fbpx

Rising Crime Also Needs a Reckoning

More than anything else, families, local businesses and corporations will refuse to live or invest in urban areas where crime is rampant.
[additional-authors]
July 6, 2021
Police investigate the scene of a shooting in Brooklyn on June 23, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The other day, on a street in Brooklyn, in the middle of the night, a thief crawled under my Toyota Prius and sawed off the catalytic converter.

Before this, I’m quite sure I had never heard “catalytic converter” uttered in my presence. The AAA roadside mechanic roared amusingly, “They cut your cat!”

“I don’t own a cat,” I replied.

Then the car roared.

This innocuous auto part is the centerpiece of a national crime wave. Apparently, it contains precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium. But when the police are instructed to stand down in fear of defunding, their patrol cars and precincts torched, and their every move scrutinized as possible war crimes, catalytic converters, understandably, become a low priority.

An anecdote about a newly noisy electric vehicle may soon come to symbolize the end of something more precious than those minerals: the faith many of us began to have in the public safety of America’s cities. More than anything else, families, local businesses and corporations will refuse to live or invest in urban areas where crime is rampant.

For people who are old enough to remember the late 1960s and into the 1980s, feeling safe in American cities was once unimaginable. New York City was widely seen as a deathtrap, a playground for muggers, drug pushers, junkies, and street gangs. The murder rate worsened each year, and public confidence deteriorated. At its worst, New York nearly went bankrupt. Teachers, transit and sanitation workers were on perpetual strike. Police corruption led to the Knapp Commission.

In response, millions of urban dwellers abandoned America’s major cities. They called it “white flight.” Today such a term would be as taboo as “black-on-black crime.” But it doesn’t matter what you call it. People will leave anyway.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is now warning against mass hysteria in response to surging crime, which she believes should be viewed “in context.” The only relevant context is that over 70,000 left New York City last year, probably never to return. Over 80,000 abandoned Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. Wall Street was hard-hit in New York, with white-collar bankers reallocating to the Sunshine State. In California, Big Tech took a beating, with Silicon Valley mainstays like HP, Oracle and Tesla high-tailing it for Texas.

The only relevant context is that over 70,000 left New York City last year, probably never to return. Over 80,000 abandoned Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.

Yes, housing costs and high taxes in those cities are not inducements to stay, but soaring crime rates surely sealed the deal. According to the FBI’s crime statistics, the murder rate increased by double digits in many major cities, with violent crime up significantly as well. In New York City, NYPD data indicates murders jumped by nearly 14%, while shootings were up nearly 50%. In Los Angeles, homicides have increased 36%.

With Broadway theaters mostly shuttered, Times Square marquees are featuring the weekly shooting of tourists, and Jews being pummeled on the streets and set on fire. These spectacles are not yet blockbusters, but give it more time.

Economic collapse caused by the pandemic, and ensuing social anxieties, didn’t help matters, nor did the rioting attributable to the Black Lives Matter protests. Images of looting in Santa Monica and on Madison Avenue, with de-policing on full display, will not soon be forgotten. The immediate releasing of criminal defendants without bail, or under-punishing lawbreakers in this new era of reimagined policing, all contributed to the spike in homicides.

Regardless of how one feels racial injustice should be rectified, public safety cannot be sacrificed to the quick-fix of the cancellation culture.

Income inequality, especially from the growing billionaire class, is a difficult pill for Americans to swallow. But, so, too, will be the poison from an eroding tax base from cities emptied of their wealthiest residents who moved themselves, and their money, elsewhere. We will all miss the tax revenues that ordinarily pay the police, firefighters and teachers in public schools.

What’s more, we’ll surely notice when the cultural life of cities goes from vibrant to moribund. Culture, too, is offset by crime. Without wealthy taxpayers picking up the tab, a once pulsating metropolis is suddenly less inviting. Of course, it won’t much matter when venturing out into the great urban unknown becomes a frightening prospect.

Culture, in fact, once did a nice job of demarcating those periods of cultural decline and urban menace. Remember the films of the 1970s and 1980s when New York and Los Angeles were depicted without the swagger and glitter: “Death Wish,” “Dirty Harry,” “Mean Streets,” “Colors,” “Taxi Driver,” “The Onion Field,” “Serpico,” and “Eyes of Laura Mars.”

The Golden Age of film captured those gloomier days when a movie was the only safe place to be in the dark.

It was a time of urban menace: Son of Sam, subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz, and the Central Park Jogger. It got so bad that in order to persuade tourists to visit New York, John Lennon Frank Sinatra and others were recruited to appear in an iconic promotional ad with the tag line: “I Love New York.” T-shirts soon followed.

The city eventually recovered. It took political will to remove the homeless from the streets, apply a Broken Windows strategy to crime control, and initiate the policing practice of “stop-and-frisk,” mostly to African-American men in high crime neighborhoods.

All of that is problematic in today’s racialized political climate. White privilege is the new punishable offense. Police find themselves on the defensive. Frisking carries far too many risks. Many fear that after a nearly 30-year hiatus, we are surrendering to lawlessness and urban flight—all over again.

This dramatic shift in demographics is alarming for the urban-minded, but it is of special concern for Jews.

Historically, Jews have lived in shtetls and suburbs, but they have thrived in cities. They were drawn to them—with mutual reciprocity. Whether it was Berlin, Moscow, Paris, London, Amsterdam and New York, Jews have, in large part, shaped the cultural life of global cities. Without exaggeration, to be a cosmopolitan is to be a Jew.

And that should be a warning to city overseers: there’s much to be lost. Now is the time to get your houses in order.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

Are Jews Cursed or Blessed?

Religious or secular, it is impossible to deny that there are many tragic chapters in the long history of the Jewish people.

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.