Recent surge in violent crimes has made ‘law & order’ a hot button topic, again

This week, President Biden is traveling to New York City to meet Mayor Eric Adams in the wake of a shooting that killed two NYC police officers. With crime rates including murder, lootings and shootings going up nationwide over the last two years, ‘law and order’ has become an important issue for the Biden administration heading into mid term elections later this year. Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This week president Joe Biden will travel to New York to meet with Mayor Eric Adams in the wake of a shooting that killed two New York City police officers. The recent surge in violent crime is becoming a top agenda item for lawmakers and for the Biden administration going into the midterms. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joined us from Santa Barbara for more.

    So, Jeff, why is crime becoming a hot-button issue in politics again at this point?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Fundamentally, because there's a lot more of it in the years since COVID emerged. The murder rate went up 30 percent in 2020 and is still going up. In New York, shootings have doubled over what they were in 2019. We had all kinds of very high-profile shootings of police officers in New York and Houston. We had these smash and grab looters in department stores in places like Los Angeles and a massive looting of railroad yards in Los Angeles. Now it's true that the crime rate is much lower still than it was back in 1990. But people aren't measuring today's crime from 30 years ago. They're measuring it from what it was a couple of years ago, where their memories are fresh and it's very much on people's minds.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    We had a conversation about crime a couple of years ago, but it was very different.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Yeah, I think in politics there's a thermostat, particularly on issues like crime. When crime went way up in the '60s, law and order became a national political issue in the campaigns of Richard Nixon and George Wallace. When it persisted, the death penalty became much more popular, if I can use that phrase, there were three justices in California Supreme Court thrown off the bench by voters for not being strong enough on the death penalty. Bill Clinton used to campaign behind what was called the blue wall of police officers, and this president pushed for a very draconian crime bill that then Senator Biden supported. When crime went way down, you had a very different approach. Prosecutors began getting elected in places like Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York, who promised an alternative to prison. We had Donald Trump pushing a second chance bill to let prisoners get out early and reconnect with the civilian community. And you had all of this kind of effort to say, Well, we don't really need these kinds of tough crime measures. And then as those policies began to take fruit, the crime rate began to go up and people's minds began to change again.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So whether correlation is causation or not or two different things, but what is this surge in crime? What does it do to advocates of criminal justice reform?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Well, we're seeing a really dramatic example in New York, the new Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, got elected on a kind of progressive platform and when installed, told his prosecutors don't go after minor crimes like shoplifting, and if a robber has a gun but doesn't use it, don't go after him. That got a real pushback from the new police commissioner and from the new mayor, Eric Adams. And I think without being a prognosticator, I'm pretty sure that when President Biden goes to New York next week to meet with Eric Adams on gun violence, you're going to hear these questions being asked of him, what kind of crime policy are you going to pursue right now?

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And where does Mayor Adams, especially given his own background and personal history, play into the politics of Joe Biden and Democrats?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    This is a really fascinating question. Eric Adams, a Black mayor of New York, began his career in the police department, fighting police racism and misconduct, but also as a candidate for mayor, advocating for a very tough anti-crime policy, bringing back a unit that had been disbanded. And the idea that that a Black mayor of one of the most liberal cities in the United States, and let's throw in London Breed, the Black woman mayor of San Francisco, perhaps the most liberal city in the United States, creates a fascinating political context because when you talk about crime, the honest thing to say is race is never very far from that conversation, and two Black mayors of two liberal cities arguing for a get tough crime policy that suggests a really potentially fascinating political dynamic.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Speaking of crime, yesterday we had a former president at a rally dangling basically pardons for people that were participating in January 6th and who were either convicted or charged with crimes.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Every time I think, alright, right now I've seen the ultimate, you know, that's a bridge too far and the bridge collapses like it did in Pittsburgh, because when you're talking about pardons, you're not talking about people who peacefully protested, who went to the rally where Trump spoke. The only people you pardoned are people who've been accused of crimes, seditious conspiracy, breaking into the Capitol, committing violence. And the idea that that would appeal to the broad base of the Republican Party at one point would have seemed to me absolutely incomprehensible. And so are we waiting for Senator McConnell or Congressman McCarthy or Sean Hannity or anybody to say, No, no, you can't do that? You know, so far, I'm hearing crickets.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jeff Greenfield joining us from Santa Barbara, California, thanks so much.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Thank you, Hari.

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