What Cops and Protesters Both Get Wrong: Police-Related Violence in New York City Has Been Falling For Decades


In 1972, an NYPD patrolman was executed at point-blank range after being lured by a fake call into an East Harle

New York City Mayor John Lindsay |||

m mosque. "I hope you die, you pigs," yelled members of an angry crowd, who threw bricks at the cops gathered outside in the aftermath. Next they lit a police car on fire.

New York City Mayor John Lindsay refused to comment on the murder, telling the press that he was worried "what I say would sound like an attempt at justification of police action and the situation is too inflammatory in Harlem right now."

The rank and file was furious, and it's possible cops would have turned their backs on Lindsay at the fallen officer's funeral—as they did to Mayor Bill de Blasio more recently—but he wasn't at the funeral. He was in Utah skiing.

Today, cops and citizens say they're under siege like never before. At the recent demonstrations, protesters shouted slogans at cops, comparing the NYPD to the Ku Klux Klan and asking

Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner William Bratton ||| Photographer/Mayoral Photography Office
Photographer/Mayoral Photography Office

how many kids they murdered that day. After the killing of two officers by a disturbed man inspired by the protests, a union leader claimed de Blasio had "blood on his hands" and instructed the rank and file to stop enforcing many laws as a way to preserve their own safety. For the second week in a row, the cops are listening.

Needless to say, we all want a world without tragic killings of any kind. But all the understandable outrage lacks context: For the past 44 years, rates of police violence against citizens, and citizen violence against police, have plummeted to a fraction of what they were in the bad old days. And when it comes to criminal justice reform, Gotham is in some ways a beacon compared to the rest of the country.

In 1971, NYPD officers shot and killed 93 people, which works out to 12 fatal shootings for every million residents. In 2013, by comparison, 8 people were fatally shot by the police, or one fatal shooting for every million residents—a decline of more than 90 percent. Also in 1971, 12 New York City cops were shot and killed—the same number as in all of the last fifteen years put together.

Also, police-related violence in New York isn't low just in relation to the city's historical rates; it's low compared to the rest of the country. Even if you accept the FBI's extreme undercount of fatal shootings by police nationally, citizens are significantly less likely to be shot and killed by cops in New York City than in the rest of the country.

Blaming the tragic killing of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu on the protesters or Mayor de Blasio is nonsense, and even today's most ardent critics of the NYPD condemned this senseless act of murder. But in the old days, there was a verifiable movement to kill New York cops.

Fatal Shootings by the NYPD, 1971-2013 |||

The Black Panthers, the revolutionary nationalist group, once called on its members to shoot NYPD officers—and many listened. In May 1971, two cops were ambushed by men with machine guns on the Upper West Side. Two days later, two patrolmen were again ambushed and shot dead at a housing project in Harlem. In January 1973, two more cops were shot in their car, in an incident that bears many similarities to the recent execution of Officers Ramos and Liu. All of these incidents traced back to perpetrators with ties to the Panthers or the Black Liberation Army.

The recent spate of anti-police abuse protests were indirectly triggered by a profoundly disturbing video of a cop choking Eric Garner, a black-market cigarette seller who was resisting arrest and ended up dead. But what if there had there been ubiquitous surveillance and camera phones in decades past? A glance at the historical headlines conveys a sense of the horrors that might have been caught on video.

Take 1973: In January, an officer fatally shot an unarmed 16-year-old girl in Brooklyn because he claimed another woman nearby was pointing a shotgun at him. He faced no repercussions. In March, two white officers shot to death a plainclothes black cop who was in the midst of making an arrest. In April, an officer with a checkered history fatally shot a 10-year-old boy on the street in Brooklyn, who, according to some accounts, was unarmed.

Mayor Lindsay, who governed Gotham during the turbulent period of 1966 to 1973, had a relationship with the NYPD that makes de Blasio's almost seem warm and fuzzy by comparison. Frustration with Lindsay, in part, led cops to engage in a six-day strike in January of 1971, during which only 15 percent of the police force showed up for work.

Fatal Shootings of NYPD Officers, 1971-2013 |||

By comparison, the NYPD's recent work slowdown is benign. (Another big reason for both actions: Gaining bargaining power in union contract negotiations.)

That's not to say that the protesters' complaints about the NYPD are groundless. Under de Blasio's predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, police-community tensions were exacerbated by the decision to send teams of inexperienced new recruits into minority neighborhoods to stop and frisk citizens on flimsy grounds. They routinely forced the men and women they apprehended to reveal small quantities of marijuana, and then arrested them—turning what would have been a mere fine for concealed cannabis into a criminal charge. But Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner William Bratton have laudably scaled back or ended these practices.

