Gary Horton | Crime, Homelessness Require Bold Change

Gary Horton

Two weeks ago, I promised to direct my column to the five or six most universally pressing issues of our time, in California and the U.S. at large. 

COVID-19 and post-COVID crime is dramatically on the rise. Killings – gang killings, drug random kills, passion killings — are all on the rise, everywhere. Property crimes are exploding. Violent crimes, like carjackings and robberies, are also moving upward. 

What on Earth is going on? 

There are really three direct answers: 

Wide disrespect for the rule of law and even the understanding of what “being a citizen/resident of the U.S. means.” 

Super-increased income disparity and post-COVID poverty in all its forms, driving even more to homelessness, despair and drugs. 

A tragically unjust legal system that metes out different relative punishment for different incomes and colors, driving increased poverty rather than correcting it. 

These three points could fill books and should. Instead, I’ll fix the world with a few paragraphs and let’s see just how crazy a progressive social Democrat can be: 

California is home to one of our nation’s largest immigrant populations by percent of population. From H-1 visas to legal immigrant citizens, to Central and South Americans who’ve entered our state illegally to work. No matter, we have millions of occupants who have not learned the norms of American citizenship and behaviors. To this I’ll also add our current generation of spoiled, privileged occupants who have missed out on both strong civics training in school and public service. In all cases, these folks haven’t learned the “rules of the game” and have little “skin in the game.” 

They’ve not become vested in the conceptual, “public good.” 

Look at the litter on our highways. The graffiti all over public structures. The lack of civil kindness too often encountered by one another. The care and treatment of public property. And the crime. Crime that increasingly is met with a slap on the wrist or less. 

Baseline solution: We’ve got to amend and correct our immigration and educational policies so the people we want and need here, or the people who get here and we’re stuck with, or the youngsters we’re raising right here, right now, all, everyone, gets proper citizenship and rule of law training. 

We need a viable, documentable, traceable pathway for all immigrants already here. And part of that must include mandatory civics training. And periods of mandatory public service, for services so sorely needed, as part of the price paid to live here. From elder care to park maintenance to freeway trash pickup to teacher’s aids… We have so much needed to do in California, and so many would-be immigrants happy to do them in exchange for security in their residence here. 

Ditto for our current kids. Everyone needs civics training and skin in the game. That’s how you train citizenship and good behavior. We cannot stall our immigration problem away. And we can’t expect Junior to be a model citizen if we don’t mold and teach him or her to be. And who knows, we might even teach trades and skills in the process… 

Pretty radical, huh? 

Our “unjust legal system”: You’re speeding on the 126. You get pulled over doing 80. The fine is $550. It hurts, but you bite down and pay it, because you don’t have time from your career or family for traffic school. Say you do something stupid and end up in jail and need $10,000 bail. You can’t believe you did this, but you find a way, pay up the $10,000 bail and you’re back to (mostly) normal life. And, with proper (expensive) legal representation, you get off the hook without too much damage. 

You and I can buy our way out of small to moderate legal and criminal hits. But take these two quick examples and overlay them onto our 40% of working and nonworking poor who have less than $500 to their name, many with less than nothing, because they are on payday loans. They don’t have the $550 for the traffic fine. They can’t make bail, so they rot, awaiting a hearing or resolution. In this case, the current weight of punishment is felt far, far more greatly on the poor than on the middle class or rich. Relatively, these smallish fines are giant to them. And dealing with them can cost jobs, lose apartments or homes, and even trigger homelessness. 

An easy solution for traffic violations is to make all penalties paid in public service time, for everyone. No cash fines. For traffic violations, perhaps cleaning up freeways and streets on weekends. Perhaps cleaning graffiti off freeway walls. The key point is time is dear to all of us. And for all of us, a day is a day, and the penalty is equal. You want to see folks slow down? Make traffic violations paid in service time for all and overnight we’ll see less speeding and more respect for laws. 

The same is true of crimes and bail. The rich buy out while the poor get stuck in. Eliminate all bail and let a seasoned judge determine who is a true crime or flight risk to the public. Crime risks and flight risks stay in. Other non-threatening accused get released pending trial. Once everyone is subject to the same rule determining their time awaiting trials, watch how better everyone behaves when all face the real risk of sitting around jail for weeks. 

Let’s make justice equal and even for all – and take the money out of crime and punishment. 

Ranting words of a crazy man? 

As to the degradation of life for all involved, the homeless and the people they negatively impact, California must find its guts and make this job one. We must enforce that sidewalks are for walking, streets are for driving, parks are for recreation, and homelessness isn’t “public camping.” We must not tolerate homelessness. It’s bad for everyone. Homelessness itself creates generational and increasing crime. How can we tolerate it? 

Rather, we must humanely and quickly build facilities for uptake for every homeless person. Not tent cities, not sheds. Facilities for residential living, complete with counseling, medical, job training – whatever. Quick help for those needing quick help and long-term for others. For those suffering dependencies and mental illnesses, we must build hospitals, treatment centers and, if needed, permanent protective facilities. And it’s OK if these facilities are distant from the old tent cities. Many were transient, anyhow. 

Change laws, get a backbone. Allowing homelessness to fester compounds all our problems for everyone. And we hear we have the money – California is awash in $100 billion of surplus. We don’t need committees or “Blue Ribbon” anything. We need leaders who can lead and act on this. We know what we must do. 

These are big issues to address, and I propose big action. You may agree or disagree, but one thing we all likely fully agree on: Our current incremental action of “nibbling around the edges” won’t solve a damn thing. Ours is a time for bold actions by politicians with courage, resolve and love of state, country and rule of law. 

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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