Scripps Howard News Service | June 17, 2000
New York is now a place where the police have to worry about political pressure as much as the crime rate. And no one knows that better than the criminals.
ART HISTORIAN KENNETH CLARKE once wrote that it is confidence, above all, from which civilizations rise. Not wealth, not conquest, but a sense of certainty essential to the pursuit and protection of greatness. What happens when the confidence goes?
Take a good look at New York City, still trying to piece itself together after the shattering events of last weekend when chaos erupted across the city.
First and foremost, there was Central Park. Practically everyone has caught a glimpse of the video footage of rampaging black and Hispanic men and boys wandering that big, beautiful park in throngs after Sunday's Puerto Rican Day Parade, stripping, pawing, groping, robbing and violating as many as two dozen women -- including a 14-year old girl, who has yet to leave her home since being attacked, and a young French woman on her honeymoon, whose husband was pinned by the savage throng while she was stripped naked.
So fearless -- so confident -- was the mob that even after the couple took refuge in an enclosed police scooter, the men beat on the windows and rocked the vehicle.
But there was more. In fact, there was much more. Leaving the mayhem of Central Park aside, the New York police blotter for the second weekend in June tallied around 40 attacks in which 59 people were shot or stabbed, with six people dying. Among the victims were eight young Hasidic men, who, while strolling the Coney Island Boardwalk before sunrise on Sunday, were set upon and stabbed by a pack of Hispanic men. On the posh Upper East Side of Manhattan, three people were stabbed within 20 minutes late Sunday afternoon.
Even less well known is the bona fide riot that erupted during a parade-related festival in East Harlem on Saturday night, during which, according to New York Daily News columnist Jim Dwyer, black and Hispanic men assaulted women, trapped them in cars, destroyed cars, jumped on city buses, threw bottles, and, in short, ruled the streets for almost two hours before mounted and motorcycle police were able to restore order.
But as ominous as the weekend's crime spree is its aftermath. For who is getting the blame -- the marauders who ran wild and free? Guess again. The answer to this question introduces a jaw-dropping situation. After being hammered for aggressive policing, ceaselessly and mercilessly, in the media, on the streets, on the hustings – even in Madison Square Garden where this past week Bruce Springsteen debuted a song that resurrects the police shooting of Amadou Diallo with the provocative refrain of "41 shots, 41 shots..." – the NYPD is now being accused of passive policing. For not doing enough. For standing by as Sunday's terror in the park unfolded. This turn of events is capped by the outrageous spectacle of Al Sharpton, the demagogic, anti-police force behind the demoralization of the NYPD, appearing with two victims of the park rampage at a press conference this week. There, the women denounced the police -- not for brutality, real or imagined -- but for failing to protect them, and announced lawsuits against the city in which they seek $5 million apiece.
It takes an unflinching eye, not to mention a strong stomach, to put these events in perspective. First, Sharpton exploits tragedy and calls its excessive force, then he exploits mayhem and calls its inadequate force. But suppose, as several women have claimed, some number of New York's finest were reluctant to move on the Puerto Rican Day crowd -- which was what you might call homogeneously diverse. It's easy to imagine the cop's point of view, his worries about the reaction to a televised spectacle of police officers cracking heads -- mainly white police officers cracking mainly black and brown heads. Better to try to contain the crowd, he might think, and hope it all goes away.
This, of course, is no way to keep the peace. What's going on? A report in the Daily News, based on interviews with 28 anonymous police officers, contends that there is an unofficial double standard in New York policing that is underscored on parade days. On St. Patrick's Day, the police are spike-tough and zero-tolerant -- no drinking, no drugs, no disorderly conduct for the Paddies. But come West Indian Day, or National Puerto Rican Day, and the hands go off and the kid gloves go on, and behaviors and intoxication are tolerated that ordinarily would trigger arrest. This approach is fueled, writes the Daily News, "by political correctness and the deteriorating relationship between cops and minorities."
Once this worked -- barely -- when New York City was on the upswing, and the impetus was toward law, safety and peace. But New York is now a place where the police have to worry about political pressure as much as the crime rate.
And no one knows that better than the criminals.
© Copyright 2000 Scripps Howard News Service