New York governor Andrew Cuomo has put public-health officials in charge of preventing gun violence in the state. The New York State Department of Health will run a new Office of Gun Violence Prevention, whose purpose is to treat gun violence as a “public health crisis,” Cuomo announced on July 6. Representatives from a host of welfare and social-service agencies will staff the new office.
Cuomo and New York’s public-health gurus initiated nursing-home policies that yielded the nation’s highest Covid-19 death toll; they destroyed New York City’s economy with their arbitrary lockdown rules, wiping out a third of the city’s small businesses. And Cuomo thinks that public-health officials are going to save lives from gun violence? These are the same people who severely limited outdoor religious gatherings and banned protests against the lockdowns while cheering on huge Black Lives Matter demonstrations (with their resulting violence) as necessary to combat “systemic racism.” Yet Cuomo still believes that the state’s pandemic response was exemplary: “Just like we did with Covid, New York is going to lead the nation once again with a comprehensive approach to combating and preventing gun violence.” Uh-oh. If you thought that the daily toll of drive-by shootings couldn’t get worse, think again.
Gun violence is indeed at emergency levels in the state. Here’s what Cuomo should do to fight it: apologize to the police. Apologize for calling them racists simply for trying to save minority lives in high-crime neighborhoods. On August 27, 2020, for example, in a characteristic statement, Cuomo declared that “racism is deeply embedded in the core of our criminal justice system.” Our “flawed” law enforcement “devalues the lives of black men and women,” he said. On June 12, 2020, he issued an executive order calling for “systemic reform” of the state’s police departments to combat a racism problem that “has been forty to fifty years in the making.”
It is this constant denigration of police—from Cuomo, President Joe Biden, and other public officials—that is driving the nationwide violence surge. Cops are demoralized and under constant physical and ideological assault. Ambush attacks on officers are up 91 percent this year nationally. Having been told relentlessly that they are racist for conducting investigatory stops in high-crime neighborhoods, officers are doing much less of that discretionary activity. As cops back off from enforcement, criminals step up. Juveniles are carrying and using guns freely because they know that their chances of getting stopped have plummeted.
The main evidence of racism lodged against police officers is the racially disparate rates of stops and arrests. But the police cannot fight crime without generating such racial disparities in the data. In 2019, blacks made up over 74 percent of all shooting suspects in New York City, for example, though they are only 23 percent of the city’s population. Adding Hispanic shootings to these numbers accounts for over 96 percent of all shootings in the city. These disparities mean that virtually every time the cops respond to a “shots fired” call, they are in a minority neighborhood and being given the description of a minority suspect (assuming anyone is even cooperating with the police). They are also likely being called on behalf of minority residents, who made up over 96 percent of all shooting victims in 2019. It is not racism that sends police to minority neighborhoods; it is the reality of crime.
Cuomo’s executive order is funneling an additional $76 million into youth activities and summer jobs programs, many run by unions. Such programs were the go-to solution for juvenile gang violence for decades, without producing a noticeable effect. Crime in New York City did not drop until the New York Police Department became data-driven, ruthlessly accountable, and focused on street disorder. Yet the city’s district attorneys are refusing to prosecute a host of public-order offenses that are often prelude to violent crimes, whether disorderly conduct or turnstile-jumping. Cuomo could improve the city’s public safety by calling out those DAs for failing to provide the backing for essential law enforcement activities.
The new emergency declaration puts heavy emphasis on a favorite of public health professors everywhere: “violence interrupters.” These non-police social workers, usually ex-gang members, have a spotty record of success. Exposés regularly document ties between violence interrupters and local gangs.
The one public-health/social-service intervention that would make a profound difference in combating inner-city violence is the reconstruction of the black family. Public officials must recognize the problem and promote the role of fathers in raising law-abiding children. Cuomo is predictably silent about family breakdown, however, preferring to focus on an “all-of-government approach” to gun violence. But the state Offices of Mental Health, Children and Family Services, Temporary and Disability Assistance, the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Victim Services, the Departments of Labor, Housing, and Health—all participants in the new Office of Gun Violence Prevention—are indifferent to family structure and clueless about fighting crime.
The police, however, are experts in fighting crime, as their records under Mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg show. Cuomo should give them their due and call for a return to lawful proactive policing, free from false charges of racism.
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