Washington Democrats hope to go easy on drive-by murderers in order to promote racial equity for criminals. It’s the latest light-on-crime scheme pushed under the guise of being anti-racist.

House Bill 1692 lessens the criminal penalties for drive-by shootings. It prohibits using a drive-by shooting as a basis for elevating a first degree murder charge to an aggravated first degree murder. The bill is also retroactive, lessening punishment for those already found guilty in drive-by shooting cases. It even offers carve-outs to release felons from jail if they committed their violent act when they were under 21-years-old.

The bill’s sponsors, state Representatives Tarra Simmons (D-Bremerton) and David Hackney (D-Tukwila), pre-filed the bill ahead of the Jan. 10, 2022, start to the legislative session. They claim this change promotes “racial equity in the criminal legal system.” It does no such thing. It merely goes easy on criminals who deserve lifetime jail sentences. 

Democrats again side with criminals

Criminals found guilty of first degree murder face a maximum sentence of life without parole. These crimes are usually pre-meditated, though a murder that shows extreme indifference to human life also qualifies. Due to sentencing guidelines, first degree murder charges usually result in a sentence of 20-30 years, with 20 years being the minimum.

Under current state laws, a drive-by shooting qualifies for an aggravated first degree murder charge. It isn’t regularly charged as the partisan prosecutor’s office in the county drive-by shootings are most likely to occur — King County — is reticent to dole out life sentences. The aggravated classification, however, remains an option for a future prosecutor’s office when faced with a suspect who is truly evil. It can also provide a disincentive for criminals to engage in such behavior.

This class A felony comes with a mandatory penalty of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Thanks to the Washington State Supreme Court, drive-by murderers under 21 cannot serve life without parole.

Other aggravating circumstances that qualify for mandatory life sentence without parole include murder-for-hire, rape, kidnapping, and arson. It would normally qualify for the death penalty, but the progressive the state Supreme Court abolished it, citing racial bias.

HB 1692, if passed, would remove drive-by shootings from the list of aggravated factors. Thus, a drive-by murderer, if charged and convicted, could be released from prison. But the bill goes even farther than reclassifying drive-by shootings.

 

Bill retroactively applies the new standards

HB 1692 is retroactive if a drive-by shooting was the only aggravating factor in the first degree murder charge.

That means that anyone convicted or who plead guilty to first degree murder with a drive-by as the sole aggravating factor, “must be returned to the sentencing court or the sentencing court’s successor for entry of a conviction of murder in the first degree and sentencing according to the sentencing guidelines in effect on the date of the offense.”

The age of the suspect also comes into play, both retroactively and in the future, “regardless of any other provisions of state law.”

If the criminal was under the age of 21 at time of the drive-by shooting, HB 1692 says “the court has full discretion to depart from mandatory sentencing requirements, including but not limited to any applicable enhancements, and to take the particular circumstances surrounding the person’s age and all other pertinent factors into consideration when determining an appropriate sentence.”

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A lazy implication by lawmakers, one who won’t respond to basic questions

Reps. Simmons and Hackney claim in the bill’s introduction that this is about “promoting racial equity in the criminal legal system.” But the neither the bill nor the lawmakers explain how the bill would do that.

Hackney did not respond to multiple requests for comment. His district, which includes south Seattle, Tukwila, Renton and Kent, are cities that experience a high number of drive-by shootings. The gun violence has prompted area-Mayors to demand more legal consequences to those perpetuating the gun violence. And Washington has been ranked amongst the worst states for drive-by shootings.

Simmons, however, offered a statement.

Through her office, Simmons argued that first degree murder “is a heinous crime which already carries a long and serious sentence.” But, she added, “it’s clear that [this aggravated classification] was targeted at gangs that were predominantly young and Black.” She argues it’s an example of “systemic racism.”

And while Simmons wants to make this issue about saving children from life sentences, her bill applies to adults, the majority of which commit gang-related gun violence. And no child can get life without parole for a drive-by murder in Washington state.

Her argument doesn’t make sense.

Drive-by charges target gang members? No kidding.

Given that drive-by shootings are a common practice of gangs, and that gangs in this country are majority Hispanic and Black, one could see the disproportionality argument coming: that Hispanic or Black criminals are more likely to spend life in prison without parole than white criminals due to this aggravating factor.

But disproportionality arguments are relatively useless as they don’t explain why the disparity exists in the first place. Progressives who view everything through a critical race theory lens argue the disparity exists due to racism. They’re seldom correct.

In fact, Simmons claims that the aggravated murder charge for a drive-by shooting has only been used once since it became law in 1995.

Kimonti Carter became a gang member at just 11 years old. He admitted he committed burglary, robbery, car theft, possession of narcotics, and more, before he turned 16. But in 1997, when he was 18, Carter was involved in a drive-by shooting that murdered a young college student in Tacoma. He was sentenced to life without parole.

Simmons’ office did not provide a source for her claim that this is the only case charged with that aggravating factor. It’s possible she meant that it’s the only time the aggravated charge was the only aggravating factor in a first degree murder charge.

(Un)divided host Brandi Kruse tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that when she pressed them for the source, Simmons’ spokesperson responded: “Rep. Simmons is out of office and unavailable for comment.” Perhaps the staff doesn’t know where the stat came from, either.

