United Kingdom

How coronavirus, BLM protests and a liberal mayor are doing what Bin Laden never could 

Two bullet-ridden bodies lay sprawled on bloodstained concrete steps. Alongside, relatives of the victims are wailing and collapse to the ground. In another part of the city, a gang of youths use spray paint to disable security cameras before robbing a corner store. Later, video footage captures police officers sitting helplessly in their patrol car as a baying crowd hurls glass bottles at them.

This is lawless New York – a city that was once America’s glittering crown jewel but which risks descending into mob rule.

Murder figures have skyrocketed and a combination of the coronavirus pandemic, Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and weak political leadership is in danger of achieving what Osama Bin Laden never could: bringing the Big Apple to its knees.

The scenes described above took place last weekend. Chioke Thompson, 23, and his friend Stephanie Perkins, 39, had been gunned down on the steps of Chioke’s Brooklyn home. His schoolteacher mum Sophia wept as she said: ‘Even as he died, he was trying to shield her with his body. It makes no sense. Neither of them did anything wrong.’

With the gunman still on the loose and their families insisting neither victim had any links to drugs or gangs, the pair appear to be the latest grim statistics in a crimewave sweeping the city.

Figures released by the NYPD showed that for the first six months of 2020 there were 176 murders, a 23 percent increase on the same period last year. Above, looting continues in Manhattan amid protests over the death of George Floyd

According to figures released by the New York Police Department, for the first six months of this year, there were 176 murders, an increase of 23 per cent on the 143 killed during the same period last year.

The number of shooting victims has gone up 51 per cent to 616 this year. In June alone, there were 250 shootings compared to 97 in the same month last year. Month-on-month, burglaries are up 119 per cent and car thefts up 48 per cent.

Many blame New York’s liberal mayor, Bill de Blasio, who has slashed police funding by $1 billion (£800 million), ended the NYPD’s controversial ‘stop-and-frisk’ policy (which allowed police to stop and search anyone solely on the basis of ‘reasonable suspicion’) and who last week vowed to paint a huge Black Lives Matter sign outside President Trump’s flagship Trump Tower.

De Blasio has also introduced criminal justice reforms, including changes to bail for dozens of offences, which has meant violent criminals released on to the streets.

Many blame New York’s liberal mayor, Bill de Blasio, who among other acts has has slashed police funding by $1 billion (£800 million), ended the NYPD’s controversial ‘stop-and-frisk’ policy. Above, police stand guard during a Black Lives Matter protest

An enraged Trump tweeted: ‘NYC is cutting police $'s by ONE BILLION DOLLARS and yet the NYC Mayor is going to paint a big, expensive, yellow Black Lives Matter sign on Fifth Avenue, denigrating this luxury Avenue.’

Referring to the police, the President added: ‘This will further antagonize New York’s Finest who LOVE New York & vividly remember the horrible BLM chant, “Pigs In A Blanket, Fry ’Em Like Bacon”. Maybe our GREAT Police, who have been neutralized and scorned by a mayor who hates & disrespects them won’t let this symbol of hate be affixed to New York’s greatest street. Spend this money fighting crime instead!’

Parts of Manhattan, famously the ‘city that never sleeps’, have begun to resemble a ghost town since 500,000 mostly wealthy and middle-class residents fled when Covid-19 struck in March.

New York state has suffered the highest death toll in America, with more than 24,000 dead, nearly 10,000 more than the second-hardest hit state, New Jersey, and eight times the number killed by terrorists on 9/11.

Streets once teeming with tourists are virtually empty. Shops and restaurants are boarded up to protect against looters. Hotels are closed. According to one resident: ‘New York has become a place where the soup kitchens are full and skyscrapers are empty.’

The Broadway theatre district sits in darkness, unlikely to open before next year. The subway, which once carried 750,000 commuters a day, is mainly deserted. In Times Square, a handful of street vendors offer hand-sanitiser and face masks in place of knock-off designer sunglasses and bags.

New York state has suffered the highest coronavirus death toll in America, with more than 24,000 dead, nearly 10,000 more than the second-hardest hit state. Above, Demonstrators lock arms as police arrive inside of an area being called the 'City Hall Autonomous Zone' that has been established to protest the NYPDand in support of the Black Lives Matter movement

Joel Kotkin, a leading expert on urban trends, and a native New Yorker who now lives in California, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘This is an unprecedented crisis the likes of which New York has never faced. When 9/11 happened, it was a major disruption but the country and the world rallied in support and there was a great sense of solidarity.’

Back then, Rudy Giuliani was mayor and considered a strong leader. The city was shaken but it was back on its feet in weeks.

But Covid hit when New York had already been in decline. Kotkin says: ‘Under Mayor de Blasio, conditions were perfect for the pandemic to flourish. The subway was filthy. There was a huge disparity in wealth. The rich immediately fled to homes in the country or by the beach. 

City where soup kitchens are full and skyscrapers are empty 

Millennials went home to their parents. That left poor people and immigrants living in incredibly crowded conditions with high levels of poverty and multiple generations in one household. Add to that the [BLM] riots and the protests and New York was a perfect storm of everything that could go wrong – and did.’

Significantly, Kotkin believes that people being able to work from home will dramatically change the nature of life in New York for ever. ‘When the Twin Towers were hit in 2001, the internet was still in the early stages. Now it is easy for people to work remotely.

