Right now around the City, there’s open-air book fairs in the middle of the street…. People on the avenues dining under tents…. A subway getting scrubbed between one and five AM…. The mutual aid society collecting food and drink…. Some trainer in the park teaching push-ups over Zoom…. An artist painting plywood across an empty store.
In other words… bedlam! It’s chaos! Purging! Anarchy! It’s anarchy, right? The City’s overrun! Well, that’s what the Trump administration says.
According to today’s press release from the Department of Justice [DOJ], New York’s now a “jurisdiction that [has] permitted violence and destruction of property to persist.” Furthermore, the City’s “refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract criminal activities.”
Now, granted, when alternate-side-of-the-street parking rules were suspended during the height of the Covid-19 crisis, some neighborly conflicts ensued; but they were hardly waged by marauding mobs or trigger happy arsonists lighting up moms in Midtown. Besides, the rules have been back in effect for ages. So what’s with this “anarchist city” charge then?
Well, three weeks ago, President Trump issued a memoranda directing Attorney General William Barr to identify cities that “allowed themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones” after the demonstrations for George Floyd. According to Trump, any city that “disempowered” or “defunded” police, “forbade” them from restoring order, enjoined them from deploying to certain locations, “refused” reinforcements from the federal government, or acted in ways the Attorney General “deemed” inappropriate, would get Barr’s attention. Trump’s bias against New York, however, was baked into the memo.
Rather than cite the City’s most recent crime statistics, Trump leveraged figures from three months ago — “from late May and early June” — to conclude that “city officials have allowed violence to spike.” He said “local officials allowed looting to take place for over a week.” Well, as any baseball statistician might muse, never base conclusions on a small sample size. Yes, there was an uptick in crime during the week Trump emphasized, but let’s place it in historical context.
According to the NYPD, there’s been 64,642 “crime complaints” so far this year. That sum comprises data from the big seven categories: murder, rape, robbery, felonious assault, burglary, grand larceny, and grand larceny auto. By comparison, there were 95,593 total complaints last year. In 2001, there were 162,064. In 1990, there were 527,257. So, in reality, there’s been no “unconscionable rise in violence” as Trump promulgated. Save for the outlying crests and falls you could easily pluck from the timeline; overall, crime in New York City’s been trending down for 30 years.
But none of this dissuaded the Attorney General. In the DOJ’s missive, Barr cherry-picked “shootings” from May and June as the top reason to call New York an “anarchist jurisdiction” today.
So now that the City’s a lawless mess of mask-wearers, bikers on the West Side Highway, push-up fanatics, and people going about their own business, what happens next? Well, as Barr announced,
We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance. It is my hope that…[New York]…will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting [its] own citizens.
New York’s about to be blackmailed. If the City won’t declare its fealty to the Trump administration’s policing policies, Trump will stop sending money to the boroughs. Currently, New York receives about $7 billion a year from the federal government. It mostly goes to support housing, social service, and education programs. Reaction to the ruse was swift.
Carolyn Maloney, representing New York’s 12th Congressional District, tweeted:
Yet another attempt by Trump & Barr to abuse their power, targeting blue cities under the guise of ‘law & order.’ Threatening to withhold $ owed to NYS in the midst of a national health & economic crisis is unbelievably shortsighted & irresponsible.
Speaker Corey Johnson:
The federal government must serve the people of this country — including New Yorkers. Cutting funding to New York City, one of the nation’s most vital economic engines, is dumb as it is cruel. We must fight this misguided attack from the Trump administration.
And, finally, Mayor de Blasio:
The President and Bill Barr’s latest stunt is pure politics AND unconstitutional. We will see them (and beat them) in court if we have to.
Covid-19 has sent nearly 58,000 New Yorkers to the hospital. About 23,000 people have perished since March. The unemployment rate is 16.3%. Subway ridership is down 70%; on the buses, it’s 51%. There’s a hole in the City’s budget the size of $4.2 billion and counting. Perhaps the President could lay off a little.
Screenshot courtesy of the New York Post. September 21, 2020.