Dave Chappelle was finishing his set for “Netflix Is a Joke” at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles when a man from the audience, Isaiah Lee, jumped onstage and attacked him. In his possession was a switchblade knife, a deadly weapon.
I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a premeditated criminal act to me. This was also seen by the Los Angeles police and accused the perpetrator.
How did Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón deal with the incident? As we have come to expect, not very well. Gascón ruled that Lee’s attack, a premeditated but foiled assault with a weapon, was a misdemeanor.
The maximum punishment Lee can receive on these charges is 18 months in jail and a $4,000 fine. He is being held on $30,000 bond. With the threshold for getting out of jail so low, Chappelle’s attorney, Gabriel Crowell, asked the judge for a restraining order. It was granted – 100 feet.
Lee has pleaded not guilty to these lesser charges. His court-appointed attorney is asking for restorative rehabilitation and no jail time. If this wasn’t a high-profile case, he might have gotten the requested get out of jail card.
The reasoning Gascon’s office provided is tortured and reflects the habit of mind currently torturing Angelenos: Chappelle was not injured; while Lee stormed onto the stage and tackled Chappelle, he did not brandish the gun. Under such circumstances, recorded on video, Gascón’s office could not “ethically” charge Lee with a felony, even though Lee knowingly evaded security and brought a deadly weapon to a public event. And while he didn’t point the gun at Chappelle, he did in the ensuing melee with security, which could explain the assailant’s broken arm.
Another reason for Gascón’s clemency? His office said there was no evidence Lee had any prior ill will toward Chappelle. Really?
Lee has a rap video that shows him standing on the hood of a police car, reminiscent of the Black Lives Matter riots, in a song titled “Chapell.” However, Gascón says a review of the lyrics found nothing threatening. I’m surprised he didn’t deny any connection either because Lee didn’t spell Chappelle’s name correctly.
Rolling Stone uncovered the most plausible motive: Lee’s brother Aaron says Isaiah has mental health issues, was homeless, and within Los Angeles homeless shelters he developed many friendships and a concern for the trans community, a community desperately trying to cancel Chappelle. “Yeah, he definitely could have been a factor,” Aaron said.
Comedy and free speech die on legal calls like these. Gascón’s decision is a dog whistle for the current John Hinckley to commit violence and fuels our species’ natural thirst for vigilante justice. “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” is missing its meaning.
Indeed, Gascón is providing legal incentives to commit crimes. Incentives matter a lot. It’s common sense 101: if you want less of something, you tax it. If you don’t tax it, expect more from it. As comedian Howie Mandel said: “You saw what happened at the Academy Awards, and I thought that just triggers: violence triggers violence. And I think this is the beginning of the end for comedy.”
And not just comedy. Rampant violence erodes the preconditions for civilized life. Law enforcement should be blind to status, race, gender, etc. To be fair to Gascón, his negligence is equal opportunity: Everyone The citizens of Los Angeles feel unprotected, because they are. Whether white, black, Asian, or comic, they are all under sustained and legally incentivized attack.
In the 1980s, Tom Wolfe’s novel “The Bonfire of the Vanities” captured the logic of poor public choices destroying the conditions of civilized life. Now that Bonfire logic is back and not just in Los Angeles. New York City-Wolfe’s setting for his masterpiece-San Francisco, Portland and Chicago are on fire.
What should you expect if felonies are treated as misdemeanors? More crimes.
What should you expect if it announces that it will not process thefts under $900? An epidemic of “petty crime” closing shops and undermining the security of civilized life.
There are limits to good intentions. The law cannot give the benefits of virtue to vice, industry to indolence, knowledge to ignorance, and liberty to the lawless. These fruits must be earned and protected through laws and incentives.
A generation ago, the fire in New York was extinguished by a return to common sense and policies that reflected it. Seeing the positive results, other cities followed suit. The good news is that we know how to put out the fire. We have refused to do so, at least until now, in order to “reimagine” society, but that daydream has turned into a living nightmare. Now we have to wake up.
A good first step? Los Angeles, don’t subcriminalize this psycho. Accuse Isaiah Lee like the criminal he is and throw the book at him.
Guy Shepherd is editor of Planned Man.