‘City Hall can and must go beyond the typical fixes of past administrations, and work to address gun violence in two ways: with bespoke strategies tailored to individual neighborhoods, or even blocks within neighborhoods, and with a comprehensive citywide approach.’
After a bruising campaign dominated by issues of public safety, the next mayor will inherit a city where gun violence is on the rise and many residents have deep concerns about their neighborhoods’ futures. Fortunately, our new mayor will have command over a suite of powerful solutions that, deployed strategically, can make a real difference.
So far this year, the number of shooting incidents has nearly doubled compared to 2020. This is the second year in a row with a significant increase in shootings, an awful trend that disproportionately impacts the Central Brooklyn neighborhoods I represent and other communities like them across the city. Summer typically sees a marked increase in shootings, and we fear this year will be no exception.
Overheated campaign rhetoric about soaring crime rates is nothing new in our city, and countless politicians—Democrats and Republicans, in New York and around the country—have stoked these fears to considerable effect. Make no mistake, crime in New York remains at historically low levels, and most felony index crimes tracked by the NYPD have continued their nearly 30-year declines. We are nowhere near the bad old days of the 1980s and early 1990s when New York averaged more murders in a week than we now see in a typical month.
Still, the increase in gun violence is deeply alarming, especially in communities of color where the overwhelming majority of it tends to occur. And if the problem is frightening, so are the solutions City Hall too often delivers to Black and Brown New Yorkers: discriminatory and heavy-handed policing, or disinvestment and resource deprivation. Confronting the rise in shootings will be a formidable challenge for the next mayoral administration, but the work begins by abandoning that false choice.
We cannot arrest our way out of this problem—gun arrests are at record highs yet the violence persists. So while law enforcement, undoubtedly, has a role to play in keeping the public safe, the new mayor must also build on existing efforts to create job opportunities for young people at risk of being caught up in the violence while investing more in the city’s network of crisis management providers. But that’s not all. City Hall can and must go beyond the typical fixes of past administrations, and work to address gun violence in two ways: with bespoke strategies tailored to individual neighborhoods, or even blocks within neighborhoods, and with a comprehensive citywide approach.
Brownsville has been an epicenter of gun violence, but also is a proving ground for community-led solutions. Since December, a collective of local crisis management groups has been piloting a project with the NYPD where officers stand down from their posts at major intersections and violence interrupters take their place to prevent minor incidents from escalating, while city agencies and nonprofits offer resources to residents on these blocks. During the most recent pilot, 911 calls in the area dropped by half, and the local precinct called the program “a huge success.”
This concept has worked well so far in Brownsville, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution to gun crime. This year’s state budget contained a first-ever commitment to fund hospital- and community-based violence interruption programs, which offer trauma-informed care and an evidence-based model for addressing gun violence as the public health crisis it is. Now that these groups have a dedicated, predictable funding stream, the new mayor can work to coordinate their activities and support their hyper-local citywide strategies for stopping the cycle of violence, block-by-block and neighborhood-by-neighborhood.
Crucially, the new mayor can use their authority in another way: by enforcing the city’s duty to defend its residents. Yesterday, Governor Cuomo signed my bill to permit civil lawsuits against gun companies whose lax safety standards and irresponsible business practices constitute a “public nuisance.” The gun industry is generally shielded from liability by a federal law, but New York’s legislation creates a workaround to this protection.
With this new law, the next mayor can direct the city’s attorneys to hold reckless profiteers in the gun industry liable for the harm caused by their products. In this way, gun companies will face real risks from irresponsible and untraceable sales in other states which in turn flood our streets with weapons. And nothing produces change in an industry like a threat to its bottom line. New York’s new mayor will have a powerful new tool to shape the gun industry’s actions nationally.
When I speak with my constituents in Brooklyn, I generally hear variations on the same theme: people want to feel safe where they live, and want the government to use every available means to protect our communities. The next mayor’s success will depend, at least in part, on their ability to harness these tools effectively and to ensure our response to gun violence is as comprehensive as the problem itself.
Zellnor Myrie is a New York state senator representing Brooklyn’s 20th District.