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Chris Roemer: The dangerous creep of unenforced laws | COMMENTARY

With each new shooting, in one city after another, I try to maintain hope that this will be the tragedy that wakes us up from our shameful national nightmare, opening the eyes of our politicians to the fact, that maybe – just maybe –the policies they are championing are making things worse instead of better.

That hope is always answered with the report of another shooting, and policy recommendations by politicians who just can’t admit they’ve been wrong.

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Mayor Brandon Scott just offered his five-year plan for fighting crime in Baltimore. According to the Baltimore Sun, the goal of the mayor’s plan is to reduce overall homicide rates in the city to levels not seen since the 1980s. In announcing his plan, the Sun highlighted three of its main components:

  • Funding alternatives to policing mental health and overdose emergencies. Resources will be shifted away from police to non-law enforcement agencies.
  • Dismantling structural and institutionalized systems of racism that perpetuate inequities and prevent community self-actualization.
  • Advocacy for safe injection sites whereby Baltimore will provide safe injection sites, free, sterile and supervised environments, with the goal of reducing opioid overdoses and needle-based infections.

That should do it. I can hear the criminals running for cover already.

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Commenting on the mayor’s plan, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said, “I understand some who may yawn at the thought of yet another violence prevention strategy. We’ve tried these approaches in the past, but it was instability in the city leadership that was always a cost to us.”

In other words, I know this hasn’t worked before but this time will be different.

When I was young and liberal I remember having an argument with my father about why enforcing minor crimes was a waste of time. I should mention, when I talked about “minor crimes” back then, I meant things like jay-walking. Today shoplifting, resisting arrest, urinating and defecating in public, and a host of other crimes once considered pretty darn serious are no longer prosecuted in many cities.

My dad’s response was to talk about the dangers of “scofflaw.” He argued when a society teaches its citizens not to respect the law by failing to enforce the law, it is treading a dangerous path which ultimately leads to lawlessness and anarchy. Of course, having just graduated from college, I thought I knew better.

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Well, it seems my father’s predictions for the future were pretty accurate as, more and more, behavior once considered unacceptable is now seen as beyond our control.

We’ve reached a point where prosecutors have concluded the only crimes they have adequate resources to deal with are the most violent, and even then they are being selective about the prosecutions they will pursue. That means there are many crimes an individual can commit with impunity. Shoplifters today casually walk out of stores with arms full of merchandise with no apparent concern anyone will challenge them. Charges against looters and those who destroy property are routinely dropped. Drug laws are ignored by prosecutors as being just not worth their time.

Dad would argue, if that’s the way we want things to be, then change the law, but as long as it is the law, it needs to be enforced. Which begs the question: Why don’t we just change the law? If we’re not going to enforce drug laws, then take them off the books.

The reason is, most politicians know people don’t want to make selling drugs on the street legal, so they leave it up to prosecutors to accomplish what they don’t have the courage to do themselves. Besides, ignoring the law produces the same result as changing it, right?

Wrong. That approach makes breaking the law acceptable. It breeds contempt for the law and with that contempt a never-ending cycle of increasing lawlessness and malevolent behavior. That malevolence manifests itself most in the poorest neighborhoods. It’s only when more wealthy neighborhoods are affected that we seem to take notice.

Places like Nationals Park, or where diners at upscale restaurants have to take cover when gunfire breaks out. These incidents make the national news, but the daily carnage in the poorest neighborhoods is generally ignored, or acknowledged with an “Isn’t that a shame” attitude.

Politicians, who don’t live anywhere near the carnage are free to pay nothing more than lip service to the problem, and continue to pursue policies that simply don’t work. They speak in lofty terms of “equality” and “social justice,” yet in pursuit of these goals, they seem willing to accept the daily slaughter of the most vulnerable among us.

I would suggest to you, before we can have “equality” and “social justice,” we need to solve our crime problem. Otherwise, the justice we achieve will be the justice the criminals prefer.

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