Every day in the city is marked by shootings, many deadly. Murders are up 23 percent this year, and the pace of shootings appears to be accelerating: Almost 400 people have been shot since Memorial Day.
To hear Mayor Bill de Blasio, though, you’d think things are going great. He brags almost daily about how New York is the “safest big city in America,” a description that’s steadily less true.
One wonders if the mayor is trolling the city, laughing up his sleeve as he performs what would resemble a successful chief executive’s lame-duck victory lap, if things weren’t unraveling so disastrously.
The NYPD’s anti-crime unit, which was focused singularly on disrupting gangs and getting guns off the street, was disbanded last month, and the city’s gangbangers have flourished in the new climate of freedom for thuggery and violence.
In response, the mayor has recommitted the city to supporting “violence interrupters” — local community groups that claim to be able to “Cure Violence” by quashing beefs and settling disputes before they flare out of control.
In Harlem last week, the mayor praised Iesha Sekou, the leader of Street Corner Resources, who planned an operation to “occupy the corners” to keep the neighborhood safe.
De Blasio stressed that “this city has put millions and millions of dollars into building up the Cure Violence Movement and the Crisis Management System, and it is really money well spent because we are going to the root of the problem. We are trying to create community solutions. You can police in some very effective ways, but that is not the same as addressing the root causes.”
OK, so why is there so much violence breaking out in precisely the areas where “millions and millions of dollars” have been spent to address “root causes,” at precisely the same time decriminalization, decarceration and anti-policing policies were launched?
“Oftentimes,” Sekou explained, “we have to go in the dark at night and have deep conversations about what’s really going on.” But you need to do “whatever is necessary to save the life,” she added. “Sometimes you have to grab a kid up once in a while and put them in the van and just say, look, you’re not getting out.”
“Some things are orthodox,” Sekou explained, “and sometimes you have to use some unorthodox moves, because it’s really, at the end of the day, about saving the life.”
“Grabbing a kid up” and locking him in a van or subjecting him to “unorthodox moves” might, in fact, be just the thing some truculent youths need to set them straight. I don’t condemn community-based “tough love,” though one suspects similar tactics by the NYPD would trigger lawsuits, protests and firings.
Another “Cure Violence” practitioner, Ife Charles, told the story of a young woman named Faith, who’d been “out in the streets years ago.” Over the course of a decade and many long conversations, Charles worked to get Faith out of a life of crime.
“I remember,” said Charles, when “she had her first child and she said to me, I’m not ready yet, because you can force someone to [do] something, and then they revert back quickly.” Eventually, Faith decided to turn her life around, and she is now a Cure Violence practitioner herself.
Tales of redemption are great. But young moms like Faith are not the source of most of the city’s violence. And if it really takes 10 years to turn someone away from a life of serious crime, then one must ask if that’s a successful outcome, given the millions of dollars spent on violence “interruption.”
Indeed, the science behind “curing violence” is thin and based largely on a metaphor. Because violence is sometimes described as “contagious” or an “epidemic,” why not treat it as a public-health problem?
But real contagious diseases have biological causes that can be identified and treated. They are actually less complex than dysfunctional human behavior, which is much harder to model.
The one proven method of reducing street crime is proactive policing, which New York practiced to great effect for two decades, cutting homicides 90 percent. Now that we are unwinding all that progress, let’s hope a few people are still in key positions to repair de Blasio’s grave errors.
Seth Barron is associate editor of City Journal. Twitter: @SethBarronNYC
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