GOULD: As crime surges, crime reforms pushed by academics prove superficial

Within academic circles, the discourse has often been overly simplistic, reducing complex issues into a binary narrative of good versus evil and victim versus oppressor.

As crime rages in blue states, the response from leftist officials has been counterintuitive: enact criminal justice reforms proven to make states, and their college campuses, unsafe.

Illinois’ Supreme Court ruled in July to uphold a law eliminating cash bail with lawmakers claiming to help low-income defendants or racial minorities. But this reform is recasting offenders as the true victims of crime and further victimizing those on increasingly dangerous campuses in increasingly dangerous cities. 

Within academic circles, the discourse has been overly simplistic, reducing complex issues into a binary narrative of good versus evil and victim versus oppressor. Students and faculty, for example, have cited rare instances of police misconduct to argue for the complete removal of law enforcement from campuses, sometimes even employing slogans like “All Cops are Bastards.” 

These institutions portray police officers as intrinsically evil while presenting those they apprehend as inherently good.

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These leftist students and academics reside in cities and states with violent protests to defund the police and with criminal justice reforms so absurd that they actually promote criminal activity such as in California where shoplifting anything below $950 is only a misdemeanor and where employees are discouraged from stopping theft. 

The underlying rationale behind these reforms revolves around the argument that racial minorities and individuals from low-income backgrounds are disproportionately arrested or imprisoned, thereby implying inherent bias in policing, pre-trial procedures, and sentencing.

In 2021, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker made this very argument when he signed the reform bill eliminating cash bail – that is, using alternate methods to monitor defendants before their appearance at trial (the ACLU, which supports eliminating cash bail, does not identify specific alternatives, however.)  

The bill, according to his office’s press release, addressed “systemic racism” and offered solutions for “those who have been detained pre-trial only because they are poor.”

In signing the bill and subsequent amendments, Pritzker flipped the criminal justice system on its head so that a system designed to prevent victimization treats offenders as the real victims.  

Provisions of the bill and its amendments include preventing “police access to any military equipment” and replacing arrests with citations “for certain low level offenses,” according to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA). 

What ICJIA doesn’t mention is that “low level offenses” mean Class B and C misdemeanors. In Illinois, that includes criminal trespassing and assault. 

It’s no surprise, then, that Illinois has seen a dramatic increase in “low level offenses” and violent crime. From 2021 to 2022, according to a state dashboard, homicides went up 48.7 percent. Human trafficking, motor vehicle theft, assault, and robbery increased, too. 

The fallout of reform is also felt on Illinois campuses. Data collected by the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) from January to June 2023, for instance, shows “increases in overall violent crime” in two out of its three service areas. Total campus crime, including robbery and motor vehicle theft, is at 128 reports. That’s nearly double the number of reports for the same period in 2022. 

Of course, cashless bail is new in Illinois, so data have yet to reveal the impact of this specific reform. But other states offer a glimpse into the future. 

A Manhattan Institute fellow conducted an analysis in 2022 and found that defendants’ rates of rearrest increased after New York State enacted its bail reform. In other words, the state chose in 2019 to use cash bail less frequently, and what followed was “a significant increase in criminal reoffending,” the fellow wrote. 

The reform has been so unpopular in New York that, in 2023, Gov. Kathy Hochul introduced a budget agreement giving judges more discretion in assigning cash bail–the third update to bail reform since its enactment.

[RELATED: WATCH: Campus crime is surging, ‘eleven students were taken hostage at gunpoint’]

Illinois lawmakers, however, ignored evidence from New York. Thus, students in the area may face an even greater danger than they currently do wherein violent criminals roam free and are given amply opportunity to victimize more people.  

Take for instance the story involving Dennis Shaoxiong Zheng. 

In 2021, Zheng, a University of Chicago graduate was murdered by Alton Spann. Spann had previously committed aggravated vehicular hijacking and armed robbery, was walking free on parole. When he was arrested for murdering Zheng, ”[h]e had the keys of the Mustang and two weapons, one of which matched the one used to kill [Zheng].

If leftist reforms actually cared about ‘victimization,’ Spann would have been locked up in Illinois prison for decades on account of his previous crimes, and Zheng would be alive.  

Each reform bill passed on the basis of leftist orthodoxy - that is, reforms that make victims out of violent offenders – is a choice of political expediency, with lawmakers siding with protesters whose reasoning amounts to police and jail: bad, offenders: good. 

However, some leftist lawmakers have provided a glimmer of hope, as other blue regions are avoiding Illinois’ mistake – even if it is for the political purpose of not looking ‘soft on crime.’ 

Congressional Democrats, for example, recently rejected criminal justice reforms from the Democratic-majority council in Washington, D.C. 

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution to block a new criminal code that reduced the maximum sentence for carjackings, which has skyrocketed in the nation’s capital. Biden also supported the resolution because, ahead of the 2024 presidential election, he reportedly wanted to combat the image of Democrats as soft on crime. 

This election season, lawmakers will have to account for why violent crime in D.C. rages. At the D.C.-based Catholic University of America and Howard University, the recent murder and assault of students and campus visitors led to administrators’ meetings with police, according to a Fox News affiliate.

The murder at Howard and call from one of its professors to enhance campus security are painful reminders of why reforms in blue regions are so misguided. Leftist lawmakers operate under the assumption that the criminal justice system is racist, but they forget that marginalized groups like racial minorities and the poor are overrepresented as victims of crime.  

Illinois, D.C., and other blue regions need to accept their policy failings and academics need to decide how high the body count has to rise before they give up their superficial commitments to social justice and embrace a system where violent offenders are taken off the streets. 

For more stories like this follow Jared Gould on X.