When Ideology Trumps Empathy

CITY JOURNAL - Heather Mac Donald - NOV 22, 2022


It turns out that black lives really don’t matter. In the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections, conservatives had relentlessly raised the alarm about the post–George Floyd crime surge: homicides had risen 29 percent in 2020 (the largest increase on record), and they have continued rising since then. Democrats and their media allies responded either that crime was a racist fiction or that, because post-Floyd crime levels nationally were still lower than they were in the early 1990s, there was nothing to see here, folks, move on!

Photo by Alex Kent/Getty Images

These opposing conservative and left-wing positions were tantamount to saying that black lives matter or that they don’t. Black Americans have borne the brunt of the increased violence since the George Floyd race riots. Their share of homicide victims went from 53 percent in 2019 (blacks are 13 percent of the national population) to 56 percent in 2020. At least an additional 2,164 black lives were lost in 2020 over the 2019 count, compared with an increase of 950 white and Hispanic homicide victims combined in 2020. Such disparities only worsened in 2021 and 2022. In 2020, blacks between the ages of ten and 24 died of gun homicide at 20 times the rate of whites in the same age range. In 2021, blacks between the ages of ten and 24 died of gun homicide at nearly 25 times the rate of whites of the same age.



To be sure, the post-Floyd crime increase has not only affected blacks. Carjackings have spread to traditionally safe neighborhoods; suburban women are having guns shoved in their faces as they try to get into their cars. Robberies are rising in city peripheries and in stable, middle-class enclaves within cities. Viral videos have documented the brutal beatings of the elderly, especially of elderly Asians, and the feral looting of stores. But the core of the post–George Floyd crime spike has been drive-by shootings, and they occur overwhelmingly between blacks and, to a lesser extent, between blacks and Hispanics. (In New York City, for example, blacks and Hispanics made up 96.4 percent of all shooting victims in 2020; blacks and Hispanics made up nearly 97 percent of all known shooting suspects in 2020. These ratios are replicated in every American city with a significant minority population.)


So when Democrats accused conservatives of the proverbial law-and-order “dog whistle,” they were saying that it is racist to care about black crime victims and that a surge in such victims should not be an electoral issue.


Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison, for example, blamed his Republican challenger for “trying to demagogue crime, Willie Horton style.” The Republican candidate for Ellison’s seat had made public safety his key plank. GOP contender Jim Schultz, an in-house counsel at an investment firm, was explicit about the disparate impact of rising crime. He had decided to take Ellison on, he said, because it was “immoral” to embrace policies that jeopardize already “at-risk communities.”


That concern for “at-risk” (i.e., black) “communities” was too much for Ellison. Schultz’s focus on crime was “obsessive,” he said, echoing the claim of other Minnesota Democrats that the crime issue was “overblown,” as the New York Times put it. But Schultz was responding to a real public safety disaster. The arson destruction of Minneapolis’s Third Precinct during the first wave of Floyd rioting would prove an augury. Minneapolis burned for days. Homicides in Minneapolis nearly doubled from 2019 to 2020—from 46 to nearly 80. They continued rising in 2021 to reach the second-highest number on record. Homicides in 2022 will surpass 2020 numbers. Popular entertainment areas in downtown Minneapolis continue to see shootouts and robberies. Neighboring St. Paul logged its highest homicide count ever in 2021. During the first half of 2022, Minneapolis’s robbery rate ranked fourth in the country; its rape rate was eighth, and its aggravated assault rate 13th. Minnesota’s violent-crime count rose 21 percent in 2021; in the seven counties around Minneapolis, violent crimes rose 24 percent in 2021.


As usual, blacks were the main victims (as well as perpetrators) of the violence. Blacks represented 83 percent of all Minneapolis shootings victims in 2021 and in the first seven months of 2022, though they are less than one-fifth of the city’s population. Childhood provided no refuge. Over a five-week period in 2021, a six-year-old, a nine-year-old, and a ten-year-old were hit in drive-by shootings in Minneapolis. The ten-year-old boy, shot in the head, was put in a medically induced coma while surgeons removed part of his skull to relieve swelling on the brain. He will be disabled for life; the other two girls died.


