Coming off a year that saw the highest percentage-point spikes in homicides and shootings in decades, the Big Apple continues to struggle. With each passing day, rising crime moves any return to a post-pandemic normal further out of reach.
Last week, four people were brutally stabbed in separate attacks along New York City’s A train; two died. Not long after, police arrested Rigoberto Lopez, who authorities say confessed to all four attacks. Lopez allegedly has a troubling rap sheet for assaults and criminal contempt. Yet he had been released after his most recent arrest in the fall, when police allege he was walking the streets of Washington Heights with a kitchen knife and 48 bags of cocaine.
“Why was he out?” blared a Post cover headline. The answer: because of New York’s misguided pretrial-detention rules, which prohibit judges from even considering the risks posed to the community by a criminal defendant. Still, state officials show no sign of willingness to fill this gaping hole in the law.
Lopez’s stabbing spree came on the heels of a recent spike in violent attacks underground, and was followed just days later by yet another knife attack — this one in the afternoon on a No. 2 train near Penn Station.
The situation above ground is equally grim.
Last month, a man was arrested and charged with murder, accused of setting up a shooting that claimed the life of an innocent Bronx teen, 16-year-old Kahlik Grier, who was fatally shot in the stairwell of his own apartment building. The suspect, Desire Louree, had just been released from Rikers a month earlier after making bail in an attempted murder case stemming from a 2020 Brooklyn shooting. He also had an open gun case from 2019, according to news reports.
Again: Why was he out? Unfortunately, the answer is the same: There isn’t a lever judges can pull to keep repeat offenders detained.
Through Feb. 7, shootings are up 28 percent across the city over the same period in 2020 — which itself saw shootings spike 97 percent and homicides more than 40 percent over 2019 figures.
The data and gruesome stories represent a p.r. and fiscal nightmare for a city that will continue hemorrhaging taxpayers if it can’t convince residents that it’s safe.
The pandemic and lockdowns already made it difficult to entice ex-residents. Swapping comfortable loungewear for office attire and a short walk to the couch for an uncomfortable trip in an overcrowded subway car would be a tough sell under the best conditions. If crime isn’t brought under control, and fast, you can expect even fewer residents to make the transition back to the hustle and bustle that characterized pre-pandemic New York; even more will opt for safer, cleaner, less dense suburban and exurban environments.
One would think elected officials would be scrambling to propose measures aimed at curbing serious crime and reassuring residents that their safety is paramount. But no. In fact, both the City Council and Albany politicos are doubling down on even more “reforms,” unfazed by the possibility that there might be adverse consequences to the crime problem plaguing the nation’s biggest city.
Nor does there seem to be any appetite for tough-on-crime measures among those aspiring to the city’s various political offices. Take Tiffany Cabán, the runner-up in the most recent Queens County DA race now hoping to represent part of Queens in the council. She recently committed to the goal of completely defunding the NYPD, absurdly claiming on Twitter that “there is no connection between police and public safety.”
Pushing forward with increasingly radical “reforms” amid a prolonged spike in serious violent crime may be a winning political strategy in a Democratic Party edging ever more woke and hard left. But it will likely prove a losing proposition for a great many New Yorkers, working-class people of color above all.
If public order continues to deteriorate, many more who can afford to leave, will. And as is always the case, those who can’t afford to move will be left holding the bag.
Rafael A. Mangual is a senior fellow and deputy director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute.