Category Archives: Crime and corrections

Being Dealt A Losing Hand That Lingers

There are times in life when four aces is a tough hand to hold.

Common themes on this public policy forum include poverty and its causes and cures, school failure and related discipline matters, health problems and the difficulty understanding why these conditions remain so widespread in this great nation and commonwealth.  I invite you to temporarily suspend your preconceived notions and examine some hard data that upset some of mine.

My quick summary is not doing this work justice but this is a blog, not the New Yorker.

More than twenty years ago two researchers on opposite sides of the country were feeling their way toward explaining strong correlations they observed between childhood experiences and later physical diseases.  One noted that people who dropped out of obesity treatment were often sex abuse victims.  A collaborative study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente.  About 17,000 people were asked to fill out a simple 10-question survey on various adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and then the results were correlated with their health records.

Here, take the test yourself.

The results were astounding.  Adults who had high ACE scores also were substantially more likely to have – decades later — a number of health problems up to and including early death. People with a score of six or more were potentially looking at lifespans of 20 fewer years.  From the summary I linked:  “Compared to an ACE score of zero, having four adverse childhood experiences was associated with a seven-fold (700%) increase in alcoholism, a doubling of risk of being diagnosed with cancer, and a four-fold increase in emphysema; an ACE score above six was associated with a 30-fold (3000%) increase in attempted suicide.”

It was widely known that children who were physically or sexually abused were more likely to become offenders themselves, and the concept of psychosomatic illness is ancient.  We’ve long talked about the cycle of poverty.  But here was hard proof in a simple and easy to replicate study.  It then led to brain studies that discovered that trauma and the resulting floods of cortisol and adrenaline actually change physical brain structures.  The how is becoming clearer.

This initial group was not a low-income population.  Heart disease, depression, family violence, drugs and learning problems are not limited to poor neighborhoods.  But the work has sparked a slowly spreading revolution in education and social services.

Consider the implications of simply changing the question “What is wrong with this child?” to “What has happened to this child?”  When you make that mental shift, does it change the way you think about the argument over long suspensions for primary school students with control issues?  Do you really think sitting out of school for a long period (unsupervised) is going to change anything?  Do you worry a little bit more about the impact on a child of a being evicted a series of times?  Are you a bit more interested in providing Medicaid to the whole family instead of just the children?

Source: CDC

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Murders, Arrests and the Politics of Racial Grievance

Baltimore. Orange patches represent “low arrest” areas, blue high-arrest areas.

The Washington Post had what could have been an interesting idea: Map more than 52,000 homicides and arrests in major American cities over the past decade. Sadly, the newspaper floundered with the data, unable to identify any meaningful trends other than the entirely predictable finding that some cities do a significantly better job of clearing its murders than others. Why that might be, other than some vague talk about the level of trust between police and inner-city populations, the Post had no clue.

Two cities were highlighted graphically in the WaPo’s analysis: Washington’s metropolitan neighbors Baltimore and Richmond. Baltimore stands out as a city dominated by “areas of impunity,” where murders go unsolved and murders are rarely caught. Richmond shines nationally as an example of a city where most murders are solved. Comparing policing practices and community attitudes in the two cities might have been instructive, but the WaPo took a different path.

There are no one-size-fits-all explanations for the variation in arrest rates across all cities, but I will nominate one factor that plays an outsized role: the politics of racial grievance.

Baltimore and Richmond are ideal test cases. Both have large populations of poor African-Americans living in highly segregated neighborhoods. Both have black-majority city councils. Both have black police chiefs and public prosecutors. Richmond has a black sheriff — I’m not sure what the equivalent position is in Baltimore, but whatever it is, I’ll wager that a black politician occupies the post. Thus, we can’t explain away the difference in arrest rates by the suggestion that, say, Richmond doesn’t have same kind of poor, inner city neighborhoods as Baltimore. Nor can we can’t blame the indifference of a white-dominated political class, as might be the case in other cities.

The difference, I submit, is political ideology. In Baltimore the death of Freddie Gray while in the custody of Baltimore police escalated into a highly emotional and widely publicized controversy that fed into the Black Lives Matter narrative of endemic racial injustice. Egged on by the media, Baltimore’s politically progressive mayor and prosecutor appealed to the black population’s resentments and grievances and lambasted the performance of the police. The resulting polarization sowed mistrust between police and blacks. In such a toxic environment, the police enjoy little cooperation from the black population, making it exceedingly difficult to track down murderers and close cases. As a consequence, the murder rate soars.

