Even before the events of this past two weeks, the United States was already facing a cascading set of challenges this summer, from surging consumer prices to the spiking of COVID-19 cases. Then, when Kabul fell, it became all the more clear that our political class had bungled another task to which it was entrusted.
But then again, should we be surprised? Our politicians cannot even ensure the safety of Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Oakland — let alone a foreign capital nearly 7,000 miles away.
Cities across the United States have experienced a wave of violent crime that has been on the march since last summer and has caused so much needless loss of life. This ongoing crime wave represents a fundamental failure in governance, in addition to the vapidness of the sloganeering that brought about this state of affairs. In the interest, though, of discussing solutions rather than just harping on the extent of the problem, we would like to put forward three concrete points that can help curtail our national revival of violent crime.
First, given federal statistics estimating that upwards of 80% of crime in certain jurisdictions is gang-related, law enforcement and local officeholders must make dismantling these criminal organizations a chief priority. The extent of the gang presence in certain cities can be so dramatic that it deters witnesses from coming forward. For instance, it has been more than a year since the June 2020 shooting in Charlotte that left four dead and 181 rounds fired into a block party, yet there still has not been a single arrest.
In Charlotte during the 1990s, however, the focus was always on arresting the most notorious gang members, which had an outsized impact on reducing crime — a result that was anticipated by decades of scholarship demonstrating that targeted “gang takedowns” can result in dramatic reductions in crime.
Next, we must restore trust between police departments and prosecutors, two component parts of the criminal justice system that should be working together seamlessly. Many police departments, particularly in cities with progressive district attorneys such as Philadelphia, are suffering from low morale as trust erodes between police officers and prosecutors whose focus is on anything but taking criminals off the streets. It is demoralizing for police officers to go through the trouble of arresting suspects only to see them released and reoffending shortly thereafter. This — paired with so much rhetoric hostile to the police — also makes it more difficult to recruit stellar police officer candidates.
Finally, despite the spate of recent think pieces claiming that it is “racist” to enforce laws against loitering and similar lower-level offenses, it is essential to recall that social order is fragile and must be actively maintained. In Charlotte during the 1990s, for instance, people “tolerated no truancy,” and this was part of a broader focus on addressing homelessness, aggressive panhandling, littering and other so-called “quality of life” issues. The only difference this time around is we need a greater focus on alternatives to incarceration for certain drug offenders and those suffering from mental illnesses.
As much as one might be tempted, at first glance, to dismiss our ongoing crime surge as merely the result of activist district attorneys like Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner or San Francisco’s Chesa Boudin paired with sloganeering (“Defund the Police”), these extreme examples sit within a broader climate of complacency about crime, which paradoxically could only have come into existence as a result of the relative safety achieved through the tough-on-crime policies championed from the 1990s until recently.
With political leaders on the back foot following recent events in Afghanistan, they would be wise to recenter competence and begin addressing the county’s many compounding difficulties. Crime is the place to start.
Pat McCrory served as the 74th governor of North Carolina from 2013 to 2017 and the 53rd mayor of Charlotte from 1995 to 2009.
Erich Prince co-founded and runs the online magazine Merion West.