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OpinionColumnistsDan Janison

Political crossfire ahead over crime

Crime is up in many parts of the

Crime is up in many parts of the country. Credit: Getty Images/mbbirdy

The slogan "Defund the police" has earned the same practical irrelevance as the Tea Party's old "Abolish the Fed." In America, we gain political attention by targeting some institutions while holding others blameless.

Democrats in the throes of a New York City mayoral race seem well aware by now that whoever wins will need to address a lawlessness-and-disorder problem after decades of relative calm. Otherwise they risk failure. It was the very first topic of the big in-person debate Wednesday night. As you'd expect, the candidates either danced or wrestled with it in different ways.

Videos will have a visceral impact just as they did in the horrid homicide of George Floyd under convicted officer Derek Chauvin's knee.

See, for example, the surveillance recording of an acid attack in March on Nafiah Ikram, 21, in the driveway of her Elmont home, as well as interviews with the victim and her mother. Nassau police are still hunting for an assailant.

Also, watch a bystander's video of an NYPD officer running for medical help with a 4-year-old shooting victim in her arms in Times Square last month.

The new crime problem has several symptoms, from the return of squeegee men in traffic to gang shootings and personal battles that victimize the uninvolved in low-income neighborhoods.

On Wednesday, a 48-year-old homeless man was arrested for a felony hate crime in the sucker-punching of a 55-year-old Asian woman on Bayard Street in Manhattan. He has been arrested numerous times for violent crimes, including in the past year.

"What are we doing in society when we are releasing these people right back onto the streets?" asked NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, unsurprisingly.

As always, the trend is national. And yes, it looks like a problem that will outlast the COVID-19 pandemic. Disturbing accounts, figures and images have been pouring in from Cincinnati and Jacksonville, Florida, and Philadelphia, and Louisville, Kentucky, and Tucson, Arizona.

Back when record plunges in crime were still news, nobody seemed able to say for sure why cities with a social-work, community-engagement approach to policing saw reductions comparable to New York's, with its armed tactical teams and aggressive "broken windows" patrols.

The hour grows late for a new discussion of what will work in this time and place.

The political crossfire ahead over crime and police issues will be linked more than ever to race, incarceration, mental illness and gun rights. Nationally as well as regionally, with Democrats dominant in the cities, Republicans clearly have opportunities.

Next year's state contests already involve the violence spike. For more than a year, State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt (R-N. Tonawanda) has been slamming away with criticism of Democrats' criminal-procedure changes, primarily bail reform, and rhetorically blames Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who signed it.

Cuomo for months has tweaked the de Blasio administration for failing to respond to local disorder. Last week, his concern was closer to the Capitol; Cuomo ordered an increased state-police presence in Albany following a surge there in deadly shootings.

That move was requested by Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, who's been citing a surge in gun traffic.

Once again, difficult strains are showing over civil order, with all eyes on how our institutions and politicians respond. For purposes of governing, calls for defunding and abolishing are just noise.

Dan Janison is a member of Newsday's editorial board.

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