One of the best words in the English language is “lollapalooza”. It’s so unique and mellifluous that it could almost be an example of onomatopoeia like clap, boom, bark, or bang. It’s also a popular musical festival and honestly, it’s just fun to say.
The word nerd in me was pleased to read the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board use lollapalooza in their December 11 editorial, which unfortunately – yet again – they use to defend Prop 47.
The Times has had a hard time reconciling their support of Prop 47 with its consequences. One need only Google search their headlines over the last 9 years to see why. When you contrast what is written on the editorial page with the articles produced by their newsroom, one wonders if their editors actually read their own newspaper.
Recently, the Times published the grim headline that “Fentanyl was LA County’s deadliest drug.” It’s also California’s deadliest drug and, thanks to laws like Prop 47, it will continue to be so despite herculean attempts at so-called harm reduction. Additionally, we see every day a bizarre culture of dangerous drug use normalization efforts that advocates claim destigmatizes drug users, but in reality it is a drug use marketing program.
Progressives in the California Legislature have been similarly perplexed. They are caught between the mandate from the voters to reduce incarceration, crime and drug use, rehabilitate criminals, better fund education and generally make California a more just society – and the State’s inability to achieve any of those goals except for reducing incarceration.
Fentanyl persists in its lethality for a number of reasons: It’s relatively inexpensive, easy to obtain, and provides an immediate and profound “high.” That triad exists, in part, because Prop 47 exists. In the open-air drug markets of the West Coast, prices are a function of availability and even when prices increase, the opportunity to steal property, prostitute yourself, or pimp someone else is almost consequence free.
Another reason Fentanyl is so powerful is that it cannot be “cut” and even the tiniest of doses can be both effective and deadly. It is the first true 21st century chemically engineered drug and won’t be the last.
Some argue that criminalizing drugs, prostitution, and theft only victimizes the already victimized. But the consequences have been the opposite – Prop 47 has protected the criminal rackets that prey on the most vulnerable amongst us. The drug manufacturers, dealers, pimps, and fence operations. People use drugs because they work and will do anything to obtain them including protecting the very merchants of their own exploitation and deaths. The way to disarticulate that relationship is through the lever of arrest and prosecution, and through cooperation agreements obtain their testimony against their abusers.
Newly elected Speaker of the Assembly Robert Rivas seems to be trying to do something about this. He has replaced Reggie Sawyer-Jones as chair of the Public Safety Committee with Kevin McCarty who has stated that: “Everything is on the table,” including Proposition 47. “We’re lacking some accountability,” he said, for thieves who repeatedly steal items that fall beneath the $950 felony-misdemeanor threshold.
Speaker Rivas has also created a Select Committee on Retail Theft that will convene in January 2024 with a mandate to:
. . . provide a forum to engage impacted stakeholders – including large retailers, small businesses, criminal justice reform advocates, law enforcement, and representatives of workers and the public – to identify policy solutions to this ongoing crisis.
Yet the Times Editorial Board looks at these efforts and declares that it’s “time to defend California’s hard-won criminal justice reforms from lawmakers.”
They then expend 786 words explaining why Prop 47 has nothing to do with increasing crime, selectively quote outdated research studies, and provide no less than 5 links to their own past editorials defending – you guessed it – Prop 47.
Violence is up. Thefts are up. Overdose deaths are up. Retailers are closing. Tax revenues are down. People are fleeing the state.
It takes an extraordinary amount of another great word – chutzpah – to defend that.
Steve Smith is a senior fellow in urban studies at the Pacific Research Institute, and author of the recent PRI study on California’s crime problem, “Paradise Lost.”