California Politicos Now Talking Tough on Crime
It is amusing — and a little pathetic — to see California’s liberal politicians slide to the right in response to an upsurge in crime.
Gov. Gavin Newsom is leading the unsubtle rhetorical shift from criminal justice reform —i.e. reducing punishment for those who transgress — to demanding crackdowns on criminals.
Smash and Grabs in Spotlight
A week before Christmas, with retail stores seeing a wave of smash-and-grab robberies and cities reeling from record levels of homicide, Newsom unveiled what he called a “Real Public Safety Plan” that “focuses on new investments that will bolster local law enforcement response, ensure prosecutors hold perpetrators accountable and get guns and drugs off our streets.”
“Through robust new investments and ongoing coordination with local agencies, this plan will bolster our prevention, deterrence and enforcement efforts to aggressively curb crime, hold bad actors to account and protect Californians from the devastating gun violence epidemic,” Newsom, said.
Newsom sounded more like one of those Republican lock-‘em-up governors of the past, such as George Deukmejian or Pete Wilson, than a governor who has blocked executions of murderers, closed prisons and otherwise backed the criminal justice reform agenda.
Newsom is not the only born-again crimefighter, however.
Born Again Crimefighters
A few days before his announcement, San Francisco Mayor London Breed did a two-step of her own. Clearly worried that the wave of store invasion robberies would discourage tourists and Christmas shoppers, Breed pledged to end “the reign of criminals who are destroying our city” by becoming “less tolerant” of what she called “bullsh*t.” Breed also declared a state of emergency in the city’s Tenderloin district due to surging street crime.
A similar change of attitude about crime is evident across San Francisco Bay in Oakland, which had embraced the “defund police” movement in response to the 2020 death of George Floyd with a Minneapolis policeman’s knee on his neck.
The Oakland City Council, at the urging of Mayor Libby Schaaf, voted to hire more police officers as the city tallied 134 homicides in 2021, the most in nearly two decades. Perennially, Oakland has one of the nation’s highest homicide rates
Schaaf applauded the vote, saying that residents “spoke up for a comprehensive approach to public safety — one that includes prevention, intervention, and addressing crime’s root causes, as well as an adequately staffed police department.”
The mayor of San Jose joined the anti-crime chorus after a local judge allowed two people charged with homicide to go free while awaiting trial — citing more lenient bail reform rules.
“I appreciate the purpose of bail reform,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said, “but releasing a homicide suspect without bail is outrageous. The pendulum has swung too far, and it’s our neighborhoods that endure the most crime that suffer as a result.”
Response to Rising Public Anger
The tough-on-crime rhetoric from these and other prominent politicians clearly reflects their concerns not only about the surge in crime but a surge of public anger about it, and the possibility of a political backlash.
Although Newsom’s re-election this year is not likely to be affected, there will be tests for other politicians, including Attorney General Rob Bonta, who was appointed by Newsom and will be seeking a full term.
Sacramento County’s district attorney, Anne Marie Schubert, who gained fame for prosecuting serial killer Joseph James DeAngelo, is challenging Bonta by tying him to criminal justice reforms she says have gone too far.
Bonta is allied politically and ideologically with the district attorneys of Los Angeles and San Francisco, George Gascón and Chesa Boudin, both of whom face potential recalls for adopting more lenient policies on prosecuting criminals.
Crime could be the sleeper issue of the year.
About the Author
Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times. For more columns by Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.