An astonishing increase in violent crime is ravaging New York City, and some politicians, particularly Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., are offering false explanations instead of taking a serious look at the cause.
This does a cruel disservice to the people they were elected to represent—particularly the victims and their families.
Davell Gardner, age 1, was shot by unknown assailants on Sunday while sitting in his stroller at a neighborhood barbecue in Brooklyn. He later died of his wounds. Three other people at the barbecue were also shot by the assailants.
New York recorded 528 shootings from the beginning of the year to the end of last month. Year-to-date, New York City has seen a 53.5% increase in shooting incidents, a 63% increase in shooting victims, and a 27% increase in murders. Burglary has also increased 45% and theft of automobiles is up 61%.
New York City is not alone in the rise of shootings and murders. Chicago has seen 336 murders as of July 2. If the rate of murders does not decline in the second half of this year, Chicago will have its deadliest year since the mid-1990s.
Father Michael Pfleger, a prominent Catholic priest and social activist in Chicago, said, “the Windy City has become the Bloody City.”
This wave of crime has New York’s officials pointing fingers everywhere they can. Mayor Bill de Blasio blamed COVID-19 and the courts, while the NYPD blamed early COVID-19 releases of criminals and the state’s “insane” reforms that they argue have “crippled” the police force.
For their part, New York’s courts, in a surprisingly sharp rebuke to the mayor, called his attempt to blame them for the violence “absurd, patently false and ridiculous.” The courts’ top spokesperson told de Blasio that if he wants to assign responsibility for the wave of violence, he should “look in the mirror.”
Ocasio-Cortez, whose district includes part of the Bronx and Queens, weighed in to discuss the cause of the crime wave. In a recorded video message, she said, “Maybe this has to do with the fact that people aren’t paying their rent and are scared to pay their rent and so they go out and they need to feed their child and they don’t have money so … they feel like they either need to shoplift some bread or go hungry.”
This is gaslighting, and the data prove it.
Stealing bread does not explain the rise in shootings, murders, and car thefts. Even the rise in burglary cannot be attributed to shoplifting bread.
New York charges shoplifters with larceny—“petit” if the property stolen is worth less than $1,000 and “grand” if it is worth more—not burglary. Larceny is down while violent crimes are skyrocketing. This year, petit larceny is down 7.5% and grand larceny is down 20%.
Shoplifting for food is not contributing to this rise in crime.
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The backlash against Ocasio-Cortez’s fact-free pontification was swift, but rather than change her conclusion based on the data, she instead accused Republicans of getting “all upset that I’m connecting the dots between crime and poverty.”
This is gaslighting, too. Her claim that the rise in crime is attributable to shoplifting bread was not a vague claim that poverty and crime are connected, it was a specific and verifiably false claim about the cause of this violent crime wave.
But even her vague generalization doesn’t explain the recent violent crime wave. Unemployment fell dramatically by the end of June, and yet, as of July 5, New York City has seen 165% more shooting incidents, 204% more shooting victims, and 21% more murders than the month before.
This is a favorite tactic of some politicians like Ocasio-Cortez: they make a claim (“rising crime is probably due to people stealing bread”) that is false (since violent crime is up and larceny is down) and when confronted with the facts, they retreat to the safety of a generalization (“all I was really saying is crime and poverty are connected”).
Americans deserve more serious thinking from their policymakers. Especially where, as in the case of rising violence, Americans will continue to suffer and die unless policymakers adopt real solutions.