Richmond’s African-American leaders are notable for their moderation and pragmatism. They don’t stoke racial grievances. While they clearly represent the interests of their poor constituents, their rhetoric supports the idea that “we’re all in this together.” They don’t see politics as a zero-sum game. They see prosperity as a rising tide that lifts all ships. As a consequence, the racial polarization that poisons police-community relations in Baltimore is far less of a problem in Richmond. The payoff is a much higher rate of arrests and convictions of murderers, and safer streets for law-abiding minority residents. Bottom line: By eschewing radical progressive rhetoric, Richmond’s black politicians get better results for their constituents.

Medicaid Fraud Unit Grows With Program

It would be interesting to know which is growing faster, the Medicaid program itself or the state-run legal and investigative team charged with rooting out and prosecuting the fraud, waste and abuse that appear on pools of dollars like algae on a still pond. My guess is the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), now around 100 people, has actually grown faster than the underlying program it polices.

Does that mean a growing Medicaid program is generating more fraud? Or does it mean the problems are always there and a more numerous and aggressive enforcement staff can bring more cases? The second argument was the one always used on me when MFCU argued for more budget during my time as administrator in the Office of Attorney General.

In 1983 the team started with about a half dozen staff and recoveries that year were minuscule, but these are cases that take time to investigate and build. Over 35 years that total has reached almost $2 billion, although one big year (2012) accounted for almost half of that. The $14.4 million it will spend in each of the next two years is over 25 percent of the entire budget for the OAG.

None of the money comes from state taxpayers, but as is often noted we are all federal taxpayers as well. Its recoveries exceed its cost. Overall it has returned hundreds of millions of ill-gotten gains to various treasuries. Its deterrence effect is hard to measure but has to be included in any assessment.

In 2009 the unit started publishing its own annual reports, giving each Attorney General (a.k.a. Aspiring Governor) a chance to print his photo and bask in the glow of success MFCU usually throws off. By the time the first report was published, Bob McDonnell was already running for Governor so it wasn’t his photo. Still, I’m not surprised these reports started with an election year and haven’t stopped.

That first one from 2009 showed a staff of just under 50 people and a $6.6 million spend (way above where I left it in 2002), reporting 16 convictions and almost $27 million in restitution. That was substantially below the totals for 2007 and 2008, but there are no annual reports for those years to dig into why.  When you go to the 2017 report, you find the staff went up to just below 100 persons, the budget to just below $12 million, but recoveries were under $21 million that year.

From the 2017 Annual Report

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The Hidden Expense of Police Body Cameras

When police departments began equipping their officers with body cameras, I thought it was a great idea. Capturing a video record of police encounters could settle a lot of controversies. It never occurred to me that reviewing the video would be so exorbitantly time consuming that local prosecutors would have to hire additional employees — or that local governments would balk at the expense.

Earlier this year Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, proposed requiring any locality buying body cameras for patrol officers to hire one additional entry-level assistant commonwealth’s attorney for every 50 body cameras deployed, the Richmond Times-Dispatch informs us.

Other lawmakers nixed the idea but, in the grand tradition of the General Assembly, decided to study the matter. Now a special panel is investigating, in the words of the budget language, “how body worn cameras have or may continue to impact the workloads experienced by Commonwealth’s Attorneys offices.”

In Chesterfield County, body cameras have become quite the burden, reports the T-D. Commonwealth’s Attorney William Davenport has said that the hours of footage exceeds the capacity of his staff to watch it. The workload, he said, caused him to recently curtail the number of misdemeanors his office prosecutes. Meanwhile, the county’s new police chief is re-examining when officers turn on their cameras during an incident and which officers should carry them. Norment’s idea would have cost Chesterfield County between $800,000 to $900,000 for eight additional lawyers. 

Bacon’s bottom line: I find myself baffled. How can this be a problem? The overwhelming majority of police encounters are uncontroversial. Sure, police departments should save and catalog the video in case it’s needed later. But how many cases warrant an examination of the video feed? And how many hours does it take to review a single tape?

I’m also bewildered why Chesterfield would need to hire eight new lawyers at an average compensation of $100,000 a year. Why does it take someone with a law degree to review police video and isolate the five or ten minutes of footage relevant to the case? Can’t you hire a couple of college kids for $15 an hour to do the grunt work and hand off the relevant footage to the prosecutor in charge of the case?

