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Froma Harrop: Crime is something to never, ever go soft on

From the commentary: It's a safe assumption that fear of crime is what flipped several suburban New York congressional districts to Republicans. The fears may not match the reality, but elected officials should not add fuel to them with careless talk. Kathy Hochul was lucky this time.

Bonus editorial cartoon for Nov. 21, 2022
Cartoonist Dick Wright draws on crime.
Dick Wright
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It's a safe assumption that fear of crime is what flipped several suburban New York congressional districts to Republicans. The fears may not match the reality, but elected officials should not add fuel to them with careless talk. Kathy Hochul was lucky this time.

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Kathy Hochul should have been able to easily put away Lee Zeldin in the New York governor's race. Zeldin was not one of those civilized Republicans whom Northeast voters often elect on the state level. He came out of the feral Trump wing of the Republican Party, peddling lies about a stolen election. Hochul won but should have sweated so much, especially in a state where Democrats hold a 2-1 registration advantage over Republicans.

But crime was a big issue there as elsewhere, and Hochul had refused to oppose part of a 2020 bail reform law being blamed for a number of heinous crimes. New York Mayor Eric Adams was hotly critical of the controversial provision, which made it hard for judges to keep repeat offenders deemed dangerous locked up before trial.

The public shuddered at headlines like "Homeless man shoves stranger to her death in Times Square subway station" (Daily News) and then read that the "oft-arrested" individual had "a documented history of mental issues."

It matters not that the right exaggerates the extent of criminal violence in New York, while ignoring far worse numbers in red America. (The city's murder rate is a third that of Miami's.) Nor that an analysis of police statistics finds the likelihood of falling victim to a violent crime on the subway to be about the same as getting injured in a crash after driving only two miles.

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Adams would not endorse Zeldin because of his lack of interest in stemming the flood of guns onto America's streets — which the former police captain ascribed for the spike in murders. Who could feel safe in a culture where people pull out firearms over parking places and loud music, and deranged individuals can easily carry semi-automatics?

From 2017 through 2021, 87 people died in Texas just from road rage shootings versus 15 in New York state. In that same five-year period, killings on the New York subways in totaled 18.

Yes, crime has risen since the pandemic though the wave seems to be breaking. Murder in New York City is down 14% so far this year. In the bad year of 2021, the city's homicide rate was still less than a fifth what it was in the very bad year of 1990.

Fox News likes to portray the Democratic stronghold of New York as the epicenter of criminal depravity. That's one reason why registered voters give Republicans a 20-point advantage over Democrats on ability to handle crime.

But then you had Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney who rightfully came under fire for saying he would stop prosecuting low-level crimes and jail only those accused of the most serious offenses — which, according to him, did not necessarily include robbery and assault. Of course, the horrific crimes get the most attention, but a law enforcement official must never ever say that certain crimes will be ignored by his office.

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And if you dig deeper into what unsettles New Yorkers, it is the frequent lower-level crimes — shoplifting, car break-ins, motorcycles on sidewalks — that leave a sense of general disorder. It bothers many that the cough medicine aisle at drug stores is now locked up.

It's a safe assumption that fear of crime is what flipped several suburban New York congressional districts to Republicans. The fears may not match the reality, but elected officials should not add fuel to them with careless talk. Kathy Hochul was lucky this time.

Froma Harrop is an American writer and author. She can be reached at fharrop@wctrib.com or on Twitter @FromaHarrop.

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