“To keep the streets safe, New York City needs its crowds back”
It’s a fundamental test of Gotham’s ability to govern itself.
The only proper political response to street protests in a pandemic is: “Don’t protest.” Stay home. Corey Johnson, Scott Stringer, Eric Adams should go out together, unguarded, to say: “Go home, now. We will do one-on-one video calls with you. It does no good to George Floyd’s memory for more people to die of COVID.” Problem is, constructive advocates for change are staying home, without being told. Crowds, thus, are self-selected people, who are, by definition, heedless of personal safety.
So there aren’t enough responsible protesters to balance anarchists and looters. On a normal Saturday night, violent “protesters” wouldn’t get far — it would be hard to smash windows amid throngs of restaurant-goers and club kids, out for a good time.
Put aside sensationalist scenes, and this has been the city’s dilemma for months. Looting? We’ve had slow-motion looting since the lockdown started.
For the 28 days ’til Memorial Day, burglary, including theft of defenseless pets, soared 35 percent; auto theft rose by 63 percent.
These aren’t crimes of poverty, sending a message. They are crimes of opportunity. There are no — rational — eyes on the street.
Pointless violence? Murder is up — to 24 from 19 over the month until Memorial Day, plus four stabbing deaths in one day last week.
It isn’t that New York has suddenly become more violent. It’s urban disequilibrium. Mamadou Diallo, an essential Uber Eats worker, was shot and killed waiting for a bus — because subways were closed.
Empty streets provide opportunity for retaliation. Over the month, shooting victims have doubled, to 97 from 47. In mid-May, 16-year-old Tyquan Howard died on a Crown Heights sidewalk, his murder likely revenge for group-beating a teen girl.
It is really hard, perhaps impossible, to police your way out of lost equilibrium, though bail “reform” that looses violent suspects on streets hardly helps.
So Mayor Bill de Blasio’s riot strategy is wrong: He thinks the NYPD can get us out of this. It can’t. Policing is one tool to keep balance in a well-balanced city.
The NYPD is deploying the crowd-control tactics that it would for a parade. This is not that. These are anarchists who want to provoke police into bad action. The police are their props.
Police SUVs and guns are useless — and liabilities — unless police are going to drive or shoot into crowds. Let’s pray they will not, because de Blasio, in throwing crowds of police to face off with crowds of literal bomb-throwers for days on end, is counting on prayer.
All it takes is one loud noise.
A healthy community mostly polices itself. It has trusted leaders — elected, business, community — who can speak credibly to different groups, including unsavory ones.
It has elected officials who aren’t afraid to say: “It is wrong to throw IEDs at police officers, and doing so makes the police vulnerable to fear, anger and panicked actions.” But we don’t even have leaders who say that burgling pandemic-shuttered stores is unacceptable — and will be met with stronger charges for aggravating circumstances.
Paying criminals the compliment of demanding they act with self-restraint in a crisis would anger some anonymous scold on Twitter — so the political, business and community-organizer classes stay quiet.
We face months of this — and risk driving away our tax base, scared to come back and reopen in a city re-shuttered by wildcat unrest. That will solve poverty.
What we need, oddly, is a John Lindsay. Lindsay was flawed. But he didn’t hide behind his police. He went out — alone — in 1968 to face angry crowds and prevent rioting that killed other cities. De Blasio is no John Lindsay.
Nicole Gelinas is a Manhattan Institute senior fellow.
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