Here's the big picture: Over the past couple decades, the NYPD has significantly de-escalated the war on drugs. Prison sentences for drug crimes in New York have plummeted since 1992. Bucking the national trend, the overall incarceration rate has also fallen. As University of California criminologist Franklin Zimring found in his comprehensive statistical examination of policing and crime in the Big Apple, from 1990 through 2008, New York City saw a 70 percent decline in the number of black and Hispanic males aged 15-24 sentenced to prison. During the same period, the national rate shot up 65 percent.

Policing in New York works far better than it used to. And it's not about to revert back to the horrors of yesteryear.

There is also reason for optimism that the city's latest policing crisis will soon blow over as so many have

New York City Prison Admissions for Drug Crimes, 1985-2008 ||| Source: The Brennan Center for Justice
Source: The Brennan Center for Justice

before—not least of all because Mayor de Blasio had the good judgment to tap Bill Bratton, who proved himself a brilliant manager during his first stint as police commissioner by taming the NYPD's bureaucracy. There is nobody better positioned than Bratton to quell anger among the rank-and-file, and finish the job he started twenty years ago of turning the NYPD into a first-rate police force.

NEXT: Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!

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  1. Well that’s not how I feel.

    1. How do you feel about PM links?

      1. Somebody already asked about the PM Links, dumbass. :-p

        1. You’re just desperate to be first.

    2. You’re only as old as the woman you feel.

  2. Where are the 2130 UTC Lynx?

  3. revolutionary nationalist communist group

    What’s with Reason’s pussyfooting around the commies?

  4. Reason Tip: Posting several articles at or around 4:30 does not count as PM Links.

    1. There always seems to be one article posted around 4:30 PM with the Links that I’ve long presumed they want to bury.

    2. I always thought that article was a decoy planted by Fist.

  5. Is it ‘pass the puff’ time at Reason? Where are the PM links?

    1. Which staffer is most likely to bogart the joint?

      1. Gillespie. That’s an easy one.

      2. Good question. I don’t know them well enough.

        I’ll just go with Matt because.

        To bust.

    1. There are MoM enTs where sometimes I tell ya…

      1. Where sometimes I question the sobriety of EVERYONE at the DC office, especially ENB.

  6. In the spirit of self-reliance, maybe we should create our own PM Links. I’ll start: Reptile Shop Owner Hit Employees With Bearded Dragon Lizard.

    1. Look at this guy.

    2. Yeah, I know the PM Linkz have been posted. I like mine better.

      Win a Dinner With Hillary Clinton

      1. You SF’d the link (thank Zod).

  7. I, for one, plan to turn my back on whoever eventually posts the afternoon lynx as a form of protest.

    1. You and Fist with your ‘protests’.

      You’ll be back.

      We all come back.

    2. I would highly advise not turning your back on this group unless you want butt sex.

  8. “Over the past couple decades, the NYPD has significantly de-escalated the war on drugs. Prison sentences for drug crimes in New York have plummeted since 1992. “

    As Jacob Sullum pointed out in November – NYC arrests for marijuana possession were over 50,000 as recently as 2011… up from under 1,000 in 1992

    Suggesting that the “NYPD has de-escalated” anything is misleading. Fewer people are actually *sentenced*, sure. I fail to see how that indicates any change in attitude by the police department, who has no role over whether crimes result in prison time.

    The fact is that NYPD prosecution of the ‘Drug War’ escalated in the early 2000s as “real crimes” (murder, rape, robbery) declined. While that chart reflects only marijuana arrests, it is consistent with prosecutions

    Reason writers should pick a narrative and stick with it.

  9. Via the Instapundit, here is the dumbest thing you’ll read all year. He said it was the dumbest thing you’d read today, but I think he was downplaying it.


    Anyone guilty of hate speech ? which should carry criminal penalties of 25 years to life ? should be sent to special prisons designed to re-educate them and to instill values of tolerance, freedom, democracy, and human rights in them. Prison is about punishment, but it’s also about changing the behavior of criminals. We often tend to forget this in our country. Merely sending bigots to ordinary prisons is not good enough ? they need to be sent to special prisons for bigots, which will re-educate them. The United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the international human rights community have stressed many times that education and re-education are crucial for eliminating hatred and protecting human rights. In addition to requiring prisons to re-educate bigots, America also needs to pass laws mandating that all schools and all media outlets spend an allotted amount of time each day to promoting tolerance, freedom, democracy, and human rights.