Really, how difficult can it be to download police video for storage in the cloud, tag it with the officer’s name, date, and time of the encounter, have a intern in the C.A.’s office fetch the file in the relatively rare instances in which it might be germane, snip footage of the encounter, and pass along a clip to the prosecutor?

From my vantage point, the controversy makes so little sense that there must be more to it than meets the eye. But perhaps state and local government just isn’t very good at handling certain tasks. Perhaps there’s a business opportunity for an enterprise to do the job for them at half the cost.

The Veiled Racism in the School Shooting Debate

U.S. Homicide rate… down. Graphic credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

An axiom of Bacon’s Rebellion is that while progressives (progs) and social justice warriors (SJWs) oppose racism in their rhetoric, they support policies that have the unintended result of being racist in effect. Nowhere is this clearer than in their approach to the criminal justice system, in which they decry the criminals as victims while ignoring the victims of their criminality. Today I will take my argument one step further and suggest that progs and SJWs betray a pattern of behavior that, if observed among conservatives and libertarians, they would tar as racist.

This truth was brought to my mind by the lead editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch today, which published graphs contrasting the decline of the U.S. homicide rate over the past three decades (despite an uptick in the past two years) with the decline in mass shootings.

School massacres and other mass shooting.

The thrust of the T-D editorial was to observe that once upon a time, when access to guns was far easier than it is today, there were far fewer school mass shootings. Clearly, something is going on that has nothing to do with guns.

I would suggest that that “something” is a cultural/psychological phenomenon connected to white male alienation and mental illness, the spread of the Columbine-massacre template among disturbed teenage whites, mass media hysteria that guarantees maximum exposure of every shooting, and the rise of social media creating a platform for the killers to create manifestos explaining and justifying their rage. But that’s a side observation.

The larger point is this: National U.S. media inundate the public with coverage of mass shootings, even though they account for an almost trivial amount of total homicides. Why is that? Could the reason be that the overwhelming majority of all homicide victims are black, brown, or lower-income whites while the overwhelming majority of school shooting victims are white — just like the Mika Brzezinkis, Joe Scarboroughs, Rachel Maddows, Chris Cuomos and New York Times editorial writers? Could the reason be that the overwhelming majority of homicide victims live in neighborhoods where elite opinion makers never set foot, therefore elite opinion makers do not share the same sense of alarm as other Americans about criminal violence, while school shootings occur in places where the victims “look like them”?

Consider this graph from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Blacks are about 30% more likely to be victims of violent crimes than whites. Of course, a large percentage of violent crimes within any racial/ethnic category are committed by domestic partners or other acquaintances. Exclude those categories, and the rate of violent-crime victimization of upper-income, college-educated whites is very low. Upper middle-class progs and SJWs don’t worry much about assaults by domestic partners, gambling buddies, drug suppliers, or random street muggings. To them, the perceived threat of school shootings looms larger. As far as black victims of violent crime… meh. Inner city crime can be written off as an outcomes of institutional racism anyway — not their fault.

There is a fine balancing act here. The U.S. criminal justice system arguably does incarcerate too many people, and it arguably does need an overhaul. Virginia does an exemplary job of recycling jail and prison inmates back into the community — we have one of the lowest recidivism rates in the country — but we could always do more. And we are. As an example: Yesterday, Governor Ralph Northam signed bipartisan legislation raising the threshold for a felony larceny from $200 to $500 — an action that hopefully will have the effect of reducing jail populations without increasing the incidence of petty crime.

But we need to be careful. According to the “broken windows” theory of criminality, a tolerance of misdemeanors leads to more minor crimes. A tolerance of minor crimes leads to more major crimes. The victims of those crimes come disproportionately from minority and lower-income neighborhoods. While these victims receive attention from local news media, they warrant almost zero from the national media that exert such a profound influence on the public policy agenda. If all crime victims were given the same platforms to express their fear and frustration as, say, the Parkland, Fla., school shooting survivors, the public policy debate in the United States would look very different indeed.

“Torture” and “Dehumanization” in Virginia’s Prisons?

The Virginia Department of Corrections has won kudos from the Obama administration Department of Justice and the Southern Legislative Conference for limiting the use of long-term “restrictive housing,” the administrative euphemism for solitary confinement. In 2011 the maximum security Red Onion prison in Southwest Virginia held 511 prisoners in long-term restrictive housing. Today, the number is fewer than 100.

