Crime, Policing, And The Reality Of America's Cities
Here's a policing story with a happy ending: Deputies in Deltona, Florida, recently stopped a black jogger who fit the description of a burglary suspect. The jogger, Joseph Griffin, is a former military police officer and currently a registered nurse. Griffin knew to be calm and cooperative.
The deputy asked Griffin to bear with him. He said he had to detain him but added, "Buddy, you're not in trouble or anything."
Griffin responded saying that with "everything going on, it's just a little bit scary."
And the deputy politely replied, "See it through our eyes."
The Volusia County sheriff later offered Griffin a job.
Recall the famous incident in New York's Central Park, where a disturbed white woman called police claiming that a black man was threatening her. The "threat" was an African American bird-watcher whose only offense was telling the woman that her dog had to be on a leash.
The police immediately recognized that the bird-watcher, Christian Cooper, was the innocent party. The woman was charged with filing a false police report.
This is not to ignore genuine cases of police brutality. It's to recognize that the police are mere humans who often have to size up dangerous situations in seconds — and that the public should understand the pressures.
In these emotionally fraught times, America needs a balanced view of the demands on police and on a stressed public. It is apparently not what Donald Trump thinks his campaign needs. As the president readily admits, he gets off on jabbing anger buttons. So he's been blustering about the cities having become hellholes because of you-know-who.
There has been a spike in urban crime, with some places — Kansas City, Missouri, for example — hit harder than others. But even in Kansas City, the crime wave that peaked in August has since subsided.
Then there's New York City, where the reality never matched Trump's dark fearmongering. Though New Yorkers worry about a recent rise in violent crime, the numbers don't warrant claims that the "bad old days" are back.
Through Sept. 13, murders in New York totaled 321, up 40 percent from the same period of 2019. In the real bad old days of 1990, there were 2,245 murders. This year's sharp increase comes off a base of historically low crime.
Most visitors to New York see none of it. The 19th Precinct, home of the city's fanciest stores and adjacent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has had one murder this year. It had zero murders in 2019 and zero murders in 2018. The precinct borders Central Park, nowadays a pastoral tableau of babies in carriages, elders with canes and sunbathers on the Great Lawn.
The neighborhoods seeing increases in violent crime are the poor ones. A few anti-police voices have gotten outsized attention, but leaders of these largely black communities almost all say that what they want is more police, well-trained police.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is an African American who spent 22 years on the police force. Back in the heated days following George Floyd's murder, Adams said, "These young people have a righteous pursuit for justice in our police agencies, but we also have a fundamental obligation to make sure our city is safe." Adams worked to help protest organizers identify troublemakers.
What caused New York's uptick in crime? Suspects include gang violence, economic hardship, the virus, lockdown stress, hot weather, closed courts and police responding less vigorously to reported crime. Interestingly, total crime complaints are down from a year ago, led by a sharp drop in grand larceny.
Trump will no doubt continue to peddle anxiety about "cities on fire." American cities have no choice but to walk around his daily dramatics and live their reality.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.