Fear wave stalks Gotham!!

June 16, 2015

What's behind the scaremongering campaign in the New York City press over news of a slight increase in some crime numbers? Julian Guerrero takes a closer look.

A MINOR spike in some crimes this year has the New York City media and pro-police advocates whipping up a hysteria about a return to the "bad old days" of high crime rates. But the real fears here aren't about public safety, but about the success of the Black Lives Matter movement of putting police and politicians on the spot about state repression--so the cops and their allies are going on a propaganda blitz.

In an article titled "How many New Yorkers must die before the mayor brings back stop-and-frisk?" the right wing New York Post pointed to the drop in the use of stop-and-frisk practices simultaneous with a slight rise in crime rates in Baltimore, St. Louis and Chicago to warn that New York City would soon be deluged with criminal violence, too.

"More people are getting shot," begins an article in the New York Daily News, the city's other tabloid. "More people are being killed. And fewer people are being stopped-and-frisked."

The less sensationalist New York Times also takes for granted the idea that more police equals less crime, asking the reader how the city can lower rates of gun violence "in an era when stop-and-frisk tactics--for years among the Police Department's principal tools for curbing street violence--are employed far less frequently than before its excessive use came under widespread criticism."

Fear wave stalks Gotham!!

As many of these articles report, some criminal acts have gone up in New York City--with 135 people killed and 510 shot compared to this time last year, when the numbers were 113 killed and 467 shot.

But as noted by Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD chief Bill Bratton and others--including former police officers themselves--crime in the city continues its historic downward trend. Overall, crime dropped 6 percent compared to last year--meanwhile, 12 years ago, murders stood at 600 and shootings at nearly 1,800.

DESPITE THIS overall drop in crime, pro-police advocates such as Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch continue the argument that reducing stop-and-frisks has lowered police morale, leading to less pro-active police, which leads to greater gun violence and murders.

Yet there is plenty of recent evidence pointing to the ineffectiveness of stop-and-frisk tactics in deterring gun violence--and that puts into question whether the aggressive tactics of the NYPD have anything to do with the overall drop in crime in the city.

Many sociologists and criminologists have pointed to a range of cultural and social changes as possible factors for the drop in crime in New York--as well as to the many cities around the country where the aggressive "broken windows" theory of policing was not adopted. These factors range from changes in organized crime structures to racist assumptions of residents influencing their perceptions of crime rates.

Undercutting the main argument among of think-tankers, "creative policing" advocates, politicians and police commissioners like Bratton who credit "broken windows" for the drop in crime, researchers have not found substantial causal connections between the number of police in a precinct and the reduction of crime, nor between the number of arrests for misdemeanors and the drop in felonies.

Nevertheless, the recent uptick in shootings is clearly being used to continue the false idea that aggressive policing works in lowering crime--and to push for adding more police to the already bloated department, at the expense of badly needed social services that grassroots forces like the Safety Beyond Policing campaign have repeatedly demanded.

Since many in the local press acknowledge that the overall rate of crime in the city is down over the past decade, the slew of scaremongering articles by these major news outlets suggest that what we're seeing is a concerted political effort to continue the longstanding tradition of using rising crime rates--whether crime is actually rising or not--to attack the protests of social justice and civil rights movements.

The NYPD has a history of issuing hysterical warnings that the city is drowning in crime whenever it has felt threatened by criminal justice reforms or cutbacks in their budget and operations. The right wing and pro-police press are no different.

RIGHT-WING critics of Bill de Blasio have been waiting to blame him for any uptick in crime or gun violence since before he even became mayor of the city.

During the mayoral campaign in 2013, the Republican candidate Joe Lhota warned a group of wealthy conservative business leaders that de Blasio's vocal support for police reform would cause crime rates to rise if he were elected.

On the campaign trail, de Blasio repeatedly spoke of the need for police reform, in the process winning support from prominent police reform advocates and organizations that have spent years organizing against police brutality.

Promising to end the racist practice of stop-and-frisk that was widely used and defended by billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his police chief Ray Kelly, de Blasio won the election. But he soon disappointed activists by replacing Kelly with Bratton, the former NYPD chief under Rudy Giuliani and the most prominent national advocate of broken windows policing.

The high numbers of documented stop-and-frisks had already begun to decline dramatically in Bloomberg's last year as a result of mounting pressure from activists and the courts over the practice's obvious racial bias. After de Blasio took office, the policy was reduced even further, leading many to declare the end of an era, even though the NYPD continues to stop and frisk New Yorkers by the thousands.

While de Blasio has publicly defended his scaling down of stop-and-frisk, his dedication to the larger broken windows framework, of which stop-and-frisk is one element, demonstrates his ongoing balancing act of supporting the police while paying lip service to reform.

A little over a month ago, he defended the NYPD crackdown on protesters who responded to a call by Millions March NYC to mobilize in solidarity with the Baltimore Rebellion, brutally arresting over 140 people and showing the movement the limits of his support for police reform.

In the most recent incarnation of the broken windows emphasis on low-level offenses to discourage greater acts of criminality, cops have begun arresting subway passengers for taking up more than one seat on trains by sitting with their legs spread wide open.

Some on the left have argued that this crackdown is the result of activists complaining on social media about "manspreading", but it's a mistake to think that the NYPD is responding to activist concerns--rather than continuing its ongoing practice of finding new ways to target and criminalize working people and people of color in particular.

NEW YORK City has a particular history of anti-crime propaganda, going back to the era of high crime rates--and even higher levels of hysteria--in the 1970s and '80s.

Since then, most New Yorkers have supported the police and "tough-on-crime" rhetoric. Opinion polls showing the rising awareness of racially disproportionate policing practices combined with "quality-of-life concerns" are a portrait of the contradictory opinions of New Yorkers in regards to police reform.

Since 2012, many New Yorkers supported an independent prosecutor to investigate police brutality in response to the lack of indictments of killer cops, but the population of the city is split over the continued use of stop-and-frisks.

In a sign that the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-police brutality activists still have their work cut out for them, a recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that a majority of New Yorkers continue to support broken windows policing.

Still, in its short existence, the movement for Black lives has dramatically changed the discussion on race and policing, effectively challenging the standard narrative that victims of police brutality are the ones to blame themselves, and not the police.

A number of articles written in recent months on the low morale of police across the country reflect the rising public distrust of the police and their go-to arguments when being held accountable for their reckless and racist disregard for Black life.

The fact that the police department in McKinney, Texas, didn't try to defend Officer Eric Casebolt after he was seen on video brutalizing and drawing a gun on unarmed Black teenagers trying to enjoy a pool party, and that Casebolt was quickly forced to resign, speaks to the pressure that law enforcement is feeling because of a national movement to end police terror.

Yet the movement and its developing leadership still face the challenge of winning the public away from the idea that more policing--rather than more democracy and funding needed services--will help raise working people's quality of life. We have to overcome the argument that greater police activity equals low crime and safe neighborhoods, and win more and more people to its struggle for racial equality.

In order to win the majority of people to fundamental social change, we need a protracted political strategy that addresses the root causes of criminal activity and demonstrates the role of the police in helping the 1 Percent carrying out their agenda of exploitation, austerity and repression.

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