INDIGNITY VOL. 3, NO. 31: Hijacking home rule.


INDIGNITY VOL. 3, NO. 31: Hijacking home rule.

The Washington Post Editorial Board Can't Be Serious About Crime

WHAT DOES IT mean to be serious about crime? On Thursday of last week, President Joe Biden announced that he would support a measure, created by the new Republican House majority, to throw out the District of Columbia's newly revised criminal code. On Friday, the editorial board of the Washington Post endorsed Biden's action, and seconded the congressional nullification of their own city's power to govern itself.

"Feeling forced to choose, the president picked public safety over home rule for the capital city," the board wrote.

The only honest word in the sentence was "feeling." The attack on the new criminal code—and the collateral demolition of Washington D.C.'s independence—was entirely about feelings, or feeling about feelings: an eruption of anxiety among the people who consider themselves rational arbiters of policy and public interest. Biden wasn't trying to protect the residents of the capital from crime; he was trying to protect himself and his party from the crime issue.

The Democratic Party and the centrist pundit establishment have been campaigning against crime—specifically, against the notion that criminal-justice reform has gone too far—for more than two years, ever since the backlash to the George Floyd protest movement of 2020 consolidated itself. None of this has kept Republicans from continuing to assail Democrats as thug-coddling leftists, or prevented the press from running with the message that the country is being swamped by a crime wave.

Against this background, the District tried to rewrite its criminal code. It was a complicated, long-running effort, drawing on data, expert analysis, and public comment to restructure a set of laws that hadn't been systematically overhauled in more than a century. But among the myriad adjustments to the old definitions and penalties, raising or lowering the sentencing guidelines to match the actual judgments handed down in court, it happened to reduce the listed maximum sentences for carjacking and armed robbery.

Carjacking, in particular, sent commentators into a panic. In the revised code, the paper maximum sentence of 40 years was reduced to 24 years. Never mind that no carjackers were currently being sentenced to 40 years, or that carjackers who harmed or abducted their victims would still be liable for additional charges, with additional years, for doing those things.

It was the idea that mattered—and the idea of carjacking, to politicians and pundits, is that it violates the fundamental rules of social order. This country tolerates vast amounts of suffering and danger, as long as it's contained to certain places and certain victims. The carjacker breaches the boundaries of who is supposed to be vulnerable and who is supposed to be protected. No punishment is harsh enough for this.

And so the Post's editorial board—currently, an all-white editorial board, in a city with almost equal populations of Black and white residents—declared the government of the District unfit to govern, in need of rescue by its betters in the federal government:

Now that the city is in this regrettable place, however, the duly-elected members of the D.C. government have an opportunity, if not an obligation, to go back to the drawing board and prove to the country that safety and self-determination are not incompatible values. They should write new legislation that does not reduce sentences for violent crimes or tie the hands of prosecutors who are trying to keep bad actors off the street. This is what their constituents want.

The message was spectacularly condescending, to the point of incoherence. Granting that the members of the D.C. Council, who'd passed the bill unanimously, were "duly-elected," the editorial board nonetheless demanded that they answer not to their own electorate, but to "the country"—while the board also claimed to be speaking for what the council's constituents want. The logic was the same as that of the White House's message that Joe Biden was simply supporting Mayor Muriel Bowser, who had vetoed the measure and seen the council override her veto: the definitively colonial view that true legitimacy belongs to whoever among the subject people happens to agree with you.

And on its substance, the editorial was simply irrational. The District had already been to the drawing board. It spent years there, considering and negotiating how to fix the code. The Post's editorial board conceded, in passing, that the new code included necessary improvements to the law:

There’s much to commend, such as bringing more consistency to penalties and giving prosecutors and judges the ability to enhance penalties by stacking charges. The new code also replaces archaic language that dates back to the original version passed by Congress in 1901.

