Re-breaking the Windows
Bill de Blasio won the mayoralty of New York by running a demagogic campaign against the New York Police Department. He has now compounded the injury by dropping the city’s appeal of an equally deceitful court opinion that found that the department’s stop-, question-, and- frisk practices deliberately violated the rights of blacks and Hispanics. De Blasio may thus have paved the way for a return to the days of sky-high crime rates.
Judge Shira Scheindlin’s ruling against the NYPD last August was built on willful ignorance of crime’s racial reality. Scheindlin invented a new concept, “indirect racial profiling,” in order to convict the department of unconstitutional policing, despite lacking the evidence to do so. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals challenged Scheindlin’s appearance of impartiality last October when it found that she had steered stop-, question-, and- frisk cases to her courtroom. The Second Circuit panel removed her from the case and stayed her opinion while the city pursued its appeal. Now, however, thanks to de Blasio, Scheindlin’s tendentious ruling will stay on the books (unless the NYPD’s police unions succeed in their own appeal), setting back the cause of public safety not just in New York, but also across the country.
The least of the opinion’s problems is the unnecessary bureaucracy it inflicts on the NYPD, including a federal monitor, burdensome reporting requirements, and left-wing advisory panels, all overseen by the plaintiffs’ attorneys. The most serious problem is Scheindlin’s statistical test of racial profiling, which compares police stops to population data, rather than crime data. Scheindlin found the NYPD guilty of biased policing because blacks make up a little over half the subjects of the department’s pedestrian stops, though they are just under a quarter of the city’s population. She ignored the fact that blacks commit nearly 80 percent of all shootings in New York and two-thirds of all violent crime.
It’s little surprise that de Blasio chose not to fight Scheindlin’s dangerously misguided opinion, beholden as he is to the city’s advocacy groups. (A more imaginative statesman would have implemented many of Scheindlin’s gratuitous “reforms,” then asked the judge currently overseeing the case to throw it out on the grounds that it was now moot.) More disappointing is that William Bratton, just starting a second tour as NYPD commissioner, has acquiesced in de Blasio’s political theater. “We will not break the law to enforce the law,” Bratton said in a press release. Bratton’s longtime rival, Ray Kelly, the NYPD’s previous commissioner and the target of Bratton’s comment, would undoubtedly agree with that sentiment.
But Bratton may regret his stance. No police chief can fight crime without generating the racially disparate enforcement statistics that lie at the heart of Scheindlin’s newly justified ruling. It will take some time for New York’s criminals to conclude that their stop risk has really and truly dropped, thanks to the implementation of Scheindlin’s opinion. But when they do figure that out, Bratton’s most potent weapon against the inevitable rise in lawlessness will be the proactive stops that he now implies are unlawful.
Nothing has been more important to the revival of New York than the conquest of crime. New York’s unprecedented crime drop is the greatest urban success story of the last half-century, one that should be seized upon by every conservative politician searching for a government program to support. But if New Yorkers once again fear walking home at night from the subway, if tourists worry about getting to their hotels after a concert or a show, expect the folly of electing a mayor who thought he could play politics with public safety to become clear.
Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor of City Journal and the John M. Olin fFellow at the Manhattan Institute. She is the author of “Are Cops Racist?: How the War Against the Police Harms Black Americans.” This article originally appeared on the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal magazine website.