“Psycho killer, qu’est-ce que c’est?” – Talking Heads
When Bill de Blasio was elected mayor in 2013, New York City’s naysayers predicted our collective downfall, warning that the sun would soon turn black like sackcloth and the bad old days would be upon us.
Perhaps swallowing his ideological tongue, de Blasio made the same decision that Rudy Giuliani did upon entering City Hall: hire Bill Bratton to run the NYPD. And the sky didn’t fall; instead, the crime rate continued to plunge and the streets were safer than ever.
Even Joe Lhota, de Blasio’s former Republican opponent and a former Giuliani deputy, issued a public mea culpa, saying he had been wrong when claiming law and order would go out a broken window with de Blasio overseeing the NYPD.
But what a difference a pandemic and a wave of protests make. Besides being the Year of the Coronavirus, 2020 has also been the Year of the Gun. In early August, the number of shootings in New York City has already surpassed the entire total of shootings for 2019.
There are plenty of armchair theories about the surge in violence: cops feel handcuffed by the anti-police protests; there are more guns out there because of the coronavirus; or everyone is just having a collective mental breakdown.
For the city to rebound from the devastation of COVID-19, we are going to have to stop the violence before it gets worse. If the government can’t keep up its end of the social contract – which is to keep all of us safe – you can’t expect people to want to continue to live here. More than schools or bike lanes or homeless shelters or a great recycling program, people’s safety is the first chapter in writing a successful urban story. And, ultimately, that takes policing.
Maybe “violence interrupters” can calm down a bunch of angry teens, but it’s a little much to ask an unarmed civilian to break up a robbery of a bodega. For the city to be safe, you need a good police force. It seems like an odd time to cut the budget of the NYPD with crime now on the rise.
De Blasio’s old boss and political mentor, David Dinkins, was a one-term mayor because of the sense that the city was spinning out of control. But with prodding from then-City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, Dinkins did recognize the problem and launched his “Safe Streets, Safe City” program.
The mayor has a little more than 16 months to help rebuild the city in the wake of one its worst disasters in its history. He can channel his inner NYU student and quote Karl Marx all he wants – but even Karl Marx didn’t want to get mugged.