    1. I will, however, note that this is the only article ever submitted by this person, and her Twitter account was started 3 days ago. There’s a very good chance this is an incredibly well done satire.

      1. It’s hard to tell, but I’m inclined to say that is satire.

      2. Hope it is satire. Wow.

    2. If they are going to prison for life, what’s the point of re-education? Are they trying to build a better, more inclusive and tolerant prison community?

    3. What the fucking fuck?! Talk about letting their mask slip (assuming it isn’t satire, though the fact that I can’t tell is bad enough).

  10. What do we want?


    When do we want them?


    1. Of course they were posted 1 minute ago.


      1. Maybe. Up to you, really.

    2. Isn’t it 1:30 Pacific time? Or is your internet late by 3 hours out there?

      1. Fucking hell. I’ve transposed Reason time and real time.

        *Kills self*

  11. So Jim Epstein is a fake libertarian who loves cops. Should we spare him?

  12. On the other hand, Mr. Epstein, somewhat better than John Lindsay is hardly a ringing endorsement, is it?

  13. So good time to go to New York to score some cheap blow then? Incidentally I heard some Detroit dealer called heroin blow on some show. You can’t just change drug slang that.

  14. “Let’s see, a man was choked to death when he was already subdued and complaining that he couldn’t breathe, but police violence is down overall (which I doubt, by the way), so I really don’t care.” Is that really the way we’re supposed to react to what happened, Mr. Epstein?

    No one looks at an unjust act and responds based on the 50-year secular trend of violent police acts. I don’t live in NYC and even I’ve heard of the arbitrary stops of black citizens, the man who was shot 41 times while reaching for his keys, and other incompetent and shameful acts. Granted, I also bring up incidents that happened long ago, but the reaction of the public and the visual evidence regarding Mr. Garner’s case show that there are still quite a few problems and THAT is why there are protesters. And, before anyone says that I don’t, I have great respect for the police and the job that they do, but no one is right all of the time, and there is no conflict when one supports the basic rights of the citizens and our various police departments at the same time. Citizens at-large must be held accountable and called out when they are wrong, and so must the police.

    The article and its ideas, if you can call them that, are ridiculous. The writer seems to see this situation as a balance sheet and the individual incidents don’t matter as long as the plusses and minuses show an improving trend (the existence of which, again, I doubt). Did somebody read this before it was published?

    1. As long as it doesn’t involve anyone you know, why shouldn’t it be a balance sheet? How do you evaluate good & bad otherwise? How do you know how to prioritize without the numbers?

      1. Your question is shocking to me.

        The totality of the situation shouldn’t be viewed as a balance sheet because it allows individual injustices and abominable acts to go unpunished that are just plain wrong (and it guarantees that there will be more of them).

        If the morality angle doesn’t move you, then consider the fact that it isn’t possible to confine the cheapening of human life and the abuses of power to people that you don’t care about, and there are numerous examples of this.

        RICO, for example, was originally used to deny due process to mobsters. We didn’t care, and now all of us have the potential of falling into its clutches, as ordinary and innocent citizens have had their property seized on countless occasions and for the flimsiest of reasons.

        We initially allowed the police to pull over and examine all drivers, without probable cause, in order to find drunk drivers, and that seemed to be a good idea at the time (but not to me). Now the police don’t really have to justify why they pull any of us over, and this power is used well beyond the original holiday and Saturday night dragnets.

        Recently, I spoke to a friend, who is white, by the way, who was told by a policeman that his plates were run and he was stopped because he was driving a crappy car, which is embarrassing, but not against the law.

        It’s corny, but true: allow shortcuts in the legal process and the rights of the few to be compromised, and you weaken all of us.

  15. Cops are just jackasses in general. Period.


  16. I apologize for the mean-spiritedness of the last paragraph of my remarks. I’d better get some dinner…

  17. I apologize for the mean-spiritedness of the last paragraph of my remarks. I’d better get some dinner…

  18. I bet the “Assault On Police Officer” cases are still high in NYC as they are in the Nation’s Capital, but no one counts those, because cops are supposed to be veritable punching bags for citizens. How many times does a police officer get assaulted and yet the assailant shows up in court the next day unscathed?

    13 #AssaultOnPoliceOfficer cases in DCSuperiorCourt today (Tue 6 Jan 2015)

    1. Citizen Cop (Government Official)

      It’s not supposed to be easy to be a cop, except in a police state of course.

