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State-Sanctioned Chaos at the Imperial Capital

The nation’s crime rate is spiking.

Credit: Kristi Blokhin

Things are getting pretty stupid in the nation’s capital. It’s almost an axiom of policing that crimes are less likely to happen in the presence of a police officer. This isn’t a new idea; it is the entire premise of the modern police force as envisioned by Robert Peel. Jane Jacobs takes it as a fundamental principle in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It has been tested repeatedly and found to be sound—maybe the only real gold-plated rule for reducing crime. No wonder the cops, even near the height of the post-Floyd anti-police mania, remained overwhelmingly popular across all demographic segments; Americans of every background told pollsters they wanted the same levels of police presence in their communities—or more.

So you might read the news about D.C.’s crime troubles and think an obvious solution is in the offing. Hire more officers, put ‘em on the street, we say. And crime troubles there are—at this writing, homicide, up 35 percent year-to-date, robbery, up 67 percent. Auto theft is up 96 percent, an increase that beggars belief. When the police chief tells a local radio station that the force is down by 500 officers, the obvious solution becomes yet more obvious. Take our money and hire more officers! we repeat, pleadingly. Well, city officials explain, it’s not that easy—being a cop has become unattractive for various reasons, not least burdensome strictures on actually chasing and catching criminals.


Fair enough. Yet the city’s interim solution to auto theft, buying a bunch of tracking tiles and distributing them to car owners so the vehicles can be tracked down at some unspecified time after the fact, is insulting. The emergency hiring of non-police contractors to patrol schools is insulting. The fact that this occurs as the city can find hundreds of millions of dollars to run a sportsbook that loses money—have you ever heard of a bookie losing money?—is insulting. (If you were to give me $215 million over five years, which I would like but not necessarily recommend, I think that I could run a betting operation that makes money. You might be better off using it to solve the police recruiting problem.) 

D.C.’s government is not very good at doing many of the things governments are supposed to do, whether it’s law enforcement or maintaining basic infrastructure. You may be forgiven if you think they are simply not trying when you see things like their resistance to punishing misbehavior on public transit or the mass down-scheduling of crimes like, well, carjacking. In fact, the only conclusion a reasonable person could draw is that the members of the D.C. City Council actively and passionately hate their constituents, the poorest of whom bear the brunt of the city’s descent into bare savagery. 

Yet the city is rather good at other things—tax collection comes to mind. (The efficient vigor of D.C.’s tax apparatus in fact, paradoxically, threatens its revenues this year.) Or rolling out licensing for cannabis stores. Or building new speed cameras for revenue. Generally speaking, cultivating problems for law-abiding citizens in the name of revenue generation seems to be a great strength of the city government. (The failed sportsbook is the exception.) This state of affairs has been described before, by the disgraced Washington Times columnist Sam Francis:

This condition, which in some of my columns I have called “anarcho-tyranny,” is essentially a kind of Hegelian synthesis of what appear to be dialectical opposites: the combination of oppressive government power against the innocent and the law-abiding and, simultaneously, a grotesque paralysis of the ability or the will to use that power to carry out basic public duties such as protection or public safety. And, it is characteristic of anarcho-tyranny that it not only fails to punish criminals and enforce legitimate order but also criminalizes the innocent.

It bears emphasizing that this is not happening in some afterthought city in a hinterland; this is the capital of the United States, the seat of political power in what was once called unironically the free world. Congressmen are being carjacked.

Decline isn’t always a choice, but when it happens unprompted in the capital of the wealthiest and most powerful nation on the face of the earth, it is laughable to say that it has to be this way. The decay of the American polity comes most often at the hands of politicians who are set on cultivating privilege without power or its responsibilities. As the state declines, so do impartial justice and equality before the law; as these decline, so does civil society, which further saps the state.

It is hard to rise, but easy to fall. If Washington continues down this path, you don’t need to look to Brazil or to South Africa for a vision of the future. Just drive up to Baltimore.