The anarchy and disorder dominating progressive cities across the West Coast recently hit a new low in Seattle. King County officials are looking to roll out a “safe injection van,” a legal venue at which addicts could shoot up illegal drugs unhindered and “safely.” The first of its kind in the United States, the van would manage to undermine further the rule of law while also doing little to help addicts. Seattle’s urban decay goes deeper, though, with skyrocketing rates of homelessness, an explosion in opioid usage and deaths, and spikes in violent crime.
Seattle’s predicament is emblematic of the broader crises faced by many progressive West Coast cities, where local leaders have forced law enforcement to take a hands-off approach to policing unsanctioned tent cities and vagrancy at the expense of public safety and health. San Francisco, long considered a model of progressive urban policy, is plagued by filth, chaos, and public-safety hazards. Local leaders plan to spend an incredible $305 million on combatting homelessness for the current fiscal year alone, but disorder spreads as the city fails to enforce the rule of law and basic sanitary measures. Block-by-block surveillance reveals the deterioration of downtown San Francisco. Of 153 city blocks surveyed, 41 contained used drug needles and 96 had human feces present. Tourists are dismayed to leave their downtown hotels, to be confronted by mentally ill and aggressive homeless people who are taking control of the streets. University of California Berkeley professor Lee Riley, an expert on infectious disease, observes that some of San Francisco’s streets are dirtier than Third World slums.
Portland, Oregon, has continued to experience rapid urban decay in recent years, and the consequences for businesses and residents have been dramatic. In 2016, Columbia Sportswear, a major retailer, relocated a considerable number of its staff to downtown Portland. A little over a year later, in a scathing opinion piece in the Oregonian, the company’s CEO voiced his regret over the decision. Employees reported repeated criminal offenses, “daily defecation” in the store’s front lobby, and fears of physical violence. One female employee ran into moving traffic to escape a transient individual, screaming that he was going to kill her.
Conditions for other Portland companies have deteriorated as well. Anne Bocci, who owns a premier jewelry and clothing store that prides itself on “not being a big corporate business,” was robbed and had her life threatened twice. “The police came and then [the thief] came back four minutes later after they left,” she noted during an interview. Judith Arnell closed her jewelry store after customers felt unsafe entering her shop. She noted that vagrants would frequently defecate on the front steps of her business. Fed-up small-business owners took their concerns to Portland’s Democratic mayor, Ted Wheeler, who offered owners training on how to secure their stores—and then promptly blamed Department of Housing Secretary Ben Carson for not doing enough to support affordable housing.
Cities’ first step in fixing this mess must be to restore public order. There’s nothing generous or compassionate about letting troubled people sleep on pavement surrounded by used needles. Public-health agencies must enforce basic sanitation standards; individuals should not be going unpunished for public defecation. Elected officials must give police the latitude to exercise their power judiciously—and the reassurance that their work is valued and supported. Three-strike policies should be implemented, and violators jailed.
Most important, people need to feel safe walking the streets. Visitors, residents, and businesses deserve better. It’s time to quell the anarchy and disorder dominating West Coast cities.
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