Opinion | Slogans Don’t Save Lives

Batiste, a former gang member, was the subject of a 2017 profile in The Wall Street Journal. “I’ve been a drug dealer, I’ve been a thug, a hustler,” Batiste said. Around the time of his death, he’d been working in his community to prevent more gang violence. He was 54. Los Angeles suffered a 28 percent jump in murders from 2019 to 2020, according to The Marshall Project. This year is likely to be worse

In Portland, Ore., a couple of weeks ago, there were nine separate shootings in the course of just 16 hours. Nobody was killed, but two people were badly injured.

Portland suffered 16 homicides in 2016, 25 in 2017, 26 in 2018, 35 in 2019 and 57 in 2020. As of Sept. 1, with 62 homicides and 830 shootings, the city has smashed previous records. Victims have been disproportionately Black. In 2020, 145 police officers either resigned or retired from the Portland Police Bureau.

In the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York last month, Wayne Washington, 25, was killed after being shot multiple times in the chest, and a 19-year-old woman sustained a bullet injury in her torso. Several hours later, a burst of gunfire in the same neighborhood resulted in the deaths of two more men and the injury of three others.

East Brooklyn, home of the 75th Precinct, was once one of New York’s most violent neighborhoods, registering more than 100 homicides in a year. By 2018, the rate had come down nearly to zero, a fact I celebrated in a column called “Joe Biden: Be Proud of Your Crime Bill.” That was the 1994 bill that intended to fund 100,000 additional cops, built more prisons, demanded tougher sentences and imposed a federal ban on assault weapons.

For all of its shortcomings (and there were plenty), the bill, I wrote, moved America “in the right direction: of more policing and tougher enforcement and a powerful refusal to continue defining criminal deviancy down in the face of those who said we just had to take it.”

Rereading that column feels like opening a time capsule from a bygone era, when American cities were generally safe. Today, you can drive down just about any street in a liberal neighborhood and see lawn signs or posters proclaiming that Black Lives Matter, sometimes alongside a picture of George Floyd.

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