What do you do when carjackings are surging in your city? For local leaders in Washington, D.C., the answer is clear: Reduce the penalties for carjackings, of course. It’s pure genius.
In November, the D.C. Council passed the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022, which was vetoed by Mayor Muriel Bowser. The Democratic mayor’s veto was overridden by the city council, which comprises 11 fellow Democrats and two nominal independents.
“The bill would eliminate most mandatory sentences, lower penalties for a number of violent offenses, including carjackings and robberies, and expand the requirement for jury trials in most misdemeanor cases,” The Hill reported in early March.
The reductions in sentences for carjacking really stand out.
“The bill would lower penalties for offenses such as carjackings,” Voice of America News reported. “The current sentence is from seven to 21 years, and 15 to 40, if armed. Under the revised code, carjacking is divided into three gradations depending on severity, with the lowest penalties for an unarmed offense running from four to 18 years and the highest penalties for an armed offense ranging from 12 to 24 years.”
Again, great timing when carjackings right in front of Union Station—the main train station in Washington—are becoming an almost unremarkable occurrence.
To prevent this new criminal code from becoming law, Congress did something it hadn’t done in 30 years: it overrode the council’s action. The Senate passed the legislation on a 81-14 vote, with 31 Democrats and two allied independents joining Republicans to overturn the criminal code. Perhaps surprisingly, the move was supported by President Joe Biden, who said he would sign it.
Democrats in Congress and the District of Columbia have long argued that Washington, D.C., should be granted statehood. That’s looking like a particularly dubious proposition now.
For the most nonsensical take on the matter, we turn to Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, who nonetheless joined other Democrats in supporting the crime bill override.
“If anything, this situation makes it even more important that D.C. gets statehood so that they can deal with these issues, take responsibility, and enact their laws,” she said.
If you are trying to figure out how that makes any sense, don’t bother. Giving Washington’s leaders more responsibility so they will be more responsible seems like wishful thinking—at best.
Even beyond the constitutional concerns regarding D.C. statehood, recent events suggest that the even basic self-government is a dicey proposition for local leaders in the nation’s capital. D.C. leaders also opted to allow noncitizens to vote in city elections.
Giving the District more local autonomy right now would be unwise—and giving it a greater say in national politics seems like madness.
The District of Columbia Home Rule Act, passed by Congress in 1973, allowed Washington to essentially govern itself. But anyone who has lived in Washington in recent years or has visited can see that it’s a dysfunctional place. The government appears to be more preoccupied with diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and smothering drivers with parking tickets than in tackling the city’s escalating crime.
“Here’s the deal,” as Biden likes to say: The fact that Congress had to override D.C. Council certainly calls home rule into question. But left-wing activists are unsurprisingly angry at the president for siding with Republicans. One left-wing pundit called it an attack on democracy. But Biden’s advisers are undoubtedly looking at recent rounds of voting and seeing that the overwhelming amount of crime in blue cities is hurting their party at the voting booth.
A once-popular Chicago mayor on Feb. 28 got torched in her reelection bid, largely due to crime-related issues.
Many D.C. residents increasingly feel unsafe and often fear for their lives and property. People are fed up. And while there is an argument to be made that the people should get whatever consequences they vote for, it’s worth remembering that the District is a special case.
The Framers of the Constitution set the District of Columbia up as a zone for the seat of our federal government. It’s downright intolerable that it’s fallen into such decay.
The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department reported 485 incidents of carjackings in the city in 2022, which marked the fifth year in a row there had been an increase. The carjacking number has tripled since 2018. No surprise, the biggest jump came in 2020.
The media and Washington authorities have tried connecting the surge in carjackings to the COVID-19 pandemic specifically—while ignoring the civil unrest that hit the city and the D.C. Council’s anti-law enforcement attitude. In 2020, the council voted to remove $15 million from the police budget. The pandemic has long since waned, yet crime keeps spiking, and the District’s leaders keep dithering.
As Heritage Foundation legal experts Zach Smith and Cully Stimson detailed, the District of Columbia tackled the extremely high crime rates of the early 1990s by “putting more officers on the streets, empowering them to do their jobs, prosecuting offenders, and seeking appropriate sentences for those convicted of crimes.”
In recent years, the city has been undoing those changes, and crime is returning to levels not seen in decades. Violent crime decreased slightly in 2022 compared with 2021, but there were still more than 200 homicides last year. For comparison, there were 433 homicides in New York City during the same time period, in a city with more than eight times the population (and a crime problem of its own).
On top of carjackings, other crimes have increased this year, too, including homicides.
Even before the current troubles, there was a good case to be made that home rule wasn’t working out very well in the nation’s capital. The city’s local government practically has become a parody of itself by proposing to reduce criminal sentencing during a massive crime wave.
Statehood is likely off the table for now. Washington’s leaders could lose a lot more if they continue to demonstrate that their ideology trumps basic safety in their city.
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