This weekend marked 100 days since Israeli civilians were brought as captives into Gazan tunnels: girls raped, men tortured.
Here, in hip New York, an unending series of escalating demonstrations hamper the city’s functioning and citizens’ general sense of trust and stability. What are the protesters calling for? An immediate Israeli ceasefire. Whom do they represent? An enormous coalition of jackasses.
If the thousands of Gothamites who pretend to care about Arabs (except when other Muslims oppress and slaughter them) really wanted a ceasefire, they would demand that Hamas release innocent civilians and renounce terrorism.
But they don’t actually want a ceasefire. What they want is to be jackasses.
In 2024, New Yorkers need to stop tolerating those who think the fun of disrupting the system is more important than everyone else’s daily lives.
Like cities nationwide, the Big Apple has been sliding down a slope from tolerating jerks to letting them ruin the joint. Since 2014, the post-Ferguson police-shooting moment has blurred the lines between protesters genuinely concerned with how police respond to lawbreakers and those who think lawbreaking is pretty groovy. The more civil faction (the non-jackasses) has been scared to resist this great stand against authority. So, when the most strident voices in the coalition insisted that minor offenses should not be policed, the non-jackasses indulged them, thinking it a necessary sacrifice, even if, deep down, they valued quality of life and public order.
But low-level offending matters. And while we should work to balance community and law-enforcement responses to bad behavior, pretending that such infractions are no big deal is to let the jackasses win. And winning they are: multiple overlapping policy and political shifts, each diminishing our seriousness about low-level crime, have enabled New York City’s masked, belligerent, solipsistic demonstrators to get away with mayhem.
About a decade ago, with crime approaching historic lows, city leaders decided to try a lighter criminal-justice touch. By 2016, Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance had announced that he would stop prosecuting quality-of-life offenses such as public urination, public drinking, littering, and subway mischief. Three months later, the City Council passed the Criminal Justice Reform Act, sending only civil court summonses for offenses like unreasonable noise, open alcohol containers, and littering; criminal court summonses dropped 90 percent in the first year.
In 2020, progressive state legislators found a backdoor route to slash prosecutions. Under discovery “reform,” prosecutors, buried in paperwork, now triage their caseloads, declining to pursue lower-level cases. (The new law demands that they collect even irrelevant, redundant, and immaterial “evidence” associated with each and every case in a short timeframe—or the cases will automatically get dismissed.) In three years, the Manhattan criminal court went from automatically dismissing just 3 percent of all cases to dismissing 25 percent.
That year, state legislators also mandated that the NYPD stop arresting misdemeanants and low-level felons. Instead, cops were to issue desk-appearance tickets that set later court dates for the defendants to return for arraignment. But over 17 percent of these defendants never show up for their arraignments. Later in 2020, the Manhattan and Brooklyn DAs declined to prosecute “racial justice” protesters for offenses like unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct. Then, in 2021, incoming Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg announced that he would decline resisting arrest, prostitution, and minor shoplifting cases. In 2023, after a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union related to handling of the 2020 protests, the NYPD relinquished effective strategies to keep protests peaceful.
These policy changes have had significant effect on the handling of misdemeanors and violations associated with the out-of-control protests of recent years. Consider the data. A decade ago, Manhattan prosecuted 4,261 trespass cases; last year, it prosecuted only 533. Even with dramatically fewer cases, trespass convictions fell from 2,878 to just 130, while misdemeanor pleas declined from 1,902 to 42. The city went from closing 898 disorderly conduct cases a decade ago to averaging only 18 since 2020. Resisting-arrest cases fell from 1,007 in 2014 to 138 last year, with 95 percent fewer convictions. Citywide, closed public-order cases fell over the decade, from 1,290 to just 517; the conviction rate plummeted from 39 percent to 15 percent.
How are we, as a society, going to grapple with resurgent terrorism and open warfare in the Middle East if we can’t even show masked jackasses on the Brooklyn Bridge that they are out of line—not to mention that they are breaking the law?
Look beyond the United States: the world is overrun with repression. Over the weekend in Turkey, an Israeli member of the Antalyaspor soccer team was arrested, suspended, and condemned for displaying “100 Days, 7/10” on his hand brace in support of the hostages. This denial of liberty, standard throughout the Middle East and much of the world, is unthinkable to Americans—yet a portion among us, exploiting and overstepping our liberties, confidently block vital airports, besiege cancer hospitals, and squash holiday gatherings.
We can’t convince these jerks that they enjoy an awesome yet fragile freedom—that of peaceful, lawful protest—if we don’t also enforce the boundaries of what constitutes peaceful and lawful. It’s past time that we started doing so.
Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images