Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

10/05/2009 (2:20 am)

Another Liberal Policy Goes Bankrupt

The “Broken Windows” theory that brought New York City back from the dead in the 1990s has recently been proved again in Los Angeles, as the LAPD instituted a similar policy to bring Skid Row back from anarchy. Heather MacDonald provided a useful case study in the failure of homeless-advocate ideology in the most recent City Journal, explaining at length how the homeless themselves were victimized by criminals empowered by stock liberal policies regarding the poor, and how they have benefited from simple law enforcement as a curative to these policies.

For 25 years, Skid Row constituted a real-world experiment in the application of homeless-advocate ideology. The squalor that engulfed the 50-block district just east of downtown Los Angeles was the direct outgrowth of advocates’ claims that the homeless should be exempt from the rules of ordinary society. The result was not a reign of peace and love among society’s underdogs, but rather brutal predation and depravity. Occupants of the filthy tents and lean-tos that covered every inch of sidewalk in the area pimped each other out and stole from, stabbed, and occasionally killed one another. Gangs and pushers from South Central and East Los Angeles operated with impunity under cover of the chaos that reigned on the streets.

The intrepid small wholesalers and warehouse owners who tried to keep the area’s once vigorous commercial trade alive removed feces, condoms, and hypodermic needles from the entrance to their properties every morning. Elderly residents of the local Single Room Occupancy hotels were imprisoned in their tiny apartments, terrified to go outside.

In 2006, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton announced a full-scale attack on Skid Row anarchy. His Safer City Initiative (SCI) would be a demonstration project, he said, for Broken Windows theory, which holds that tolerance for low-level forms of crime and disorder allows more serious crime to fester. When the police started enforcing jaywalking, public urination, and public camping laws, thousands of warrant absconders and violent parolees on the lam lost their refuge. Order gradually returned to the streets.

The homeless themselves were the Safer City Initiative’s most immediate beneficiaries. As the lawlessness in the encampments was pushed back, deaths from drug overdoses, untreated disease, and other non-homicidal causes of mortality diminished as well, falling 36 percent in just three years. Skid Row’s violent crime—the victims of which were almost always other vagrants—decreased 45 percent from the first nine months of 2006, before SCI began, to the first nine months of 2009. The lean-tos faded away as their inhabitants discovered that they could no longer smoke weed and crack in them all day without disturbance.

The LAPD program was vigorously resisted by homeless advocates in LA in conjunction with the ACLU, accompanied by obligatory accusations of racism and lack of concern for the poor. MacDonald goes into great detail about a double homicide that occurred this summer at a shelter run and defended by one of these advocates, citing the instance as proof that homeless advocacy has gone bankrupt as a means of helping the poor.

Almost invariably, liberal policies harm those most that they aim to help. Instances of this include welfare, which robbed several generations of poor people of dignity and enslaved them to the government dole; legal abortion, into which the majority of women who receive them feel they have been pressured or coerced by self-interested family; and radical environmentalism, which routinely prevents the poorest from improving their lot through the sort of industry that becomes the basis for environmental awareness and improvement. This effect occurs so regularly that I’m forced to imagine that most liberals are more interested in appearing compassionate than they are in actually helping the poor; a lot more leftist voting is caused by a desire among the morally weak to lord their superiority over others, than is caused by real concern.

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