But that’s not good enough for the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union which, in a letter to Governor Ralph Northam, asked the state to curtail the practice even more. Reports Frank Green with the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

 “Isolating someone not just from their family and community but placing them in a cell the size of a parking space for 22-24 hours a day and depriving them of human contact, natural light, exercise and other out-of-cell time, and other stimuli, causes extreme suffering and mental illness,” wrote [Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia].

“No one, regardless of their crime, should be tortured and dehumanized in this way,” she added.

Let’s parse this. Roughly 100 of the most dangerous of the 30,000 prisoners in Virginia’s penitentiary system — one in 300 — are held in solitary confinement at any given time. Almost all of them, I’ll wager, have been convicted of violent crimes. Almost all of them, I’ll bet, have what we might call anger management issues. In all likelihood, every single one has gotten into altercations inside prison. These guys are either (a) considered a danger to other inmates, or (b) live in fear of other inmates. Still, they are let out of the cells up to two hours a day for exercise, recreation and showers. This is dehumanizing? This is torture?

I’m sorry, but this is the kind of rhetoric that gives liberals a bad name.

The ACLU study quotes the inmates themselves as evidence that disciplinary charges are sometimes inflated or false, and that solitary confinement is not limited to situations in which it is essential for reasons of safety. Right. Like violent criminals never lie.

OK, OK, sometimes they may be telling the truth. Perhaps I’ve watched too many prison movies, but I’ll grant that prison guards may not always be the finest specimens of humanity themselves and may sometimes abuse their power. The appropriate response is to correct injustices when they occur rather than impose blanket policies, as the ACLU advocates, such as using solitary only in “rare and exceptional cases,” limiting the length to 15 days, and banning the practice entirely for prisoners with mental illness.

In a free and open society, it’s a good thing to know that someone like the ACLU is looking out for the rights of prison inmates. Abuses sometimes do occur, and they sometimes do get covered up. That’s the nature of things. Prisoners need an outside channel like the ACLU to report wrong-doing. But this time, it sounds to me that, the ACLU has gone way overboard.

As a frivolous aside, I’ve occasionally thought what it would be like to be imprisoned in a maximum security facility with scary inmates and I”ve wondered how I would survive. My first thought: Do whatever it takes to be put into solitary. I’d far rather live in confinement than become some big hairy dude’s prison bitch.

Give me a stack of books and an hour a day in the exercise yard, and I’d do just fine.

Time to Reform Practice of Cash Bonds

Earlier this month Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring announced that his office would no longer recommend requiring cash bond for people charged with crimes. Instead, prosecutors would recommend defendants either be held in jail or be given their freedom until the trial. Too many people are unable to raise cash for the bond, and Herring is concerned that the practice needlessly stuffs the city jail with poor defendants who may be innocent and pose no threat to the community.

Herring is not a social justice warrior. He’s a prosecutor who takes seriously his obligation to put bad guys in jail. But he’s also sensitive to the effect that the criminal justice system has on poor African-Americans. Holding someone in gaol until his (or her, but mostly his) trial interrupts his employment, disrupts his ability to meet his financial obligations, and deprives him of his freedom. The practice also imposes a burden on taxpayers to house, feed, and guard people who have yet to be convicted of a crime.

If the Richmond metro area were undergoing a horrendous crime wave, I might be inclined to err on the side of public safety. But crime continues to decline. As we approach end of April, Police Chief Alfred Durham reports heartening statistics, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch: Seven fewer homicides, 23 fewer people shot, 42 fewer robberies, 196 fewer burglaries, and an overall 6 percent drop in violent and property crimes compared to the same point last year. This would seem to be a propitious time to implement reforms to the criminal justice system, if it can be shown that reforms are needed.

When thinking about the causes of poverty, I find it useful to adopt two analytical frameworks: individual and institutional. Examining poverty at the level of the individual, we can see that some people are poor as a consequence of poor decisions they have made: They dropped out of school, they got pregnant before they got married, they abused alcohol or drugs, they committed crimes, they were unreliable employees, or they spent more money than they made and put themselves onto a treadmill of debt. And we can also see that institutional forces often work against them. Their schools were terrible. Politicians were corrupt. Jobs were scarce. They ran afoul of a criminal justice system that stacked the odds against them.

