In the aftermath of the brutal murder of George Floyd, New York City may be tempted to re-introduce far left social and policing policies that were tried and failed in the 1960s and 1970s.
For readers too young to remember that era, here’s a brief history:
In 1965, the nation’s leading liberal social scientist, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, expressed, in a memo to President Lyndon Johnson, his concern that The Great Society social welfare policies were not only encouraging the breakdown of families, but causing widespread problems including an increase in crime.
The breakdown of the family structure, he noted, is "the principal cause of all the problems of delinquency, crime, school dropout, unemployment, and poverty which are bankrupting our cities, and could very easily lead to a kind of political anarchy unlike anything we have known."
Moynihan, a Democrat who later represented New York in the U.S. Senate for 24 years, had New York City in mind when he wrote that memo.
In 1945, the total of New York City crimes reported — which included murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, and petty theft — was 32,843. There were 292 murders that year.
Ten years later, during Mayor Robert Wagner’s first term in office, total crimes were 137,254; 306 of them murder.
During Wagner’s last year in office, 1965, the number of criminal offenses reported were 187,795 and murders had jumped to 681.
That was only the beginning of the city’s crime wave.
Under Mayor John Lindsay’s watch (1966-1973), New York’s murder rate jumped 137%.
In 1966, total crimes committed were 323,107; murders, 734.
Eight years later, total crimes hit 475,855; murders, 1,740.
As crime soared, Lindsay and his liberal allies appeared to accept it as a norm. Historian Vincent Cannato, author of "The Ungovernable City," has suggested that Lindsay was so frightened of the impact of more aggressive policing against crime, particularly in minority neighborhoods, that the mayor "seemed to be saying [more crime] was the price to be paid to avoid riots."
Under Lindsay policing did change.
The role of the beat cop, who often knew the neighborhood like the back of his hand, was degraded. The police no longer had a strong presence on the streets of the city’s precincts.
Cops were no longer proactive. Instead they drove around, cocooned in patrol cars and merely reacting to incidents.
A 1968 NAACP report demanding the city tackle "the reign of criminal terror in Harlem" by putting more policemen on the streets, by more vigorously enforcing anti-vagrancy laws, and by seeking harsher punishment for convicted murders and drug dealers, fell on deaf ears.
Because Mayor Lindsay shared the liberal belief that "society," not individuals, bears responsibility for urban ills — that, in fact, minority crime arose from social injustice and criminals themselves are actually victims — he denounced calls for "law and order" as racist.
In the mid-1970s, New Yorkers were witnessing a city in decline.
Staggering welfare rolls, decaying infrastructure, skyrocketing taxes and spending, rampant crime, graffiti-laden subways and filthy streets were taking a toll on the psyche and pocketbooks of the city’s residents.
As a result, hundreds of thousands fled to the suburbs, real estate values collapsed, and in 1975, the city experienced a fiscal meltdown.
Its government became insolvent and the city came close to filing for bankruptcy.
Governor Hugh Carey and Mayor Ed Koch saved the city in the late 1970s from falling into the fiscal abyss — but that was not enough to curb the city’s decline.
It took the "broken windows" police tactics and the return to neighborhood policing, implemented by Police Commissioners Ray Kelly and Bill Bratton in the 1990s, to break the back of criminal activity.
The steady decline of crime during the past 30 years (murders dropped from 2,262 in 1990 to 319 in 2019), helped revitalize the city’s outer borough neighborhoods.
But as former police commissioner Ray Kelly recently told The Wall Street Journal, people have "become complacent. They expect low crime." Kelly added, since the city’s population "turns over about 40% every 10 years . . . you don’t have a great many people who remember the bad old days of the '80s and the '90s."
Hopefully, the political class does not ignore the past and avoids implementing, in the name of "reform," 1960s policies that could lead the city, once again, down the road to fiscal, economic and social collapse.
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." He is chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA. Mr. Marlin also writes for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. Read George J. Marlin's Reports — More Here.
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