In the first few days of September, a Brooklyn man with more than three dozen arrests was taken into custody for driving his car into a cyclist—with a similarly long rap sheet—and killing him, an incident he said was triggered when the man broke into his Jeep and then menaced him with a screwdriver when confronted about it.
New York City Transit President Andy Byford appeared in court to demand the stiffest punishment possible for a man who pulled a gun on a Bus Operator who pulled away from a stop without waiting for him to board. A scofflaw who owed $761 for unpaid traffic tickets fled Sheriff’s Deputies and police, leading to 10 cops being injured in Brooklyn. And a Bronx man threw a milk container at a cop who was among the officers helping evacuate 17 families amid a fire in their Grand Concourse building.
This left two questions to be answered regarding the youthful protesters who appeared at hearings before the City Planning Commission and the City Council regarding the plan to close Rikers Island to loudly demand that no new jails be constructed once it is gone. The first was, what planet were they living on?; the second, did they think that friendly counseling, or maybe some cookies to go with his milk, would be enough to stop the Bronx miscreant from future malicious behavior toward officers who were in the process of rescuing people?
The protesters were young and presumably idealistic, but ideals don’t amount to much if there isn’t some brains behind them. Not to mention relevant information that might lead them to put the brakes on their argument that no cage can be humane.
Along with the vivid crimes that made the news just after Labor Day, there was also a press conference at which top NYPD officials detailed troublesome increases in murders and shootings last month compared to August 2018.
The jump of roughly 7 percent in murders might seem relatively minor, given that it represented just two additional homicides—31—compared to 12 months earlier. But the 91 shootings in August, nearly 20 percent more than the 76 for that month last year, is part of a yearlong trend—they’re up 7.6 percent so far in 2019—that is moving upward. And cops made 355 gun arrests last month, 60 more than the previous August.
On the whole, major crimes are down this year by 3.6 percent, and decreased 2.1 percent in August. But the extended rise in shootings, most of them either gang-related or drug-related, according to the NYPD, are cause for concern that extends to the jail plans that hinge on closing Rikers. Gangs and drugs are two elements of crime in the city that tend to be resistant to alternative-sentencing programs and rehabilitation.
And while the jail population has continued to decline—the most-recent figure has 7,200 inmates in custody—Correction Officers Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen has pointed out that as several city District Attorneys have moved away from locking up low-level offenders, this has meant that a growing percentage of the inmates at Rikers have histories of violence and are harder to control. Some of those carrying signs decrying the use of any prison argued that confinement was too harsh a measure for those who have yet to be convicted of the charges against them, but many of those awaiting trial have previous convictions that would make them poor risks for release.
Mr. Husamudeen also told this newspaper’s Richard Khavkine that the vertical-plane design for the jails in every borough except Staten Island that would house inmates currently doing time at Rikers carries additional safety risks for both correction officers and inmates.
When it comes to accountability, the two prime movers for the shutdown have already left government—former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and ex-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito—and Mayor de Blasio, who was prodded by the Speaker’s lead and now holds the baton, will also have moved on years before the scheduled 2026 transition.
That’s something Council Members, who must still approve the plan, should take into consideration when they hear correction-union leaders, who may very well still be in their jobs seven years from now, raise legitimate issues about feasibility.
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