New York Post Treats Its Readers Like Fools: Stop-And-Frisk, De Blasio Edition

Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

The New York Post continued right-wing media fearmongering about the consequences of discontinuing unconstitutional policing methods and electing a Democratic mayor.

Leading up to the federal court decision that held the New York City Police Department (NYPD) unconstitutionally and systematically misapplied the common police tactic of stop-and-frisk, right-wing media repeatedly warned that following the law would send crime rates spiraling up.

Specifically, right-wing media argue that if the NYPD is forced to perform stop-and-frisk constitutionally like other jurisdictions, New York City will revert to its crime rates of the early 1990s, prior to the administrations of the last two Republican mayors. The editorial board of the Post continued this trend, adapting it as an argument against the election of the current Democratic candidate for mayor and prominent critic of the illegal application of stop-and-frisk, Bill De Blasio. From the editorial, which attacked The New York Times for pointing out its previous doomsaying was "nonsense":

The New York Times is doing the city a favor. An editorial Monday declared that New Yorkers need not worry about a return of the violence that ravaged Gotham in the pre-Bloomberg/Giuliani days. In so doing, the paper crystallized the competing messages of this vital election year.

On one side are those who believe there's nothing inevitable about the historically low crime levels New York enjoys today. This side believes that safe streets are the fruit of tough decisions taken by Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, and innovative tactics under Police Commissioners Bill Bratton and now Ray Kelly. This is the side of The Post, the police and mayoral candidate Joe Lhota.

On the other side are those who pretend we've solved this problem forever and the ugliness can never return. This side includes the Times and the man it seems likely to endorse for mayor, Bill "Tale of Two Cities" de Blasio.

[...]

That's what's at stake in this election. Back in the days when more than six people a day were killed in New York, versus about one a day today, even the Times worried that New Yorkers "think twice about where they can safely walk." The city felt like "a New Beirut."

Accompanying the Post editorial was a photograph of a man in police custody, with the following bizarre caption: "Here's a scene from your two cities, Bill: In July 1985, Mark Campbell, 26, was charged with second-degree murder for delivering a fatal karate chop to his girlfriend's 17-month-old son -- because the baby's crying kept him awake."

Of course, this tragic murder as described is utterly irrelevant to a discussion of stop-and-frisk tactics, which the Post itself described as a way "to go after bad guys, especially the ones carrying guns." Indeed, a simple Google search quickly reveals that shocking child murders - with or without guns - continued during the administrations of Republican mayors.

Nevertheless, more disturbing than this visual non-sequitur, the Post editorial also recited a litany of misinformation about NYPD's stop-and-frisk tactics in support of its claim that the election of De Blasio would bring about a "return of the violence that ravaged Gotham."

To begin, the editorial repeated the canard that the drop in murders New York City has experienced since 1990 is at risk because of De Blasio's opposition to "the overuse and abuse" of stop-and-frisk. As has been repeatedly explained, not only is this claim committing the elementary statistical mistake of conflating causation with correlation, the correlation between stop-and-frisk and crime rates isn't even consistent.

The current police commissioner, Ray Kelly, has been careful not to make this mistake when linking use of stop-and-frisk with number of murders in the city.

Interestingly, while the Post criticized the Times for not mentioning Kelly when it called out those who claim "the city is stable and safe today only because of the strong hands of the Republican Rudolph Giuliani and the on-and-off Republican Michael Bloomberg," it simultaneously failed to mention the name of the last Democratic mayor - David Dinkins - who appointed Kelly in the first place. But it was under Dinkins and his commissioners that multiple new policing tactics were introduced that continue to today. In fact, the crime rate drop that the Post touts actually began prior to both Giuliani and Bloomberg.

Regardless, multiple studies have cast doubt on the efficacy of aggressive stop-and-frisk practices, whatever their pedigree. As reported by New York Magazine: "[s]cholars are looking, with increasing sophistication, in the places where you might expect a crime-reducing effect from stop-and-frisk to show up, if one existed. So far, they haven't found anything."

At least as likely, if not more so, is that a key explanation for the difference in crime rates in New York from 2013 to 1990 is the fact that crime rates almost everywhere improved along with police reforms and an upswing in the national economy. According to the Business Insider, crime experts give only "derivative credit" to the Republican mayor who replaced Dinkins:

When former Mayor David Dinkins came into office, he proposed a $1.8 billion plan to "fight fear" in New York and hired 8,000 new officers, the LA Times reported at the time. He also hired an effective new police commissioner, Lee Brown, who supported "community policing," the practice of having cops patrol neighborhoods and get to know people to help solve problems -- instead of just answering 911 calls. Crime's hold on the city really started to falter while Dinkins still sat in City Hall from 1990 to 1993. Data from NYC.gov shows the murder rate in New York City peaked in 1990 and dropped 30% by 1994.

To be fair, Giuliani also hired 3,660 new officers once he came into office, On The Issues found.

"The growth in police is a two-mayor phenomenon, and it really was extraordinary," [Berkeley Law School professor Franklin] Zimring told BI.

Other factors beyond the increased police presence could have caused crime to drop more drastically in New York than many other parts of America during the '90s. (The nation as a whole did get a lot safer then, too.)

First of all, unemployment dropped hugely in New York City -- 39% from 1992 to 1999, according to the National Bureau for Economic Research. Some researchers have found ties between low unemployment and a drop in violent crime.

Others credit an increased arrest rate for the improvement in New York City. Again, NBER reported that felony arrest rates rose 50 to 70% in the 1990s, which might have taken more criminals off the streets.

Finally, as has been characteristic of right-wing media in their scare tactics over stop-and-frisk and the dreaded return of a Democratic mayor, the Post glaringly failed to grapple with the Times' main point: "[p]olicing can be successful and constitutional." In light of its inaccurate comparison of a non-stop-and-frisk New York City to Chicago (which actually has stop-and-frisk, albeit an apparently constitutional version), perhaps the Post merely failed to understand this basic point of policing.

Unfortunately, given its rhetoric of the past, it may be more likely that the Post doesn't care about constitutional protections in its defense of an illegal policing tactic that even the NYPD admits is wildly ineffective at sweeping up criminals. For the Post, it appears "what's at stake in this election" is "establishing a sense of order," or following the law.

That's a false choice, and New Yorkers know it.

Posted In
Government, Justice & Civil Liberties, Crime
Network/Outlet
New York Post
Stories/Interests
Courts Matter
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