, and in fact he seems to revel in the discomfiture he inspires in his critics. But those below him in the show business pecking order are likely to be far more circumspect in their choice of material. In recent years we have witnessed the homogenization of comedy, and indeed of most entertainment media, as jokes about or representations of various interest groups have been placed beyond the pale. Chappelle sparked outrage last year when he made sport of transgenderism in his Netflix special, “The Closer,” this despite the fact that the opinions he expressed on the matter are shared by at least 90 percent of Americans.

Today, it no longer matters how commonly held an opinion may be if it flies in the face of some dogma embraced by the radical left. If, for example, you express anything less than full-throated endorsement of the delusion that Rachel Levine is a woman, you may find yourself booted from social media, fired from your job, and now even physically assaulted, all with the blessing of the elites in media and academia.

So good for Netflix, which this week revised its house rules for snowflakes, a move no doubt occasioned by Chappelle's experience:

The document adds a new directive for employees to act with fiscal responsibility — a change that comes as Netflix in Q1 saw its first decline in subscribers in more than a decade. The updated Netflix Culture memo also includes a new section called “Artistic Expression,” explaining that the streamer will not “censor specific artists or voices” even if employees consider the content “harmful,” and bluntly states, “If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.”

The Artistic Expression portion of the Netflix Culture document appears in large part a response to the controversy over Dave Chappelle’s “The Closer” that embroiled Netflix last fall over what critics said were his transphobic and homophobic comments in the stand-up special. Co-CEO Ted Sarandos defended the company’s decision to keep the Chappelle special on the service, triggering a large employee walkout in protest.

Still, it now appears likely that our increasingly volatile country faces another summer of discontent, for if the leaked Dobbs opinion reflects the final Supreme Court holding and Roe v. Wade is overturned, the protests that will follow may well rival those engendered by the death of George Floyd in 2020. As on so many other issues, on the matter of abortion, our elites brook no dissent, not from you and me, not from Dave Chappelle, and not from some aspiring comedian grasping for just a fraction of Chappelle’s success.

Grand Theft Auto, Courtesy of George Gascón

The Yiddish word for it is chutzpah, but there are other, more prosaic terms that come to mind as well, like “obtuse,” or perhaps “clueless.” I refer to a recent public service announcement from George Gascón, district attorney of Los Angeles County, in which he educates the crime-weary citizens of that sprawling county on how to avoid having their cars stolen.

Gascón is one of the so-called “progressive” prosecutors recently installed across the country, men and women who persuaded sufficient numbers of voters to share their childlike fantasy that criminals, no matter how hardened, will mend their ways if we would but treat them more kindly. Alas, any evidence that this is not merely a fantasy remains elusive.

Like his progressive comrades, Gascón campaigned on claims that the criminal justice system is unduly harsh on defendants, most especially those “of color.” Flush with cash from George Soros and other deep-pocketed leftists, Gascón defeated incumbent Jackie Lacey in 2020, riding the national wave of anti-police sentiment that followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Immediately upon taking office, he implemented changes that would have the effect of decreasing the overall number of prosecutions in L.A. County and minimizing the sentences of those so depraved as to be unworthy of outright dismissal of their charges.

Turn 'em loose, George.

He also eliminated cash bail for most defendants, declined to seek the death penalty in even the most heinous murder cases, and ended the practice of trying juveniles accused of murder in adult court, no matter how many they may have killed, how cruelly they may have carried out the killing, or how near to turning 18 they may have been at the time they killed. GranWhat has followed comes as no surprise to anyone not still clinging to the notion that crime can be reduced by softening the consequences on those who perpetrate it. In the city of Los Angeles, by far the largest of L.A. County’s 88 municipalities, violent crime is up 12 percent since 2020, with homicides up 18 percent.

An uninformed view of the property crime numbers is less bleak; it’s up just 1 percent over the same period. But the informed reader knows this number reflects only those crimes reported to the police, and in Los Angeles, as in every other city where progressive prosecutors have set about emptying the jails and prisons, many victims of property crimes simply don’t bother to call the police, for they know it will take hours for the officers to arrive and that little or nothing will be done to identify and arrest the culprits.

But rare is the man so blasé about having his car stolen that he does not report its loss, so the auto theft numbers provide what may be a more accurate picture of the trend in property crimes. In Los Angeles, auto theft is up 44 percent since 2020, prompting Gascón to issue his farcical admonishment to lock your car and not leave a spare key in it. He also advises to park in a well-lit area, oblivious to the fact that for some Angelenos the nearest well-lit area may be miles away because the local hoodlums, among whom are many who would be in jail but for his policies, have shot out all the streetlights.

Gascón is now facing a recall effort, the second one attempted after the first fell short of obtaining a sufficient number of signatures. Crime and disorder now so weigh on the minds of L.A. County residents that 33 city councils within the county, including those in such well-heeled, leafy burgs as Beverly Hills, Manhattan Beach, and Palos Verdes Estates, have passed no-confidence resolutions on Gascón and his failed policies.

Why is this man smiling?

