Local business owners and residents have been up in arms about their neighborhood’s rapid transformation into an open-air drug den, reminiscent of the 1970s and 80s, when rampant crime and crumbling infrastructure earned New York the moniker ‘Fear City.’
The apparent rise in brazen public drug use comes as New York City is roiled by an alarming surge in criminal activity, with gun violence doubling in the past two months compared with the same period last year.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has blamed the recent spike in shootings on the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that people grew stir crazy after weeks under a strict stay at home order.
But NYPD leaders placed the blame squarely on de Blasio, accusing him of losing control of the city after he bowed to demands of Black Lives Matter protesters and slashed the department’s budget by $1billion.
Police officials have also charged that the crime surge was driven in part by the recent release of thousands of prisoners from Rikers Island under a new bail law and due to coronavirus concerns.
Former New York Governor George Pataki bemoaned the state of the Big Apple in an interview on Sunday, saying that the violence is a ‘regression to those dark days when criminals ruled the streets’.
‘When I took office, New York was the most dangerous state in America. People got used to safety over the last 20 years. They don’t remember the time back when we were so dangerous,’ the Republican said during a radio interview with John Catsimatidis on 770 AM.
‘I’m worried about the future of New York. We’re going backwards. It’s tragic. We’ve got to change it.’
President Donald Trump has also voiced his concern over the rise of violence in New York and threatened to send in federal officers if local leaders couldn’t buckle down on the shootings.
The violence is now fueling fears that many of the thousands of people who left the Big Apple when the pandemic set in will no longer want to return.
And if they don’t come back, the city and state would take a massive hit in income and sales tax revenue on top of the enormous cost of the coronavirus response and the sustained shutdown.
The Midtown neighborhood used to see a constant stream of people – tourists and professionals at all hours of the day – but it emptied out when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March
There is a concern that New York City could be headed back to the bad days of 1970s and 80s, when skyrocketing crime rates and the crack epidemic overwhelmed the city. Pictured: a crack dealer is arrested in 1989
A Transit Authority police officer with a German shepherd stands in a subway car defaced with graffiti as a crime deterrent, New York in 1981
NYPD officers are photographed January 12, 1988 frisking a man, presumed to be homeless, near Port Authority in New York City
The rise in shootings, homelessness and public drug use has raised concerns that New York City could be heading back to the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s, when crime and crack reigned supreme.
At the time, Midtown Manhattan was a far cry from the relatively clean, safe and family-friendly destination of the 2000s.
Facing a massive deficit and a possible bankruptcy, New York descended into lawlessness ranging from graffiti everywhere and trash in the streets to skyrocketing murder and robbery rates.
The NYPD revolted, going so far as to issue a pamphlet called Welcome to Fear City: A Survival Guide for Visitors to the City of New York.
Crime persisted in the 1980s and the crack and the HIV/AIDS epidemics took hold of the city, ravaging its most vulnerable populations.
Crime started to recede under Mayor David Dinkins, but it wasn’t until Rudy Giuliani moved into Gracie Mansion in 1994 that crime took a nose dive.
Mayor Giuliani and his new police commissioner William Bratton implemented the so-called ‘broken windows’ policy that focused on minor crimes, such as jumping the turnstile to get on the subway for free and tagging subway trains with graffiti.
Giuliani also focused on cleaning up Times Square, an area that was populated with pornography and sex workers.
It is unclear the extent that ‘broken windows’ worked and critics pointed out it disproportionately focused on low-income communities and people on color, but murders and crime went down in the latter half of the 1990s and crime remained down until the increase of shootings that have hit the city over the past few months.
In New York there were 634 shootings through July 12, compared with only 396 in the same period last year, according to police data. Police have made arrests in 23 percent of shootings thus far in 2020, which is below the typical rate of 30 percent. Police pictured at scene of shooting on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn on July 18
During Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s three terms from 2002 to 2013, New York City enjoyed growth and prosperity – although his stop-and-frisk policy targeting young men of color remains controversial.
Current Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned and won on a platform of equality, such as building affordable housing, and a different type of policing and department than Bloomberg.
But the city that never sleeps ground to a halt in March due to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and instituted a lockdown to curb the virus that so far has killed over 18,600 New Yorkers.
The lifeblood of the economy that included tourism, the service industry and small businesses closed. After years of the city’s budgets being in the green, it is now faced with a $9billion hole, high unemployment and protests against police brutality.
Police retake Avenue A during a riot outside Tompkins Square Park that erupted after police allegedly beat a homeless man. The late 1980’s and early 1990’s was a period of rapid gentrification in the East Village, and many homeless residents, activists, and squatters, battled the process, frequently clashing with the police around Tompkins Square
An anti-neutron bomb demonstrator is arrested for sitting in on 5th Ave on August 13, 1981