  19. Nice piece, Jim. But re the first graph, as you are aware, Eric Garner was not shot.

  20. What’s going on is really nothing more than the unintended consequences of stop and frisk in NY over the period of decades. It’s pretty well known that the “dangerous parts” there, have been ran like fascist states for quite some time. to those who live there and those I’ve talked to.

    Fascism does work, and it does look good from the outside looking in. Before the start of WW2, many thought Hitler was one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century. However, fascism can never maintain it’s success, and now chickens are coming home to roost unfortunately.

    1. Exactly! And, as I stated in earlier remarks, these abuses eventually find their way to all corners of society, so don’t you believe that Stop and Frisk will be confined to black people.

  21. John Lindsay…John Boehner…what’s the difference?

  22. I got Lancia after having made $8688 this month and more than ten-k last-month . this is really the easiest work I’ve ever had . I started this 3 months ago and right away earned more than $84 per/hour .
    Go to this website ?????? http://www.jobsfish.com

  23. “The recent spate of anti-police abuse protests were indirectly triggered by a profoundly disturbing video of a cop choking Eric Garner,”

    I am tired of people being critical of the police in the Garner situation without ever providing one scrap of a realistic suggestion about what the cops should have done with him. This has been in the news for weeks and yet I haven’t heard one VIABLE suggestion of what the cops should have done or could do in situations where people refuse to be arrested after breaking the law that don’t involve the use of force. I am sorry but asking nicely just doesn’t work. I know it is a shock and “disturbing” to all of you lefties who live in lily white American suburbia that the cops actually need to use force when suspects are unwilling to be arrested. You think they all just put their hands behind their backs willingly. Not so much for us living in less lily white settings. We know these “angels” the cops are dealing with, we live next door or down the street from them.

    And don’t tell me how stupid the law was that was broken. The cops don’t pass laws, they are responsible to enforce them. So save me the lament about stupid nanny state laws. You are preaching to the choir.

    Just give me an alternative approach that isn’t a bunch of leftist feel good BS or stop acting like there is an alternative to the use of force to subdue an unwilling suspect. Good luck with that. There would already be slogans on T-shirts if there was one.

    1. You obviously missed the part where he was subdued and saying that he couldn’t breathe, a point that was proven by his death.

      We aren’t police professionals; it’s unreasonable to expect us to make specific recommendations on how to police New York City. Just as you may not know what to recommend to your mechanic when it comes to fixing your car, you still know when it isn’t operating correctly. Similarly, we know by its results (or, at least, we should know) that this system of policing is broken. It needs to be changed in order to create results that are more in line with our values. And no, I’m nobody’s leftie.

      1. “We aren’t police professionals; it’s unreasonable to expect us to make specific recommendations on how to police New York City.”

        “Just as you may not know what to recommend to your mechanic when it comes to fixing your car, you still know when it isn’t operating correctly.’

        What a cop out and what a bad analogy. Since there are thousands of mechanics in this country, it would be pretty easy to determine what is wrong with a car that isn’t running properly and what is needed to fix it. The fact that nobody is coming out with alternatives to what the cops did in order to subdue a resisting suspect and the fact that experts have already come out and said the cops followed their training, probably means they likely did what they were trained to do and what they were trained to do was learned through experience by EXPERTS to be correct in order to prevent cop killings by resisting suspects.

        What people are really struggling with is the fact that he died over selling loosies. If he had just murdered someone nobody would really care that he died resisting arrest. Because he died for such a stupid reason makes it harder to accept. The problem is people don’t want to blame the person most responsible for this stupid waste. Had Eric Garner not resisted, he would still be alive today.

        1. You’ve misunderstood my point. Your “no one is offering any suggestions” complaint IS like demanding that a driver offer advice to a mechanic regarding how to fix the former’s car, which is unreasonable. I was never implying that answers cannot be found, I was saying that you were asking the wrong people for those answers.

          For most of us, continuing to choke a man who has already been subdued is too much and shows, as I said, that the system is broken and doesn’t not reflect the values of our society. Neither does Stop and Frisk.

          Agreeing on methods that, at the same time, allow the police to do their jobs and respects the lives, rights, and property of the citizens is the responsibility of all of us. Conceiving and implementing those methods is the responsibility of those whose training and paychecks demand it. This is what they’ve agreed to do when they accepted their jobs, and that is my point.

  24. That’s funny. Because high crime rates will start rising if we keep letting illegals be granted amnesty and letting people from savage populations integrate into the nation. Fuck immigration.

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