Crime And Politics

In Indianapolis, municipal elections are held during otherwise “off” political years. Last year we were treated to an effort by  Jefferson Shreve, a rich Republican, to win the Mayor’s office. His campaign ads leaned heavily on assertions that our city was crime-ridden; given the Democratic tilt of the city electorate, the ads did make visible efforts to veil their more racist elements.

Despite spending $13 million dollars of his own money, Shreve failed to exceed the GOP’s base vote, so this year, he’s running for Congress. It’s a barely-purple district, and his television ads are much more explicitly “anti-woke.” Like most Republicans running for office this year, he’s clearly counting on anti-immigrant bias and an entirely bogus insistence that immigrants are the source of an (equally-bogus) American crime wave. 

He’s not alone in that dishonesty.

 NBC recently deconstructed Trump’s assertions of immigrant-fueled crime, reviewing expert analysis and available data from major-city police departments that show zero evidence of a migrant-driven crime wave in the United States. To the contrary, available data shows overall crime levels dropping in cities that have received the most migrants.  See also, Scientific American, (12/7/20) Undocumented Immigrants Are Half as Likely to Be Arrested for Violent Crimes as U.S.-Born Citizens.

When you think about it, it makes sense that people who are undocumented would want to keep a very low profile, in order to avoid deportation.

Another analysis of the available data confirms both the bogus nature of these claims and the political motivation for raising them.

The Republican Party wanted to run a 2024 election campaign on inflation and the economy. That made some sense in June 2022, when inflation was at a 40-year high of 9.1 percent. But now inflation has fallen to 3.1 percent, and unemployment has been below 4 percent for 24 months. Banging on about prices and the economy no longer seems like a winning strategy.

So the GOP has pivoted back to its standard tactics: fear-mongering, scapegoating, and bigotry.

Fox News is no longer talking about high prices 24/7. It now apparently believes the central problem of our day is … immigrant crime.

Public Notice publisher Aaron Rupar counted 27 mentions of “migrant crime” on Wednesday alone across Fox News and Fox Business. “Migrant Crime Sparks New Outrage Across US” one chyron screamed; the segment included giant mugshots of immigrant Latino men accused of crimes. Hosts hit President Biden for not discussing “migrant crime” during a speech he gave that day.

“It’s difficult to convince Americans that they are safe or becoming safer when they do not feel safe in this nation,” John Roberts proclaimed.

Americans don’t feel safe because Republican candidates constantly lie to them about their safety. These candidates have concluded that the only way they can win is by playing on racism and fear of crime–by creating a moral panic. There is absolutely no data supporting their accusations.

A 2020 Cato study of Texas found that for native-born Americans, conviction rates were 1,422 per 100,000. For undocumented immigrants, the rate was much lower — only 782 per 100,000.  And for legal immigrants, the rate was 535 per 100,000. Cato found that immigrants were less likely to commit violent crimes, property crimes, homicides, and sexual assaults than people born in the United States.

A 2023 Stanford study found similar results when it looked at imprisonment rates going back to 1830. Immigrants have basically always been imprisoned at lower rates; today, they are 60 percent less likely to be incarcerated than people born in the US. That’s in part because Black people are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system. But even if you just look at the incarceration rates of white people born in the US, immigrants are imprisoned 30 percent less.

Migrant crime is much less of a problem than crime by native-born people. But even native-born Americans are committing fewer crimes; crime rates overall are down.

Murder rates in 2023 fell by more than 12 percent from 2022, among the biggest recorded drops. Other violent crimes also decreased. Retailers claimed that there was a huge increase in shoplifting in the last few years — but that turns out to have been almost entirely a myth

As the linked article notes, GOP rhetoric may not be based in fact, but it does have (an unsavory) basis in demagoguery and racism. Linking marginalized groups to crime to build power and justify violence is, unfortunately, nothing new.

Of course, migrants do commit some crimes. In a country with some 45 million immigrants, it’s easy to find a handful of mugshots to put on your screen. But the scare tactic is nonetheless a scare tactic; there is not a sweeping crime wave perpetrated by immigrants. To say otherwise is a lie.