Predictably coming to Gascón’s rescue, like a mother to a threatened child, is the Los Angeles Times, which endorsed his election and has run several stories and opinion pieces (to the extent there is a difference) minimizing his role in rising crime, the latest of which ran on April 1 under the headline, “Is it fair to blame Gascón alone for L.A.’s violent crime surge? Here’s what the data show.”

The story, by Times staff writer James Queally, is a masterpiece in the technique, so common in today’s journalism, of providing accurate data while conveying a misleading message. “Proponents of the effort to recall Gascón,” he writes, “have accused him of creating a ‘pro-criminal paradise’ and causing a crime spike through policies aimed at reducing mass incarceration, including his refusal to try juveniles as adults, prosecute certain misdemeanors or file most sentencing enhancements.” He continues:

But an analysis of the L.A. County district attorney’s office filing rates, homicide solve rates and crime statistics paints a far more complicated picture of the surge in violence than the one some of Gascón’s enemies have sketched.

True enough. No one well versed in the issues would claim Gascón, or any prosecutor, is the sole factor influencing crime rates. But then comes the journalistic sleight of hand. Queally cites data that shows Gascón’s office has filed felony charges at a rate similar to that of his predecessor, as if to suggest filing rates are the only measures by which a prosecutor should be judged. Just as important, if not more so, is the expectation among criminals of a lengthy prison sentence should they be convicted of a serious crime. Many people would be surprised to learn that to some criminals the prospect of a few months in the county jail, or even of a few years in state prison, is not a deterrent to their predatory habits. Indeed, to some gang members a stretch in jail or prison is a badge of honor, lending to their prestige among their peers.

Picking up the pieces of a civilization that no longer exists.

It is in this regard that Gascón is at once both a symptom of the current crime wave and, yes, a cause of it. The anti-police hysteria that engulfed the country following George Floyd’s death helped bring Gascón into office, but it also so demoralized America’s cops that few are willing to risk their lives and livelihoods by doing the type of proactive police work that stemmed the crime wave of the 1980’s and early 1990’s. In Los Angeles, arrests are down 31 percent from two years ago; even the most aggressive of prosecutors can’t stem a crime wave if the police aren’t bringing lawbreakers to court. Pair an unmotivated police force with a prosecutor of Gascón’s inclinations and you have a recipe for unchecked crime.

Perhaps chastened by the latest recall effort, Gascón has displayed heretofore unseen flexibility on some of his policies, for example backtracking on his ludicrous decision to prosecute in juvenile court the case of a 26-year-old transgender woman who, as male just short of his 18th birthday, sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl in the bathroom of a Palmdale restaurant.

However much he backtracks, it may not be enough to avoid a recall. Recall organizers say they have collected 200,000 of the 567,000 signatures they need to put the matter to a vote. Even George Soros may not be able to save him now.

Social 'Justice' Comes to Los Angeles

Former New York mayor Ed Koch, on the occasion of his defeat in the 1989 Democratic primary by the late David Dinkins, was asked if he would again seek public office. “No,” he said. “The people have spoken . . . and they must be punished.”

Well and properly punished they were, as things turned out. During Dinkins’s single term as mayor, crime and disorder in New York City reached their horrifying zenith. In 1990, 2,245 people were murdered in the city, one factor among many that earned Dinkins the reputation as the most feckless man ever to occupy City Hall. (Only recently has a challenger emerged.)

Now stepping up to be similarly punished are the voters of Los Angeles County, who in their wisdom have installed George Gascón as district attorney. Gascón is the latest of the so-called social justice prosecutors to win election in some of America’s major cities, following in the path of Kim Foxx in Chicago, Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, and Chesa Boudin in San Francisco.

George Gascón: D.A. and SJW.

Gascón was unabashed in embracing social justice themes during the campaign but gave little hint of the sweeping changes he would institute within minutes of taking office. He was officially sworn in at noon on Dec. 7, and at 12:03 p.m. that day an email was sent to all D.A. staff announcing the immediate implementation of nine new policies which go far beyond those he practiced in his former post as district attorney in San Francisco.

The cumulative effect of these policies will be threefold: fewer criminals will be sent to jail or prison; those who are imprisoned will serve shorter sentences; and many already convicted and behind bars will be released years before they might have been. Even some inmates now serving life without parole for murder will be allowed to petition for resentencing and even release under Gascón’s new guidelines.

In keeping with the Orwellian manipulation of the language so drearily common to the modern leftist, certain words will be excised from the vernacular of the courthouse in Los Angeles County. “Today,” begins Gascón’s Special Directive on Resentencing, “California prisons are filled with human beings charged, convicted and sentenced under prior District Attorneys’ policies.”

The jarring use of the term “human beings” is explained in a footnote: “We will seek to avoid using dehumanizing language such as ‘inmate,’ ‘prisoner,’ ‘criminal,’ or ‘offender’ when referencing incarcerated people.” One wonders how they will come to euphemize the term “crime victim,” the numbers of whom will surely surge in Los Angeles County before voters regain their senses and Gascón is ultimately turned out of office.

