When Animals Attack

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Grim
news greeted New Yorkers in the aftermath of last weekend's Puerto
Rican Day Parade. Three men were stabbed near the end of the parade
route and several women were sexually assaulted and robbed in Central
Park by a gang of parade goers, according to published reports.
Fox News Channel televised a video-tape showing young men clad in
the Puerto Rican flag bandanas assaulting and molesting several
women. To make matters worse, at least one of the women claimed
that New York City Police ignored her when she reported the attacks.

The
Puerto Rican Day parade has long been an embarrassment to New Yorkers.
Most folks who can manage it tend flee the city altogether –
spending the weekend in their Hamptons or Jersey Shore beach shares.
Those stuck in city, simply make every effort to avoid the parade
route and any subway line connecting to it. (A sure sign that neither
Hillary Clinton nor Rick Lazio are real New Yorkers is that both
politicos showed up for the parade.) Even when they avoid the parade
itself, few New Yorkers escape its costs. Returning from my own
weekend escape, I was confronted with streets and sidewalks piled
waist high with trash.

For
years the horrors of the Puerto Rican Day parade have been an open
but unspoken secret in New York. Nearly everyone knew why almost
everyone else was stealing away and staying away on this particular
June weekend but seldom was the politically-incorrect sentiment
spoken aloud. There was good reason for the reticence. When the
television show Seinfeld portrayed its lead characters encountering
the havoc of the parade, the Puerto Rican branch of the Ethnic Grievance
Syndicate charged everyone involved with racism and exacted a pledge
that the episode would never again be shown. A few years ago the
editor of the New York Post had been fired for crossing the
PR-EGS. In New York, you don't mess with the Syndicate.

One
of the consequences of this conspiracy of silence is that some New
Yorkers didn't receive the invisible memorandum to make themselves
scarce. The details of the attacks are still hazy. This much is
known. Just off the southern edge of Central Park, a mob consisting
of dozens of young men attacked more than two dozen 20 women, dousing
them with water, stripping them of their clothing and molesting
them. A young woman who was attacked while skating in the park has
said in several television interviews that after fighting off her
assailants, she sought out the assistance of police but was ignored
by several officers.

For
the moment at least, Sunday's attacks have given New Yorkers license
to speak the truth about the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Even the New
York Times noted that New Yorkers were "rightfully outraged"
at the attacks, even if they weaseled out of connecting the attacks
with the parade itself by saying that the attacks happened "just
after the Puerto Rican National Day Parade." (That's what the
Times calls it – the Puerto Rican National Day Parade
– raising the question of what business the nation of Puerto
Rico has parading through the streets of a U.S. city, or what business
our Republic has maintaining a Carribean colony.) The New York
Observer had it better when its lead editorial commented: "It
is hard to imagine any other major city allowing itself to be subject
to the havoc caused each year by the Puerto Rican Day Parade."
I heard similar sentiments at the midtown club Au Bar Monday night
and at Greenwich Village's Grey Dog Cafe Tuesday night. New York
is openly aghast at the parade.

Clearly,
New York's club libertines and cafe liberals, as well as the knee-jerk
liberal editors of the New York Times have been helped along
toward this bold confrontation with truth by the fact that the most
prominent victim is the articulate blonde rollerblader who claims
she was ignored by the police. In the happy-clappy liberal dream
of multiculturalism, residents of Manhattan's Upper West Side are
just as safe skating past the parade honoring the anniversary of
Israel as they are the Puerto Rican Day Parade. They expect a multicultural
community to be sort of like u2018international day' at their grade
school – everyone cooperating nicely and lots of interesting
food. As residents of Lebanon, Kosovo, and Northern Ireland know,
real multiculturalism is a bit rougher around the edges. Sunday
was a reality wake-up call for these liberal dreamers.

Puerto
Rican New Yorkers are justifiably incensed by the attacks. In the
first place, some of the women attacked were Puerto Ricans. In addition,
the attack has unfairly damaged the reputation of New York's Puerto
Rican community. Puerto Ricans are great New Yorkers who don't deserve
to have their reputations besmirched by the villiany at the parade.
(As a son of old Ireland, I know all to well how unfair it is for
an entire community to suffer from the parade day loutishness of
a few thugs.) Few Puerto Rican political leaders, however, have
prominently condemned the attackers. Worse yet, even before the
attack the parade organizers had decided to honor Pedro Albizu Campos,
a Puerto Rican nationalist terrorist who had a hand in the shooting
spree in the U.S. Capitol that badly wounded congressmen. This year's
parade and the attacks that followed were nothing less than an assault
on the dignity of New York's Puerto Rican community.

The
charges against the police have served to deflect attention from
the assailants. The New York Times has urged New York Mayor
Rudolph Giuliani to "punish any [police] who violated the public
trust by ignoring pleas for help." Coming from a newspaper
that has been on a nonstop campaign against the Giuliani Administration's
rigorous police tactics, this call rings hollow. Even worse, it
resounds with a racist double-standard. Apparently, the Times
would have the police give up zero-tolerance policing and thus ignore
the pleas for help from black and hispanic crime victims in the
city's poorer neighborhoods, while stepping up enforcement for Central
Park's roller-blading set.

