In the midst of the continuing controversy over the extraordinarily lenient prosecution policies announced by the newly minted Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, comes a story out of Washington State that is even more dismaying. Bragg explained away his direction to his prosecutors to downgrade certain felonies to misdemeanors, not to prosecute certain low level crime, to seek prison time only as a last resort and never for more than 20 years, as arising out of his desire to rectify injustices historically suffered by minorities who get caught up in the criminal justice system. As contrary to law enforcement and public safety this sort of thinking is, in Washington State they are showing the even more extreme place to which it will likely lead.

According to Fox News, two Democratic Washington state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would reduce penalties for drive-by shootings, with the aim of “promoting racial equity in the criminal legal system.” Specifically, the bill would eliminate drive-by shootings as the basis for elevating a first degree murder charge to aggravated murder in the first degree, which carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

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Drive-by shootings, reports Fox, became an “aggravating” factor by the addition of the following language: “The murder was committed during the course of, or as a result of a shooting where the discharge of the firearm is either from a motor vehicle or from the immediate area of a motor vehicle that was used to transport the shooter or the firearm.”

Other aggravating factors include the murder of law enforcement officers, murders committed by inmates while they are behind bars, and murder-for-hire schemes.

When drive-by shootings were added as an aggravating factor in 1995, the state was experiencing a surge in gang-related crime. One of the sponsors of the new bill explained, though, that “it’s clear that it was targeted (sic) at gangs that were predominantly young and Black.”

She went on to describe one person charged under the 1995 drive-by provision. She described him as Black and someone who was part of a gang since he was 11 years old, played a role in a drive-by shooting at the age of 18 that left a young man dead and two others wounded. He received a sentence of 777 years in prison.

However, she said, “If he had been standing outside of the vehicle at the time, he would’ve faced 240-320 months in prison. Instead he was sentenced to life in prison with no opportunity for parole because of this law,” she said. “This law’s history and application…is what we mean when we talk about systemic racism….”

It’s hard to understand the argument that when government acts against a certain category of dangerous crime, it is ipso facto evidence of racism if the perpetrators happen to overwhelmingly be Black. After all, it is not as if the crime is a concocted one or that it is only applied to Blacks and no one else.

But this seems to be the same logic Bragg employs. We reiterate our hope that he will reconsider his ill-conceived approach to criminal prosecutions.

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