If we want to address poverty in Virginia and create a society where people can rise above their circumstances, then we need to adopt both frames of reference, Among other things, that means giving a closer look at the criminal justice system. I have written in the past about how jails and prisons can ease the re-entry of inmates into society by making sure they have such basic job-finding tools as drivers licenses and identity cards. And a strong case can be made that they system of cash bond disproportionately burdens the poor.

Herring’s order to stop recommending cash bond is just the first step, argues Adeola Ogunkeyede, director of the Civil Rights & Racial Injustice Program. While prosecutors may stop recommending cash bond, they aren’t always present when bail decisions are made — magistrates often make bail decisions when prosecutors aren’t around. Likewise, judges can override prosecutors’ recommendations.

In a Richmond Times-Dispatch column today, she writes: “Given this context it remains to be seen whether Herring’s decision to stop his prosecutors from recommending cash bond will reduce the number of people locked in jail pretrial in Richmond.” She concludes:

Moving forward, we encourage Herring to join advocates and communities disproportionately impacted by unjust bail practices — predominantly low-income communities of color — in championing measures that would unequivocally put Richmond on track to lead the way on meaningful bail reform in Virginia.

From what I gather, Herring has already joined the movement. Her remarks would be better aimed at magistrates and judges. More critically, I would like to see Ogunkeyede acknowledge that there is a balancing act between protecting the rights of the accused and protecting the community from the depredations of crime. As social justice warriors often seem to forget, “communities of color” are disproportionately victims of the criminals who live in their midst.

Still, all things considered, it is a fundamental principle of American justice that people are presumed innocent until found guilty. We should explore ways to keep not-convicted people out of jail, especially those accused of non-violent crimes who pose no threat to the public. Herring’s announcement is an important step forward and Ogunkeyede’s column is a worthwhile contribution to the discussion.

Wow, that Stop-and-Frisk Policy Sure Looks Suspicious. Let’s Stop and Frisk It.

Citing Charlottesville Police Department data, the Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia’s student newspaper, has found that African-Americans are stopped and frisked at a rate nine times greater than whites.

The statistical report from the 2017 calendar year detailed that of the 173 total recorded stop incidents, 70 percent of the individuals were black. Of the 125 stop incidents with search-and-frisk, 91 of the individuals  — or 73 percent — were black.  According to 2016 estimates of Charlottesville demographics, only 19 percent of the City identifies as black or African American.

Predictably, Bill Farrar, director of strategic communications for the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he found the statistics “alarming.”

Don Gathers, a deacon at the First Baptist Church and founder of Charlottesville’s chapter of Black Lives Matter — said that stop and frisk is a racist policy: “[Stop and Frisk] is a very race-based, racist, failed policy,” he said. “[The police] get … returns from the instability that they create in the community.”

My first reaction (to borrow a line from the Instapundit blog): Why are municipalities run by progressives such cesspools of discrimination?

My second reaction: Maybe there is a problem, but I’m not going to believe it on the authority of the Cavalier Daily, the ACLU or Black Lives Matter. Here’s the obvious counter: If African-Americans in Charlottesville are nine times to be guilty of crimes as whites, then the stop-and-frisk disparity is not unreasonable.

However, the Cavalier Daily did present evidence suggesting that the disparity was real, though not as bad as a nine-to-one ratio would indicate.

In 2016, a more comprehensive report revealed that out of the 97 detentions, 74 of the cases involved black individuals, but only 15 — or about 17 percent — of the individuals were arrested or served summons. Comparatively, out of the 35 white people that were stopped in 2016, 11 — roughly 31 percent —  of them were arrested or summoned to court.

In either case, a minority of those frisked were worthy of arrest. But blacks were only half as likely to be arrested or summoned — a big disparity, to be sure, but far short of a nine-to-one ratio. What we don’t know is if there are legitimate reasons for that smaller disparity. The assumption of racism is often unwarranted. Conversely, the fact that assumptions of racism are often unwarranted does not mean that they are always unwarranted. This may be such a case.

“Another important step is to dig deeper into the data,” said City Manager Maurice Jones. “We’ve got a group of folks who will be doing that with the City Manager’s Office, the police department, the City Attorney’s Office [and] the Commonwealth Attorney’s office as well and getting a better understanding of some of the issues associated with [the data].”

