by Joel Kotkin
Tuesday, 7
December 2021
Explainer
13:40

How America’s progressive citadels became crime centres

Left-wing policies have been a disaster in the US's most liberal cities
by Joel Kotkin
Crime is rampant in America’s ‘enlightened’ cities on the Pacific coast. Credit: Getty

We usually associate violent crime and disorder with America’s impoverished inner cities — places like New Orleans, the south and west sides of Chicago, or long distressed counties like the Bronx. But today the centre of American crime is increasingly to be found on the West Coast, within some of the country’s wealthiest and most celebrated cities.

The explanation is new, too: instead of the traditional link between poverty and crime, this crime wave has more to do with policy. Virtually all the cities with the most notable crime outbreaks — San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles — are places with progressive prosecutors working to limit punishments for looters, organised thieves and the unruly, occasionally violent, homeless. The cities, with the exception of Los Angeles, are also among the whitest in the U.S., with a large population of educated people.

The lax legal environment has made west coast cities the happy hunting ground for “smash and grab” thieves on a hitherto unprecedented scale. These cities have also seen rapid growth in violent crime, which is never far behind disorder on the streets. Once these places, notably Portland, were seen as urban exemplars, but few would choose a city whose downtown has collapsed under months of pressure from radical demonstrators and suffers from record homicides.

California’s deliberate reduction in the punishment for minor property damage under $1000 has been linked to a spike in shoplifting, particularly in San Francisco. Mike Shellenberger, author of the recently published San Fransicko, suggests criminals and the homeless go to cities where they face the least chance of prosecution; the homeless tend to migrate where they are free to camp and avoid prosecution for property crimes. They are even given hotel rooms as well as free drugs and alcohol.

California is one of just a handful of states to see dramatic increases in its homeless population. According to Shellenberger, between 2015-2020, San Francisco’s homeless grew by 32%, despite tripling its funds to address homelessness. In contrast to the rest of America, California is one of just a handful of states to see dramatic increases in its homeless population.

Los Angeles, too, has taken an increasingly violent turn. Just this week, 81-year-old philanthropist Jacqueline Avant was shot dead during a burglary of her Beverley Hills home.

The images of destitution in the city are displacing the glamour of Hollywood. In parts of Los Angeles, the growing homeless encampments have spawned medieval diseases such as typhus. Companies, particularly outside tech and entertainment, are beginning to move out of LA and the other blue cities in unprecedented numbers as outmigration soars.

Many progressives understandably don’t want to admit this reality. The omni-present Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez simply denies the facts of the recent “smash and grab” incidents in various cities across the country. San Francisco’s mainstream media and political elite have tried to downplay such incidents to the outrage of many residents by ascribing political motives to the Right. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle seems more worried about the impact on the city’s image than the dire reality on the street.

Now Chesa Boudin, San Francisco’s ultra-woke District Attorney, is facing a recall from enraged citizens. Another effort, this one against the equally woke LA district attorney George Gascon, has floundered but is being renewed. In increasingly crime-ridden Seattle, the hard Left DA, a police “abolitionist,” was soundly beaten by a moderate Democrat turned Republican. Even in Portland, voters chose to avoid further radicalisation and defeated a Mayoral candidate who identified with the Leftist Antifa progressive militia.

The crime surge in these deeply blue cities may also have impact nationally as well. These are key bastions of the progressive Left, and their continued distress makes a powerful political point for Republicans hunting for votes in suburbs, exurbs, and smaller towns. When it comes to election season, tolerance of crime doesn’t pay.

Join the discussion


  • What’s so disheartening about his whole thing is the fact that, no matter how bad it gets, the left simply will not learn. Of course the homeless are going to go where it’s easiest for them. If you don’t prosecute shoplifters because you have some weird idea they deserve what the rob on the grounds that the people they steal from are wealthier than they are, then of course they’ll steal. And nothing that happens seems to shake them out of their stupidity.

  • The woke religion seems to view “shoplifting” as a form of reparations. Back to the East Coast, NYC actress and politician Cynthia Nixon tweeted how outrageous it is that major US drug stores, vital to the communities they serve–are closing multiple stores and locking up high value items that are frequently stolen–for example, razor blades, nappies, detergent. Kit should be free!
    The woke simply have no understanding how the world works: people who see rampant theft know they are being played for being law-abiding, and they are in real danger in an environment of complete and utter lawlessness. And of course daily life is much more inconvenient with things locked up, stores closing, etc. and the price of goods goes up for all–well, all who pay for the goods. No such thing as a free lunch!
    This is a bit like those who glorified graffiti in the 70s, when every subway car was covered in graffiti. The woke, before that term existed, celebrated this “street art” and “artists,” while normal people were horrified, terrorized. This is absolutely consistent with their worship of COWs, Citizens of Wakanda, who will lead the woke to the promised land.
    Sickening!

  • Funny story, in middle and rural America, we have not seen a massive crime wave. Our police departments just do the same job they have always done. We know police will not always be there and there are times when they fail or abuse their authority. They are not perfect but they keep chaos at bay and allow society to function.

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