For the past 25 years, New Yorkers feared a return to the “bad old days” even though the stats told a different story. Crime continued to go down. Every mayor since then declared the city safer than before.
While it may not be the bad old days, 2021 has presented a new fight. What crime numbers help you win a debate? Is there an increase or is it blown out of proportion? Depending on who you ask, you get two different answers.
With the subway going back to 24-hour service and an expected increase in ridership, crime could be a bigger issue now that more straphangers are returning to public transit.
This past Sunday night, a tourist was hospitalized as a result of being stabbed with a screwdriver on a southbound 1 train at the Chambers Street station. It was an unprovoked attack.
Earlier that day, on a Manhattan-bound R train at the Prospect Avenue station, a 64-year-old man was punched and attacked, ending up with a broken nose and broken bones in his face. That attack was also unprovoked.
On the Sunday evening of May 2, a 23-year-old woman was attacked by a man who punched her in the head from behind and stole her backpack that contained her credit and debit cards and her Macbook Air laptop.
Members of Transit Workers Union Local 100 and the Metropolitan Transit Authority have called for a bigger police presence on public transit. According to MTA, in the past six months, more than 1,000 transit workers were assaulted, harassed, spat at or threatened.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio did not respond to requests for comment but did say earlier this month that the current crimes are isolated incidents.
“I think it’s really important to recognize that clearly having that kind of police presence does have an impact,” said de Blasio. “What we’ve seen is continually increased ridership. So, that’s the people voting with their feet…Overall, crime in the subways has been down compared to historic levels.”
TWU Local 100 Spokesperson Pete Donohue said, while using numbers from the NYPD Transit Bureau, that while subway crime decreased overall, the mayor is being dishonest with the media, with elected officials and with New Yorkers. He said there’s more to the numbers than what meets the eye.
“Look at these stats. Felony assaults are up more than 40% January through April this year compared to three years ago when there were 3.5 million more riders every day in the system,” said Donohue in an email. “Felony assaults in the subway Jan-April are 24% higher than two years ago, and 20% higher than last year. Same time period each year. Apples to apples comparison.
“Overall crime is only down because the biggest category by volume—grand larceny [non-violent picking of riders’ pockets and wallets]—is down dramatically,” continued Donohue. “That’s because they need crowded trains to operate.”
Recently, the MTA reported that subway ridership is down 35% when compared to pre-quarantine numbers.
But subways weren’t the only thing on the minds of the people this week.
This weekend a 22-year-old was shot in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. A 17-year-old was shot in Crown Heights. A 23-year-old was shot in East Harlem.
Three bystanders were shot in Times Square including a 4-year-old girl. There’s a manhunt for 31-year-old Farrakhan Muhammad, a person of interest, who has had several arrests the past several years.
The mayor said that while the Times Square shooting was bad, it won’t stop one of the city’s biggest industries: tourism.
“We never want to see one like it again,” de Blasio told reporters. “We’re putting additional NYPD resources in the Time Square area to add an extra measure of protection. But in the end people want to come to this city. It is an overwhelmingly safe city. When you look at New York City compared to cities around the country, around the world, this is a very safe place and there’s more and more activity.
“The city is clearly coming back. People are starting to come here much earlier actually than I thought they would. We’re starting to see tourism come back already. I thought it would go into the summer before we’d see that kind of comeback.”
According to a recent report by the NYPD, compared to this time last year, crime rose by 30.4% in April. The report also stated that there was a 35.6% increase in felony assaults, a 28.6% increase in robberies, a 66% increase in grand larceny and a 166% increase in shootings. There’s also a 3.7% increase in gun arrests.
New York City mayoral candidates were quick to pounce on the outgoing de Blasio for failing to address the city’s gun violence issues.
During a Tuesday news conference in Brownsville, Brooklyn, Shaun Donovan reminded the media that the Times Square shooting is a big deal not because of what happened, but where it happened.
“Shootings like the one in Times Square get much more attention because gun violence isn’t ‘supposed’ to happen there,” Donovan said to the reporters. “Just last week a man was shot and killed just a few minutes from here on Church Avenue. The same people who have been rightfully outraged by the shooting in Times Square need to be just as loud when these tragedies happen in neighborhoods like Brownsville.
“Neighborhoods where some politicians and elected officials have come to expect these incidents as normal, where gun violence is ‘supposed’ to happen,” continued Donovan. “But it shouldn’t happen anywhere. And it doesn’t have to.”
Eric Adams returned to Times Square for a second time to speak again on the shooting. The Brooklyn borough president (who wants to reinstitute the plainclothes anti-crime unit and take cops off desk duty to put them back on patrol) also reminded New Yorkers that this isn’t the only place to consider when talking about gun violence.
“We can’t just recognize these shootings when it is in Times Square—it is time for us to recognize it when it is on any block in our city,” said Adams. “This gun violence has been real for countless New Yorkers for years, and as the chief executive, the mayor of the city, we can’t wait until crises happen in the center of Manhattan. We have to respond before then.”
He also took a shot at mayoral candidate Andrew Wang, whom he recently surpassed in polls.
“It took a shooting in Andrew Yang’s backyard for him to wake up and discover there was a crime problem, and to stand up to gun violence,” said Adams. “It is good that now he sees the light and is adopting my plans—but let’s be clear, that’s not leadership, that’s showmanship.”