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Joe Biden’s Rule of Law Problem


The Capitol occupation and riot of Jan. 6 will haunt American political life for years. Condemnation of the invasion of the Capitol is virtually universal, as is support for prosecuting those arrested inside.

By contrast, condemnation of the violence committed during the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests remains selective. Prosecutions for crimes against property or assaults on police are minimal. Last week, New York state Attorney General

Letitia James

filed a lawsuit against the New York City Police Department for violating “individuals’ basic right to peacefully protest.”

The press is now doing long takeouts on right-wing militias, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists such as QAnon. That’s fine by me. These nuts should be locked up if convicted of crimes.

Meanwhile, the continuing and quite shocking anarchist, left-wing violence in Seattle and Portland, Ore., is inside-page news, if it’s reported at all.

At the White House Tuesday, President Biden’s press secretary,

Jen Psaki,

was asked whether a federal intelligence-agency review of the Capitol occupiers would extend to the Portland rioters. She said that “all violence happening around the country will be reviewed.” Next question.

Amid 2020’s turbulence, I still think one of the most troublesome political events was that no speaker at the Democratic National Convention mentioned, much less criticized, the violence and looting in numerous U.S. cities.

It is naive and dangerous for the press and responsible political leaders—whether

Joe Biden,

Kamala Harris

or

Donald Trump

—to think that closing their eyes to lawlessness won’t break down broader respect for the rule of law itself, assuming that still matters.

If you still need a cold-water bath to wake up to where this is going, it is this quotation in a Journal article about police and military veterans involved in the Capitol invasion.

Jacob Fracker,

a cop from Virginia, defended himself on

Facebook

—after his arrest:

“I can protest for what I believe in and still support your protest for what you believe in.” 

In other words: Both sides now believe that no matter what they do, they should be able to get away with it. You rationalized your criminality during the summer as politically justified, and so we will rationalize ours for the same reason.

The highbrow explanation for staying quiet about the crimes committed this summer is that the greater moral need is elevating public consciousness about systemic racism, which requires defending at all costs, including looking away from the flames.

In a system that claims to be governed by equality before the law, a bedrock measure of even-handedness should be the reality of prosecution for crimes committed. The Capitol invaders face the likelihood of felony charges, while most of those arrested this summer in hundreds of violent protests were charged with misdemeanors, such as violating curfews.

One purpose of prosecution is that otherwise, you “get away with it.” This isn’t just a social observation. Letting off people arrested for clear crimes has become public policy—known as “restorative justice”—in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and other progressive cities, where arguably this is what the voting public wants.

Only inside the cult of critical race theory can a public confused about the content of justice be a good thing. If prosecutors in major cities are dumbing down violent crime, what is the point of giving the system respect? One feels foolish for doing so. The police on the beat have already defaulted to that conclusion.

Slippery slope is a cliché, but a colleague once noted that phrases become clichés because they are true. This is a slippery slope. Instead of respect for the rule of law, the majority develops contempt for the rules. Sometime soon, we may tip toward what one might call the mob style in American politics and not just among anarchists. If justice is biased, well, you do what you gotta do. Law-abiding parents thinking they had to bribe coaches to get their children into college were a portent.

Adrian Diaz,

Seattle’s new police chief, said Saturday that protesters who vandalize private property will be arrested and prosecuted. But there is no evidence that City Attorney

Pete Holmes

will prosecute them for much of anything.

Mr. Diaz replaced Carmen Best, who resigned when Seattle’s City Council abandoned the cops and effectively embraced the mobs. Mr. Diaz, may be the final test of whether equality before the law is officially moribund.

Mr. Trump never spoke forcefully enough against the violence below the surface on his side. At her White House news conference Monday, Ms. Psaki did say Mr. Biden condemns the Seattle violence. But sentiment isn’t enough.

At one of Mr. Biden’s executive-order signings, a reporter should ask the president whose side he’s on in Seattle—Chief Diaz, who wants the book thrown at protesters who commit crimes, or City Attorney Holmes, who just won’t do it. One might even say this is one of those presidency-defining lines in the sand.

Write henninger@wsj.com.

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8



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