Office of the Public Advocate

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams at a June march against police racism.

Policing is part of the solution to addressing New York City’s spike in gun violence, says Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who blames the rise in bloodshed not on criminal-justice reform or a slowed court system but on the devastation wrought by COVID-19.

“We happen to be in a time where crime is rising across the nation,” Williams told WBAI’s Max & Murphy Show on Thursday. “We’re going through a pandemic. It’s surprising to me that we thought everything was going to get worse like housing, food insecurity, and unemployment except gun violence? We should have been planning for this for a while.” 

According to crime statistics published by the NYPD, through July 12 the city had seen 634 shooting incidents in 2020, a 61 percent increase over the same period in 2019. The data show a pronounced spike in the summer, with shootings over the past month up 210 percent over 2019, and the week’s toll 277 percent higher than the same period last year.

The number of shootings this year, however, is still 14 percent lower than it was in 2010.

“Here’s what we do know: Pre-pandemic, we were at historic lows, especially around gun violence. Then the pandemic hit and people were home for a few months. These same communities saw their family members dying or losing their jobs and that has an impact,” Williams said. “Mental health services weren’t there. Around the country, we saw the George Floyds and the Breonna Taylors. We saw a lot of that going on and I would have to say that has to have an impact.” 

Williams rejected the idea that the NYPD had been “defunded” in the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, and said the conversation around the budget’s minor cuts and transfers distracted from the  necessary conversation around policing reform. 

“We missed an opportunity in this budget. Everybody was so worried about the ‘billion’ that we weren’t able to have a conversation about what is policing? Why are the police still policing things like mental health?”

In this summer’s protests, as before, some criminal-justice advocates called for abolishing the police. A strong critic of the NYPD throughout his public career, Williams distanced himself from the notion that policing could be jettisoned entirely.

“It’s all about reframing what public safety is and what public safety isn’t. Anyone who thinks that law enforcement is not a part of that conversation is just wrong. Anyone who thinks that law enforcement is the only part of that conversation is also wrong,” he said. Among the shifts he supports: Putting more public support behind “cure violence” initiatives that seek to detect and defuse conflict on the street the peer intervention. “If we don’t mind spending money to send a bunch of cops into communities, we shouldn’t mind spending money on things like Cure that we know work.” 

“It would be great if one day police were not needed. I don’t mind that as a goal that we have to get to but the reality is, for the foreseeable future, that’s not where we’re going to be,” the public advocate said. Quite frankly, even in a utopia, someone is going to be responsible for law enforcement.” 

Hear the conversation with Williams below, or check out the full show, which includes a chat with Partnership for NYC leader Kathy Wylde on the city’s economic predicament.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams on Gun Violence

Max & Murphy Full Show of July 22, 2020

With reporting by Ben Max