Fix the broken windows

To bring Minnesota back from the brink of out-of-control crime, we must no longer tolerate the petty criminals who ultimately hold our communities hostage.

A friend recently told me a story that embodied the sad state of affairs in the Twin Cities. He pulled into a parking spot outside a fast-food establishment only to have his wife urge him to keep driving as they ate their meals. The reason was to avoid being a target of carjackers. This scenario — in which a couple can’t stop and enjoy a simple meal for a matter of 15 minutes out of fear of attacking thugs, or worse — is all too common in our once peaceful cities and is fast becoming a reality in Greater Minnesota as well.

This didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t start with George Floyd or COVID. It was decades in the making; the result of bad policies put in place by wrongheaded politicians. Now, Minnesotans must choose what to do next. Do we sit idly by as our cities fall like dominoes to lawlessness and fear or do we start holding our politicians and public safety officials accountable and enact laws that can put us back on track toward a state of peace and prosperity? I vote for the latter.

We should look for a solution in other cities that were able to bring themselves back from the brink of self-destruction and enact them here. One such famous instance was in New York City in the early 1990s upon the election of Rudy Giuliani as mayor. Putting into action the article written by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in The Atlantic magazine in 1982, Giuliani instituted the “Broken Windows” theory of law enforcement to clean up the crime-riddled city he inherited. Wilson and Kelling wrote, “Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in rundown ones.” Simply put this means that smaller crimes and general disorder — such as vandalism and theft — lead to bigger, more violent crime — such as carjackings, assault, and murder.

We are on the same trajectory as pre-Giuliani New York, and now is the time to clean up our cities, literally and figuratively. We have homeless encampments overtaking parks. Local drugstores have to keep products under lock-and-key. Giuliani famously explained that the real measure of success would be whether people actually felt safer rather than what crime statistics showed. That, he said, was the ultimate test of policing and political leadership. Right now, we do not feel safer, and it’s a consequence of dismal, even cowardly, “leadership.” In a recent Thinking Minnesota Poll, 86 percent of Minnesotans are personally concerned about the level of crime in the state, and feel “responding to the surge in violent crime” should be Gov. Walz’s top priority in 2022. When we can stop at a red light and not be fearful of being a carjacking victim is when we are on a path to recovery. But we need the tools to get us there in addition to a plan and better leaders.

Our police and law enforcement officers need to be emboldened to confront criminals and violent goons and keep them off the streets. It’s common sense that a bigger police presence will reduce crime. As proven in New York City, targeting big crimes as well as small makes our communities safer, allows law-abiding citizens and businesses to return and thrive, and fosters an even greater sense of safety for everyone. And who doesn’t like safe streets? It seems our public servants in the county attorney’s offices and judges whose only public “service” is paying lip service to justice while they let everyone from petty thieves and teenage carjackers to violent career criminals back on the streets with little more than a slap on the wrist.

Not only is this an affront to the victims of crime, but an insult to law enforcement trying to keep these bad actors in prison where they belong. For example, what message does it send when Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu allows Shevirio Childs-Young — an 18-year-old already with a long criminal record of violent crime and skipping court appearances — temporarily out of jail to attend a funeral, but denied former police officer Kim Potter — who had 26 years in law enforcement — the opportunity to spend Christmas with her family after being convicted of manslaughter in the death of Daunte Wright?

Not only are judges working against Minnesotans’ safety, but prosecutors are handcuffing our police, making a “Broken Windows” policy here all but impossible. Instead of aggressively prosecuting street criminals, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman recently announced a long list of crimes for which no bail will be requested. Supported by Attorney General Keith Ellison and Washington County Attorney Peter Orput, this 19-item list even includes theft of a motor vehicle and thefts up to $35,000! This is the concept of “broken windows” in reverse and we can expect more of this lawlessness if it isn’t met with punitive consequences.

The underlying message from our public policy “leaders” — specifically Gov. Walz and Representative Ilhan Omar — is that they prioritize the comfort of criminals over the safety and security of law-abiding citizens and retribution for victims. It tells me that our “justice” system — led by Attorney General Keith Ellison — isn’t interested in justice at all. Unfortunately, the escalating crime in the Twin Cities is being increasingly felt in communities outside the Metro. We need to start holding our lawmakers and prosecutors to account for their part in this crime wave. If we don’t, we will end up earning back our notorious “Murderapolis” moniker from the mid-1990s, and, unlike the turnaround in New York City, we will continue on this destructive path unless we make changes. Minnesota is at a crossroads, and the next few months will determine if we make it through this cycle of violence alive.

It’s important to keep in mind the forces working against law and order. Center of the American Experiment’s Public Policy Fellow Jeff Van Nest makes a strong case in this issue of Thinking Minnesota for the necessity of law enforcement to have a say in what policies are implemented, as they are on the front lines of this crime wave, putting their lives at risk to stand between rotten street thugs and civil society. We need to support them and acknowledge their expertise and experience even as lawmakers try to exclude them from policy decisions.

Don’t ignore the power of media enablers who covered the Kim Potter trial from dawn until night, but hardly mention the barbaric deeds of street thugs and violent criminals who are shooting toddlers in their yards and attacking young women in grocery store parking lots. They want to ignore the fear in the streets and neighborhoods, but we the people who have to get groceries, take our kids to school, and make trips to McDonald’s know this fear is real and justified. Minnesota didn’t get to this dire point overnight, and it won’t be quick or easy to make it better. But by getting tough on crime — from the smallest petty thefts to the murders — holding our elected officials accountable for their policies, and resisting the false narrative liberals and their media enablers want us to believe, we can start on the path to a better, safer Minnesota.