Thirty-five years ago I sat in a meeting in Northern Manhattan watching a group of senior citizens watching the sun go down. As twilight began to give way to darkness, one elderly person after another made his way to the door, clearly frightened.
Darkness will do that in a crime-riddled city, even at a meeting on public safety hosted by a local police precinct. Night had fallen in New York, and anywhere but one’s apartment was nowhere to be.
Within six years it was a different town. Children were back in parks; seniors were strolling up and down its avenues at all hours, and anyone who wanted to be anything was beating a path to the bright lights of Gotham again.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his Broken Windows policing strategies — courtesy of Manhattan Institute scholars — were having a dramatic impact, not only on crime, but on the tenor of the city. For the first time in modern memory, the five boroughs felt safe.
The whole world noticed. Police departments across the globe flocked to New York to learn the miraculous policing strategy that had saved a city labeled “unmanageable” just a few years prior. It only got better under Mayor Mike Bloomberg who left office after three terms in December 2013 to be followed by progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio.
It was hard not to think of those seniors this week when Siena College released a statewide survey showing that fear has once again gripped the hearts of New Yorkers. Nearly two-thirds (61%) reported fear of being a crime victim and more than half (51%) are afraid to be out in public. In New York City the numbers are worse, with nearly 40% of residents saying they’ve purchased home security systems in the past year. Thirty-five percent bought pepper spray or a taser.
What the hell happened?
Ideology is the answer. Isn’t it always?
To de Blasio and the race-obsessed political left, the extraordinary progress New York had made was a travesty. Too many young people of color were getting caught committing petty crimes and acquiring criminal records.
Their answer? Undo Broken Windows, the strategy of focusing on lesser crimes to forestall larger ones, decriminalize so-called quality-of-life offenses like turnstile jumping, end most police frisks, and outlaw undercover sting operations. Progressive city officials then successfully lobbied Albany for a cashless bail law, and that was pretty much the nail in the coffin.
Within just a few years of Mayor de Blasio taking office, crime rates — violent crime rates — began steadily rising. The so-called Safest Large City in America suddenly felt scary again. Young aggressive homeless people, many of them suffering from mental health problems, including addiction, are seemingly everywhere now, and the New York City Police Department is effectively banned from doing anything about it.
There’s a clear sense of lawlessness, bordering on chaos, on New York City’s streets today, perfumed with the ubiquitous smell of illegally sold marijuana at every corner. The effects don’t stop there.
The MTA is losing hundreds of millions of dollars annually now from turnstile jumpers who know the law really doesn’t apply in New York anymore, and illegal handguns, which had vanished from the pockets of petty criminals under Broken Windows, began raining down death again.
It’s remarkable how badly New York City has screwed things up in a decade. Mayor Eric Adams, a political moderate and former New York City Police captain, is far better on crime than Mayor de Blasio was, but the prevailing liberal viewpoint among New York officials remains gospel.
Most of those senior citizens from 1988 are gone now. They’re been replaced ever so steadily by members of my generation, gazing out the window at the approaching darkness.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a Republican strategist from New York.
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