The GOP’s recent refusal to pass a border control measure that gave them virtually everything they’d demanded so that they can run on the issue really gives the game away.


Crime–And That Pesky Data…

Last year, Indiana held municipal elections, and in Indianapolis, the Republican candidate for Mayor focused a lot of his attention on crime, especially “urban” crime. (Dog whistle, anyone??) Despite pouring some thirteen million dollars of his own money into that race, he failed to exceed the GOP’s baseline vote. Nevertheless, I expected that similar allegations about urban crime would form a large part of this year’s federal election strategy.

I now think I was wrong. Trump’s efforts to destroy a bipartisan agreement on immigration–an agreement that gave Republicans a number of things they’d long been seeking–was based entirely upon the GOP’s need to feature immigration as the campaign issue. Republicans aren’t even pretending otherwise; several GOP congressmen have admitted that, thanks to the lunatic caucus’ intransigence and refusal to do the jobs they were elected to do, they accomplished nothing and have nothing else to run on. So crime will likely take a back seat to the “immigration crisis” –a crisis the GOP has purposely sustained. To the extent crime enters the dialogue, it will be attributed to “those people” at the border.

Still, it’s worthwhile to examine the repeated misinformation about America’s crime problems, and a recent Substack letter did just that.

The letter pointed to another reason that crime rates might take a back seat in the upcoming campaigns: those rates have been coming down.

The number of murders in U.S. cities fell by more than 12 percent — which would be the biggest national decline on record. The spike that started in 2020 now looks more like a blip, and the murder rate is lower than it was during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. The recent data also suggests that the violent-crime rate in 2023 was near its lowest level in more than 50 years.

What about blaming Democratic mayors for crime?

Several Republicans have noted that 27 of the 30 cities with the highest homicide rate have Democratic Mayors. But most cities of any size have Democratic mayors: among the  50 largest cities, 37 have Democratic Mayors. “If you go even further to the top 100 Cities — they have Democratic Mayors 63% of the time and have 76% of the population.”

Republicans have also insisted that an “urban crime increase” is due to the election of “progressive” Prosecutors. The linked letter describes several academic studies that  convincingly disprove that thesis, along with bogus claims that police forces have been “defunded.” Actually (despite one of the stupidest political slogans ever) most police departments have seen their budgets increase in the last 3 years.

It also turns out that crime is lower in those Democratic “urban” areas than in those “real American” Red states.

And for future reference, we can also debunk the “Crime in Democrat cities” by looking at where crime actually happens -— and that’s in Red States.

The murder rate in the 25 states that voted for Donald Trump has exceeded the murder rate in the 25 states that voted for Joe Biden in every year from 2000 to 2020.

Over this 21-year span, this Red State murder gap has steadily widened from a low of 9% more per capita red state murders in 2003 and 2004 to 44% more per capita red state murders in 2019, before settling back to 43% in 2020.

Altogether, the per capita Red State murder rate was 23% higher than the Blue State murder rate when all 21 years were combined.

If Blue State murder rates were as high as Red State murder rates, Biden-voting states would have suffered over 45,000 more murders between 2000 and 2020.

Even when murders in the largest cities in red states are removed, overall murder rates in Trump-voting states were 12% higher than Biden-voting states across this 21-year period and were higher in 18 of the 21 years observed.

Unsurprisingly, the gun crime rate in rural areas is also higher than in urban areas.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Surgery found that firearm deaths are more likely in small rural towns than in major urban cities, adding to research that contradicts common belief that Democratic blue areas have higher incidences of gun-related deaths than do Republican red districts.

The linked Substack letter is lengthy, and reports the results of numerous studies–if you are interested in an in-depth analysis of existing research, it’s well worth reading in its entirely. But one nugget I found especially interesting was the observation that there is a lot that cities are trying to do to address gun violence  … but many of them are  “hamstrung by state policies and can’t control the flow of guns or how guns are carried in their cities.” When there is no local control there’s only so much city officials can do.

