Josh Hammer: The Death of ‘Criminal Justice Reform’

Are there are any other issues confronting our fractious republic that matter if Americans themselves are too scared to walk outside, lest they be mugged by a “bail reform”-freed perp or shot by a gangbanger in a drive-by shooting? As we get ready to close the chapter on this bloody year of 2021, that is the question all policymakers and all public-minded citizens ought to be asking themselves.

Fortunately, if there is a silver lining to be found amid the unprecedented urban looting, the horrific anecdotes of children shot while playing outside and the historic overall homicide rates afflicting so many of America’s biggest cities, it is that many seem to be arriving at a long-overdue and much-welcomed consensus: The era of “criminal justice reform” is finally over.

Good riddance.

The national murder rate in 2020 rose over 30% on a year-by-year basis, as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis soon unleashed a hellish summer of riotous mayhem. But murder rates in 2021 have only further spiked, even compared to that harrowing baseline of one year prior. The Manhattan Institute’s Rafael Mangual broke it down in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed: “Philadelphia just shattered its all-time annual homicide record with a full month remaining in 2021, as have Louisville, Ky.; Indianapolis; Columbus, Ohio; Austin, Texas; Tucson, Ariz.; St. Paul, Minn.; Portland, Ore.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Fayetteville, N.C. Other cities, like Cincinnati; Trenton, N.J.; Memphis, Tenn.; Milwaukee; Kansas City, Mo.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Denver; Cleveland; Jackson, Miss.; Wichita, Kan.; Greensboro, N.C.; Lansing, Mich.; and Colorado Springs, Colo., saw their highest homicide tallies since 1990 last year.”

To drive that point home, earlier this year, the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice concluded that the post-Floyd 2020 crime surge represented a “large and troubling increase” with “no modern precedent” in U.S. history. And the data now clearly show that 2021 has been even worse than 2020 was. Perhaps this bloody status quo is OK for a third-world banana republic but it is decidedly (SET ITAL)not(END ITAL) OK for the would-be greatest country in the world.

Thankfully, some recent trend lines finally seem to point in the right direction — that is, away from decarceral anarchy, and toward civilizational sanity.

In July, Eric Adams won New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary, paving the way for his eventual and now-impending mayoralty. While Adams is hardly an ideal choice, his campaigning as a no-nonsense retired police officer does suggest at least a mild rebuke to the anti-cop lawlessness that characterized Mayor Bill de Blasio’s destructive tenure.

Other optimistic data points abound. Last month in Minneapolis, where Floyd himself was killed, voters overwhelmingly rejected a noxious “defund” initiative that would have replaced the municipal police department with an amorphous mix of social workers. It is not difficult to understand why: Through September 2021, gunshots fired in Minneapolis had risen in volume 380% over the same period in 2019.

Also last month, in Seattle, a notorious haven of radical-left progressive lunacy (Does anyone even remember the so-called Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone of 2020?), a Republican who campaigned on a law-and-order message prevailed in the city’s district attorney election. For context as to how far-left Seattle normally is, the Emerald City’s nine city council members include eight Democrats and one member from the “Socialist Alternative” party, which self-describes as an overtly Marxist outfit.

Most recently, the Democratic mayor of the most iconic far-left city in America, San Francisco, pulled no punches in her condemnation of anarchy. In the aftermath of numerous well-publicized instances of looting and vandalizing in downtown San Francisco and its surrounding needle-bestrewn and feces-bespeckled environs, Mayor London Breed unloaded: “The reign of criminals in our city, it is time for it to come to an end. And it comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement, more aggressive with the changes in our policy, and less tolerant of all the bulls— that has destroyed our city.” Hear, hear.

In recent decades, progressives and libertarians, from far-left activist George Soros to the right-of-center Texas Public Policy Foundation, have often made common cause on a cancerous “criminal justice reform” agenda. That agenda usually prioritizes minimizing or eliminating bail, reducing criminal sentences, abolishing qualified immunity, electing anti-prosecution district attorneys, downsizing police departments and other decivilizational measures.

God willing, it seems like the jig may finally be up. Republicans have by-and-large moved back toward their traditional law-and-order posture, and even many Democrats seem fed up with our roiling national bedlam. “Criminal justice reform,” it seems, may have finally met its death sentence.

PHOTO: Ford Crown Victoria NYPD Police. Photo by crash71100. CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication.

Josh Hammer is opinion editor of Newsweek, a research fellow with the Edmund Burke Foundation, counsel and policy advisor for the Internet Accountability Project, a syndicated columnist through Creators and a contributing editor for Anchoring Truths. A frequent pundit and essayist on political, legal and cultural issues, Josh is a constitutional attorney by training and the co-host of two podcasts: Newsweek's "The Debate" and the Edmund Burke Foundation's "NatCon Squad."

An outspoken conservative, Josh opines on conservative intellectual trends, contemporary domestic and foreign policy debates, constitutional and legal issues, and the intersection of law, politics and culture. He has been published by many leading outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, Newsweek, National Affairs, American Affairs, The National Interest, National Review, City Journal, First Things, Public Discourse, Law & Liberty, Tablet Magazine, Deseret Magazine, The Spectator, The American Conservative, The American Mind, American Greatness, American Compass, Anchoring Truths, Townhall, The Epoch Times, The Daily Wire, Fortune, Fox Business, Pairagraph, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, The Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the Jewish Journal. He has had formal legal scholarship published by the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy and the University of St. Thomas Law Journal.

Josh is a college campus speaker through Intercollegiate Studies Institute and Young America's Foundation, as well as a law school campus speaker through the Federalist Society. Prior to Newsweek and the Daily Wire, where he was an editor, Josh worked at a large law firm and clerked for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Josh has also served as a John Marshall Fellow with the Claremont Institute.

Josh graduated from Duke University, where he majored in economics, and from the University of Chicago Law School. He lives in Miami, but remains an active member of the State Bar of Texas.