Among my many issue files bulging with clipped newspaper articles and think-tank studies is a manila folder marked, simply, “crime.” Back when David Dinkins was mayor of the city where I live, I virtually resided in that dossier. Hardly a day passed when I didn’t stuff into it another jaw-dropping example of man’s inhumanity to man — often occurring just a few miles from my East Village apartment. Once Rudy Giuliani took the reins at City Hall, I saved a few early reports on his enormously successful, now-legendary anti-crime crackdown. After writing a few articles in praise of Giuliani’s rediscovery of public safety, my crime folder grew dormant. It sat quietly in a drawer for the last few years, as still as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Not lately. I have been in and out of that crime file repeatedly in recent months, both to catalog and comment on what appears to be a frightening and frustrating new trend: the re-emergence of New York’s criminal class–tanned, rested, and ready to terrorize Gotham once again. The first eye-opener was the May 24 massacre at a Wendy’s burger restaurant in Queens. Ex-convicts John Taylor and Craig Godineaux allegedly shot seven Wendy’s employees in the restaurant’s basement, execution style–killing five–before walking out with $2,000.
This atrocity seemed to inspire a number of copycat crimes:
—Just one block from that Wendy’s, two armed robbers burst into the manager’s office at a Wiz electronics store, bound two employees with duct tape, and bagged almost $20,000 from an open safe before walking back onto Main Street at about 1:30 in the afternoon on May 28.
—Three days later, a 20-year-old NYPD cadet, of all people, led three friends in an armed robbery of a clothing shop on midtown Manhattan’s West 45th Street.
—A McDonald’s at Third Avenue and 85th Street — an Upper East Side corner so safe it’s sleep-inducing — was exciting in the worst way last Tuesday night. Two gunmen ordered food, then forced five employees onto the floor in the back of the eatery. They demanded that a safe be opened, then disappeared with $3,000 after leaving the workers unhurt.
—Just six hours earlier, at a Riverdale Burger King, an 18-year-old former employee confronted the manager while a 21-year-old accomplice held him at knifepoint. The duo walked away with $438.
On top of the list of homicides, infanticides, and attempted subway shovings that lately have caught my eye, I share most New Yorkers’ revulsion with Sunday’s sexual abuse of women by an over-aroused pack of hooligans in Central Park. These women were surrounded by young punks, fondled, and stripped of their clothes. Some reported feeling the fingers of unknown men in their shorts. These thugs laughed at their crimes and even videotaped their gang assault. “This is better than Disneyland,” one boasted at the time. Police are seeking seven suspects who where caught on tape. Two men already have been charged. One of them, David Rowe, appeared in court, wearing a tank top. Emblazoned on the back, appropriately enough, was the name “Sprewell,” a reference to Latrell Sprewell, the New York Knicks basketball player best known for once having choked his coach.
New York’s media and opinion leaders, however, seemed less upset by the criminal misconduct of these brigands than by the non-responsiveness of police officers who were alerted at the scene. In fact, Ashanna Cover and Josina Lawrence, two black college students from Somerset, N.J., are suing for $5 million each. No, they are not suing their attackers, but instead the NYPD for failing to protect them from the melee. They announced their litigation Wednesday at a press conference. Standing just behind them at the microphones was none other than the Rev. Al Sharpton.
The portly preacher fits into this story as tightly as his torso is shoehorned into his vest. Exceeded only by New York’s criminals themselves, Sharpton bears much of the responsibility for the recent return of violent crime in New York City (e.g., in the first quarter of 2000, murders are up 12.4 percent). In the wake of the disastrous police shooting of Amadou Diallo and the jailhouse torture of Abner Louima, Sharpton and other left-wing activists demanded a declawed NYPD. Rather than simply call for more caution and less forceful tactics by cops, Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and other criminal sympathizers went on the warpath. At loud protests in front of One Police Plaza, signs and slogans portrayed Mayor Giuliani as Adolf Hitler with New York’s Finest as his loyal brownshirts. Cops — who are only human — have taken this abuse to heart and are confronting and detaining crooks in smaller numbers (arrests for murder, rape, and other serious crimes were off by 9.45 percent last year). Cops who behave like cops invite picketlines, insulting Bruce Springsteen songs and even civil- rights lawsuits. Sharpton and company wanted a warmer, fuzzier NYPD. Now they have it. Innocent citizens, naturally, pay the price. “Last week we were criticized for being the most aggressive police force,” a Manhattan cop told the New York Post. “Now we’re being criticized for being the most passive.”
The hesitation of police officers to take action in Central Park seems a dreadful dereliction of duty. But it should surprise no one. Facing a mob of young, mainly black and Hispanic degenerates (it’s the sad truth; just watch the tape), what were the cops supposed to do?
“We were told not to do anything,” one officer said to the Post. “They don’t want photos of altercations with minorities.” He added: “It’s very frustrating when we’re told to have our blinders on.”
To make matters worse, Mayor Giuliani’s concentration has been interrupted by his self-inflicted marital woes and — through no fault of his own — his battle with prostate cancer. The usually ubiquitous Giuliani has maintained a lower profile lately.
In short, the cat’s distracted, if not actually away, and the rats are coming out to play.
Al Sharpton and the cop haters should be proud. Normal New Yorkers should be afraid. And my long-forgotten crime file should be thrilled by the renewed attention.
— Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution.