Will the trash crisis on Union Pacific's train tracks finally force the Golden State to crack down on lawlessness?
In the last decade, California made a reputation for itself as the site of multiple “supply chain disturbances,” some of which took shape of mysteriously disappearing packages. Porch pirates became notorious, but while a thief stealing cardboard boxes from a driveway could at least be caught on camera or spotted by neighbors, what happened to Amazon orders that were never marked “out for delivery” remained obscure.
Package theft is just one part of the general culture of lawlessness in which California, and the country, has plunged headfirst. In 2014, California electorate passed Proposition 47, which dramatically reduced criminal penalties, and in 2016 the voters approved Proposition 57, which allowed early parole of criminals, many of them violent. Additional criminals were released from California prisons for fear of Covid-19 in early 2020.
District attorneys backed by the billionaire George Soros prevailed in down-ballot low-turnout elections in several American cities. They opted to go against class enemies such as small landlords and startups instead of enforcing the still existing criminal laws. All of that took place as Black Lives Matter continued to demoralize cops around the country.
It is no surprise, then, that criminal enterprises are mushrooming across the country, engulfing previously untouched spheres, and moving their pawns accordingly. As Daniel Greenfield explained:
The same drug rings exploiting children to run drugs began using them to steal cars.
Organized gangs employed young recruits to shoplift from stores when it became clear that even the most brazen daylight robberies would not be prosecuted in major urban areas.
Especially if the perpetrators were teens. And the younger the teens, the better.
It’s not that the drug trade suddenly became unprofitable. But it is firmly in the hands of cartels. Gangs have easily identified other sources of income in a regime that all but eliminated criminal penalties.
Disgruntled citizens, armed with cell phones and dashboard cams, have been recording the decline of our cities for the world to see: discarded syringes, two-story makeshift plywood structures, stolen bicycles, garbage everywhere, all became a familiar sight on social media.
What happened on January 13, however, was no DIY production. Slick images of a Union Pacific locomotive chugging along amidst piles of debris against the background of Los Angeles skyline at sunset popped up on screens. Along came the story, picked up by major corporate outlets, including the left-leaning ones, of the wave of California train robberies.
Thieves have been raiding the trains outside of L.A., looking through contents of Amazon and UPS boxes and picking up expensive goodies. In the process, they left discarded packages and low resale value items, such as photo albums and EpiPens, on the tracks. As many as 90 containers a day are compromised by the robbers. Trains get derailed by trash. News outlets were made to notice.
Union Pacific hired a cleanup crew and beefed up security. Unfortunately, with the Soros-backed District Attorney George Gascon in charge of prosecution in Los Angeles County, these measures are meaningless. In the letter sent to Gascon in December 2021, Union Pacific explained:
We find ourselves coming back to the same results with the Los Angeles County criminal justice system. Criminals are caught and arrested, turned over to local authorities for booking, arraigned before local courts, charges are reduced to a misdemeanor or petty offense, and the criminal is released after paying a nominal fine.
This is a familiar complaint in any municipality that recently succumbed to the prosecutorial whims of shady district attorneys like San Francisco’s Chesa Boudin. For instance, in April 2020, Boudin, the son of domestic terrorists, assured the parole release of Troy McAlister, the man he previously represented as a public defendant. Twice that year, the parolee was taken into custody for various offenses only to be promptly let go. On New Year’s Eve, he allegedly got high and committed a burglary. Fleeing the scene of the crime in a stolen vehicle, police said McAlister ran a red light, killing two women, one of them a 27-year-old Japanese citizen Hanako Abe. Even the suspect’s mother believes he should have never been released.
It’s not only the railroads and upscale boutiques that are hurting; and it’s not “just property,” as a socialist mantra would have it. Ordinary people living in increasingly lawless cities feel neglected by the state. The San Francisco community has rallied behind Abe’s family. In June, the city will vote on the recall of Boudin and, if I had to bet, he will be removed—and then replaced with someone not very different.
As ordinary people have adjusted to rampant criminality, San Francisco-based corporations have behaved in a most cowardly manner, choosing to virtue signal over serving their presumed missions. Corporate America embraced BLM in the wake of George Floyd riots, and big money rarely speaks out against the chaos imposed from above. Some wholeheartedly support it. For instance, in 2018 Salesforce aggressively campaigned for San Francisco’s Proposition C, which levied a tax on businesses to eliminate homelessness. The measure was approved by the voters, but the city’s mayor recently declared a state of emergency, in effect admitting that the so-called “homelessness crisis” is not an economic issue but a law enforcement one.
At a time when the inbred corporate culture bows down to every diversity, equity, and inclusion dictate and guards their elite status with woke jargon, it is nice to see that there exists a corporation that has stuck to its frequently misunderstood mission, to deliver goods to customers. As Union Pacific put it in their letter to Gascón:
While we understand the well-intended social justice goals of the policy, we need our justice system to support our partnership efforts with local law enforcement, hold these criminals accountable, and most importantly, help protect our employees and the critical local and national rail network.
The story refuses to die. California Governor Gavin Newsom felt obliged to schedule his own photo shoot on train tracks outside L.A. He was the picture of fury itself, saying:
The images looked like a Third World country. What you saw here in the last week is just not acceptable. So, I took off the suit and tie and said I’m coming because I couldn’t take it. I can’t turn on the news anymore. What the hell is going on?
What’s going on is a railroad company threatening to leave the largest city in one of the largest states because of the state’s inability to secure an environment in which it can do business. It is capital going on strike. The governor should know: California, the state with ever-expanding budgets and a Democrat supermajority, failed in executing the one essential function of the government—maintaining secure roads and transport.
Union Pacific’s interest in restoring law and order perfectly coincides with that of the ordinary people. We, too, would like to return to normal so that we can enter Walgreens without dodging shoplifters. Our nation doesn’t need Union Pacific, or any other corporation, to maintain a social justice regime. We need Union Pacific to deliver packages, and the environment conducive to that mission—law, order, stability—is the one from which we would all benefit.
I find it refreshing that there is a corporation in the United States willing to command resources to defend its own purpose. I pray they won’t disappoint.
Katya Sedgwick is a writer in the San Francisco Bay area. You can follow her on Twitter @KatyaSedgwick. This New Urbanism series is supported by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. Follow New Urbs on Twitter for a feed dedicated to TAC’s coverage of cities, urbanism, and place.