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.
A blast from the past with this video we created in the early 90s while I was privileged to lead the then-separate NYC Transit Police Department. It was one of the weekly messages to help motivate the cops — and drive public support of the police. A poignant message still today. pic.twitter.com/6bcoD79v6Y
— Bill Bratton (@CommissBratton) July 21, 2022
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.