AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Roman
Is the criminal justice system too harsh on criminals, sentencing them to long-terms, forgoing rehabilitation, with a police force that focuses on coercion rather than “peaceful outreach” such as welfare and mental health counseling? Or is it a rigged system whereby “killers” get off at the hands of juries due to “technicalities,” otherwise known as the rule of law, which “biased white supremacist judges” choose to uphold? It is hard to overstate just what a disaster the events of the last two weeks have been for the American Left and the Democratic Party when it comes to the issue of crime. It is not merely that their proposals to abolish the police and prisons and enact “bail reform” have been exposed as a clear threat to public safety by the tragic events in Waukesha. It is that they have pursued mutually exclusive lines of argument on criminal justice, and both have been discredited simultaneously. It is one thing to be proven wrong. It is another to be unable to get straight even among yourselves which of your positions was proven wrong, or even what your positions are. Democrats have complained that their view on law enforcement and crime is misunderstood. But it is unclear they even understand what it is themselves.
The response to the trial and acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse highlighted the incoherence of the Democratic position on crime. The overarching claim used to justify Black Lives Matter protests was that America has a militarized police force which uses excessive force against those the authorities perceive as criminals, often resulting in the deaths of those the police are trying to apprehend. It is then argued that prosecutors and courts railroad defendants, who have inadequate representation from under-paid public defenders. Then, those who are convicted are sent to prisons, which liberals argue do little for rehabilitation. In fact, the concern of liberals with the plight of those in prison is so great, one of the leading issues which has preoccupied them has been whether biologically male prisoners who claim to identify as female should be placed in women’s prisons. “Squad” members Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, both House Democrats, have also introduced a bill described as a “roadmap for prison abolition.”
Yet all of this messaging was inverted when it came to Kyle Rittenhouse. Democrats and many on the Left grew frustrated with the inability of the prosecutor to railroad Rittenhouse and screamed “bias” when the judge refused to allow the prosecution to supplant evidence with defamatory hearsay. For example, the judge stopped the prosecution from referring to those shot as “victims,” denied prosecutors to opportunity to expound upon Rittenhouse’s alleged political views, and prevented unrelated discussion of the Proud Boys.
All of these things were the exact sort of character assassination that liberals have often bemoaned when used against African American defendants. It is also shocking how few commentators, even on the Left, actually argued against the legal correctness of the jury’s decision. Their view is that due process should have been waived in order to send Rittenhouse to a prison system they oppose on the basis it is inhumane. In spite of the prosecutorial fouls and legal shortcomings of the case, they wanted to see an 18-year-old sentenced to rot in a prison system they claim is torture, one which takes young men who are perfectly capable of rehabilitation and makes them un-rehabilitatable. By the Left’s ordinary logic, Rittenhouse should not have gone to prison at all regardless of his guilt.
But this assumes there is an underlying logic to their position, and there is little to none. Only emotion. Some on the Left were honest enough to admit that their actual motivations came from critical race ideology. Their objection was not to Rittenhouse’s acquittal specifically, but rather to hypothetical cases where a young black man in Rittenhouse’s position might well not have been acquitted, or even made it to trial. Their argument was then that Rittenhouse should be convicted because a Black person in his shoes would ostensibly be convicted. And then they wonder why so many, especially young students, come away from their arguments believing they are advocating for innocent young white boys and girls to be “punished” merely for being white in pursuit of some sort of racial justice. Would wrongfully punishing Rittenhouse have done anything for a person of another race who was wrongfully punished?
Ironically, Democrats might have been better off if their messaging during the Rittenhouse trial had represented an actual pivot to a tough on crime position, rather than an outburst of emotional fury against a perceived ideological opponent. Because after what happened in Waukesha, arguing that too many prosecutors are incompetent and as a result let criminals go free seems like a winning argument, particularly after Darrell Brooks drove his car into a Christmas Parade, killing at least six people, including a child. Brooks was a beneficiary of exactly the sort of soft-on-crime justice system the Far Left has have been advocating in favor of for years. In February, his bail was set at a mere $1,000 to be released after shooting at his nephew last summer, and was only $500 earlier this month for trying to run over a woman with his car. Apparently, women’s lives are worth half as much in the Far-Left’s new vision for criminal “justice.” Especially after Brooks was also charged with impregnating a teenage girl in Nevada in 2006, and battery in 1999.
Police abolitionists within the Democratic Party argue that prison does not always rehabilitate, but they ignore that it does one thing simply letting criminals out does not: prevent them from continuing to commit crimes. Would imprisoning Brooks for years after 1999 or 2006 have turned him into a productive member of society? Perhaps not. Evidence is he never would have been. But it would have saved his nephew from physical and emotional trauma, and saved at least six lives last week. This is a fundamental flaw with the entire approach of the Far Left to crime. It does not provide a way to protect the public or even assume that is an important goal. The focus is only on what is best for the criminals.
Ironically, if Democrats and the Left cared about protecting the public, they might well be able to reconcile their criticisms of the unfairness of the system, especially toward young African American males, something even Republicans like Senator Tim Scott have also noted as an area of concern, with a desire to protect the public. The liberal argument should be that no one should be unsafe in public, or in their homes. Breonna Taylor, shot when police mistakenly raided her home, should not have been killed. Nor should have George Floyd. There are some who would argue that Kyle Rittenhouse should not have been where he was that night. But others would argue back that he would not have been there had the police not been prevented by the Radical Left from doing their jobs to maintain order and arrest the rioters. In fact, tragedies like those which befell Ms. Taylor are a direct consequence of the tolerance, indeed the open encouragement, of anarchy on the streets of American towns and cities. An anarchy where the Left believes that police should not stop drug sales, petty thefts, or misdemeanors. No wonder citizens arm themselves.
But the Left does not care about public safety. And rather than making the world more just, they are increasing the arbitrariness of the justice system by starving it of the resources and means to provide a nuanced and effective justice system. The fairest and most just system, not to mention least violent, is one where crime is prevented before it occurs. After a crime takes place, there are merely trials, force, and imprisonment.
The Left has had a lot to say the last month about the justice system when it came to Kyle Rittenhouse. Almost all of it contradicted their own positions in recent years. They are now silent in the face of the atrocity in Waukesha. What can they say? All they know is that anything they say now only makes things worse for them. They should use this time to listen instead of speak—and start with listening to the victims.
Daniel Roman is the pen name of a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.
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