The cause to get behind

In the last several years, Carter has become a cause de célèbre for local media members and progressive activists like Simmons.

In jail, Carter has since reformed. He created Taking Education and Creating History (TEACH), which offers inmates education that earns college credit.

The bill, due to its retroactive nature, would likely free Carter. It appears this part of the law was written specifically for him.

But it’s worth noting that Carter likely would not have reformed if not for the life sentence. And without that life sentence and reform, the very program he runs in detention would not have been created.

Simmons also chides the current law.

“Murder is murder no matter where the bullet comes from, but locking children up and throwing away the key is not the answer,” she says.

But Carter wasn’t a child when the drive-by took place. He was an adult. And children aren’t subject to mandatory life without parole under the current law.

The missing argument

Lawmakers do not argue that Black drive-by criminals are charged with aggravated first degree murder, but white drive-by criminals are not. That issue could be easily fixed by charging the white criminals as harshly as every other criminal, rather than letting them off easier because they’re non-white.

The argument appears to be that Black criminals commit more drive-by shootings than white criminals, thus non-white criminals spend more time in jail. On paper, the stat shows disproportionality, though doesn’t explain why it exists. It’s meant to falsely imply the criminal justice system is racist.

But if a white suspect is charged with murder when there were no aggravating circumstance, why would that white criminal spend more time in jail? The more egregious criminal — regardless of race — is supposed to spend more time in jail. If there are more drive-by charges against Black suspects than white suspects, it might have to do with the gang demographics.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Gang Center, whites make up only 11.5% of gangs. Hispanics (46.2%) and Blacks (35.3%) make up the bulk of gang members in the United States. Might that explain the disproportionality argument?

What does this bill have to do with racial equity? Nothing. Indeed, if Simmons is correct that there’s only been one case of a drive-by murder resulting in an aggravated first degree murder charge, then her entire argument is moot. A law that was used once cannot show a disparity nor would it make it “clear” that it was used to target young Black men. Getting rid of a law that was used once cannot lead to racial equity. When asked to clarify her positions, Simmons’ office did not respond.

This is about the Democrats’ commitment to dubious criminal justice reforms.

Democrats make life more dangerous — especially for minority communities

Washington Democrats are some of the country’s most extreme partisans. They pushed through unapologetically anti-police bills under the guise of reform. They view the entirety of the criminal justice system as inherently racist. These so-called “systems of oppression” must be dismantled and reimagined. This is part of that agenda.

Simmons is a leading Democratic voice on this issue.

A convicted felon who became a lawyer after incarceration, she ran on a platform of criminal justice reform. Simmons previously championed a bill that automatically restores the voting rights of criminals who are released from their sentence early, even if they haven’t completed their community custody requirements. Governor Jay Inslee signed this bill into law in 2021.

But a reimagined criminal justice system, to Washington Democrats, is one of endless chances for criminals if those criminals happen to be non-white. Instead of jail time for violent offenders, Democrats push criminals into restorative justice programs. Only there, Democrats believe, can a criminal be truly reformed.

Make that claim to the victims of drive-by shootings who are hit by stray bullets. They usually live in neighborhoods that are majority-minority. And given the high recidivism rate of gang members, being released early from prison despite drive-by murders will likely result in more Hispanic and Black victims. Simmons herself is an example that life doesn’t end due to incarceration.

Crime surge is a result of Democrat policies

Democrat-run cities are experiencing an historic crime surge. Take a look at the criminal records of those committing the crimes and you’ll see a prolific crime crisis that can be tied directly to soft-on-crime policies that see criminals go free. Seattle, in particular, has been hit hard.

Assuming it’s the case, it should not matter that more Hispanic or Black suspects are charged with aggravated first degree murder due to a drive-by shooting than white suspects, so long as the white suspects aren’t getting a pass for the exact kinds of behavior. If white suspects are disproportionately charged with rape or murder-for-hire as an aggravating factor, should we end that too? It shows racial disproportionality, after all. Of course not.

Democrats have redefined the term “equity” to a perversion beyond reasonable understanding of the word. It used to mean equal treatment and equal access. Now, it means equal result.

To Democrats, particularly in the progressive wing of the party, if you don’t get an equal result, it’s due to systemic racism and must be dismantled. Of course, when it’s a racial minority excelling beyond the white community, Democrats ignore the data. That was the case in the North Thurston Public Schools when administrators reclassified Asian students as “white” so they could show that minority students were underperforming whites.

An overcorrection

The United States over-incarcerated some criminals. Non-violent offenders, at one point, saw unduly harsh penalties when they could have been better served. But Democrats have created an under-incarceration problem where the people most deserving of jail time are being given a pass for restorative justice.

There is, no doubt, room for restorative justice. Young men, in particular, could benefit from an approach that keeps them out of jail and, instead, offers them community support in lieu of, at times, a broken family structure that isn’t providing them the guidance they need.

But when that person commits a violent act, like a drive-by murder, we should not focus on reforming that criminal at the expense of community safety. We do that too often and we’ve seen the deadly results.

Steal from a local convenience store? Restorative justice for new to moderate offenders. Hopefully, they can be saved and we should try.

Murder someone in a targeted drive-by shooting? That adult, regardless of their racial, gender, religious or any other identity, belongs in jail for life. We should worry more about their next victims than with reforming them. They can work at reform while in a jail cell.

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