Susan Estrich: Crime Is back in America
Summary: In the meantime, we should face the truth that there are some people who should be kept in jail until they are sentenced to prison, and eliminating cash bail makes that much more difficult. And dangerous, for the rest of us.
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On Thanksgiving weekend, a rash of smash-and-grab robberies at some of the most expensive malls (Century City and the Beverly Center), department stores (Nordstrom) and shopping strips (Melrose) in Los Angeles left the city and its retailers terrorized. Then there was the murder of one of the most prominent philanthropists in the city, Jacqueline Avant, and a robbery at a house party in Pacific Palisades, not to mention the echoes of out-of-town violence.
Crime is back, not only on the statistical counts (New York City is going up even faster than LA) but also on the political scales.
If you have any doubt, just take a look at our uber-political Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was out there to announce that 14 suspects had been arrested in the smash-and-grab spree — and they were all back on the streets, thank you very much, because there is no cash bail anymore. So you can't hold them. So they're out.
I haven't been able to identify the races of all of those who have been arrested so far. But suffice it to say that every picture I have seen of a suspect has been of a young Black man.
My old colleague Harry Edwards, describing life in Boston in the 1970s, used to say that when you go to Fenway Park, people don't know you teach at Harvard. When you're driving home at night, do they know your son is one of the good kids? If you tell me that this latest spree isn't going to increase racial profiling, we can move on to discuss buying that bridge in Brooklyn.
It's horrendously unfair, but not nearly as unfair as what happened to Jacqueline Avant, allegedly at the hands of a Black man on a crime spree. Not nearly as unfair as what happened when a man out on $1,000 bail for trying to run down his wife ran down and killed other innocent people instead.
I got lucky myself. The man who showed up in my garage three times, claiming it was his, showed up inebriated, so the police could arrest him for that. Breaking and entering would be a whole lot of paperwork for the police and for me, while the guy would be out before we'd even finished. At least for public intoxication, they could hold him until he sobered up.
I understand that the criminal justice system has been riddled with the sort of systemic racism that has led to half a century of lawsuits, most of them successful. But I also understand that in most cases, the victims look very much like the offenders — with the biggest difference being that there are more female victims than offenders. And in too many cases, racial profiling is more accurate than any of us want to acknowledge. It's that accuracy — a correlation, not causation — that needs to change.
In the meantime, we should face the truth that there are some people who should be kept in jail until they are sentenced to prison, and eliminating cash bail makes that much more difficult. And dangerous, for the rest of us.
Black Lives Matter . Starting with Jacqueline Avant. May she rest in peace. A grateful city and country will miss her.
Susan Estrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.