Decline and Fall
In New York, a pessimistic empire state of mind

On the beat in Times Square. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)


Kevin D. Williamson

It’s been a year since New York City adopted Local Law 71 with the enthusiastic support of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who is now mayor of the city. Local Law 71, the so-called Community Safety Act, used the possibility of endless civil-rights litigation to gut the city’s “stop, question, and frisk” procedure for dealing with street-level crime, and Mr. de Blasio campaigned energetically on the issue, charging that the New York Police Department had “unfairly targeted young African-American and Latino men.”

I have a theory that criminals keep up with the news, perhaps by osmosis.

Monday before last, I was the subject of a half-hearted assault in front of National Review’s midtown Manhattan offices — a crazy old bum was begging and lost his temper when I did not produce the desired goods. I wasn’t hurt and do not think I was in real danger of anything worse than a possible lice infestation, and the episode, while indicative, did not surprise me. The rapid deterioration of New York City during and after Mr. de Blasio’s ascent to power is plainly visible for anybody with eyes to see.

The number of vagrants on the streets, and their aggression, is on the rise. The number of people sleeping in the City Hall and 33rd Street subway stations, the endpoints of my daily commute, is visibly higher, as is the level of vagrancy in Penn Station and Grand Central. The squeegee men are back, and their like-minded colleagues are setting up shop in churches. Violent crime around the city is up significantly. Central Park muggings and casual, racially motivated assaults are back in the news. In a city in which it is well-nigh impossible for me to carry a gun legally (I have held concealed-carry permits in other jurisdictions), shootings are up 12 percent. We are seeing increasingly Chicago-style headlines: Over one mid-August weekend, 21 people were shot.

In 2012, there were no rapes in Central Park. By September of 2013, a month after the Community Safety Act was passed, there had been a half dozen, and felonies in the park were up 10 percent. Misdemeanor sex crimes in the park rose by 100 percent. Concession-stand workers were robbed at knifepoint, and this past weekend a woman was shot in the head with an airgun by a gang of black teens shouting, “White people suck!”

In terms of the experience of street-level disorder, New York City already is a markedly different place from what it was when I arrived here only a few years ago. Criminals may not get the letter of the law, but they understand the mood and the message. They know when the police are on a short political leash and when they are not.

The stop, question, and frisk procedure drew fire because most of those stopped were black or Latino. As National Review noted at the time: “That is less surprising than it may sound: Most New Yorkers are black or Latino.” It is true that officers using the protocol stopped more young black and Latino men than a random sampling would have been expected to produce — because the program was not random. Officers stopped people in response to specific complaints and evidence. They also questioned people under the protocol much more often in areas with high crime rates, which in New York City are disproportionately black and Latino. As Mayor Michael Bloomberg pointed out, it is true that 87 percent of those stopped under the program were black or Latino — and 90 percent of those wanted for homicides in the city are black or Latino, too. Strangely, nobody complains that the NYPD fails to ensure that 51.5 percent of those questioned are female.

I live in a relatively safe, quiet corner of Manhattan, about 500 feet from City Hall and 700 feet from One Police Plaza. You wouldn’t expect there to be much violent crime there, and you’d be right: Zero homicides this year, zero homicides last year, and fewer than 800 serious crimes of any sort — a very low number considering the precinct’s population, which is about the same as that of Youngstown, Ohio, which has considerably more crime. But even in 1990, when the city experienced a record-setting year of 2,245 murders, there were only eight in my precinct — keeping the peace among the Wall Street guys and the occasional magazine writer living in the shadow of the NYPD headquarters is not a job that requires the services of Dick Tracy.


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