‘A city which is perceived as dangerous and dirty doesn’t hold any appeal. It makes sense to locate to suburban regions and smaller towns that are generally safer, cleaner and less expensive.’

Around 500,000 mostly wealthy New York residents fled the city when Covid-19 hit the city, leaving parts on Manhattan, famously the ‘city that never sleeps’, resembling a ghost town. Above, A NYPD police car is set on fire as protesters clash with police

Indeed, thousands of New Yorkers were already leaving for ‘safer’ cities such as Austin in Texas and Tulsa in Oklahoma, which offers newcomers in the tech industry a $10,000 (£8,000) welcome fee. It doesn’t help that NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea last week admitted: ‘You have a criminal justice system that is imploding. Imploding. That’s the kindest way to put it.’

Beleaguered police unions have accused de Blasio of being ‘anti-cop’. In the past month, 272 officers have applied for retirement, 49 per cent up from the 183 who applied during the same period last year.

‘We have a mayor who cares more about optics [how things look] than on-the-ground policing,’ one police officer said. ‘The NYPD is utterly demoralised.’

Police Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch said: ‘How can we keep doing our job in this environment? Of course, a neutered police force is exactly what the anti-cop crowd wants. If we have no cops because no one wants to be a cop, they will have achieved their ultimate goal.’

Daily protests, pictured above, over the death of George Floyd, the unarmed black man killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, have left many residents feeling conflicted

There is a looming housing crisis, too. While rocketing rents had already forced people into the cheaper outer boroughs of New York, coronavirus has left thousands unable to pay their landlord.

A statewide moratorium on evictions, in place since March, expires on August 20, when tenants will be expected to pay back owed rent. A restaurant owner who declined to be named said: ‘I will close for good and move to a cheaper part of the country.’

Daily protests over the death of George Floyd, the unarmed black man killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, have left many residents feeling conflicted.

‘I feel sympathetic to the majority of protesters, who are peaceful,’ one woman said. ‘But there is a small minority who use protests as a shield for rioting and looting. I’ve boarded up my business but I’m terrified they will break in. Insurance doesn’t cover looting. I’m in a constant state of stress and fear.’

After 9/11, theatres shut for two days. Now we’re losing $35m a week 

Lenci Licona, a construction worker, is one of the minority travelling to work on public transport. He says: ‘People are so stressed out. We’re all afraid but I have to go to work, otherwise I can’t feed my family.’

With no reliable forecast when tourists might return, up to a third of the city’s small businesses – including 186,000 shops – could fail. Gregg Bishop, commissioner of the city’s Small Business Agency, said: ‘I don’t know if the New York we left will ever come back.’

More than 1.2 million people have lost their jobs, mostly low-paid roles in restaurants and retail. True, the city has faced calamity before. Not just 9/11 but with the financial crisis of the 1970s which saw mass unemployment, filthy streets piled with rubbish and areas such as Times Square filled with sleazy strip clubs.

More than 800,000 people fled the city then.

Kathryn Wylde, president of Partnership for New York City, a business group, said: ‘In the late 1970s, it took four or five years for the city to empty out. And then it took three or four decades to bring the city back.’

Huge anger is directed at mayor de Blasio who has instigated a series of reforms which, critics claim, have hurt the poor minorities he professes to want to help. Above, Protestors gather at city hall in New York City

Charlotte St Martin, president of Broadway League, which represents theatre-owners, told this newspaper: ‘It’s devastating. After 9/11, the theatres went dark for two days.

‘Now we are losing $35 million a week in ticket sales. Meanwhile, of the 130 apartments in my building, 40 per cent are empty.

‘Everything we love about New York – the hustle and bustle of restaurants, the strangeness and insanity – all that has gone.’

Huge anger is directed at mayor de Blasio who has instigated a series of reforms which, critics claim, have hurt the poor minorities he professes to want to help.

But not all the predictions for the Big Apple’s future are bleak.

To oversee New York’s recovery, de Blasio appointed urban planning expert Carl Weisbrod, who says: ‘As long as New York can hold on to its talent, I have no doubt that, as an economic matter, it will recover.’

Other optimists say they believe the city will experience a painful ‘reset’, leading to cheaper rents which could make New York more accessible to a new generation.

Norman Radow, a developer who moved to the city in 1978 at the height of a fiscal crisis, says: ‘Everyone thought it was the end of New York back then. But look what happened.’

More than 1.2 million people have lost their jobs, mostly low-paid roles in restaurants and retail. Pictured above, protesters walk across a New York City bridge

And an executive with a major Wall Street bank said: ‘No one should write off New York. After the 2008 fiscal crisis hit, we reinvented ourselves and attracted tech companies like Facebook. We need a progressive leader, someone who can restore faith in law and order and give people hope.’

Clearly, he’s not talking about de Blasio, who is due to stand for re-election next year, despite his popularity being at an all-time low over his handling of the current crises and charges of hypocrisy.

He flouted his own call for people not to make unnecessary journeys by being chauffeur-driven to his gym.

But the Wall Street executive added: ‘New York has always been a beacon for people from around the world who come here believing in the American Dream.

‘That dream may have become a nightmare but there’s a toughness and resilience in New York that people shouldn’t underestimate.

‘New York is definitely down. But you should never count us out.’ 

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