Yet the Post's editorial board was replacing the carefully crafted agreement with its own demands: the vague insistence that the District not "tie the hands of prosecutors" and the specific, absurd requirement that the District "not reduce sentences for violent crimes." Not at all? For any violent crime? Nowhere, in the entirety of the old criminal code, was any penalty for any crime longer than might be reasonable?

This is how people talk when crime and justice are simply things to grandstand about, not to solve or to administer. Ashley Parker, a national correspondent for the Post, tweeted her support of the editorial:

Crime in DC is out of control. It’s depressing the @washingtonpost Ed Board even needed to write this: “Washingtonians have a right to feel and be safe. At the moment, it would be hard to say this is the case.”

The Post's social-media policy tells reporters, "It is not appropriate to use your social media account to advocate for causes, issues, governmental policies or political or judicial outcomes." Parker was openly advocating for Congress to vote to overturn a piece of legislation, but staking out this particular position seemed not to count—even if the claim that crime in the District was "out of control" was untrue. In a moral panic, the rules are off, and the facts don't matter.

Safety has nothing to do with it. The new criminal code would have increased the penalty for attempted murder, among other crimes, and it would have added a new felony for endangerment with a firearm, for cases when prosecutors can't prove a shooter was trying to hit someone in particular. In the name of preserving the unused high-end penalties for carjacking, the editorial board endorsed throwing out those new, tougher measures. As long as they feel safe in their cars, stray gunfire can remain someone else's problem.

Indignity Morning Podcast No. 25: Frustrated and alarmed.
Listen now (4 min) | The Indignity Morning Podcast is also available via the Apple and Spotify platforms.

The Indignity Morning Podcast is also available via the Apple and Spotify platforms.


New York City, March 7, 2023

★★★ The depths of the night had been filled with the howls of a neighbor baby and the sloshing and dripping of a storm outside, but all that showed in the morning were a few bits of crusted slush clinging whitely to a few spots in the branches, or to some of the car roofs and mirrors. Fat droplets all up and down the branches in the courtyard caught pinpoints of sun, like dew in a spiderweb. Wisps of cirrus lay above scraps of altocumulus in the morning sky, and by midday it was blue overhead with abundant sun coming down; the interlude of slush seemed as unconnected to things before or after as a passing nightmare. There was a different-sounding birdsong in the chorus out back, short and metallic, and something small and dark darted among the branches, but the tree was too brightly lit to make out whether it was really something new. Dry leaves, finally released by the trees, flew around with crispness and buoyancy that belied their shabbiness. One of them, an oak missing more than half its lobes but with petiole and midrib still gracefully arched, had made it down into the subway, where the rising gust from an express train sent it lifting and moving across the uptown platform. Up around the corner on the way to the school, a furiously turning circle of dirt and litter threw grit at the eyes. All the clarity and brilliance balanced out the cold wind just enough that the walk back, with the sixth-grader reading a book the whole way, was not unpleasant. A tallboy of Budweiser blew over on a stoop, spilling a line of foam before its owner could set it upright again. Amid the growing shadows, the sun found the red blooms in the top of the block’s silver maple.


This week at the Supermarket

More consciousness at Instagram


WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS for the assembly of select sandwiches from Recipes of the Women’s Club of San Mateo, compiled by May Robinson Thomas, Dietician, published in 1909, found in the public domain and available at for the delectation of all.


Liver from any fowl will answer for this recipe. Boil the liver until very tender with an onion and a little salt. Place in chopping bowl with a hard-cooked egg, parsley, grated onion, pepper, salt and a dash of Worcestershire, a little lemon juice, paprika, and a little melted butter. Chop all very fine, serve on buttered toast cut in fancy shapes. This makes a very nice sandwich paste or can be served as an appetizer.
—Mrs. Baskette


Spread thin slices of white bread with mayonnaise, then with nasturtium blossoms, and roll.
—M. R. T.

If you decide to prepare and enjoy a sandwich inspired by these offerings, kindly send a picture to us at

Thanks for reading INDIGNITY, a general-interest publication for a discerning and self-selected audience. We depend on your support!