Opinion: Philadelphia's homicide surge is a warning sign for Democrats

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To watch a local Philadelphia evening news broadcast a few days before Christmas was a thoroughly depressing experience — there was the carjacking of a US congresswoman at gunpoint in south Philadelphia, a dangerous high-speed chase through narrow city streets and a police officer who was shot twice in the shoulder while responding to a robbery. With two 20-something children and a niece living in Philadelphia, I closely monitor the latest developments. The fear is palpable, and many residents are much more alert to the lurking dangers throughout the city.

Opinion: Philadelphia's homicide surge is a warning sign for Democrats
© Matt Rourke/AP A police officer collects evidence markers at the scene of a shooting in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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During the last six weeks of 2021, my son, who is a student at Temple University, was shaken down for money by three robbers at a north Philly gas station. My daughter, a fourth-year medical student at Thomas Jefferson University who spends a significant amount of time working at medical clinics serving indigent residents, was assaulted by a deranged woman within the shadow of City Hall. My niece, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, lives in a West Philly neighborhood where there have been numerous carjackings.

And that’s just my family. Thankfully, all three are fine and going about their studies.

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The same cannot be said of the 559 murder victims in Philadelphia last year. That’s the most recorded murders in the city since it started keeping records in the 1960s. One such murder was of my son’s fellow Temple classmate, Samuel Sean Collington, who was shot during an attempted carjacking after the Thanksgiving break. The suspect is a 17-year-old who was arrested and charged in August in connection with violent crime including armed robbery. He was released when the victim failed to appear for a pretrial hearing.

Philadelphia had more murders in 2021 than New York City — a city over five times larger than the City of Brotherly Love. One would think such a sobering, horrifying reality would cause local elected officials to respond forcefully to a carnage of this magnitude. Instead, liberal Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner responded in December, saying while gun violence had risen, other violent crime had not — or to quote him directly: “We don’t have a crisis of lawlessness. We don’t have a crisis of crime. We don’t have a crisis of violence.”

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And though Krasner later said that “message conveyed through media sound bites is not at all what I meant” and that he did not mean to diminish the pain of the families who had been victims of gun violence, it was too late.

He had offended virtually everyone who possesses functional eyes and ears. One such person so appalled by this monumentally tone-deaf statement was former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, an effective Democratic leader with a strong record on public safety who presided over the city during a period of relative prosperity.

In a scathing op-ed, Nutter excoriated Krasner with lines like these: “audacity of ignorance and white privilege…I have to wonder what kind of messed up world of White wokeness Krasner is living in to have so little regard for human lives lost, many of them Black and brown, while he advances his own national profile as a progressive district attorney.” Nutter added, “he [Krasner] has ignored the pain of the living and insulted the memory of the dead.”

The Nutter-Krasner battle reflects a growing rift within the Democratic Party over public safety. A vocal element within the Democratic Party that advocated for defunding the police in 2020 has run into resistance from sensible Democrats who reject Krasner and other DAs of his ilk around the country.

It’s about time. With Democrats in a defensive position for the upcoming congressional 2022 midterm election, crime and urban lawlessness will be used as a wedge issue by the GOP against them, just as they did with success in 2020.

To be fair, homicide rates have surged nationally, including in areas where Republicans have governing responsibilities. Further, the January 6 insurrection — and the Republicans who have attempted to whitewash what happened on that terrible day — has tarnished the GOP’s image as the tough on crime party of law enforcement.

Nevertheless, Democrats will remain more vulnerable on the issue given their overwhelming control of big cities throughout the country where liberal district attorneys and social justice Democrats have an outsized voice and influence.

The bottom line is that elected officials in major urban centers must address the homicide wave occurring on their watch. Indulging those extreme voices who argue for defunding the police and making law enforcement out as villains must end. It’s time to get serious about what is happening on the streets.

Democratic mayors, councilmen and district attorneys have the power to course correct if they have the courage and political will to do so. If they don’t, Democrats will pay a price at the polls across the country as voters, who too often see horrifying local news segments full of upsetting criminal activity, will reject the party they believe bears responsibility for the decline in public safety.

Politicians who can speak effectively to the menacing crime problem will do so by advancing public safety measures to refund the police, end no cash bail, raise penalties for smash and grab robberies, deploy more police in high crime areas, reinstate community policing, expand crime victim services and enforce quality of life crimes.

Above all, the mission of law enforcement and the men and women who serve must be supported by local elected officials.

In too many communities across America, police officers don’t believe they have, or can count on, support from their elected leaders, which is damaging morale and depleting police forces. And this is only compounded by police forces facing backlogs, as they struggle to solve the number of open cases they currently have on their dockets.

The political costs of a rise in violent crime, like homicide, will be born most heavily by House Democrats in competitive districts. Rep. Abigail Spanberger told her House Democratic colleagues shortly after the 2020 midterm election in which she narrowly won re-election that “defund the police” rhetoric nearly cost her the Virginia seat she holds.

What’s worse than the political costs are the impacts on the lives of our fellow citizens who fear for their safety in their homes and neighborhoods. Crime drives residents who can afford to leave their homes, leaving behind more vulnerable people with more limited incomes. Poverty becomes more pervasive as disinvestment saps the strength of those left behind.

To get a real feel for the plight of people impacted by violent crime, attend a neighborhood crime watch or civic association meeting where elderly homeowners will provide an unvarnished assessment of conditions on the street. Trust me, they won’t hold back.

It’s long past time to hear these good people out, address their concerns and help them reclaim their neighborhoods. They deserve to live free from fear and rightfully expect their government to help.

Opinion: Philadelphia's homicide surge is a warning sign for Democrats
© CNN Charlie Dent

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