With shootings and homicides in New York City at levels not seen since in the 1990s, Mayor Bill de Blasio is desperate to get a handle on the city’s spike in violent crime, though perhaps not desperate enough to bring back the undercover police unit that was responsible for many of the arrests for illegal gun possession in the city. Instead, de Blasio has tried to set up community-oriented efforts to “take back” high-crime neighborhoods, while continuing to cast blame at anyone and everything he can in an attempt to avoid responsibility.
On Tuesday, de Blasio once again claimed that the city’s spike in shootings can be pinned on the city’s court system, which has been operating on a limited basis for several months thanks to coronavirus closures orders.
“It’s a perfect storm where we’ve seen so much dislocation in this city, so much pain, so much frustration, and in the middle of all that we don’t even have the normal things that we depend on to make sure we can stop violence like a functioning court system,” de Blasio said.
He also listed the court system as a problem on Monday and on Friday of last week, but court officials said they never really close and they are moving cases everyday.
“It is wrong to say that the District Attorneys are not prosecuting or that the court system is not functioning,” Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark said. “It is certainly wrong to suggest that the recent uptick in shootings has been caused by the changes in court.”
It’s wrong to say that the court system isn’t functioning, but it’s also wrong to claim that the courts are operating as they normally do. WPIX-TV in New York points out that cases may be moving, but only so far.
Trials have been on hold, but courts conducted arraignments virtually starting in the middle of March when courts were closed over health concerns.
In a July 20 message, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said that more than 19,000 people had been arraigned since March in New York City criminal courts. Grand Jury operations will resume in the city on Aug. 10.
“The public rightly expects, and must have confidence, that our courts are being faithful to our mission: doing justice, upholding the rule of law and responsibly standing against the disruption of the pandemic,” she wrote in the message to court workers.
There were 650 preliminary hearings for all incarcerated defendants over the last month, New York Courts spokesman Lucian Chalfen said. They also calendared more than 800 in person appearances aimed at adjudicating the pending cases de Blasio “constantly references.”
“By the Mayor repeating the same factually incorrect narrative doesn’t make it magically come true,” Chalfen said in an emailed statement. “Today, a felony jury trial resumed in Bronx Supreme Court. The Mayor used the word innovative, well, creating a virtual court system that never existed before and has done 21,000 arraignments since mid-March should qualify as innovative.”
Meanwhile, a pair of criminal justice advocates are demanding that de Blasio address the city’s spike in crime through non-law enforcement means entirely. Lucy Lang and Tyler Nims write in the NY Daily News that the way to sharply reduce shootings is to focus efforts on the small number of people who are actually responsible for them.
Instead of harsher policing and more incarceration, the right responses should be based on what we now know about gun violence. Experts increasingly recognize that those who engage in violence have usually witnessed violence or been victimized, that violence spreads through exposure, and that its transmission can be mitigated and prevented.
The cycles of trauma and retribution that lead to street violence among small networks of people can be stopped with adequate wraparound support to victims, and with proven interventions from community organizations. Some programs involve “credible messengers” — often people who were previously incarcerated — who use their reputation and experience in the neighborhood to mediate conflicts and engage young people in prosocial services.
I actually think there’s a place for these kinds of efforts, but they’re not exactly quick fixes. With the NYPD reporting this week that the city has already blown past the number of shootings for all of 2019, something needs to be done fast. The answer is simple, though it’s not necessarily easy. It starts with accountability, and that means ensuring that when shots are fired, arrests are made, charges are filed, and cases are resolved quickly and with actual consequences. Why is crime spiking in New York City? Ultimately, it’s because criminals believe they can get away with it, and at the moment, they’re absolutely right.