In recent days—deadly ones in New York—another alarming trend has apparently emerged in the city: sudden, violent attacks on young women. The flustered victims, all relatively young and white, report that they were walking down the street in lower Manhattan when a passerby punched them in the face. Videos on TikTok are made on the fly, immediately after the attack, and show women in a state of shock, some with bruises, some crying, some just flabbergasted. 

“You guys,” says a popular creator named Halley, “I was literally just walking, and a man came up and punched me in the face. Oh my God, it hurts so bad . . . I can’t even talk, I literally fell to the ground.” She laughs suddenly and without humor, baffled by this horrible interaction. 

At least a dozen similar videos were made as the attacker (or attackers) made his rounds, evidently in the neighborhood around Union Square. It isn’t clear if police were called; since the damage in many cases appears minor, it’s unlikely that serious charges could be brought, in any case. This sort of crime at best can be charged as misdemeanor assault. A few years ago, after I was punched by a drunk stranger on the sidewalk, the NYPD strongly discouraged me from pursuing charges. The police eventually charged my assailant with harassment, a violation. 

New York City is in the midst of a surge of violent behavior. An NYPD officer was murdered this week on the same day that a man was pushed to his death in front of a subway car. The same day saw multiple, unrelated stabbings in the subway system. 

The city’s political leadership is in deep denial about what’s going on. Manhattan borough president Mark Levine says that a recent shooting in the subway indicates the need to “better address NYC’s mental illness crisis,” and complains that “the incident has already become fodder in the national culture war.” The problem with violence in New York City, according to Levine and other leftist elected officials, is that it can be used by conservative media to imply that progressive criminal-justice policies don’t work. Well, they don’t.

The last ten years of progressive leadership in New York have seen the steady and methodical decomposition of the machinery of public order. The city council has passed legislation effectively legalizing public drinking, littering, graffiti, and urination. The council has interposed itself between police and the public with a host of reporting requirements, the intent of which is to dissuade cops from interacting with people in the first place. Stop-and-frisk, a constitutionally permitted practice, has been virtually eliminated, and the NYPD has been placed under federal monitorship. The state legislature instituted a reform of bail and custody laws that has resulted in the automatic release of dangerous and committed criminals caught in the act. Shoplifting has been virtually legalized, and retail clerks are now tasked with trying to prevent thieves from despoiling store shelves because police will likely not bother to do anything if called.

And that’s a big “if” in itself. Progressive culture has promoted the pernicious idea that calling the police, especially on a black perpetrator, is a violent act. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said as much in 2020 when he spoke of “the risks of calling law enforcement on a black man,” and demanded the arrest and prosecution of a white woman, “comfortable in her own privilege,” who had called the police after being threatened by a black man in Central Park. Similarly, socialist councilmember Tiffany Caban has dismissed subway violence as a “one-in-a-million event.” She counsels people in the midst of an escalating, one-sided confrontation not to call the police, but to become “Upstanders” by distracting violent criminals by “spilling your soda,” or asking if they went to the same high school. 

Leftists have created a useful dynamic for themselves. They have disrupted police work and discouraged people from calling the police. Thus, a great deal of criminal activity doubtless goes unreported. Then elected officials, activists, and other agents of societal chaos can point to the hollow data and proclaim that their policies have lowered crime. 

Meantime, young women walk the streets of lower Manhattan wondering whether someone will punch them in the face. The perpetrator or perpetrators should be vigorously pursued and imprisoned. But to pursue the culprit with vigor would be to admit that it’s happening—and that would mean, in turn, having to acknowledge that something is wrong in the city. That’s not something our current leadership is willing to do.

Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next