Among the people who might have made New Year resolutions to leave old baggage in the old year were New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and his predecessor Ray Kelly. The ugly public quarrel between the two over the accuracy of the NYPD’s statistics on gun-related crimes seemed to lose steam once the crystal ball dropped at Times Square. But the question remains: is our city more dangerous or not?
In normal circumstances, we’d all bite our tongues and let the crime stats speak for themselves. But now, not only is the honesty of those figures being challenged, they don’t seem to point in the same direction. As Mayor de Blasio and Bratton told us a few weeks ago, overall crime was down last year, but murder, rape and robbery were all up. Shooting was down, but gun-related murder was up.
There are high political stakes for the mayor whenever crime figures are involved. He promised to scale back the controversial stop-and-frisk policing before he got into the office and kept his promise thereafter. He cannot afford to see crime soar.
So when no one and nothing is trustworthy, we have to ask ourselves for the answer. Sometimes, the only thing that’s better than scientific specifics is human intuition. On that basis, it looks like the mayor may be able to relax.
Of course, I didn’t poll the entire city. But among those in the Chinese community I asked, nine out of ten thought reducing the number of incidents of stop and frisk hasn’t affected their safety. They included Council member Peter Koo from Flushing in Queens, who, in 2013, voted against the Council’s Community Safety Act that aimed to restrict stop and frisk, and Eddie Chiu, counselor of the Lin Sing Association in Manhattan’s Chinatown, who also openly opposed weakening stop and frisk back then.
Indeed, many people in the Chinese community were strongly opposed to scaling back stop and frisk in 2013 when the mayor was campaigning for his current job. And they don’t get along with de Blasio all the time either, so it is not as if they are desperate to kiss the mayoral butt. Their u-turn in opinion may carry more weight than their 7 percent share of the city’s population might suggest.
Chinese have never been major targets of stop and frisk. Indeed, Asians make up less than 5 percent of those who have been affected by the program, far lower than the 13 percent they make in the city’s population. But their habit of carrying cash and the reputation of being quiet often make them targets for criminals.
As a result, most Chinese voters were against proposals from candidates to reduce using stop and frisk. Even John Liu, the former comptroller who enjoyed the strongest support from the Chinese community among all candidates, lost substantial numbers of votes in the 2013 Democratic primary because he wanted to curb the practice.
Maybe because of their loyalty to Liu, the Chinese have never been completely in lockstep with de Blasio. They were not happy that the mayor stopped a tradition his predecessors had of celebrating the Lunar New Year at Gracie Mansion. They were not happy when the mayor held a press conference to launch his Vision Zero initiatives in the summer of 2014, he chose to do it on the Lower East Side rather than Chinatown, which had just suffered three fatal accidents in the previous two months.
The bitterest interaction might be the one over the long-time wish of the community to list Lunar New Year as a school holiday. When the mayor announced that he would add two Muslim holidays to the school calendar in March and pushed aside the Lunar New Year, which he had also promised in his election campaign, the community was stupefied. The mayor eventually added the Lunar New Year to the calendar in the summer, but not without a fierce fight from the community.
Mind you, this is a community that contributed at least two dead to the city’s stats on gun-related murder last year with the loss of a 19-year-old and a 68-year-old – both innocent men. Policy approval from people in this community certainly doesn’t mean the mayor has won the debate, but at least it should bring a smile on his face.
Rong Xiaoqing is a reporter for the Chinese language newspaper Sing Tao Daily in New York. She also writes columns for a few other publications in both English and Chinese.