Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement last week to nine self-described sanctuary cities, ordering them to certify compliance with federal immigration law. Sessions in particular cited gang-related crime in these cities, and, in reference to New York, remarked, “New York City continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city's ‘soft on crime’ stance.”
Those words prompted outrage from New York mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD commissioner James O’Neill. The mayor called Sessions’s statement “outrageous” and “an insult” to law enforcement. “Month after month crime has gone down,” de Blasio said. “That seems to have reached everywhere but Washington, D.C.” Commissioner O’Neill said that his “blood began to boil” when he heard the attorney general’s claims. “To say we’re soft on crime is absolutely ludicrous.” Other elected officials took to Twitter to denounce Sessions. City council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is planning a massive legislative effort to block municipal cooperation with federal authorities on immigration enforcement, called Sessions’s remarks “Ridiculous & surely illegal.” Some reporters chimed in on the mayor’s behalf, editorializing, for instance, that “# are unequivocally on BDB’s side.”
But Sessions didn’t claim that crime is rising in New York City, as it is in Chicago and other major cities. He said that New York is plagued by gang-related homicide, and that the city has gone “soft” on enforcement. Are these statements true?
So far in 2017, New York City has had 64 homicides, with arrests made in 38 cases. The NYPD describes 16 of these homicides as gang-related. That means that at least 25 percent of the city’s killings this year have been “gang murders.”
The real number is probably much higher. Twenty-six murders remain unsolved, and these tend to be nighttime shootings in which suspects slip away, a characteristic of gangland killings. In recent years, approximately half of all New York City homicides have been gang-related. With two-fifths of this year’s murder cases still open, it’s likely that at least some of them will turn out to be gang-related.
Sessions is right that New York City has seen “gang murder after gang murder,” on the order of at least one per week, and maybe two. That’s not much compared with Chicago today or with New York in the 1980s, but it indicates that violent gangs operate with some regularity. Hundreds of gang-related, nonlethal shooting incidents occur, too. The NYPD has taken down lots of gangs—100 in 2016, according to Commissioner O’Neill—but more work clearly remains to be done.
Is Sessions right that the city is “soft on crime”? Crime is, after all, at historic lows across New York, even as it spikes nationwide. The NYPD deserves enormous credit for that.
But it’s not all good news: the city’s political class wants to lower crime figures largely by defining crime out of existence. The de Blasio administration has reduced the penalties for public consumption of alcohol, possession of marijuana, and public urination. The recent Lippmann Report, which urges the closure of the municipal jail on Rikers Island, encourages the city to decriminalize prostitution, turnstile jumping, and the possession of gravity knives. If there are no laws, there can be no crime, and hence no criminals. QED.
Brooklyn’s acting district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, wants to reduce criminal charges for illegal immigrants to make it less likely that they will be deported. He promises to seek “immigration-neutral disposition” of criminal cases. This policy will require all prosecutors to coordinate with defense attorneys to discuss the potential consequences of guilty pleas on the defendant’s immigration status. “If someone confronts a guilty plea that would automatically subject them to a harsh immigration penalty,” explained Gonzalez, “and there’s another possible plea that would hold them accountable and ensure public safety, justice demands they be given the one that doesn’t have immigration consequences.” The district attorneys for Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx will likely join him in this new cause.
De Blasio and the rest of the city’s leadership insist that sanctuary policies somehow make New York safer. Following this logic, then, protection of the “undocumented” should be the ultimate goal of public policy, since we’ll just get safer and safer the more illegal residents we harbor. Unlike the last eight years, however, an attorney general in Washington doesn’t see it that way.
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