Few would have imagined in 1950, when Detroit was the country’s fifth-largest city, the undisputed car capital of the world and one of the most important cities of its era, that it would become synonymous with urban decay. Yet it happened there. Which means it can happen anywhere, even California.
Steep taxes, smothering regulation and a hostile business climate are leaving businesses with little choice but to escape from California. Residents, particularly from the middle class, are fleeing too.
But “progressive” economic and regulatory policies – identified by economist Thomas Sowell as “increasing taxes, harassing businesses, and pandering to unions” – were not the only factors in Detroit’s decline. The Motor City was hollowed out in part by the flight of residents who’d had enough of the crime. Sowell said the riot of 1967, which killed 43, injured nearly 1,200 and damaged more than 2,000 buildings, “marked the beginning of the decline of Detroit to its current state of despair.”
Today, more than a half-century later, “Detroit’s violent crime leads the nation,” according to The Detroit News.
It’s vital at any time to recognize how crime can destroy a city. It’s even more so today, given that the elected prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Francisco have clearly indicated that the peace and tranquility of their constituents is secondary to the political left’s social justice agenda.
Chesa Boudin was elected San Francisco district attorney in 2019 on an anti-incarceration platform that included a promise to end gang enhancements – increased prison time for gang-related crimes – the use of cash bail to ensure that defendants appear in court and application of the state’s three-strikes law.
Boudin, the son of Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, members of the Weather Underground, a domestic terrorist group responsible for bombings and murders, according to the FBI, is a former deputy public defender who had never prosecuted a case. From the beginning, Boudin announced that he would not prosecute quality-of-life crimes such as “public camping, offering or soliciting sex, public urination, blocking a sidewalk, etc.”
Other crimes seem to be low on his prosecutorial list, as well. Through August, homicides were up 23% over 2019, burglary increased 43%, and car theft went up 34%. By December, home and commercial burglaries had soared by about 46%.
Authorities suspect the surge “is being driven in part by chronic offenders,” according to the San Francisco Examiner.
“Boudin’s lack of prosecutions is fueling a burglary epidemic,” the Marina Times reported in September. “Boudin’s term started with a 23% leap in robberies and upticks in burglaries and car break-ins. After the March 16 Covid-19 shutdown, with retail stores closing and tourists and rental cars disappearing, criminals transitioned to stealing cars, starting fires, and committing burglaries.”
Boudin took office after beating interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus, appointed after former District Attorney George Gascon stepped down, in a tight race. Gascon was next seen running for, and then winning in November 2020, the prosecutor’s job in Los Angeles County. Gascon doesn’t have a record in his new office, but he did leave behind a trail in San Francisco. Like his successor, he didn’t believe quality-of-life crimes should be prosecuted. Apparently, they are merely a “nuisance” to residents. Seems he didn’t think it worthwhile to separate criminals from society, either. Under Gascon, San Francisco incarceration rates were one-fourth of those in Los Angeles.
When Gascon announced his resignation, the San Francisco Police Officers Association’s response was “good riddance.” While “happy” he was leaving, officers still felt “horrible” he was “taking his record of failure to an even larger county where he can cause even more harm to public safety.”
Gascon, a former Los Angeles police officer and San Francisco chief, quickly introduced “reforms” at his new post. On the first day, he eliminated cash bail, told his prosecutors they are to no longer seek enhanced prison sentences, and are to show “leniency to many low-level offenders.” His deputies responded by asking a judge to relieve them of the limitations Gascon has placed on them, which they say are in conflict with state law.
To be fair, crime increased in a number of urban areas during the pandemic. But not all prosecutors have publicly declared they were going easy on crime, nor have all taken campaign cash from George Soros, the billionaire who is determined to disrupt American society. Boudin and Gascon have done both. And now they are part of the “progressive” movement that’s driving businesses and residents out of California.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.