When stop-and-frisk was a hot controversy in New York City a few years back, I sympathized with the police and those who argued that eliminating the policy would make it more difficult to combat crime. I did not think it would end well when Mayor Bill DeBlasio ended the practice. As it turns out, the New York City crime rate has continued to decline. It’s not often that I find myself changing my mind about left-wing politicians, but in this instance DeBlasio proved correct. Stop-and-frisk was causing unnecessary resentment among minorities, and police have other crime-fighting tools that work as well or even better.

Bacon’s bottom line: Let’s see if Charlottesville’s police can provide a convincing defense of the racial disparity in stop-frisks. If they can’t, the practice should end, and the police should devise other tactics for fighting crime.

Pulitzer Recognition for Three-Strikes-and-You’re-Out Articles

Congratulations to Tim Eberly with the Virginian-Pilot for winning recognition as a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his investigative reporting on Virginia’s three-strikes-and-you’re-out law. He was up against some stiff competition — the Washington Post won the award for its investigation of Senate candidate Roy Moore’s history of sexual harassment of teenage girls.

Here’s the kick-off of Eberly’s Nov. 17, 2017, story:

Virginia bureaucrats are keeping nonviolent convicts in prison longer than murderers

Snagged by a short-lived state law, some Virginia inmates have served more time behind bars than many murderers, even though they harmed no one in their crimes and had never been in prison before.

In some cases, their prison terms will stretch far longer than those of convicts who fatally shot, stabbed or bludgeoned people, a Virginian-Pilot investigation has found.

This disparity stems from a 1982 “three-strikes” law that, largely during a 12-year period, has caught inmates in its clutches for decades.

Young men barely old enough to vote went from first-time offender to three-striker in one swift motion. They weren’t the career criminals for which three-strikes laws are generally written. More often than not, their crimes were committed in a single spree. And plenty of them had little or no prior criminal history.

Virginia enacted the law when the state, like the rest of the U.S., was awash in a rising tide of crime and the public was sick and tired of convicted criminals being released back onto the streets with a judicial slap of the wrist. At the time, the idea of three-strikes-and-you’re-out seemed to me like a good idea. And one could argue (although many will disagree) that the law did help stem crime by the expedient of taking criminals out of circulation.

But as Eberly revealed, the law was arbitrary, and it created new injustices. Now that crime rates have fallen dramatically and the populace is no longer gripped by fear, we are pained far more by those injustices than we once were.

One Man’s “Domestic Terrorist” Is Another Man’s Social Justice Warrior

Does left-wing violence constitute “domestic terrorism,” too?

Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News has teamed with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office to add “domestic terrorism” to the state’s list of criminal charges. Her bill, HB 1601, would make it illegal in certain cases for people associated with domestic terrorist groups to hold a meeting, reports the Daily Press.

Price refused to comment for the Daily Press story, but AG spokesman Michael Kelly said the office has been working on the bill since the United the Right rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, where counterprotester Heather Heyer was killed when Nazi sympathizer James Field Jr. drove a vehicle into a crowd. Field has been charged with first-degree murder.

“Obviously that was a real wake-up call and a moment that made it crystal clear that Virginia needs to take seriously the threat posed by extremist organizations and especially white supremacist organizations,” said Kelly. “We want to make sure that local law enforcement and state law enforcement have the tools to keep Virginians safe from that kind of violence.”

But I can’t help but wonder if the AG’s office is more concerned about violence stemming from some sources than others. The “domestic terrorism” charge applies to acts perpetrated because of race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or disability, or that [are] committed for the purpose of restraining an individual from exercising his rights under the Constitution or laws of this Commonwealth or of the United States.”

Those qualifiers explicitly protect minorities against Nazis, Klansmen and other right-wing extremists, which is fine. But does it apply to Antifa or other groups that use violence to shut down the objects of left-wing hatred and loathing such as, say, rallies of Trump supporters or conservative speakers on college campuses? Presumably, Trump supporters enjoy a constitutional right to freedom of assembly, so Antifa violence might warrant a domestic terrorism charge. But does a conservative speaker have a constitutional right to deliver a speech on a college campus? Much trickier question.

I’m not clear why such a law is needed in the first place. The City of Charlottesville has charged Fields with first degree murder. Does the Commonwealth of Virginia require another law to put him away for the rest of his life? I can’t shake the suspicion that Price’s bill, if enacted into law, will be applied selectively against those whose political beliefs the Attorney General or his successors find most odious.