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On Politics: Hochul’s subway troop surge will damage New York’s image


Imagine you’re living in Indiana right now. Or South Carolina. Or Colorado. Choose any state, really, that’s nowhere near the Tri-State area.

You’ve got a middle-class job. Maybe you have a family. You’re living decently but modestly. You take, at most, one major vacation a year, and you decide that this year, this summer, you’re going to New York City. It’s been a while, with the pandemic and everything else, and you’re excited to see Times Square, the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. You might like baseball, so you’ll ride the subway to a Yankees or Mets game.

But you turn on the news. You scroll through your phone. You start to see deeply disturbing headlines, like this one:

“Hochul sends 750 National Guard troops to NYC subways following spate of violence.”

You turn to your spouse: “Honey, I don’t think we’re going to New York this summer. It’s just not safe.” You pick a different trip, one that doesn’t seem to require the National Guard to keep you safe.

This hypothetical scene is bound to play out in homes across America this spring. New York lives and dies on tourism, and it was the plummeting of visitors during the pandemic that sent the city, temporarily at least, into an economic tailspin. New York, luckily, has recovered, but it hasn’t been easy — there are jobs tied to tourism and old commuting patterns in Manhattan that will never come back.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who sent 750 National Guard troops to the subway system last week to combat an uptick in crime there — a small uptick — does not quite understand what she’s doing. In a panic to stave off criticism from her right that Democrats are too soft on crime — a narrative that aided Republicans in the 2022 midterms — she has not only overreacted but done damage to New York’s very fragile image as a relatively safe American city.

New York is safe to travel through, live in and work in — not that you’d know it, listening to Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams. The overall homicide rate declined last year; more people were killed in New York in 2023 than 2019, the last year before Covid, but there were actually more homicides in 2011 and 2012, which are imagined now as the halcyon Bloomberg years.

The recent attacks on subway conductors shouldn’t be hand-waved away. But violent crime itself, on the system, remains rare. In 2022, a New York Times analysis found there was one violent crime for every one million subway rides, and the rate has only declined since. Even the NYPD has touted a recent month-long slide in subway crime; recent data show, merely, that transit crime rose 13 percent at the end of February, compared to the same time period in 2023.

This, along with the Transport Workers Union’s demand for an indefinite military presence, is what prompted Hochul to deploy the National Guard troops to conduct random bag searches. The question is why the NYPD, with its large and heavily-armed force, is suddenly inadequate. Why can’t normal police patrol the subway platforms when crime remains at a very manageable level?

Genies don’t go back in bottles. New York, for its size, is safer than most American cities, and subway rides themselves, besides the unfortunate reality of the city’s large chronically homeless population, are rarely challenging. Thanks to Hochul, though, a new narrative will harden, especially for those who don’t come to New York City often. They will view New York as a war zone, not worth the trouble. Instead of promoting and celebrating the economic engine of the state she governs, Hochul will have hurt it. She can only hope the damage is temporary.

 

Ross Barkan is a journalist and author in New York City.





Ross Barkan , 2024-03-11 18:00:01

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