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Will GOP Anticrime Rhetoric Encourage Police, Incarceration?

Republican rhetoric on crime could encourage a rise in violent incidents and worsen mass incarceration, experts say, as “tough-on-crime” political ads and messaging seem set to play a large role in the 2024 election. Violent crime was a focus for Republican candidates during the 2022 midterm elections. They spent $50 million on crime ads in the two months leading up to those elections, the ads pushing a dystopian vision of cities ridden by murder, robbery and assault, and of Democrats unwilling to act, The Guardian reports. As the 2024 contest comes into view, it is clear that Republicans plan to follow the same playbook. “Joe Biden and the defund-the-police Democrats have turned our once-great cities into cesspools of bloodshed and crime,” Donald Trump said in a campaign video.

Trump said that if re-elected president he would encourage police forces to reinstate “stop and frisk” – a tactic which has been shown to disproportionately target young Black men – and introduce the death penalty for drug dealers. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has also leaned into tough-on-crime rhetoric and policy. He signed a law lowering the death penalty threshold in Florida, allowing people convicted of certain crimes to be sentenced to death if eight or more jury members recommend it. “They think that’s the way to score political victories,” said Princeton Prof. Udi Ofer, former deputy national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union. The 1980s was when tough-on-crime rhetoric “exploded”, Ofer said. It culminated in the election of prosecutors who promised more convictions and longer sentences. Republicans have led the charge on crime rhetoric, Ofer said. Now Democrats are getting in on the act – “we are seeing a growing movement within the Democratic party pushing for more tough-on-crime policies”, Ofer said. The rhetoric has helped expand “stand-your-ground” laws. In the past 10 years, 14 states have added some form of the law, which can allow people determined to have acted in self-defense to escape prosecution for actions up to and including murder.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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