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How the rise in crime could impact Dems’ prospects in 2022

This week’s mass shooting in San Jose was the deadliest in the Bay Area’s history, and was one of the estimated 230 mass shootings this year. The surge in gun violence has had serious political implications in the past and is likely to do so again. Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This week's mass shooting at a light rail yard in San Jose, California was the deadliest mass shooting in the bay area's history.

    It was one of an estimated 230 mass shootings in the U.S. So far this year, according to the gun violence archive.

    The seemingly endless instances of gun violence underscore a broader issue—the upsurge of violent crime that has been plaguing American communities in the last year or two. It's a matter that has had serious political implications in the past—and may do so again, here with a look is Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield, who joins us from Santa Barbara.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So, Jeff, I'm old enough to remember when crime was one of those big political decision making issues, that it was the driver of where you voted, who you voted for, depending on what their stance was on crime.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    All through the '60s, crime rose sharply. The violent crime rate doubled in that decade. And then when you add in upheaval in the cities, upheaval on campus, the whole issue of disorder and lawlessness became a national political issue, particularly in 1968 in the campaigns of George Wallace and especially in the campaign of Richard Nixon.

    And that issue hung around for decades. In 1986, there were three justices of the California Supreme Court removed by the voters for not being tough enough on crime. And I know you'll remember in 1988, Michael Dukakis' presidential campaign was hobbled by the issue that there had been a furlough program where convicted criminals were let out for a while and one of them went on a crime spree, which resulted in a major effort by the Bush campaign in its commercials.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    His revolving door prison policy gave weekend furloughs to first-degree murderers.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    And that also explains why Bill Clinton, when he ran for president in 1992, made a point of appearing in front of police officers and presenting both as a candidate and as president, a very tough crime package supported in no small measure by then Senator Joe Biden.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What happened with Joe Biden and crime? I mean, we see President Biden today versus his rhetoric when he was pushing this bill.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    The major thing that happened is that crime went down, nationally, it went down, and in some cases dramatically. In New York in 1990, there were some 2,200 murders. By 2018, there were fewer than 300. And when there's less crime, it's less on people's minds. Then you had the murder of George Floyd and the massive protests against police violence against Blacks so that in 2020, Biden was apologizing for the tough, draconian crime bills that he sponsored back in the '90s. There was also a demand on the part of some progressives to defund the police, although Biden himself opposed that. And at the same time, you began to see another rise in crime so that crime began to rear its ugly head again in the last election.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    We saw, in effect, an effect in the November election about the topic of crime.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Absolutely. Because of the violence that was on television screens, the occasional sporadic violence around protests and the fact that crime jumped in 2020. In many big cities, though, the murder rate, the homicide rate went up sharply. And what people like Jim Clyburn, one of the most influential Democrats in the House of Representatives, said after is that the whole issue of crime hurt congressional Democrats running in many purple districts. It may explain why Donald Trump, who ran a very, very strong law and order campaign, got more of the brown and Black votes in many parts of the country. These were middle class folks who were upset by violence.

    And so now you have the specter of a president trying to run on what he's doing for the economy. Who could be politically threatened by the fact that when crime rises, it becomes a central issue to people because it is literally about their safety. And that's a very real possibility that will hinder Biden's attempt to win back reluctant Democrats to say, look what we're doing for you. Because if the response was, yeah, but I'm not safe in my neighborhood, that can be a powerful political tool. As you mentioned, we saw that a generation ago.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jeff Greenfield joining us from Santa Barbara. Thanks so much.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Thank you.

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