What you see might surprise you — rioters running rampant, physical confrontations in the streets, fires burning out of control. And witnessing such things should surprise you, since that’s not what New York City looks like at the moment. Despite the Justice Department’s determination that the city is one of three that is permitting violence and destruction of property, things in the city seem pretty normal — at least by pandemic standards.
When Trump decided this month that New York, Portland, Ore., D.C. and Seattle should be considered “anarchist jurisdictions” from which the government would withhold funding, the announcement was met with a very New York roll of the eyes from most observers. There were obviously two rationales for Trump’s executive order — his effort to portray heavily Democratic areas as rife with violence and crime and his repeatedly demonstrated interest in lashing out at the city where he grew up. That the Justice Department has now formally identified New York for admonition seems simply to have restarted the eye-rolling.
After all, it doesn’t make much sense as an argument. While Portland has seen repeated incidents of violence since late May, when the country saw a surge in protests centered on police treatment of Black Americans, New York hasn’t. Data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project tracking protests and violence since that time shows a stark difference between what has unfolded in Oregon relative to New York.
While Portland has seen violent confrontations (including during the period when federal law enforcement was deployed to the city in July), it’s still not the case that those demonstrations, largely focused on a federal courthouse, have significantly affected life in the city. Likewise in Seattle, where the establishment (and uprooting) of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone offered a brief period of actual anarchy, albeit for a few blocks.
But New York? There was a stretch in Manhattan in early June when there were riots and violent confrontations. Otherwise, though, things have been largely peaceful. That there have been a number of protests in the city is hardly an indicator of any particular shift; there are protests on a range of subjects in any given week in the city.
Usually when Trump is attacking New York as dangerous, he’s focused not on protests but on crime. He likes to talk about how crime is up 300 percent in some cases.
As it stands, though, that’s not the case. The number of shooting incidents has doubled relative to 2019, which isn’t good, but other serious crimes, such as grand larceny and rape, are down significantly. The number of murders is up 40 percent over 2019, hitting 321 this year, with three months to go. By contrast, there were 649 murders in the city in 2001, the last year in which Trump’s ally Rudolph W. Giuliani served as mayor.
If the level of crime in New York now is a signal of anarchy, that’s a much bigger indictment of Giuliani than the city’s current leadership.
Trump’s inclusion of New York City on his list of targets is clearly more about some combination of pique and politics than life on the ground. The city and the state it anchors have been consistent burrs under Trump’s saddle, from the launch of a range of investigations targeting him and his business by Attorney General Letitia James (D) to Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) having “Black lives matter” painted in large letters on Fifth Avenue outside Trump Tower.
Trump’s attempts to bring New York to heel, though, extend beyond the “anarchist” claim. The city’s policy of offering undocumented immigrants certain protections from federal law enforcement has prompted the Trump administration to repeatedly threaten to withhold funding, including funding focused on the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this year, the federal government kicked New Yorkers out of a federal program facilitating security processes at airports, again ostensibly because of sanctuary policies — but also potentially for punitive reasons.
The president’s most dramatic rejection of the city where he grew up came last fall, when he announced that he was officially moving to Florida. The move had some positive implications for Trump (swing state, potentially avoiding some of the aforementioned investigations) but also marked a significant shift in Trump’s public persona. No longer was he the outer-borough kid who made good in Manhattan, the celeb who worked Page Six with the best of them. Now, admittedly not unlike other older New Yorkers, he sought warmer climes.
It’s clear that Trump sees New York as a useful foil, a representation of the sort of America that many of his supporters view with skepticism. New York is the Bad Place where Bad, Immoral Things Happen. It is a hub of the Coastal Elites against whom he is fighting on their behalf.
It’s also very nice in the autumn and, happily, one of the few places where the coronavirus pandemic is now being kept at bay. Quarantine for two weeks and stop by! I assure you that you will encounter little to no anarchy.