Credit: Bill Moore photo

In what’s being considered a public display of political muscle-flexing, the Department of Justice (DOJ), headed by President Donald Trump appointee Attorney General William Barr, has designated New York City as an “anarchist jurisdiction” due to the recent spikes of violence and protests.

Portland and Seattle were the two other municipalities also given the label due to their recent issues involving civil unrest. The designations are in response to Trump’s memorandum reviewing federal funding in Democratic Party-led cities which are experiencing what he considers lawlessness.

“When state and local leaders impede their own law enforcement officers and agencies from doing their jobs, it endangers innocent citizens who deserve to be protected, including those who are trying to peacefully assemble and protest,” said Barr. “We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance. It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens.”

The DOJ pointed out several factors for giving the city the damning title including a rise in shootings in the city compared to last year along with looting occurring as a result of the protests during the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The DOJ is also citing the City Council’s recent $1 billion cut in funding to the NYPD.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo were mentioned in the decision for not accepting support from federal law enforcement. Both say taking any federal funding away from the city and state would be unconstitutional. New York City gets $7 billion in federal funding.

“The federal law controls federal funding, and the federal law is very specific: jurisdiction doesn’t get affordable housing money if it does this, jurisdiction gets community development money if it does this, the jurisdiction gets Title I education funding if it does this. And the president is not above the law––that’s the Constitution of the United States,” Cuomo said.

Trump’s new strategy is being compared to previous threats to reduce federal funding from sanctuary cities where undocumented immigrants would seek refuge and protection from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

“The president is playing cheap political games with congressionally directed funds,” de Blasio said. “Our cities are bringing communities together; our cities are pushing forward after fighting back a pandemic and facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, all despite recklessness and partisanship from the White House.”

It’s no secret the city has seen a spike in violence in recent months. Numbers from the NYPD indicate that shootings were up 166% in August compared to 2019.

Several shootings took place last weekend across the city including the killing of two people in Harlem and the Bronx. A 15-year-old was shot in the wrist while on a basketball court in Brooklyn. This week a 27-year-old man was shot at an outdoor birthday party in Brooklyn. Ten people were arrested in Flatlands, Brooklyn on gun charges after a six-hour standoff. Gunfire reportedly broke out between two gangs.

Despite last weekend’s crime, NYPD Commissioner Demot Shea says shootings are starting to go down. He said during a recent televised interview that the focus is now on getting those carrying guns off the streets.

“We could forecast long-term trends in crime with the weather at times,” Shea said. “Certainly there’s a lot going on, but as it gets cooler and you get less people outside and less outdoor events and drinking and things of that nature, it certainly is an ally of ours.”

Local elected officials are joining the chorus condemning Trump’s “anarchist jurisdiction” label. New York U.S. Senator and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump’s dislike for Democratic Party-run cities and eagerness to impress his supporters is motivating him to give New York the sour designation.

“It is not a secret this president is anti-New York,” he said. “New York made him, and he looks to kick around New York at every opportunity. Oftentimes he talks but can’t follow through. We in the Senate control the purse strings. He can’t cut the money for New York just by decree,” Sen. Schumer said.

New York junior U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said earlier this month that Trump is overreacting and disciplining cities that aren’t taking his unwanted help and following his “law and order” agenda.

“The power of the purse resides with Congress, so he cannot take money that’s already been allocated for programs in New York or Washington State or any other state that he wants to punish,” Gillibrand said. “I see this action by him as purely political and designed to continue to divide the country. He is just wrong.”

In an interview with the AmNews former Harlem Congressman Charlie Rangel said, “There is no legal base for the Justice Department to divert funds that have been appropriated by the House of Representatives and the Senate. Barr has nothing to prevent the Attorney General and the Justice Department from continuing to be the political arm for the president in terms of press releases. In my opinion, that is the only thing that the Justice Department has done.”

Several New York Democratic Party congressional members, including Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Yvette Clark, said in joint statement sent to the AmNews that the city has gone through too many disastrous situations to have federal funding cut based on an opinion.

“As members representing different parts of NYC, we walk the streets of our districts every day; we know our neighbors, our businesses, our schools, our people,” the congressmembers said. “We stood together as our city suffered through the worst of COVID-19, terrorist attacks and natural disasters. And we reject this classification full stop. The president does not have the power to target and defund individual cities, nor does he have the authority to single-handedly eliminate or change congressional appropriations.”

Brooklyn State Sen. James Sanders said putting the label on the city will not solve any of the issues Trump points out.

“Other than trying to soil the image of our beloved city and withholding federal money, legally the ‘anarchist’ label does not mean very much,” James said in a statement. “It is not as though convicted criminals will get a lighter sentence because they live in an ‘anarchist jurisdiction.’”

On the local level, City Council Member Inez Barron said the designation is an attempt to keep people from voicing their outrage over the recent racial injustices in the nation.

“The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble for all people,” Barron told the AmNews. “In this climate of heightened awareness of social and human injustices, we must ensure that civilians are not inhibited or prevented from expressing their displeasure or objection to illegal and unconscionable violations of their rights. We must ensure that they are not held hostage by a government that seeks to silence them.”