‘It’s ridiculous.’ New Yorkers push back on Hawley comments about NYC crime rate

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As Republicans have rushed to defend former President Donald Trump against his indictment by a grand jury in New York City, several of them have adopted a common line of questioning why Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is going after Trump at all.

“I cannot believe that this is what this district attorney or whomever is focusing his time on,” Hawley said after Trump first said there was an indictment coming. “While his city, the residents of his city, you can’t go out on the streets without being shot.”

Kyle Ishmael, the executive director of the Manhattan Democrats, said he walked around the city Monday without being shot.

“I haven’t been shot yet in my 38 years of life and I’ve walked down the streets of New York City the vast majority of those 38 years,” Ishmael said.

Trump was charged Friday on 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, over payments he allegedly made to suppress negative information during his 2016 presidential campaign, according to documents made public by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

The prosecutors allege that Trump made payments to a doorman who claimed Trump had a child out of wedlock and two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump, and then covered it up on business records by claiming the payments were part of a retainer agreement with “Lawyer A,” who appears to be former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.

Hawley was one of several Republicans who painted New York City as war zone as they quickly sought to downplay the unprecedented arrest of a former president and cast it as a politically motivated effort. Sen. Eric Schmitt, a Missouri Republican, said “Violent crime rages in NYC rages on & violent criminals walk free.” Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who succeeded Schmitt as Missouri’s top law enforcement official, said Bragg had “misplaced priorities” and suggested he should turn his focus to “violent crime.”

Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican, said “NYC is ridden with violent crime, undeterred homelessness, and record-breaking larceny.”

Even former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is considering a run against Trump, defended his former boss and potential opponent, saying taxpayer dollars would be better spent prosecuting “serious crimes.”

Politicians have long talked about crime in order to help win elections. But the depiction of crime in New York doesn’t match it’s crime rate in relationship with other cities across the country — including the two largest in Missouri. Republicans often point to crime in cities as a way to appear tough on crime and stoke fear among voters.

“They bring up Chicago and we know what that means,” Ishmael said. “It means crime, it means people of color, it means Black people, it means you’re going to be unsafe. They love to use these coded phrases.”

Most major crimes in New York City — except of felony assault and car thefts — are down from last year, according to the New York City Police Department. While there was a peak in some crimes in 2020 and 2021, they have largely fallen over the past 10 years.

In 2022, murders were down 80.6% from 1990 and 32.5% from 2001, according to the New York City Police Department. New York City’s murder rate in 2022 was 5.17 per 100,000 people. That’s a little higher than Kansas’ 2021 murder rate (5.17) but lower than the 2022 statewide murder rate in Missouri (10.06). And it’s significantly lower than the rate in Missouri’s two largest cities, Kansas City (33.24) and St. Louis (68.18), according to police department data.

“It’s ridiculous to suggest that somehow, a set of people in the DA’s office looking into criminal activity by Trump and his folks, somehow means that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is incapable of focusing on other things going on in the borough and the city,” Ishmael said.

Still, crime has still been on the mind of people in New York City. In a February poll by Quinnipiac University, 41% of New Yorkers said crime was the most urgent issue facing New York City.

Crime increased in cities across the country 2020 and 2021, during the heart of the pandemic. The wave came right as Mayor Eric Adams, a former police officer and Democrat, was running for office in 2021. He built his campaign largely around reducing crime throughout the city.

But Adams has been criticized for comments about crime being as bad as he’s ever seen it — he was a police officer when rates in New York City were much higher.

Jeffery Fagan, a law professor at Columbia University who researched New York City’s “stop and frisk” policy, which was discontinued in 2014, said criticizing Bragg for crime in New York was “naive and off base.”

“The problem with focusing on violent crime is that most of those crimes are out of Bragg’s hands: if the cops can’t make a credible arrest, a crime goes unsolved and the offender is free to continue her or his criminal activity,” Fagan said in an email. “Most crimes, if cleared by arrest, plead out. That’s universally true.”

The standards for a grand jury to issue an indictment are lower than the standards to convict, because a grand jury does not have to believe someone is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” and they typically rely on evidence presented by the prosecutor.

Trump traveled to Manhattan to be arraigned on Tuesday, while the New York Young Republican Club is holding a protest with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican.

While Ishmael criticized Republicans for trying to “sow disorder” amid Trump’s arrest, he said he wasn’t particularly concerned about protests in his city, saying he didn’t think many people would show up.

“I’m a New Yorker and New Yorkers honestly don’t take that shit,” Ishmael said.