Broken Windows, Broken Lives
Recently I was watching television in my comfy suburban home after my morning workout at the rec center. I was watching Squawk Box on CNBC while cooling down from my workout as I often do although recently, with the pandemic, economic indicators and market performance are so screwy that nothing makes much sense anymore. This morning the guest was Sam Zell, a Chicago-based billionaire who made most of his money in real estate.
It was a far-ranging interview, but one thing struck me as especially significant. Discussing the effects of the pandemic on big cities, Joe Kernan, one of the CNBC hosts, noted that people are fleeing the cities for the suburbs and he wondered what the long-term impact on the cities would be. They also played a clip of a previous interview with Barry Sternlicht, another real estate billionaire, who also noted the flight to the suburbs. But Sternlicht said it was not COVID-19 that was causing the flight but concerns about safety in the big cities.
Zell said that Sternlicht was exactly right. Both Chicago and New York (the hometowns of Zell and Sternlicht) have been hit with rising violence that Zell described as “organized.” Combined with high taxes (that will only go higher if the Democrats take over Washington), violence and uncertainty have triggered a move to the safer suburbs. Sternlicht noted that 40% of New York City taxes are paid by one percent of the population and if that segment of the population leaves the burden of paying for city services will fall on those that remain.
Both Zell and Sternlicht stated that the long-term future of cities is secure because people are social animals and that cities are hubs of innovation and productivity, but they both also said that, in order to turn this situation around and revitalize America’s big cities, order and security would have to be restored. Zell said that we would need “a lot of enforcement,” and “adjustments to these no-bail, no bad things happening” to criminals and that there would have to be “consequences” which he hoped we would see in the next few months.
But both Chicago and New York are controlled by far-left mayors along with far-left city councils. These are the people promoting the defunding of police, no bail requirements for many crimes, and other progressive policies that have resulted in rising violence in these and other big American cities. As Kim Klacik, the black Republican candidate in Maryland’s seventh district (which includes Baltimore) states, ”The Democrats have controlled my city, Charm City, for over 50 years and they have run this beautiful place into the ground.” The far-left progressive mayors in the cities burning across America show no signs that they are willing to back off their progressive agenda. And a Democratic landslide in the upcoming elections would only reinforce and entrench these policies across our land.
Joe Biden, in his acceptance speech at the virtual Democratic National Convention, said, “In this dark moment, I believe we’re poised to make great progress again, that we can find the light once more.” Is Joe talking about the flickering light cast by the flames rising across American cities? Maybe he was talking about the light of his sunny smile. But we are going to need something more than sunny smiles and liberal policy blunders to save America’s cities.
Mr. Zell said he did not think America’s cities would return to “those bad old days” but, I lived in New York City during those bad old days and know what it was like. There were 1557 murders in NYC in 1977, the year I moved there. Murders peaked in 1990 at 2245. Murder rates fell precipitously during the administration of Mayor Rudy Giuliani under his “broken windows” policy initiative and have continued to fall since, dropping to 289 in 2018. But in the long hot summer of 2020 murders in NYC are up. Way up. Up 21% in the first six months of the year. Up 59% in July 2020 compared to the previous year. Other crimes are also up.
Is this the kind of light that candidate Joe Biden is offering to the American people? Daily protests have continued in Portland for more than 80 days and thirteen have officially been declared riots (but if you had been there you probably would have thought most of them were riots). Caravans of organized looters plundered Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. The Wall Street Journal reported, “Ariel Atkins of Black Lives Matter Chicago called the looting “reparations” and attacked the mayor for calling looting a felony. “The whole idea of criminality is based on racism anyway,” she said.”
I don’t think all the violence, looting and talk of reparations is going to improve race relations in America. It is more likely to improve President Trump’s chances of winning in November. And the people that are the life blood of cities are leaving. COVID-19 drove them out of their office buildings and people learned that they could work from home by telecommuting via Zoom meetings. The coffee shops, restaurants and delis that service downtown workers were already hurting. Now their shops are looted and burned. And the people who live in the city that can’t work from home and that can’t afford to move to the suburbs are suffering. Many of them are black lives that matter.
There is a wealth of statistics on crime and criminality in the United States. And these statistics support the idea that while systemic racism was prevalent during the Jim Crow era and beyond, in recent decades statistical support for this contention has evaporated. What the statistics show is that police have an outsized interaction with the black community because members of the black community commit an outsized percentage of the crimes, usually on their fellow black community members.
But statistics fade into the background when confronted by smartphone videos of police violence. Even though the videos only portray small segments of these confrontations, and usually the reaction of the police and not the action that caused the police to react, they are treated as evidence of systemic racism. But at trial witnesses are advised to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” The Black Lives Matter organization is not interested in the truth. Neither is Al Sharpton and many other black leaders whose livelihoods are dependent black anger and white guilt (white guilt being the much more lucrative aspect of their profession).
The recent shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin has set off a spate of rioting and looting. But while the video of the incident hit the social media airwaves almost immediately, the facts of the case are murky. A woman had called police dispatch and said her boyfriend was there and he was not supposed to be on the premises and that he had her car keys. In 2015, Blake was charged with carrying a concealed weapon but was apparently never prosecuted. This year Blake was charged with third-degree sexual abuse from a domestic abuse incident in July. Blake resisted arrest when the police arrived and apparently admitted he had a knife in his pocket. Blake attempted to flee in a car with three children in the backseat. In such domestic incidents children are often the victims and Blake’s attempt to flee with them created a very dangerous situation.
The Kenosha police reacted to this situation, but they only had limited information and only a few seconds to respond. Here in my supposedly safe suburban location there was a domestic disturbance less than a mile from my house. When the officers entered the house, a man opened fire and wounded three cops. Luckily the officers survived. The man barricaded himself in the house along with his mother, brother and sister – threatening to kill them all. After about eighteen hours the man finally surrendered, and all the hostages were safe. Highly emotional domestic disturbances are dangerous situations and the police are always on edge during these incidents.
Just as I was about to publish this commentary, I saw a news flash on TV. A man in San Marcos Texas (just down the road a way) had kidnapped his girlfriends two kids. The police found his body outside – dead from an apparent suicide. The bodies of the two children (ages six months and two years) lay nearby. This is why Kenosha police could not allow Jacob Blake to drive off from the scene with three kids in the back of the car. We do not know what might have happened if he had. And that’s the point.
We do not have all the facts about the Jacob Blake case. We have the evidence of the smartphone video but there is more evidence to come. The people in the black community of Kenosha Wisconsin had been indoctrinated to believe racism is the root cause of all the bad things that happen in the community, such as the shooting, and immediately began to protest, riot and loot without the facts. Perhaps counseling or some other intervention could have prevented this domestic disturbance in the first place, but once the police were called it was too late.
The people in the black community are being fed a false narrative. Yes, there are still vestiges of racism in America but there has been slow but steady progress in rooting it out. The Black Lives Matter organization promulgates this false narrative and fading black leaders like Al Sharpton are racing to keep pace. They don’t want to end racial injustice. They want to conjure it up even where it doesn’t exist. This makes it harder to root out racism where it does exist.