If only abuse of the language were the worst of it. The new policies are the stuff of a defense attorney’s fever dreams, as Gascón has in effect enacted a separate penal code for Los Angeles County, one of his own and his leftist enablers’ creation. He has vowed to ignore various provisions of California law and give those arrested on a variety of misdemeanor beefs a free pass. Charges of trespassing, driving without a license or with a suspended license, disturbing the peace, criminal threats, and even resisting arrest will be “declined or dismissed before arraignment and without conditions.” Non-specific exemptions will be allowed, but given the overall tenor of the policy such exceptions will of course be rare.

Hands up, eff off.

As disturbing as this might be, it pales in comparison to how more serious crimes will now be addressed. California has over the years enacted a number of sentencing enhancements covering particular circumstances in broader areas of crime. For example, someone convicted of robbery might have his sentence extended if he was armed with a weapon at the time of the crime. Like the underlying charges, each of these “special allegations” must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury or admitted by a defendant before a sentence can be enhanced.

Gascón has eliminated these special allegations, including those defined as “special circumstances” in murder cases that make defendants eligible for the death penalty or life without parole, or "LWOP" in courthouse shorthand. “Special Circumstances allegations” says the new policy, “resulting in an LWOP sentence shall not be filed, will not be used for sentencing, and shall be dismissed or withdrawn from the charging document.”

More troubling still is Gascón’s policy on the death penalty, which will no longer be sought even in the most heinous of murders. Consider this recent case: On Nov. 29, sheriff’s detectives allege, Maurice Taylor decapitated his 13-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, then for the next five days forced his two surviving younger sons, ages 8 and 9, to remain in the home and look at the mutilated bodies.

Under California law the crime would meet the definition of two special circumstances, to wit, multiple victims, and the fact that the murders were “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, manifesting exceptional depravity,” making Taylor eligible for a death sentence or life without parole. Who would argue he isn’t deserving at least of the latter? Gascón would. Under his new policies, Taylor will face a maximum sentence of 57 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole, and this assumes the imposition of consecutive rather than concurrent sentences.

The death penalty policy comes laden with footnotes citing academic studies purporting to show capital punishment is ineffective and rooted in racism. It is here that Gascón engages in some dishonest sleight of hand. He asserts on page 2 of the policy that “the death penalty serves no penological purpose as state sanctioned killings do not deter crime.”

The assertion is footnoted to a 1999 article, “Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates: The Views of Leading Criminologists,” by Michael L. Radelet and Traci L. Lacock, in which it is claimed, as stated in the footnote, that “88.2% of the polled criminologists do not believe that the death penalty is a deterrent.” Whatever the actual evidence might be, a poll among academic criminologists, most of whom are ideologically opposed to the death penalty in any event, can hardly be said to be dispositive, especially given the paltry sample size of 76 people, a detail one only finds buried in an appendix. Yet Gascón presents this assertion as though it bore Delphic certitude.

Have a nice trip.

Taking the academic obfuscation a step further, the same footnote cites a 2012 study, “Deterrence and the Death Penalty,” by the National Research Council of the National Academies, which, the footnote claims, found that using a “deterrent effect as justification for capital punishment is ‘patently not credible’ based on meta-analysis of studies conducted.”

Again, this is not completely accurate. What the study actually says is more narrowly focused. “The homogeneous response restriction,” it says, “that the effects [of capital punishment] are the same for all states and all time periods seems patently not credible.” What’s more, the study explicitly states the available evidence is insufficient to determine the effect of capital punishment on homicide rates.

The Conclusion and Recommendation section of the study reads, in part: “consequently, claims that research demonstrates that capital punishment decreases or increases the homicide rate by a specified amount or has no effect on the homicide rate should not influence policy judgments about capital punishment [emphasis added].” Despite this clear admonishment, Gascón dishonestly uses the study as support for his own preferred policy prescriptions.

The city of Los Angeles, by far the largest of L.A. County’s 88 municipalities, is already suffering from an increase in violent crime. Homicides investigated by the LAPD are up by 29 percent over last year, and late November saw the city’s 300th murder victim, a benchmark not seen in ten years. If Gascón’s social justice methods are effective, surely this trend will reverse itself quickly.

There is little reason to suppose this will happen, however, as evidenced by those cities where social justice prosecutors already hold office. In Chicago, where Kim Foxx has been elected to a second term and her policies are well established, homicides are up 55 percent from last year. In Larry Krasner’s Philadelphia, homicides are up 38 percent, and in Chesa Boudin’s San Francisco they’re up 39 percent.

Why is this man smiling?

As should be obvious to all by now, the appending of an adjective to the word “justice,” whether it be social, environmental, economic, or what have you, signals in the user a desire not for actual justice, but rather some bastardized version of it suited to whichever favored group does the appending. George Gascón embodies social justice on stilts, and he owes no small measure of his success to handful of well-heeled leftist donors. George Soros leads the list, with reported contributions to Gascón totaling $2.25 million.

Like Soros, none of Gascón’s other deep-pocketed supporters lives in Los Angeles and will suffer none of the bloody consequences they’ve helped to bring about. How's that for justice?