In Indianapolis, our urban hands are tied by the gun zealots in our embarrassing state legislature.


The More We Learn…

It’s a conundrum.

Any civilized society operates by creating and enforcing rules. Social tranquility depends upon choosing wise people to make the rules and fair-minded people to enforce them.Right now, America isn’t doing too well with either of those populations.

This blog spends an inordinate amount of time on the clown show that is the U.S. House of Representatives, but problems with enforcement–with policing–are equally thorny.

From the beating of Rodney King to the murder of George Floyd and the multitude of other unwarranted violent episodes, Americans have been inundated with video evidence of questionable police behavior.

And “questionable” is frequently the correct word. As public safety professionals will tell us, protecting the public often requires split-second decision-making in situations that are a lot more ambiguous than they appear after the fact. Given the difficulties they face, giving police the benefit of reasonable doubt is only fair.

But all doubt isn’t reasonable.

Reporters keep uncovering deeply disturbing evidence of a racist, anti-Semitic and thuggish culture that persists in a troubling number of police departments. A year or so ago, one such culture was exposed in Torrance ,California . Text messages that had circulated among current and former officers of the city’s Police Department “reveal a culture rife with racism, antisemitism, and homophobia going back at least a decade.”

The texts are extremely violent in nature and grotesquely racist, homophobic, and antisemitic.

According to reporting from the LA Times, one text shows a picture of a candy cane, a Christmas tree ornament, a star for the top of the tree, and an “enslaved person.”

“Which one doesn’t belong?” the caption asks.

“You don’t hang the star,” someone replies.

Another message reads “hanging with the homies,” attached was a photo of several Black men who had been lynched.

Another photo asks what someone would do if their girlfriend was having an affair with a Black man. The captioned response was to break “a tail light on his car so the police will stop him and shoot him.”

Prosecutors say the messages go back years and could jeopardize hundreds of criminal cases in which the officers either testified or made arrests.

The LA Times identified 13 current and former police officers and one Long Beach cop who are now under investigation. At least nine of the officers texted images or commentary advocating violence against Black people and LGBTQ community members and ridiculing racial profiling.

There was much more, and all horrific. Discovery of the texts was triggered by an investigation of two former Torrance police officers who had spray-painted a swastika inside a resident’s car.

If Torrance was an isolated instance, it would be troubling enough, but in the last few years, we’ve seen repeated evidence that these White Supremacy attitudes are widespread among both the police and the military.

As the linked article by an FBI agent now with the Brennan Center warns:

For decades, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has routinely warned its agents that the white supremacist and far-right militant groups it investigates often have links to law enforcement. Yet the justice department has no national strategy designed to protect the communities policed by these dangerously compromised law enforcers. As our nation grapples with how to reimagine public safety in the wake of the protests following the police killing of George Floyd, it is time to confront and resolve the persistent problem of explicit racism in law enforcement.

I know about these routine warnings because I received them as a young FBI agent preparing to accept an undercover assignment against neo-Nazi groups in Los Angeles, California, in 1992. But you don’t have to take my word for it. A redacted version of a 2006 FBI intelligence assessment, White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement, alerted agents to “both strategic infiltration by organized groups and self-initiated infiltration by law enforcement personnel sympathetic to white supremacist causes.”

As the officer who wrote the above article pointed out, If the U.S. government found out that al-Qaida or a similar foreign terrorist organization had infiltrated American law enforcement, it would immediately launch a nationwide effort to identify those individuals and neutralize the threat.

Yet white supremacists and far-right militants have committed far more attacks and killed more people in the U.S. over the last 10 years than any foreign terrorist movement. The FBI regards them as the most lethal domestic terror threat. The need for national action is even more critical.

We the People need the police. But we need the right kind of police. That requires hiring practices capable of weeding out thuggish, bigoted applicants, and training that emphasizes service to all parts of the communities they will be hired to protect.

We have a problem, and public safety requires that we fix it.


