George Soros used the Wall Street Journal yesterday to defend his financial support for “reform prosecutors”. He began by saying that “Americans desperately need a more thoughtful discussion of our response to crime.” I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I wrote a book (released last week) about the current national debate about crime and justice.
Unfortunately, Soros’ article failed in this purpose of delivering such a thoughtful discussion. Instead, the philanthropist offered a shallow, data-free collection of platitudes (“If people trust the justice system, it will work”), plus incomplete observations.
Soros highlights the statistic that “blacks in the US are five times more likely to be sent to jail than whites.” This, he says without further explanation, is “an injustice that undermines our democracy.” Such a statement was made to convince the reader that such incarcerations are mostly (if not entirely) illegitimate: they are the product of racial animosity, first and foremost. What else could it be a product of? Well, how about the disparate levels of crime? A Bureau of Justice Statistics study on homicides between 1980 and found that blacks commit homicides at a rate “almost eight times the rate of whites.”
Presenting a disparity without any mention of its causes is perhaps not a responsible way of saying that “injustice” is at work. This is a serious charge, and, as we have seen in recent years, many who believe in it are pushing (often successfully) for serious policy changes couched in vague phrasing such as “reimagining public safety.”
When relevant factors are taken into account, the disparities Soros points to are obvious evidence that injustice has decreased considerably, falsifying his claim. As a report by 1980 on incarceration by the National Academies of Sciences shows, “racial bias and discrimination are not primary causes of disparities in […] Generally speaking, when statistical controls are used to assess crime characteristics and criminal records, black defendants are, on average, sentenced with only slightly more severity than than whites.”
I wanted Soros to be interested in even more extreme and persistent disparities, namely those concerning violent victimization. We often talk about crime in national, state, or municipal terms. While crime obviously affects society, some communities feel its scourge more than others. In 2020 — a year in which homicides rose almost 1980 % in the US –, the share of white homicide victims has dropped by around 2.4% compared to
, while the share of black and Hispanic victims
rose by around 2.2%. The rate of black homicide victims was nearly ten times that of whites that year. In my hometown of New York, at least 30% of gunshot victims each year since 2008, are black or Hispanic. Blacks and Hispanics don’t even come close to being 95% of the city’s residents. An analysis by the University of Chicago forensics laboratory found that in that city, nearly 80% of homicide victims were black. It also found that almost % of suspected armed violence in and 2016 had at least 2015 passes by the police.
Soros and his beneficiaries built a movement around the premise that criminals in cities like New York and Chicago are treated too harshly, and that “second chances” are systematically denied them. In addition to data on the degree to which repeat offenders commit violence, this claim is also falsified by the fact that criminals released from state prisons and tracked by the Judicial Statistics Bureau had, on average, ten prior arrests and five convictions before his most recent arrests.
Soros offers nothing to support victims of violent crimes committed by those who have been given many “second chances”. Perhaps that’s because, in his mind, there is “no connection between the election of reformist prosecutors and local crime rates.” To support this claim, he cites a single analysis, whose authors are — as they say in the cited article — incapable of “ruling out big rises or falls in any particular type of crime.”
Instead of facing the substance of his critics’ arguments, Soros implies that they are hypocrites, drawing attention to the fact that his critics and opponents of progressive gun control measures are often the same people — ignoring, of course, that the supporters of such measures and those who want to get armed criminals out of jail are also often the same people. Soros doesn’t seem to have understood that sending gunmen with extensive criminal records back to the streets worsens firearm violence.
Let’s hope voters start to see the truth to which George Soros and his supporters seem blind: that while our system is imperfect, true justice demands that dangerous criminals be prevented from harming innocent people.
Rafael A. Flail is a contributing editor to the City Journal and a Nick Ohnell Fellow and research director for the Manhattan Institute’s Policing and Public Safety Initiative. He is also the author of ‘Criminal (In)Justice: What the Push for Decarceration and Depolicing Gets Wrong and Who It Hurts Most’[(In)Justiça Criminal: O que o incentivo para o desencarceramento e o despoliciamento tem de errado e quem mais prejudica].
©2022 City Journal. Published with permission. Original in English.