Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday, 20 May 2021


Law and Order: It’s Back

New York City’s mayoral race is forcing the Democrats to talk about crime—again.


Everyone knows that if you want to make Dracula shrink back in terror, hold up a cross. Want to know how to make a Democrat gasp in horror? Say these words: “law and order.” Aaaaagh!

Everyone loves “Law and Order”—as a TV series. As real life, law and order, also known as the crime issue, doesn’t exist in the Democratic mind. It’s never a problem. Until it is. On Monday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered 250 cops into the subways to battle rampant crime on the trains and platforms.

When Mr. de Blasio was elected mayor in 2013, he inherited decades of urban calm from Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg and their anticrime police commissioners, Bill Bratton and Ray Kelly. One of the biggest issues in the 2013 campaign was whether to ban horse-drawn carriages in Central Park.

Eight years later, the Democratic primary race to succeed Mr. de Blasio is suddenly about those three Democratic denial words: law and order. The June 22 primary effectively selects the next mayor.

New Yorkers have spent the past year beaten down both by Covid and crime. For Covid they’ve got vaccinations. For the city’s epidemic of shootings, up over last year by some 80%, they’ve got nearly nothing. In a city brimming with progressive politicians and street activists, the police have been targeted as the enemy.

In January, Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Department for using “excessive force” during last summer’s nightly protests, violence and lootings.

For New Yorkers who haven’t moved out of the city, accounts like these have become routine:

The weekend before last, two women and a four-year-old were shot in Times Square—at 5 in the afternoon. The following weekend, a tourist was shot down the street in a 7-Eleven, the 11th person shot in eight hours. Before that, a little old Asian lady got punched out near West 43rd St. In July, a one-year-old at a family barbecue in a Brooklyn playground was shot and killed.

With cameras everywhere, New Yorkers see nearly all of this, such as that recent video of a woman who ran up behind a former girlfriend outside a Brooklyn deli and shot her in the head. The evening news has become nightmare alley.

The city’s eight Democratic mayoral candidates debated last Thursday, and the subject wasn’t horse-drawn carriages. It was law and order.

The lead in opinion polls has been back and forth between Eric Adams, the black Brooklyn borough president, and former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Both are running on law and order, though only Mr. Adams is calling street crime an existential threat to the city’s long-term future.

In the least “woke” proposal imaginable, Mr. Adams, a former city police captain, wants to revive a reformed version of the NYPD’s anticrime unit, disbanded by current Commissioner Dermot Shea last July during the antipolice mania. To hear progressives, you’d think Mr. Adams was proposing to bring back, well, Dracula.

The anticrime unit was some 600 plainclothes cops trained to spot guys carrying guns before the guns were used. Activists charged the unit stopped too many innocent black men. Still most analysts agree the unit was a major factor in keeping down violent crime, and Mr. Adams deserves credit for not bowing to liberal hypocrisy on the subject—not least the reality, and the unearned solace of knowing, that most of the worst violence occurs in someone else’s neighborhood.

Today, urban gangs are bolder than ever. As in Chicago and Los Angeles, the gangs of New York are primarily responsible for the constant killings in the outer boroughs, which is to say, black-on-black crime. Messrs. Adams, Yang and former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire are counting on minority voters, rather than the city’s mostly white progressives, to get them elected.

Still, you never know. Republican Rudy Giuliani defeated David Dinkins in 1993 amid another law-and-order crisis. I’ve always believed many city liberals pulled the lever for Rudy and walked out to tell their friends they voted for Dinkins.

Today, Dinkins, who appointed a tough anticrime police commissioner in Mr. Kelly, would be to the political right of the progressives in the race—all of them men and women of the left who, despite the citywide sense of dread, would defund the police.

Former de Blasio aide Maya Wiley would cut $1.1 billion from the police budget. City Comptroller Scott Stringer claims to remember “when the A train was a rolling crime scene,” in the 1970s, but now inveighs against going “back to the Giuliani style of policing that impacted black and brown children.” Should either become mayor, the city’s post-pandemic comeback won’t falter. It will fail.

This column has said repeatedly that, amid the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests last summer, the Democratic National Convention’s refusal to criticize the looting and violence was a failure of responsibility.

Societies depend for survival on maintaining a clear, bold line between civilized behavior and crime. New York’s voters soon will decide whether to maintain that line, or let it wash away.

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