This would not seem to be an auspicious moment to call a focus on crime “obsessive,” in other words. And yet Ellison trounced Schultz by 36 points in Minnesota’s Hennepin County (where Minneapolis and St. Paul are located), despite having backed a failed Minneapolis ballot measure that would have replaced the city’s police department with an ill-defined new entity commanding fewer resources. Ellison won statewide as well, albeit by a slim margin.


During the election, Ellison had praised Philadelphia district attorney Larry Krasner as a “leading voice for reform.” Krasner is presiding over an even greater bloodbath than Minneapolis’s. Minnesota’s Hennepin County seemed to share Ellison’s admiration for district attorneys who demur from prosecuting crime. This electoral cycle it chose a left-wing public defender as its next county attorney. Mary Moriarty, known for her “progressive” stance on criminal justice reform, beat a tough-on-crime retired Hennepin County judge. Moriarty hit all the progressive talking points in her victory speech, promising to “continue building our broad and diverse coalition to ensure that the criminal justice system delivers on its promise of justice.” (Translation: I will not prosecute criminals because doing so has a disparate impact on blacks.)


Minnesota governor Tim Walz, a Democrat, was handily reelected, despite having not stopped the George Floyd inferno. Democrats flipped the Minnesota state senate.


The situation was the same in neighboring Wisconsin, which had experienced the usual post-Floyd crime and racial violence. Two people were killed in the days of gunfire, looting, and arson triggered by a non-lethal police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020. On the night of that shooting, Wisconsin governor Tony Evers announced that its victim, Jacob Blake, was not the “first Black man . . . to have been . . . injured or mercilessly killed” by Wisconsin police or by police nationally. Kenosha’s riot zone is still burned out. In Waukesha, Wisconsin, a black nationalist killed six people and injured another 62 by deliberately plowing an SUV through a Christmas parade in November 2021.


Homicides in Milwaukee nearly doubled from 2019 to 2021 and were on track, as of October, to exceed the 2021 homicide count. Evers was reelected to the governor’s mansion anyway, with 71 percent of the Milwaukee vote. Democrats won the ten-county Milwaukee media market for the first time in a governor’s race in 40 years, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Democratic incumbent held on to the Wisconsin attorney general’s position, despite the opposition of state law enforcement agencies. Waukesha County did stay red in 2022 but lost the greatest number of Republican votes of any Wisconsin county. On the pro-law-and-order side of the ledger, GOP incumbent Ron Johnson hung on to his U.S. Senate seat, Kenosha flipped red for the first time, and Republicans gained four seats in the state legislature. GOP optimists are spinning these latter results as vindication, but not particularly persuasively.


Results out west weren’t much better. Los Angeles rejected a mayoral candidate who represented the only hope for quelling the squalor that has engulfed the city. Developer Rick Caruso’s outdoor malls have been wildly successful because of his emphasis on public order and his attention to architectural detail and design.

Caruso was the only candidate to recognize the urgency of controlling crime and vagrancy. Yet L.A. elected an intersectional Democratic career politician to the mayoralty, and this past summer failed, for the second time, to recall left-wing district attorney George Gascón. Meantime, Los Angeles County voters booted out Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who had become increasingly emphatic in his warnings about social breakdown. And state voters returned Rob Bonta to the California attorney general’s office, despite rising crime statewide. Bonta’s left-wing policy positions reflect his San Francisco Bay Area political roots: he had made a priority of fighting what he claimed was an epidemic of hate against communities of color and other so-called vulnerable groups, falsely implying that whites were the primary malefactors.


Despite post-Floyd violence surges in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and other Pennsylvania cities, Democrats took back the Pennsylvania House of Representatives after several decades of Republican control, held on to the governor’s seat, and sent the incoherent John Fetterman to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Republican Pat Toomey.


It does not diminish the significance of the non-backlash over crime to say that abortion fearmongering proved more decisive. That is precisely the point. The increase in crime was real and devastating; in most races where public safety should have dominated, the chance that abortion access would be significantly curtailed was negligible to non-existent. Nevertheless, women and their male enablers put a commitment to the delusory idea of female victimhood at the hands of the patriarchy ahead of the actual victimhood of mostly black Americans. Ditto concerns about “threats to democracy.”


