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Homicides and gun violence are up in New York City and other places across the country. While some blame this on criminal justice reform, advocates say it’s too early to know, given the nation is still suffering from the effects of the pandemic. Christopher Booker sat down with Jullian Harris-Calvin of the Vera Institute of Justice for more.
Homicides and gun violence are up in New York City and many other places across the country compared to two years ago. Some blame the uptick on criminal justice reform, but advocates say it is far too early to tease out exactly what is driving the surge. Especially as the country is still suffering from the effects of the pandemic.
For more, NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker sat down with Jullian Harris-Calvin of the Vera Institute of Justice in New York, a nearly 60 year old advocacy organization focused on criminal justice reform.
Can you put the recent increase in violent crime into context within New York City in the last 30 years?
Yes. So the increase in gun and homicide violence is an increase compared to the last two or three years. It is still 70 percent below what we were seeing in the 90s and somewhere around 50 percent below what we were seeing in the early 2000s. So there is an increase and it matters, but it is not this dramatic crime wave. Rapes are are down, larceny is down, burglary is down. All of the other things we think about, those are down despite the craziness of the last year and all the instability and the pain and suffering that's happened in this last year, all of those other categories are still at 2019 lows. And so you're right that we need to kind of draw back and look at the big picture and the context and the context is we're still doing much better than we were a decade ago or even five years ago.
What's your reaction then when you hear New York Governor Andrew Cuomo say quote 'we have a major crime problem'
NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo:
Of all the things we have to do when we're talking in New York City, specifically, crime, crime, crime are the top three.
We do not have a major crime problem, we do have a problem, which is that murders are still happening, whether it's below or above the murder rate from last year or the year before. We're not saying that there shouldn't be a response to any kind of crime. Right. That there should it be we shouldn't be taking notice of the uptick in. And murders, but the real issue for us is what is the correct response
Harris-Calvin points to a number of community based violence prevention programs, like violence interrupters, which send community members to immediately meet with shooting victims to try to avoid retaliation, but the pandemic and the need for social distancing put many of these programs on hold.
In New York some have blamed the recent uptick in violence on sweeping sweeping criminal justice reforms enacted in 2020. Most notably, bail reform.
The law eliminated cash bail and pretrial detention for nearly all misdemeanor and non-violent felony cases
But given the short length of time its been in practice and the pandemic, which led to many prisoners being released to prevent the spread of covid, Harris-Calvin says it is way too early to draw any correlation between the reforms and the recent uptick in gun violence and homicides.
It's going to take us years to really look at both the quantitative, but the qualitative data around not just the spike in these two kinds of crimes, but just all of the fallout and all of the myriad consequences that have come about because of the pandemic. You know, a lot of people have tried to blame criminal justice reform, bail reform, our massive decarceration both in New York City, but across across the state. But when you look across the country, gun violence and murders have risen and blue states, red states, urban areas and rural and so. Urban areas, this is something that's happening across the country, which is another reason why it's going to take a while for us to really assess what exactly led to this and there's no one factor. There's never one factor.
What do you think this does to the broader efforts to reform criminal justice?
It really harms that, right. It's really putting, excuse me, a damper on those reform efforts and threatening to roll them back. Between the time that bail reform was passed and the rollbacks came around where the fear mongering came around just after January 20 20, there's no data to support that. You know, there were folks who were being released on bail reform and and we're still debating or creating new crimes.
But it's happening across the country. It does seem quite remarkable that this has reached kind of chorus level across the country so quickly.
The problem is folks are scared, right? Because we've just come out of this period of immense instability, insecurity in terms of health and economics and all the other intersections that have arisen from the pandemic and when we see that there is the rise in shootings and homicides, which is still far fewer, something like 70 percent fewer than what we were experiencing in the 90s. Right, but they see that happening and people want quick and easy responses to very complex, nuanced problems and I pushed back on using these quick talking points because I think we folks try to force us into being like, just give us the thing you need to do. Give us do we need to find violence interrupters? Do we need to find housing? Do we need to find education? And the answer is you need to do all of that.
Are you optimistic?
I am optimistic
You are, why?
Because as we've seen, even when the pendulum kind of shifts back and forth, we're still moving closer to a more fair and more just a more equitable system., there's still two and a half million folks in this country who are incarcerated. And that is more than there were 30, 40, 50 years ago. But even people who use used tough on crime rhetoric and even folks that are using some of these racial undertones will acknowledge that going back to the 90s is not the answer. And I think that is huge progress.
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Christopher Booker is a correspondent and producer for PBS NewsHour Weekend covering music, culture, our changing economy and news of the cool and weird. He also teaches at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, following his work with Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism in Chicago and Doha, Qatar.
Sam Weber has covered everything from living on minimum wage to consumer finance as a shooter/producer for PBS NewsHour Weekend. Prior joining NH Weekend, he previously worked for Need to Know on PBS and in public radio. He’s an avid cyclist and Chicago Bulls fan.
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