It’s encouraging that New York State Assemblyman Eric Stevenson is rethinking his position on New York’s proactive policing. The impetus for his change of heart? The homicide of a four-year-old boy during a shoot-out at a barbecue and basketball game at the Forest Houses in the Bronx on Sunday night. “There is a 4-year-old dead. Now we should really consider not stopping stop-and-frisk,” Stevenson told the New York Post. “I’m going to have to start supporting stop-and-frisk. We need to give the police leverage to use stop-and-frisk. They should be allowed to do it.”
Better late than never, but wasn’t the need for proactive stops obvious long before this latest travesty? Armed thugs continue to hold neighborhoods hostage and to take down innocent victims as well as rival gangbangers: most recently, 77 people shot citywide the week of July 4; a 14-year-old boy shot in the head on June 28 in Bushwick, Brooklyn; ten people shot in drive-bys in Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn the night before Al Sharpton’s anti-stop-and-frisk march on June 17; a 17-year-old football star shot in the spine while trying to protect a 16-year-old from two teen robbers on a playground in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, on June 5; and a 25-year-old member of the Harlem Youth Marines (an anti-gang group) killed in a shooting on a Harlem basketball court on the afternoon of June 3.
In yesterday’s murder, two thugs started shooting at each other during a dispute following a basketball game at a playground in Morrisania. They fatally hit toddler Lloyd Morgan, Jr., and wounded two men in their twenties. It is in part to prevent such spur-of-the-moment shootings that the police stop individuals engaged in suspicious behavior, to induce them to keep guns off their persons, where they can otherwise be quickly grabbed in anger. The killers at the Forest Houses tragically didn’t get the message, but thousands of other potential murderers have. Despite the ongoing outrage of incidents such as Sunday’s killing, New York’s crime rate has dropped to a record low since the onset of New York’s proactive policing in 1994, a level magnitudes less than in other big cities with similar demographics. As bad as it can seem in New York, it is worse everywhere else.
The NYPD’s critics refuse to acknowledge that massive difference, continuing to tout alternative policing models from cities with higher crime rates. Gun buybacks are a particularly ludicrous suggestion. The idea that the two thugs who shot up the Bronx playground yesterday would have turned in their 9mm and .45-caliber weapons because the NYPD offered them some pocket cash defies reality.
In a recent online debate over stop-and-frisks (in which I participated), several of the department’s opponents made the now standard complaint that the NYPD’s stop practices discourage crime witnesses and victims from cooperating with the police. The proponents of this argument have never provided examples of inner-city neighborhoods where the anti-snitching ethic does not hold sway—because in fact, the refusal to help the police solve crimes is an endemic feature of urban life nationally. Chicago has been perennially plagued by astronomical levels of youth violence, which hasn’t prevented NYPD bashers from embracing the Windy City for its historical absence of proactive stops. Do the witnesses of gang violence volunteer information to the Chicago police? Hardly. The police are just as handicapped by lack of cooperation from the “community” there as anywhere else.
The police are heavily deployed in certain neighborhoods because that’s where incidents like Sunday’s shooting occur. Toddlers and recreational basketball players are not getting shot in the West Village; if they were, the police would be making stops there as well. Once in a high-crime area, the police use every tool they have to send the message that law and order remains in effect. Had the ordinary means of social control—above all, the family—not broken down in those neighborhoods, the police would not need to look out for and intervene in suspicious behavior. If communities don’t control their teenagers, however, the police will have to. And until mothers and fathers start socializing their children so that shooting someone no longer seems a normal response to a dispute, the choice will remain stark: put up with a higher level of stops (which, of course, should be conducted lawfully and respectfully) or with a higher level of shootings. There is, to date, no middle ground.
Unless the politicians and editorialists pressing so hard for a radical reduction of stops can offer a crime-fighting strategy to rival the NYPD’s record, they are implicitly calling for a rise in violence. Bronx Assemblyman Stevenson now understands this choice; let’s hope his fellow politicians quickly follow suit.