The best case for the power of the crime issue is New York State. Incumbent Democratic governor Kathy Hochul may have won 53 percent of the vote, but the Empire State has twice as many Democrats as Republicans. Challenger Lee Zeldin made crime central to his campaign and had one of the strongest showings for the GOP since New York last elected a Republican governor in 2002. Hochul won New York City but not the two Long Island counties, Nassau and Suffolk, where Democrats enjoy majorities among registered voters. Their Manhattan-bound commuters see the city’s breakdown nearly daily. Zeldin’s pro-law-enforcement message helped flip four U.S. House seats from New York, including that of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Sean Patrick Maloney in the Hudson Valley.


Some New York Democrats are still insisting that crime is a racist fiction. The vanquished Maloney told the New York Times that he was the victim of the New York Post—the “fiercest outlet in the News Corporation fear machine,” as Maloney put it. The Post had argued that “crime is the No. 1 issue,” Maloney recalled in obvious disgust. Abetted by Fox News, the Post spread “hysteria” around crime; apparently, some voters were so gullible as to believe this right-wing propaganda. The director of New York’s Working Families Party complained to the New York Times that Mayor Eric Adams had “accelerated a fear-based vision of the world that coincides exactly with what the G.O.P. strategy was.” What that “fear-based vision” actually coincides with is fact.


There is an explanation other than fake news for how crime affected voting in the New York City media market (a market which Maloney hilariously implies that the Post and Fox News dominate). Those voters who do read the Post or watch Fox News are actually informed about the predation that the New York Times is now ideologically opposed to covering. On November 3, five days before the election, a female jogger in Manhattan was choked into unconsciousness, then raped; her assailant stole her wallet and phone. As is customary in such incidents, the assailant, a street vagrant, brilliantly tried to use his victim’s credit cards to pay for goodies at a local Target. He was wanted in two previous sex crimes, from early October and late March.


The Times did not report the rape until after the election, and only as part of a larger story. This is the paper that has written multi-page articles about the imperative of “believing survivors” following a drunken campus hook-up. When the racial configuration of suspect and victim in actual sexual violence violates political taboos, however, it is best to leave females in the dark about risk. The Times has chastely turned its reportorial eyes away from the daily slashings, shootings, beatings, and lootings occurring across New York’s five boroughs because those crimes, too, are racially inconvenient; only the Post among print outlets covers them. That is not “hysteria”; it is honesty. Citizens have a right to know what is happening in their communities.


The greater awareness of crime undoubtedly played a role in the GOP’s unusual strength in the downstate New York area this election. But reasons other than the lesser awareness of crime elsewhere also help explain the failure of the crime surge to move more votes nationally. After all, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Baltimore Sun do a better, if not perfect, job of covering crime than the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Yet voters in those first three papers’ catchment areas also did not revolt against the Democratic status quo.


The left-wing residents of cities drowning in vagrancy, open-air drug use, theft, and assaults would apparently rather put up with a constantly deteriorating quality of life than abandon the white-blaming and denial of inner-city pathologies on which their image as enlightened progressives depend. Perhaps one day they will finally have had enough, but that day seems a long way off.


With regards to the spike in gun violence, voting on that ground would have required from white voters the exercise of cross-racial empathy. Conservative white voters are, in fact, in this reporter’s experience, genuinely appalled by the loss of black life or colorblind in their reaction to crime and victimization.


But such racial empathy was not enough in the face of conflicting directives. Democrats and the mainstream media were telling white voters not to care about those lost black lives. And black voters themselves remain overwhelmingly committed to the Democratic Party and are not demanding radical change in numbers significant enough to tip elections.


The judgment of the country as a whole, led by unwed Democratic women, appears to be that the fate of inner-city residents is not worth discarding more important ideological commitments for. It will fall to the police, working in many cases with no local political backing, to reverse the post–George Floyd crime surge—at least until white children start getting gunned down in drive-by shootings.



 

Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and the author of The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe.


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