There’s something going on out there on the streets. No, not that — we all know that New York’s political class is encouraging tens of thousands to protest endlessly in a pandemic. Something else: The same pols are ignoring the biggest pre-summer spike in murder Gotham has seen in 30 years.
For decades now, people traumatized by the death toll exacted in New York’s killing years — 2,262 people killed in 1990 — have warned of impending reversion. Starting many Januaries, the smallest increase in homicide is seen as a return to the “bad old days.”
So far, these warnings have proved false. Give Mayor Bill de Blasio credit: He has always understood that an increase in the murder rate would equal his own political failure.
In 2017, New York City saw a low of 292 murders, and no sustained alarming increases since.
Until 2020, Hizzoner managed a high-wire act made possible by sheer good luck.
Record tax revenues meant he could add 1,700 cops to the beat, ending mechanistic stop-question- and-frisk practices conducted over the previous decade by a smaller force. Technology, too, meant real-time visual images of suspects.
And, as former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said, the Big Apple could enjoy a “peace dividend.” A prevented murder is multiple prevented murders, as it means no one feels the need to avenge the initial slay.
Until now. Over the month until June 7 — including the crucial Memorial Day weekend — New York’s murder rate more than doubled, to 42 murders, from 18 the year before — a jolt of 133 percent. Shooting victims, including wounded, are up 45 percent. Stabbings are up, too.
To be clear: Going back to the early ’90s, New York has never seen a sustained increase of this magnitude. Nothing close: The nearest spike in the early summer month was a short-lived 63 percent hike in 2006, just half today’s increase. And that increase did portend an 11 percent murder hike for all of 2006, the second-highest in three decades.
This isn’t an aberration coming off a good spring. For the year, murder is up 25 percent. If these rates hold, New York would end 2020 with an increase in murders twice as high as we’ve seen since 1990.
And no, it mostly isn’t domestic violence, involving people cooped up. Over the past month, we have seen 13 classic street murders in a few blocks around Brownsville: drive-by shootings, stabbing fights. Over the weekend, 19-year-old Tyanna Johnson died in a Bronx park, likely the innocent victim of a drive-by.
Last week, the NYPD launched its regular “summer-all-out” initiative, flooding 10 high-crime precincts with officers. In the past, this has worked to curtail smaller, more limited spikes.
It will be harder now. First, bail reform, in law and practice, puts potentially violent suspects out on the streets. Using video imagery to catch a robber before he becomes a murderer doesn’t help if he can’t be jailed short of committing murder.
It also puts victims on the streets: If 16-year-old Tyquan Howard had been in a juvenile facility awaiting trial for his alleged role in the beatdown of a teen girl on a Crown Heights street, he wouldn’t have been killed, as alleged revenge for that attack, in mid-May.
Second, there’s no appetite, or even a legal mechanism, for large-scale enforcement of minor crime as well as stop-and-frisk tactics to deter young men from carrying guns or knives, for fear of encountering an officer. The NYPD’s pullback of 600 undercover officers, announced Monday, points to the new calculus: The fewer interactions, the better.
Starting three decades ago, crime-ridden communities in New York were willing to put up with such tactics, because they were afraid. They weighed the real risks of more negative interactions with the police over an annual four-digit murder rate. (On a less racially and constitutionally fraught level, that’s why we all consent to being searched before boarding planes.)
Last, and most important, New York has lost equilibrium. It has seen more acute population, job and schooling loss in three months than it has ever seen in such a time frame.
Maybe Gotham will pull off another miracle. But when trends change, they change fast. Between 1963 and 1973, the city’s murder rate tripled to 1,680, from 548, and it wouldn’t fall consistently again for 17 years, until 1990.
Twenty-seven years ago, New York would have been grateful for an early-summer month with 42 murders. The figure for 1993 was 116 deaths. If we aren’t horrified by today’s numbers, the risk is later, we’ll be thankful for them.
This piece originally appeared at the New York Post
Photo by kali9/iStock