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A Crimewave in NYC? It’s complicated, actually.

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

In the run up to New York City’s first rank-choice mayoral race in the city's history, crime in NYC became a national talking point, making it onto national news channels like CNN and MSNBC on numerous occasions for a few weeks. But is crime on the rise here in NYC? Not exactly—only crime of a certain type –and the root cause of it is not at all what is being reported or discussed.

Folks like Don Lemon breathlessly echoed, for weeks, the idea that ‘crime’ was foremost on the minds of New Yorkers; that people’s fear was palpable; everyone was ‘seeing crimes committed regularly,’ and other unsourced, anecdotal, emotive musings of that sort. He also actively seemed to help 'tough-on-crime' candidate and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams make a late surge in the polls and pull away from Andrew Yang and others as the frontrunner for mayor. Having him come on his show, covering for some of his campaign gaffes (Adams claimed what appeared to be his son's rented space in Brooklyn to be his own so as to appear as if he had a residence in the city he hoped to become the mayor of), Don Lemon's favored candidate became fairly clear early on in the race.

A City Under Lockdown

Anecdotally, one might certainly have noticed more homelessness in the 'city that never sleeps.’ The pandemic had millions staying home, and even many fleeing the city (most temporarily) to the countryside to weather the viral outbreak. As such the city’s streets were often significantly more empty than usual, at times even completely barren; with only a few masked faces scurrying to supermarkets or restaurants for food pick-up, or essential workers traveling to and from work. The homeless population, however, was out in full force still. Given the unprecedented economic downturn, it was also a demographic that was growing at rates that most weren’t accounting for.

The face of the city was different and its stratified, ugly underbelly exposed as the whole nation, or world at large even, reeled under the strain of a virus we couldn’t collectively contain. New York was not unique in this experience, but certainly as a media hub, was possibly emblematic of the greater problem.

Was There A Rise In Crime?

Recently the NYPD took the unprecedentedly transparent action of releasing their latest “compstat” crime stats. For anyone interested, NY1 ‘curated’ and made more accessible the statistics, which featured some expected results, but also quite a few surprises. Certainly the notion that “crime is up” is a wholly inaccurate depiction of reality. Oren Yaniv, Comms director for Brooklyn’s DA, succinctly put into perspective the “rise in crime.” Shootings were up, notably, but also of note, rape, homicide, and index crimes (like car thefts) were down, robberies and burglaries were down significantly.

Is the ‘Defund’ movement/the Left the Problem?

Misguided or downright incorrect takes spewed forth from the center, like Jason L. Riley’s recent Washington Post op-ed which blamed ‘defund the police’ for a “rise in crime,” he failed to note that neither was ‘crime’ rising, nor had the police actually been defunded anywhere (akinnibi/Bloomberg) . ‘Progressive’ mayor Bill de Blasio has just earmarked another 4 million dollars for the NYPD, while efforts to cut their budget stalled in the city council (Khurshid/Gotham Gazette). In De Blasio's defense, the funds were allocated federally via stimulus packages, and he also heavily funded social and mental health services to the tune of almost $40 million in alternative ‘crime prevention’ efforts. Most importantly however, the NYPD is the most funded and largest police force in the history of policing, so to be overseeing a rise in violent crime over the last two years is much more realistically a failure on the part of the logic of throwing infinite amounts of money at the police. Additionally, it’s also an indictment against the tactic of throwing armed police officers at any and every ‘broken window’ or Friday night noise violation that the city might yield.

So What Is Going Wrong?

As Data scientist, policy analyst and activist Samuel Sinyangwe posited:

As has been well documented, gun sales throughout the United States have been on the incline for most of the last two years, but especially during the pandemic (Tavernise/NYT). The economy had spiraled so the homeless population spiked, people were at home, locked down because of the global coronavirus pandemic, so the streets looked bleak. These factors could have attributed for, for example, Don Lemon’s acquaintances feeling like crime was a bigger problem than it objectively was. In addition, gun ownership spiked, and increased gun violence followed. More guns, more gun violence; a fairly simple correlation that doesn’t require much expertise to analyze.

So Why Is This False Narrative Getting So Much Attention?

The rising crime narrative is something of a smoke and mirrors job – what’s really being propped up is the centrist base of the democratic party, and more specifically, their candidates in NYC. A centrist candidate’s victory in the progressive bastion of New York City would (they suppose) spell doom for the progressive wing of the democratic party in general which has made significant gains in recent years.

New York City was where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and then Jamaal Bowman made names for themselves as members of the ‘squad,’ where Bill de Blasio’s victory in 2013 was supposed to usher in the dawn of a new era of progressivism in the ‘Big Apple.’ While the city’s house representatives have gone on to do good work and expand the ranks of their progressive movement via Cori Bush and others around the nation, De Blasio has struggled, and taken heavy criticism from all flanks; left, right, and center. Unseating the ‘progressives’ from their ‘homebase’ of sorts seems to be seen as a landmark achievement for the centrist wing of the party in finally defeating the ‘defund the police’ slogan, apparently unaware that it hasn’t even gotten off the ground yet enough to have yet been implemented much of anywhere.

In this year's mayoral race, the heir to the city’s progressive mantle was briefly Scott Stringer before scandals regarding sexual harassment and abuse lost him most of his support. Then, for months, Dianne Morales carried the left’s hopes and ambitions, until she too fell flat, becoming embroiled in controversy about poor working conditions for staffers and union busting to prevent them from organizing (Chávez/The Nation). In the end Maya Wiley stepped up to take the cause forward and backed by key endorsements from, perhaps most significantly, Ocasio-Cortez and Bowman, Wiley ended up putting up a pretty good fight. Especially considering that national news networks like CNN were actively working to get Eric Adams elected, seemingly in the name of ‘public safety.’

Don Lemon, in particular, often spoke out against the ‘defund’ movement (Schwartz/RealClear Politics), so anyone who watched his show regularly enough might not have been surprised that he so vehemently backed a candidate that would oppose it. That he used his considerable influence and reach to do so, however, might have come as a surprise to some; local NYC politics had never before garnered such national interest. If anything, perhaps this enhanced scrutiny is a further testament to how much the center has been rocked by the advances made by progressives lately.

The left should assume that this could be the new norm for how large “left-leaning” news networks and party officials treat challengers to democratic incumbents from the actual left. If you don’t believe it, ask “Team Blue” (Caldwell/NBC News). Nationally or locally, the center seems to be doing all it can to hold off this newly empowered challenge from the left.

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