State-Level Autocracy

If you resist believing that today’s GOP is intent upon replacing democracy with autocracy– controlled, of course, by the GOP–you need only look at what they are doing in the states. 

One person, one vote? How old-fashioned!

Efforts to negate the popular vote have moved way beyond gerrymandering. In Wisconsin, Republicans are exploring ways to undo the election of a state Supreme Court Justice who won by eleven points. Texas’ lunatic legislature has passed a different set of rules for cities populated by “those people,” who tend to vote Democrat. 

And then, of course, there’s Ron DeFascists’ Florida, where folks who voted for their local prosecutor can wake up to find that the governor has summarily dismissed their electoral choice. The Brennan Center (link unavailable) recently focused on his latest arbitrary and undemocratic dismissal of a popularly elected official.

In 2020, Monique Worrell was elected to serve as the prosecutor for the Orlando area. She’d campaigned on a reform platform that evidently was too “woke” for DeSantis, who proceeded to suspend her from office for “neglect of duty and incompetence.”  Worrell has filed suit in the Florida Supreme Court challenging her suspension.

Worrell’s lawsuit is one of a number of current state court cases that raise important constitutional questions about the scope of prosecutorial discretion — the power of prosecutors to decide when and how to charge crimes, seek bail or sentencing enhancements, or make other decisions about how they pursue cases. It’s an issue receiving scrutiny across the country, with laws recently enacted in Georgia and Texas authorizing prosecutors’ removal for certain uses of discretion.

The Florida Constitution authorizes the governor to suspend prosecutors like Worrell for specified reasons, including neglect of duty or incompetence. In her lawsuit, Worrell argues that DeSantis failed to allege any conduct meeting that constitutional standard.

Worrell’s office had no policy or practice of failing to enforce certain laws, and her charging decisions were well within the bounds of what most lawyers consider to be proper prosecutorial discretion. Policy differences between a local prosecutor and a governor are not legal grounds for suspension. 

This isn’t the first time DeSantis has targeted an elected local prosecutor. In 2022, he suspended Tampa-area prosecutor Andrew Warren, citing pledges he signed not to prosecute certain types of cases, including those related to abortion and gender-affirming health care.

A federal court ruled that Warren’s suspension violated both the Florida Constitution and the First Amendment, but the court held that it lacked the authority to reinstate him. The Florida Supreme Court — which would have the authority to overturn the governor’s suspension — then rejected a petition from Warren filed six months after his suspension after concluding he had waited too long to file. Worrell’s petition, filed less than a month after her suspension, will likely force the state high court to directly consider the relationship between the governor and local prosecutors in implementing criminal justice policy.

Similar issues are pending in other state supreme courts. In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is challenging his 2022 impeachment by the state house of representatives, arguing that his exercise of discretion did not constitute “misbehavior in office.”  Georgia prosecutors are challenging a law imposing new limits on their discretion and creating new mechanisms to remove them from office. In Arizona, taking his cue from  Republicans, the state’s Democratic governor stripped local district attorneys of the power to prosecute cases under the state’s 15-week abortion ban, using an executive order to transfer that power to the state attorney general, who has vowed not to enforce it. 

These autocratic exercises significantly undercut democracy.

According to the New York Times, Ms. Worrell had been elected with 66% of the vote, and she released data showing that her prosecution rate was similar to that of two of her predecessors. Whether her performance was unsatisfactory was a question for the voters–not the Governor–to decide.

DeSantis justified her removal by citing several offenders who had committed crimes after serving their (presumably insufficient) sentences, or while out on bail; Ms. Worrell responded by pointing out that examples cited by the governor involved factors beyond a prosecutor’s control. Sentences and bonds are set by judges who are free to overrule prosecutors’ recommendations.

And she said that much of the information that was used to build a case against her came from local law enforcement officials who oppose her because she has prosecuted police officers, including one who shot an unarmed person.

“My message has been consistently, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, whether you like me or you hate me: Democracy is under attack,” she said. “Duly elected officials should not be removed by elected officials who are not politically aligned with them.”

Autocrats-R-Us disagree. 


Take That, Dim Jim Jordan!

