This is the time of the year that creates a perfect storm. Our children are saying goodbye to the school year, the weather is getting warmer, outdoor activities increase, more cars are on the road and the issues that the fourth of July bring are always imminent. Not coincidentally, this is also the time when after what has already been a violent year, criminal and violent activities increase. If history is any teacher, this year will not be an exception. The mayor has created the position of gun violence czar to combat the surge in gun violence that has plagued the city. As commendable as this is, the mayor must be proactive in planning for the summer. Crime is a multi-tiered epidemic in New York City. It’s not just gun violence, although this is a major concern, we cannot ignore quality of life concerns that seem to accompany the more serious crimes. These crimes consist of fare evasion, shoplifting, unlicensed ATVs and dirt bikes, harassment, assault and so on. The belief that decreasing gun violence by taking guns off the streets and monitoring highways will change our environment this summer is very optimistic. When the mayor campaigned, he stated that he would have long-term and short-term solutions. Getting guns off the street is long term. It will not happen overnight. We must begin to look at those mid-level crimes to improve the morale of the people of the city.
Now let’s keep in mind this does not fall squarely on the shoulders of the mayor. To achieve the goal of reducing crime in our neighborhoods, we will have to accept and adjust to new realities and become accustomed to a new norm. For example, all laws must be enforced; this includes loitering and traffic violations. Loitering is a tough one because it’s not so much the gathering of people but the activities that sometimes accompany it, such as gambling, consumption of alcohol or drugs, and having barbecues on the sidewalks. If the mayor were to address these violations, some in the community would push back and say it’s overpolicing, but we can’t have it both ways. I compare this to airline check-ins. Everyone is required to take off their shoes to defend against terrorism. We go through metal detectors to go to sporting events and concerts. These are some of the concessions we make for our overall peace of mind and security. Part of the mayor’s plan to decrease gun violence is to increase police presence in high need communities. I have personally seen this in Harlem, however public facing and presence is no longer enough. We need more active engagement and a mutual respect between law enforcement and citizens. Let us be clear, defunding the police whether by the definition of eliminating the police department or repurposing funds, was not a viable solution. The police and the community must work together and put our checkered history aside and place our energy where it belongs: on crime.
With regards to funding, more funds need to be available for mental health and support for those in need. The mayor’s office on community and mental health states,
- “New Yorkers without health insurance are less likely to be connected to mental health care.
- “Black, Latinx, and Asian American and Pacific Islander New Yorkers are less likely to be connected to mental health care than white New Yorkers.”
- “The highest poverty neighborhoods have over twice as many psychiatric hospitalizations per capita as the lowest poverty neighborhoods in New York City.”
It appears that mental health issues also fall under disproportionality and equity issues.
Finally, we need law enforcement training to identify and support mental health concerns. We must differentiate mental health issues from criminal issues and know when they collide with each other.
1980 has been called the worst year for crime in the history of New York City. Department statistics stated the following for 1980: “The total number of reported crimes last year, 710,153, represented a 14.3 percent increase over the 1979 figure of 621,110, and a 7.9 percent increase over the previous record of 658,147, set in 1976.”
Let’s compare this to 2022: according to CNN, “The New York Police Department tracked increases across every major crime category. The city recorded a 41% increase in overall major crime through the first months of 2022 compared to the same period last year, including a nearly 54% increase in robberies, a 56% increase in grand larceny incidents and a 22% increase in rape reports, the data shows.” Statistics show we have a long way to go to match 1980, but can the summer close that gap? And more importantly can we afford to take that chance?
Dr. Clarence Williams Jr. is a retired assistant superintendent in the New York city public school system. He holds a doctorate in educational leadership, a master’s in education administration, and a master’s in multicultural education. Williams Jr. has a K-12 license in special education and educational leadership, has worked as an educator and leader in the public school system for over 30 years and is an assistant professor.