As a child in New York City, riding the subway to school every day, I used to worry about what would happen if a passenger turned violent, said Albert Fox Cahn in The Daily Beast. Last week, that “nightmare” played out in horrifying fashion when a gunman set off smoke bombs and opened fire on a rush-hour train in Brooklyn, injuring 23 people and “sending a shudder of terror into the hearts of millions of New Yorkers”. Frank James, a 62-year-old with a history of crime, mental illness and interest in racial conspiracy theories, was later arrested.
The city’s mayor, Eric Adams, promised to introduce “new technology” to help make subways safer. What the new tech would be, he didn’t say; but it’s hard to have much faith when officials admitted that even the basic CCTV cameras in the station had failed to work properly. “The truth is that in a country increasingly saturated by guns”, there’s practically “nothing we can do to stop this sort of attack”.
The attack shocked New Yorkers partly because it symbolised a “steep decline in law and order” in the city, said The Wall Street Journal. There seems to be “a lack of political will” to keep criminals and the mentally ill off the streets. It was just the latest high-profile crime on the subway, said David A. Graham in The Atlantic. In January, a woman died after being pushed in front of a train, and a man was killed when he jumped on to the tracks to help the victim of a gang assault. Last year there was “a spate of stabbings”.
In absolute terms, the crime rate is “still very low”, but it’s rising, as is violent crime across the US. It revives memories of the 1980s, when subways were viewed as “hellscapes”. The danger is that they go into “a death spiral, where fear of crime begets low ridership, which in turn begets more crime”.
This is the last thing New York needs as it struggles to recover from Covid, said Michael Goodwin in the New York Post. The growth of remote working is already taking a toll. A recent study found that the average office worker would spend $6,730 near the office this year, compared to $13,700 pre-pandemic. New York’s unemployment rate is 6.5%, nearly double the national rate of 3.6%. Mayor Adams, a former cop, won office this year on a promise to get tough on crime. Can he and the NYPD “work together to save Gotham”? With summer – the worst time for crime – approaching, “we’re about to find out”.
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