Progressive posturing in NYC creates a standard of savage permission.
Manipulated by Reality
New Yorkers angry about crime aren’t being misled by dodgy data—they are reacting to the evidence of their own eyes.
This item was originally published in City Journal.
Governor Kathy Hochul appeared on television over the weekend, informing New Yorkers worried about rising crime and eroding public safety that they are all victims of a “conspiracy,” engineered by “master manipulators” bent on deceiving them. Calling her opponent Lee Zeldin and the Republican Party “data deniers,” the governor explained that “Democratic states” like New York are the “safer places” in America. She cited this year’s decline in Gotham’s murder rate as proof that she is keeping New Yorkers safe, though she neglected to mention the sharp rise in total crime across the city, including a 30 percent rise in all “index” crimes.
To review the sobering details: robbery is up 32 percent over last year, and felony assault is up 14 percent. Rape is up 10 percent, and grand larceny 38 percent. Crime in the transit system has risen 41 percent since last year, and the subway system has seen nine murders since January; the typical year used to have one or two, at most. Scoffers on social media like to point to how much worse things used to be in New York—they mean a generation ago—but index crime is a solid 20 percent above where it was in 2010, at the beginning of Michael Bloomberg’s third term.
The one bright spot in the data, which Hochul highlighted as the key evidence that Zeldin is a “denier,” is that murders and shootings are down by about 15 percent since last year. That’s nothing to dismiss, and it’s a credit to Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell. But as they have explained at length, most of the homicide in New York City is a function of gang activity, and the total number of people engaged regularly in shooting one another is relatively small. With the revival of the anti-crime squad and an intensive focus on stopping gang members—most known to the police—from elevating their petty beefs into bloodbaths, it’s not surprising that the NYPD has put a dent in the murder rate, even as other crime keeps rising.
Still, Hochul is cherry-picking the data to suit her argument. It resembles the efforts by President Biden and his communications team to cite stabilizing costs of some arbitrary products as evidence that the “data” on inflation are actually looking pretty good. Hochul’s claims of Republican data denial are a smokescreen covering up the reality denial that Democrats have engaged in all year long.
It’s not just that the data on crime are terrible for Hochul and her administration. New York voters don’t need to look at data to know that things are falling apart. They just have to step outside.
Crime statistics, while necessary for setting policy and judging the success of policing tactics, are largely irrelevant to average voters. Official statistics do not measure the number of times one encounters mentally ill people arguing furiously with invisible antagonists and gesticulating angrily on the subway. They do not measure sidestepped drug deals, negotiations with aggressive beggars, or having to witness blatant shoplifting and farebeating. None of those incidents will be recorded in official statistics, which are, after all, only one kind of data. Bragging about the decrease in murders, comparing New York with Louisiana, or sneering that New Yorkers were worse off 30 years ago is like losing the World Series and pointing out that your team got more total hits. Citing contrary statistics in the face of overwhelming evidence is condescending and meretricious, not to mention a terrible electoral strategy.
“Quality of life”—which leftists sneer at, regarding it as a luxury good for suburban transplants or a racist dog whistle—is what matters most to many New Yorkers, especially those who can’t afford to get out of town whenever they wish. Being able to take your elderly relative or your kids to the park in peace, to go jogging without carrying pepper spray, or to visit the bank without stumbling over a nodding-out addict—these goods, though intangible, are precious. Without them, crowded city life becomes intolerable.
New Yorkers angry about bail reform, the reflexive release of violent felons to the street, and the general climate of criminal impunity haven’t been spending their time poring over Compstat spreadsheets or swallowing dodgy statistics spoon-fed to them by sinister Republican operatives. They don’t need to. Their hard-won experience of a decade of progressive misrule tells them everything they need to know.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.