Early Monday morning, 32-year-old Ryan Carson was stabbed to death at a bus stop in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. He and his girlfriend were on their way home from a wedding. She was forced to helplessly watch as a deeply disturbed stranger repeatedly plunged a knife into her partner’s chest.
You might think that the only possible response to this event would be some mix of sorrow and anger on behalf of Carson and his loved ones.
But you would be wrong. In view of many extremely online, spiritually unwell conservatives, Carson’s brutal death was a form of karmic justice. You see, the young man had advocated for safe injection sites after losing friends to opioid overdoses. And he dedicated his adult life to working on various left-wing causes, above all the promotion of recycling and environmentally friendly approaches to dealing with solid waste. And his girlfriend had advocated for police abolition. Therefore, Carson had reaped what he’d sowed. The far-right provocateur Mike Cernovich disseminated a surveillance video of Carson’s death, beneath the caption, “Hey bro just like chill out bro I’m on your side bro go attack the magats bro bro bro noooooo.” Other conservatives turned photos of Carson’s dead body into memes about the perils of wokeness.
Days earlier, the nihilist right greeted the murder of progressive Philadelphia journalist Josh Kruger with the same grotesque glee. Kruger overcame homelessness and drug addiction to become an employee of the city government, and then an activist and reporter. Kruger had argued that the prevalence of homicide in Philadelphia was dictated more by national trends than the conduct of local police. To some right-wing fanatics, voicing that opinion rendered Kruger worthy of death.
The moral obscenity and intellectual bankruptcy of this perspective may be too obvious to warrant elaboration. But on the off chance that there is someone out there who both (1) believes that Carson and Kruger died as a result of bad policies that they had imposed on their respective cities and, therefore, were responsible for their own deaths, and (2) is nevertheless amenable to reason, I’ll briefly explain why this point of view is sick and dumb.
For one thing, no set of criminal-justice policies could fully eliminate the existence of random homicides. So long as we live in a free society in which people are allowed to own sharp objects, stabbings will occur. Therefore, no individual homicide can prove anything in particular about what criminal-justice policy should be like. And even if this weren’t the case, as of this writing, there is no actual link between any progressive public policy and the killings of either Carson or Kruger.
In recent years, progressives in New York City successfully reduced the use of cash bail, an institution that effectively enables the wealthy to avoid imprisonment before trial while condemning the poor to incarceration before they’ve been found guilty of any crime. Many conservatives therefore suggested that Carson’s death was a result of cash-bail reform. But this claim has no factual basis. There is no public evidence that Carson’s killer would have been in jail but for the liberalization of New York’s cash-bail laws, which were partially reversed earlier this year.
Again, even if there were a demonstrable link between cash-bail reform and Carson’s death, this would not tell us whether ending cash bail is a worthwhile policy. Confiscating all privately owned assault weapons in the United States would reduce the lethality of some mass shootings. In the context of gun policy, however, conservatives insist that personal liberty must take precedence over the minimization of crime. If we must accept some tragic deaths to preserve the right to own an AR-15, then it doesn’t seem crazy to believe that we must do the same to preserve the right of the poor not to be imprisoned before being found guilty of a crime.
Some conservatives contend that anyone who endorses police abolition deserves no protection against violent crime, since such radicals wish to deny the broader population such protections. This is dubious moral reasoning. But it is also a misunderstanding of (what most activists mean by) police abolition. Almost no one endorses the elimination of all police tomorrow. Rather, police abolitionists typically subscribe to a utopian vision in which the necessity of policing is drastically reduced through egalitarian economic reforms, likely over a period of generations, while all remaining crime is handled by institutions of law enforcement so radically different from contemporary policing as to warrant another name.
Personally, I think we are always going to need state law-enforcement institutions that resemble contemporary police (though I think those institutions can and should be run in a far more equitable, nonviolent, and effective manner). And I also think that there’s significant empirical evidence to suggest that drastically reducing police head counts would lead to more violent crime.
Regardless, though, it simply is not the case that New York City or Philadelphia have implemented police abolitionists’ desired policies. Indeed, NYC has the most police officers per capita of any city in the United States. It also invests far less into public health insurance, jobs programs, education, child care, and other social services than police abolitionists recommend. Carson was not killed in a city that had embraced the radical left’s vision for criminal justice, but, rather, one that had thoroughly rejected it.
Given these realities, if you responded to Carson’s death by gloating on social media about how progressives were finally paying a price for their policies, then you were not speaking rude truths but, rather, repugnant bullshit. In most cases, conservatives were using their supposed concern for victims of violent crime as a rationalization for sadistically mocking a victim of violent crime whose politics they did not like. This behavior is not politically incorrect. It’s morally grotesque.
Faced with such criticisms, conservatives tend to invoke instances in which people on the left mocked the deaths of right-wingers. And it is true that many liberals celebrated the killing of January 6 rioter Ashli Babbit. Babbit’s case isn’t exactly analogous to Carson’s, as she was killed while trying to break into a legislature in a bid to block the peaceful transfer of power, while Carson was simply trying to get home. Nevertheless, it was morally wrong for liberals to make fun of a woman who’d been killed as a result of her indoctrination into a political cult while her loved ones were still in mourning. And I said so at the time.
There are a million ways to criticize political ideas and movements that you do not like. Gloating over the violent deaths of people you disagree with is among the most vile and ineffective ways of doing so. You will not persuade anyone that your side has moral authority on questions of crime by publicly mocking a murder victim.