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Last Thursday into Friday, four New Yorkers were shot dead, in four incidents, within 24 hours — followed on Saturday by a triple shooting in Times Square. This is 1980s-level crime, and the city is getting used to it with alarming alacrity. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s answer to this is that there’s not much we can do. “Our entire lives were turned upside down, a global pandemic, a perfect storm,” he says.
So he hasn’t acted with much urgency as the murder rate rose 47 percent last year, to a total of 468 people killed, and has risen this year, so far, by 17 percent.
The mayor subscribes to the same theory Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez espoused last summer: “Do you think this has to do with the fact that there is record unemployment … right now?”
In a global pandemic, though, it’s fair to ask: How is the rest of the world doing?
In London, the global city that most closely resembles Gotham, the murder rate plummeted last year. It fell to 126 from 150, down 16 percent.
Why? Well, that’s obvious: It was the global pandemic. “Many, many crime types have reduced as you would expect,” said Met Police chief Cressida Dick, noting that fewer people were outside to fight with each other.
How about Italy, hit hard and early by the pandemic? There, murders fell by 14 percent, to 271 from 315.
France with its troubled banlieues? The country’s murders were down 2 percent in 2020, to 863.
Japan? The murder level was the lowest it has been since World War II. “Heinous crimes,” including murder, fell by 10 percent.
But these are all safe countries, anyway. So what about cartel-ridden Mexico? There, murders fell by slightly less than half a percent last year, to 34,523 — the first decline in six years.
An enlightened AOC type might say: All of these countries (except Mexico) have far bigger safety nets than the US does.
Not true: The United States, with supplemental jobless insurance ranging from $300 to $600 a week for the past 15 months, and with anti-eviction and anti-foreclosure orders in place, acted faster and far more aggressively to curtail individual economic pain.
In America, the only workers to see steep drops in income with no corresponding government benefits are people who were working here illegally, and thus were ineligible for benefits. But there is no evidence that they’re behind the spike in violent crime.
London, too, has hundreds of thousands of off-the-books migrant workers. The broader number of people still without work there in the pandemic, at more than 700,000, is slightly higher than it is in New York City, against roughly the same population. But people just aren’t stabbing each other because they’re desperate for something to eat.
The rest of the world is demonstrating the obvious: Murders, and other crime, should be down during a pandemic.
With less foot traffic, fewer opportunities for violent disputes arise. And it’s natural, amid so much death from COVID, for people to take stock of their lives and want to be better. In the two months after 9/11, New York’s murder rate dropped 11 percent.
So what is wrong with us — not just New York, but the country as a whole, with urban murder rates up 30 percent last year?
One answer is that compared to Europe and Japan, we have more guns. That’s been a crisis for decades. Yet it isn’t new.
Look at the details of New York’s murders, and most of the alleged criminals over the past year weren’t formerly law-abiding citizens driven to crime because of the pandemic. What is new in New York — and in the rest of the country — is that we have effectively halted all preventative policing. We have also effectively stopped all incarceration of suspects and criminals short of murder.
The alleged killers of 1-year-old Davell Gardner in Brooklyn last year, arrested by the NYPD last week, are longtime gang members implicated in tit-for-tat violence that goes back three years. They aren’t outliers.
If you look at the rest of the world, the lesson for New York and the United States as a whole may be grim, indeed: Maybe the pandemic has cut the murder rate. That is, in the absence of curtailed street traffic, it would be even higher than it is.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor of City Journal.
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