If I ever grow up, I want to be Fani Willis. That woman can cast shade!

I just read the 9 page letter she sent to Congressional buffoon Jim Jordan. Jordan had demanded that the hardworking Georgia prosecutor who indicted Trump and others provide him with all documents relating to the case.

Her response was epic. You can read it in its entirety here.

Vanity Fair is just one of the numerous media sources that reported on that response.Here’s the lede:

In a withering letter, the subtext of which was basically “You’re a f–king idiot and I can’t believe I have to take the time out of my day to deal with you,” Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis blasted House Judiciary chair Jim Jordan and his demand that she turn over all documents related to her case against Donald Trump and the 18 other people she indicted last month. If this letter doesn’t cause Jordan such embarrassment or shame that he leaves town immediately never to return, nothing will!

Nothing will. Although Willis’ takedown should humiliate Jordan, his bizarre histrionics suggest he is impervious to shame.

Willis’ letter addresses Jordan’s constitutional ignorance.

Your attempt to invoke congressional authority to intrude upon and interfere with an active criminal case in Georgia is flagrantly at odds with the Constitution … There is absolutely no support for Congress purporting to second guess or somehow supervise an ongoing Georgia criminal investigation and prosecution. That violation of Georgia’s sovereignty is offensive and will not stand.” Apparently operating from the assumption that the House Judiciary chair knows less about how the US government works than a third grader, she added: “As the Supreme Court has explained, ‘the Executive Branch has exclusive authority and absolute discretion to decide whether to prosecute a case.’ Congress, in contrast, is barred by precedent from using investigations for ‘law enforcement purposes.’ You have thus violated the basic constitutional rule that ‘the power to investigate must not be confused with any of the powers of law enforcement; those powers are assigned under our Constitution to the Executive and the Judiciary’.”

For its part, Politico quoted the part of Willis letter responding to Jordan’s contention that, as a candidate for President, Trump deserved different treatment:

An announcement of a candidacy for elected office, whether President of the United States, Congress, or state or local office, is not and cannot be a bar to criminal investigation or prosecution. Any notion to the contrary is offensive to our democracy and to the fundamental principle that all people are equal before the law.

Snarky parts of the letter that I particularly enjoyed:

Your public statements and your letter itself make clear that you lack any legitimate legislative purpose for that inquiry: your job description as a legislator does not include criminal law enforcement, nor does it include supervising a specific criminal trial because you believe that doing so will promote your partisan political objectives….

Chairman Jordan, I tell people often, “deal with reality or reality will deal with you.” It is time that you deal with some basic realities. A Special Purpose Grand Jury made up of everyday citizens investigated for 10 months and made recommendations to me.

A further reality is that a grand jury of completely different Fulton County citizens found probable cause against the defendants named in the indictment for RICO violations and various other felonies. Face this reality, Chairman Jordan: the select group of defendants who you fret over in my jurisdiction are like every other defendant, entitled to no worse or better treatment than any other American citizen.

Here is another reality you must face: Those who wish to avoid felony charges in Fulton County, Georgia — including violations of Georgia RICO law — should not commit felonies in Fulton County, Georgia.

I especially loved this:

Your questioning of the inclusion of overt and predicate acts by the defendants in the indictment’s racketeering count shows a total ignorance of Georgia’s racketeering statute and the basics of criminal conspiracy law. Allow me the opportunity to provide a brief tutorial on criminal conspiracy law, Chairman Jordan.

As I explained to the public when announcing the indictment, the overt and predicate acts are included because the grand jury found probable cause that those acts were committed to advance the objectives of a criminal conspiracy to overturn the result of Georgia’s 2020 Presidential Election.

For a more thorough understanding of Georgia’s RICO statute, its application and similar laws in other states, I encourage you to read “RICO State-by-State.” As a non-member of the bar, you can purchase a copy for two hundred forty-nine dollars [$249].

If we had more public officials with Fani Willis’ smarts and spine, MAGA blowhards like Jordan wouldn’t be embarrassing Congress–and America.