As protests go, this one was pretty run-of-the-mill: maybe 300 bicycle food-delivery guys crowding loudly into City Hall Park Thursday to demand more police protection. They say their bikes are being stolen, often at gunpoint, and the NYPD isn’t doing much about it.
The claim has a familiar ring to it. There’s a worrisome fraying of Gotham’s social fabric underway, and blame lies squarely with Bill de Blasio’s kinder, gentler approach to public safety.
Sure, the coronavirus, a deteriorating economy and New York’s steadily worsening gun-violence command a lot of attention. At least nine people were shot, one fatally, between Tuesday and late Thursday, with the weekend looming. And that’s not really news any longer, is it?
So where do swiped bikes register compared to bloody sidewalks? Right?
But if you need your bike to earn your living, meager as it may be, losing it to a pistol-waving thug is a very big deal indeed.
And when the NYPD’s response seems to be episodic at best — and often, it is said, nonexistent — well, who can blame the delivery guys for taking their beef to City Hall Park?
It’s a wonder the place ain’t packed.
Certainly the folks who run high-end retail in SoHo have cause to protest what’s euphemistically called shoplifting these days. Slow-motion looting is more like it — folks wandering about the stores stuffing items worth thousands into duffel bags, then calmly strolling through the front door to waiting luxury automobiles, rarely a cop in sight.
A more downscale variation afflicts merchants all around Manhattan, especially supermarkets and chain drugstores — vagrants with duffels of their own, fearlessly stripping shelves and freezers of small items that easily can be peddled to bodegas and small grocers eager for low-cost stock. (Another reason not to buy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream: Who knows where it’s been?)
All this happens in full view of the public — leaving folks to wonder two things: Where are our cops, and what the hell is happening to our city?
It certainly doesn’t help that herds of dirt-bikes are cruising Manhattan’s avenues late at night, unmolested by police. That addled vagrants wander the streets. That the subways — well, don’t ask. New York, not so long ago unambiguously America’s safest big city, certainly doesn’t feel that way any longer.
Gotham feels increasingly chaotic and unsafe. That’s because it is. And not by accident.
It’s not every day that one of the highest-ranking commanders in the NYPD flips the bird to a meddling mayor and walks out the door — as Chief of Patrol Fausto Pichardo did this week.
Pichardo’s take-this-job-and-shove-it moment reportedly came after sustained, confused and often contradictory personal hectoring from de Blasio — a demonstration, as if another were needed, of the mayor’s abysmal management skills.
But it is also a predictable consequence of de Blasio’s low-impact public-safety policies — particularly the weakening of anti-gang efforts — that led to the city’s shooting epidemic; of the end of broken-windows policing; of the mayor’s refusal to push back against state and local legislation that cops believe place them in unnecessary danger; his acquiescence in deep NYPD budget cuts and his overt support for explicitly anti-cop political demonstrations.
Pichardo, obviously, noticed. Veteran cops noticed, too. They’re bailing out of the department like paratroopers over Normandy — and they are not being replaced, which means far fewer cops on the street, which in turn is a boon to the criminal class.
Which, also in turn, seems to have noticed as well.
Armed robbers of every stripe and housing-project gangbangers have, for sure, but also the seemingly low-threat folks who just make life in the city more difficult than need be: the bicycle thieves; the duffel-bag locusts; the ATV joy-riders — and, of course, the drugged-out panhandlers, subway perverts and sidewalk settlers given free rein by City Hall.
And now, it seems, regular New Yorkers are noticing; public dissatisfaction with the mayor is broad, vocal and growing.
Whether voters connect their city’s decaying quality of life with de Blasio’s criminal-justice failures is an open question, but here’s hoping. There’s an election in a year, and watching that process closely will be many of the folks who will decide to invest in a full New York post-pandemic recovery — or not.
Will they or won’t they? There’s a lot at stake.