What
exactly were the police supposed to do? It doesn't take a social
psychologist to predict what would have ensued had a small group
of police officers attempted to forcibly interfere with mob. Aggressive
police action would have immediately polarized parade goers. Police
action against the Puerto Rican flag-brandishing attackers would
have appeared as unwarranted and dangerous to other paraders unaware
of the earlier attack. Conflict with the police would look like
legitimate social action to the crowd. This had all the makings
of a riot. Even if a full-scale riot failed to erupt, the police
would certainly have run the risk of once again being ridiculed
as racist thugs. "We were told not to do anything … They
don't want photos of altercations with minorities," an officer
told the New York Post. We might not like the fact that our
police can be intimidated out of enforcing the law by charges of
racism but in a society where such charges result in public humiliation,
job loss, and even imprisonment, we should not be surprised.

For
many New Yorkers, Sunday's attack is a reminder of an ugly past
thought left-behind in the 1980s. In the era of Mayors Ed Koch and
David Dinkins, many New Yorkers fell victim to an especially disturbing
form of criminal assaults, in which individual victims were overcome
by large mobs of young men who robbed and beat their victims. In
the colorful language of New York's tabloids, these mobs were "wolf-packs"
and their attacks were called "wilding." On the street
level, these gang robberies were simply called "bashing"
or "mobberies" (combining mob and robberies). The city
government seemed unable or uninterested in stopping the attacks.

The
1989 gang-rape of a Central Park jogger shocked New York out of
its complacency. The city cried out for action against the attackers,
and eventually most of that particular wolf-pack were arrested.
(DNA, however, tests suggest that at least on attacker is still
at large.) More than any other, this horrific incident was responsible
for New Yorkers turn toward more vigorous law-enforcement and, eventually,
the election of Giuliani. It seems a nasty joke that we should once
again find ourselves confronted with the wolf-pack in Central Park.

The
reaction against the crime – encouraging policies of the Koch
and Dinkins administratiosn was severe. Giuliani saturated crime-ridden
neighborhoods with officers instructed to exercise "zero-tolerance"
for even minor infractions, carefully tracked crime patterns, and
put pressure on officers to make more arrests. Drinking a beer in
public, jumping a subway turnstile, urinating in an alley, panhandling
on the sidewalk-once regarded nearly as civil rights by certain
New York residents, and almost never inviting police attention-suddenly
became offenses that could lead to arrest.

Underlying
these tactics was the "broken windows" theory of crime
reduction. The term "broken windows" was coined by political
scientist James Q. Wilson and criminologist George Kelling in an
article for The Atlantic Monthly in 1982, the theory holds
that when someone breaks a window in a building and it is left unrepaired,
others will be emboldened to break more windows. Eventually, the
broken windows create a sense of disorder that attracts more serious
criminals, who flourish in conditions of public apathy and neglect.
Fix the windows, the theory goes, and you will reduce the crime
encouraged by social chaos. The Giuliani administration turned this
theory loose on the streets.

Crime
rates in New York dropped dramatically. People felt safer. Getting
mugged was no longer the quintessential New York experience. Some
old-school liberals griped about the aggressive policing, but most
New Yorkers were ready to tolerate aggressive policing in exchange
for losing the aggressive criminals with whom they had lived throughout
the eighties.

The
Giuliani administration's tactics were bound to run afoul of the
Ethnic Grievance Syndicate eventually. Residents of poor and minority
neighborhoods are disproportionately victimized by crimes, and so
any serious crime-reduction program will concentrate on these areas.
This concentration lead to cries of racism almost immediately. After
a few highly publicized cases of police killings and police brutality
against black New Yorkers, public opinion turned against the Giuliani
administration, the police, and the broken windows approach. The
backlash against the police was followed by a rise in New York's
homicide rate, and a decline in weapons arrests. Last weekend, for
example, six people were killed in New York. In the wake of the
Puerto Rican Parade attacks, New Yorkers must wonder whether their
recent rejection of Giuliani style policing was a good idea.

Former
Police Commissioner William Bratton recently said, "The government,
not the mob, must control the street." But a better alternative
to either criminal chaos or police saturation would be to allow
New Yorkers to defend their own lives and properties. For years,
New York has had some of the strictest gun- control laws in the
nation. Under these laws it is impossible for most New Yorkers to
legally own a handgun. Not that this has stopped criminals from
getting their hands on firearms. I knew how to get my hands on a
pistol when I attended a New York City public junior high school
in the middle of the nineteen eighties. Today, as a graduate from
an Ivy League law school with no criminal record, I am prevented
from carrying a firearm, or even keeping one in my home.

Even
as a youngster I knew that a free-market solution to crime was available.
"Bashing" – which usually involved gangs of teenagers
attacking adults-wouldn't stand a chance in a community where the
adults carried guns. The greatest encouragement to the wolf-packs
was the certain knowledge the wolves enjoyed that their victims
would be unarmed lambs. Just the possibility of lethal retaliation
by the victims would have ended the mob violence. Not the government,
not the mob, but an armed citizenry is the real key to bringing
freedom to our streets.

Allowing
New Yorkers to exercise their right to self-defense should be the
most important political issue in this city. Unfortunately, its
not even part of New York's public discussion. Richard Brookhiser
recently raised the gun issue in the New York Observer but with
little result. It looks like we're stuck with the Hobson's choice
of wilding wolf-packs or streets saturated with blue-coated centurions
(as Brookhiser colorfully called New York's Finest). And next summer,
when the Puerto Rican parade pushes through Fifth Avenue, I'll once
again be out of town.

June
17, 2000

John
Carney is a third-year law student at the University of Pennsylvania.

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