On June 5, three days before his 11th birthday, Justin Wallace was enjoying a family barbecue in the backyard of a cousin’s house in New York City. He was, by all accounts, a curious and bright child who excelled at maths and was fascinated by technology. Like his friends at his local School, he was looking forward to a long, listless summer of freedom that is the birthright of every American child. He never finished the school year. He was shot dead that evening after an assailant fired into the cousin’s home after a dispute involving a parking space. A 29-year-old local man was later charged with the boy’s murder. At Justin’s funeral, Donovan Richards, the borough president, reflected on the wider meaning of the boy’s loss. “Today it’s Justin. Tomorrow it could be your child. Black lives matter. But they must matter to us as well.”
If the past years of turmoil and violence across America have taught anything, it’s that in a nation enjoined to come to a “reckoning” with its apparently systemic injustices, some black lives matter more than others. While millionaire sportsmen take the knee and entertainers declare their Instagram solidarity with the victims of alleged white oppression, black Americans like Justin are being murdered every day in the nation’s cities. They’re dying in significant part because the law enforcement that has been so demonised, the police officers who have been denounced as genocidal oppressors of minorities, haven’t been around in enough force to stop the violence. In the year since nationwide protests upended America’s political and cultural conversation, many thousands more people have been killed than in previous years.
Last year was the most violent for more than two decades and the first half of 2021 has been worse. In New York, up to early June, there were 181 murders, up from 120 in the same period in 2019. In Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed, this year is on course to be the deadliest in the city’s history. After decades of dramatic declines in violent crime, the past 12 months have put the US back on track to the urban nightmare that characterised many cities in the 1970s and 1980s. The overwhelming majority of the victims are black men, women and children; many, like Justin, were innocent bystanders in the wrong place at the wrong time, gunned down in lawless neighbourhoods. There can be little doubt that the anti-police rhetoric and actions of Democratic leaders have contributed significantly to the surge in crime.
Not only has mass denunciation of the police led to much more restrained enforcement of the law. But after Floyd’s murder dozens of cities made big cuts to police budgets. Police numbers have dropped precipitously, New York lost more than 5,000 cops in 2020, and in Chicago more than 500 retired. Restrictions on policing and aggressive prosecution of police have also led to departures. In Portland this month 50 officers quit a special anti-riot squad en masse after one of them was charged with assaulting a protester. Amid rising political pressure, Democrats blame the increase in violent crime on the pandemic, guns, even the police themselves: anything but their own approach to law and order. Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mayor of Atlanta, said that Georgia’s decision to reopen its economy early after the pandemic produced a surge in crime.
At the White House, President Biden pledged to tackle the crime wave by pushing for more restrictive gun laws. The US of course has a famously permissive gun culture, but blaming guns for surging violence is like blaming Officer Derek Chauvin’s trouser leg for the death of Floyd. Most of the gun violence has occurred in cities like New York and Chicago, which have some of the strictest laws in the country against the possession and use of firearms. But the clearest sign that even the far left recognises the tragic folly of its assault on law enforcement is that many cities are now urgently reversing the cuts made to their police budgets. In Baltimore, which cut its funding by $22 million last summer, the mayor recently proposed a $27 million increase. In Oakland and Los Angeles, leaders are rushing to restore at least part of the cuts made to police budgets last year.
The political impulse is gathering momentum. This week Eric Adams, a former police officer, came top in the Democratic primary contest for mayor of New York. It will be a while before a complicated new election system produces full results, but if he stays on top he’s virtually guaranteed to be the city’s next mayor, having run on a platform of tackling the crime surge. It’s all too late to save lives like those of Justin Wallace. But perhaps it’s not too late to hope that his death will help put an end to the ideological insanity that has denuded law enforcement resources and demonised decent police officers, and prevented them from protecting the vulnerable black Americans who need them most.
Source: The New York Times