New York is about nothing if not over-the-top drama, and that especially includes the city’s pathologies.
Exhibit A: The Amsterdam Avenue steps of the Cathedral of St. John the Devine about 3:45 p.m. Sunday — when a well-armed, apparently insane career criminal capped a heavily attended public Christmas carol concert by opening fire while shouting, “Kill me! Kill me!” at police, who obliged.
Tragic, yes, but also an amalgam of two of Gotham’s most vexing crises — aggressively expressed public mental illness and uncontrolled gun violence. The result was one undeniably dramatic exit.
Interestingly, if not critically, New York’s political leadership had no comment beyond platitudes — and even then, only because the event attracted so many TV news cameras. Plus, how often does a suicide-by-cop require a reaction from the head of the Episcopal Diocese of New York?
The sad fact is that the threat of lethal violence hangs over far too many New Yorkers, whose leaders pretend as if it’s all an act of God, rather than the entirely predictable result of a shameful loss of official will.
Gotham’s weekend butcher’s bill included a spate of shootings in Brooklyn. Last week, the illegal-gun victim list was at a 14-year high; an old man in a nursing home was hit by a stray bullet, and a FedEx driver was shot at in Brooklyn. Nobody, for a change, had been shoved onto subway tracks, but everybody who stands on a platform worries about that, or should.
So the issue as New York enters a mayoral-election year isn’t that there is a public-safety problem in the city — that much is clear — but that nobody seeking to succeed Bill de Blasio is willing to do anything about it.
Or even to talk about it, let alone to acknowledge that there is a role for coercion in the maintenance of public order.
Indeed, it’s a little astonishing that this is even an issue, let alone a point of discussion, but civic tranquility depends upon restraint of the dangerously mentally ill; on the imposition of order on a city’s vagrant-packed public spaces and, most especially, on vigorous garden-variety policing.
As New York discovered almost two generations ago, paying attention to the petty offenses pays big dividends. Life-preserving dividends.
But while next year’s mayoral race is coming to resemble a cavalry charge, not one of the candidates is speaking realistically about public safety. If a consensus on the issue is forming, it’s that Rudy Giuliani’s approach to crime — kinetic contact — was too mean. Mike Bloomberg’s strategy — maintenance of effort — lacked humanity. An “enlightened” social-services-led approach is the way to go.
That would be an intensification of the de Blasio strategy, the results of which can be seen most days on the Upper West Side’s vagrant-cluttered Broadway median; in skyrocketing property-crime rates, especially auto theft; and, most tragically of all, in the ballooning gun-violence statistics.
The mayoral field’s two front-runners, city Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, have been around long enough to know better; indeed, Adams is a former cop. But neither has had much good to say about the NYPD. Stringer, in fact, wants to strip tens of millions from the department’s budget.
The others, generally ankle-biters of the sort that appear early in mayoral campaigns when there is no incumbent, are either openly antagonistic to reasonable law enforcement, speak in heavily racialized terms or are otherwise incomprehensible on the subject.
All this reflects startling contempt both for crime victims and for the notion of navigable public spaces. But for better or worse, it does reflect New York’s current political sensibilities.
Albany, after all, was the architect of the bail “reform” debacle that NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea largely blames for the city’s bloody streets. And it now appears that the state’s newly veto-proof Democratic Legislature is poised also to “reform” the parole system — no doubt with the encouragement of Gov. Cuomo, who is always happy to go along when he has no alternative.
Still, empty jails are no antidote to rising crime, just as granting free reign to the aggressively mentally ill won’t cure chaotic, unsafe public spaces.
The public knows this, intuitively. So the mystery is this: Why is there no one in the burgeoning mayoral field willing to say so out loud. One needn’t necessarily win to make a difference — and to make a name, or maybe a career, for one’s self.
New York won’t be insane forever.