America in Decline Part IV: Crime

Law enforcement vilification and liberal reforms have reversed a long-running downward trend of violent crime in the U.S.

The nation is more divided along racial fault lines and on the issue of law and order than perhaps at any time since the beating of Rodney King in the early 1990s.

Leading law enforcement experts say the culprit is the rhetoric of liberal politicians who have vilified law enforcement in pursuit of a political agenda. The charge of systemic racism against the entire police force has been made even by President Obama and has driven down morale in the ranks of law enforcement.

When murder has increased by nearly a third in a scant two years, that is a national crisis; there’s no other honest way to put it.

At the same time, budget-strapped state governments have tinkered with liberal criminal justice reforms including early prison release and reduced drug sentences — reforms that have put more criminals on the streets.

The president himself has issued nearly 1,000 commutations for federal inmates, far more than his predecessors, and shows no sign of slowing down the pace.

The nation is now faced with the reversal of a nearly 20-year trend of declining violence crime.

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LifeZette asked the experts to address the state of law and order in the United States and answer the question of whether the criminal justice system is truly in decline. Here’s what they said:

Steve Cook
America is in decline from a public safety perspective. In the mid-1980s, Congress enacted laws that strengthened the federal criminal justice system — laws that provided authorities the tools they needed to take armed career criminals, serial violent offenders, drug cartel and violent gang members off the street. As the federal prisons filled with the worst of the worst, violent crime was cut in half.

More recently, however, our federal criminal justice system has been incrementally weakened. Tens of thousands of drug traffickers were released from prison early, federal prosecutors were directed not to pursue mandatory minimum penalties in significant cases, hundreds of drug traffickers (many career offenders and many who used firearms in their trafficking) have been granted clemency by the president, federal prosecutions have dropped over 27 percent in the last 5 years, and the federal prison population has dropped by 11 percent. Along the way, many states implemented similar “reforms” weakening state criminal justice systems.

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These actions weakening the criminal justice system have begun to take their toll: We have experienced riots unlike any seen in decades, gangs are regaining control in inner cities, and law enforcement officer morale may be at an all-time low. And objective measures are even more telling. According to the FBI, homicides rates in 2015 increased 10.8 percent, rapes increased 6.3 percent, and aggravated assaults were up 4.6 percent. At the same time, our country is experiencing the worst opioid epidemic in history, killing more than 47,000 people a year.

Reminiscent of Nero fiddling while Rome burned, an insensitive Congress is currently considering legislation that would reduce penalties for armed career criminals, serial violent offenders, and habitual drug traffickers, and reopen sentencing for thousands previously convicted of those crimes.

Steve Cook is president of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys.

David A. Clarke Jr.
When law becomes the enemy and criminal behavior is celebrated by our media and cultural and political elites, the future for American communities looks bleak. The founding promise of America has always had at its foundation the rule of law — a Constitution that acknowledges liberty and justice for all is only as strong as the legal system that adheres to the concept of limited government and self-rule. The more we move away from that understanding of law and order as the guarantor of our freedoms, the further we stray from the essence of what once made America free, prosperous, and good.

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Under President Barack Obama, America’s communities have become less safe: He has declared war on the police; his 21st-century “task force” emphasizes de-escalation and mediation by law enforcement in place of enforcing the law, and he has taken the side of criminals through so-called prison reform. It is up to law-abiding citizens to reject this AstroTurf narrative that the criminal is to be celebrated. If we embrace it, it signals that we as Americans no longer understand the freeing power of justice and equality before the law. If we reject the criminal-as-hero, it means we understand that the pathway to restoring America’s greatness is indeed through the recognition of law and order, unalienable rights, and the system that ensures those rights.

David A. Clarke Jr. is sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.

William G. Otis
As 2016 winds down, America is in the midst of the most shocking surge in murders at least since Dwight Eisenhower was president. This is the second consecutive year of our killing spree; The Washington Post reported that murder in our 50 largest cities was up 17 percent in 2015, and TIME magazine reported in May that murders are up again in city after city this year. The Brennan Center, a liberal think tank, estimates that, nationally, the murder rate will increase 31.5 percent from 2014 to 2016.

When murder has increased by nearly a third in a scant two years, that is a national crisis; there’s no other honest way to put it. The tragedy is that we know how to avert this — and we know that we know because, for the 22 years before 2014, we cut the murder rate by more than half. America became a safer country than we had been since the baby boomers were in grade school.

The idea that our recent gargantuan increase in murder is just a statistical fluke, or has no understood cause, is nonsense. We know why murder went down and we know why it’s going up. It went down in large measure because we got serious about crime and undertook reforms. We hired more police, began more aggressive and proactive policing, and incarcerated more criminals for longer terms. Many on the Left have referred to this as “incarceration nation;” a more honest term would be “crime reduction nation,” and in short order we’ll be yearning for the reductions that, through soft thinking and complacency, we have started to forfeit.

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There are two wretched ironies here. One is that, as violent crime skyrockets, President Obama boasts that he has given clemency to more federal felons — dozens with firearms as well as drug trafficking convictions — than his last eleven predecessors combined. In the face of an unprecedented crime surge, the liberal “answer” is an unprecedented indulgence fest.

The second irony is that the victims of our new crime wave are, by a huge measure, disproportionately minorities. Contrary to the received wisdom of academia, the get-tough measures of the 1990s, undertaken by a Republican Congress and President Bill Clinton, did not burden black lives. To the exact contrary, they did more to save black lives than anything we had done since the civil rights movement. It would be a bloody mistake, as well as a tragedy, to turn away from we know works to re-embrace what we know fails.

William G. Otis is an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown, former special counsel for President George H. W. Bush, and a former federal prosecutor.


This analysis of the state of crime and the criminal justice system in the U.S. is the fourth installment of a five-part series on the question of whether America is truly in decline. The series also features leading experts on the state of U.S. foreign affairs and national security, the U.S. economy, America’s system of immigration, and the nation’s culture.

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