Tensions are mounting between activists calling for police reform and NYPD unions and advocates after a holiday weekend of particularly harrowing gun violence that saw at least nine people killed and 54 others injured across New York City.
The violence has exacerbated an existing sense of anxiety and disorder in the city amid the coronavirus pandemic, weeks of unending blasts from fireworks, sizzling summer heat, and ongoing protests against police brutality, which have culminated in the Occupy City Hall encampment.
At a press conference Monday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he believed the shootings were the result of “dislocation” caused by the coronavirus. He added that the violence is “very worrisome” and pointed to the court system not being fully open as a reason why there is a delay in dealing with these cases.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told NY1 in an interview that the large number recent releases from Rikers is the source of the increase in shootings. Precision policing and neighborhood police will hold the perpetrators to account and will help build prosecutable cases, he added.
While many of the shootings took place in Brooklyn and the Bronx, Upper Manhattan recorded at least eight shooting victims over the weekend, including the death of a 23-year-old man who was shot on 116th Street near Morningside Park in the early hours of Sunday morning. Later that evening, a 15-year-old boy was shot in the chest on Madison Avenue in East Harlem.
Anger at Vance
Two of the NYPD’s commanding officers spoke out in frustration on Twitter Sunday, aiming their anger at Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.
“Manhattan DA Cy Vance where are you? No show at any shooting scene!!! Our community is being attacked, there have been 24 people shot in the city in the past 24 hours....Where Are You!!!” read a tweet from the NYPD Patrol Borough Manhattan South’s official account, which had been posted at 6:50 p.m. Sunday. Assistant Chief Stephen Hughes is in command of Manhattan South.
Shortly after, Hughes received backup from Patrol Borough Manhattan North’s commanding officer, Assistant Chief Kathleen O’Reilly. She tweeted in response, “Complete No Show in Manhattan North!! Shame!!”
A spokesperson for the District Attorney’s office told CNN that it has been longstanding practice to send Assistant District Attorneys to crime scenes in the DA’s stead.
“Our office’s policy and practice, going back several decades, is to have our Assistant DA’s attend crime scenes, regularly brief the DA, and execute advice and instructions from the DA and other supervisors at the scene and throughout the course of an investigation and prosecution,” said the spokesperson for Vance. “It is unclear what the Manhattan District Attorney could substantively contribute at a crime scene. We do not hold premature mini-press conferences which would violate ethical rules and interfere with evidence collection.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer expressed her concerns about the violence Sunday evening on Twitter.
“Very concerned about huge increase in shootings in Upper Manhattan. Have talked & coordinated with elected officials, CBOs, NYPD, City Hall all day,” Brewer said in a tweet. “Meetings scheduled for this week. Work needed on all fronts; much understandable frustration, tension & fear for life.”
Complicating Reform Efforts
Even before this weekend’s events, shootings in Manhattan had been on the rise. From the start of the year up to June 28, 77 shooting incidents were recorded in Manhattan compared to 58 that took place during the same time period in 2019, according to police statistics.
The timing of the increased gun violence in the city could complicate efforts by activists to reform and take resources away from the NYPD. Just last week, the City Council voted to shift $1 billion away from the police department. The move has angered police officials and unions, who are now pointing to the weekend’s events, as well as the recent bail reform legislation, as reason why the police budget should not have been touched.
“As we have been saying for months, there is no one change that is causing our criminal justice system to collapse. Instead, it is death by a thousand cuts, just like the pro-criminal lobby intended,” the Police Benevolent Association of NYC wrote on Twitter in response to a tweet from Brooklyn Council Member Chaim Deutsch, who cited bail reform, the plan to close Rikers, defunding the NYPD, anti-police rhetoric and an “atmosphere of anarchy” as cause for the spike in violence.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told the Daily News that the violence should not distract from needed police reform.
“We all want a safe city, and we believe it can be done while bringing real transformational change,” Johnson said. “Let’s get at the root causes of violence and move away from a model that sees policing as the only answer to every problem we face.”
“Very concerned about huge increase in shootings in Upper Manhattan ... Work needed on all fronts; much understandable frustration, tension & fear for life.” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, on Twitter