Hysterical rants never sleep: All killings are horrible. A recent killing in New York City was perhaps especially horrible because the victim, and the three apparent perpetrators, were all very young.
The victim was just 18. Based on current reporting, it seems that the perpetrators were all 13 or 14. This report in this morning's New York Times seems to represent the current state of the press corps' knowledge about this horrible killing.
The killing of Tessa Majors, age 18, has received a great deal of attention, as is perfectly appropriate. Unfortunately, it triggered a very strange discussion on Tuesday night's Cuomo Prime Time.
The strangeness of this discussion started with Cuomo, a generally sensible person. He kicked off the segment like this:
CUOMO (12/17/19): All right, we have new details tonight. I don't know if you've heard about this. It just happened last week, Wednesday.To our ear, Cuomo touched off a lurid discussion which bordered on the hysterical. To appearances, "the depravity that's going on in this city" had him doing that.
This Barnard College, that's Columbia University, a freshman named Tessa Majors, just starting school, up from Virginia, murdered. A Judge ruled today the case against a 13-year-old suspect will move forward.
Police say there are other teens involved. They think it's about three, right now, but they're not sure.
I've seen this happen before. And now they're getting surveillance video, and it's raising all kinds of questions about the depravity that's going on in this city, the rising crime rates that are across this country, and what makes kids do something like this.
Let's dig in. We have Paul Callan and Kris Mohandie. Now, Paul was involved in the Central Park Five. He represented a couple of the officers that were investigating the case that actually wound up reversing the findings, so he remembers that period very well.
But Paul, you know, you're a mentor of mine. Feel free to back me off it. But we know the rates are going up around the country. We know that in this city, we're seeing it. We know that homicide is even ticking up.
But a crime like this, when is the last time you heard of 13- and 14- year-olds knifing somebody this way? When the 13-year-old described it, people in the court couldn't even take it.
CALLAN: Well, it's a horrible, horrible crime, and it sends shivers across New York City.
He kept returning to descriptions of the way kids of all racial descriptions actually were engaging in "wilding" during the era of the killing for which the Central Park Five were blamed. Based on one appalling event, he seemed to be suggesting that this "depravity" was now on the way back.
To our ear, the discussion was lurid, and disrespectful to the victim. At one point, the fellows offered this:
CUOMO: You know, Paul, here's the part that troubles me about this.To all appearances, Callan and and Cuomo are both sensible people. In our view, they each needed to show this victim a higher degree of respect.
They're looking for two other young kids. They had one on Friday night, maybe that's the kid. Maybe they're looking for a third. They're a little soft on the numbers, and that's fine.
They can't find this kid. That's unusual to not find a kid that age. You know, they're vulnerable. They don't have resources and connections the way, you know, somebody who's connected to an organization or an adult might. What's your read on that?
CALLAN: It's very, very unusual.
And I have to say, Chris, the picture that was described by the 13- year-old, who has been apprehended, of the knife going into Tessa Majors repeatedly, and feathers flying from her coat—presumably she was wearing some kind of a down jacket, we'll find out later on—is just a haunting—
CUOMO: And her crying for help.
CALLAN: —horrific. Yes, crying.
CUOMO: The kids were aware of what she was going through. They made a decision.
We thought the overall tone of this discussion was appalling. But what made the segment even more striking was Cuomo's instant claim that this horrific event, and the "depravity" it contained, was just one instance in "the rising crime rates that are across this country."
Are there really "rising crime rates across the country?" In late September, the FBI released its annual crime report. The New York Times reported these basic findings:
WILLIAMS (10/1/19): Violent crime in the United States, including murders, declined in 2018 for a second consecutive year, according to F.B.I. data released on Monday. The murder rate dropped by 6 percent, affected by significant declines in killings in Baltimore and Chicago. At the same time, more rapes were reported nationwide.This seems to contradict Cuomo's assertion about the rising crime rates. Similarly, in this morning's report about this killing, the New York Tomes offers this account of the state of play in New York City itself:
Over all, the nation’s crime rate decreased by 6.5 percent, led by a 6.9 percent decline in the property crime rate. It was the 16th year in a row in which property crimes dropped, the F.B.I. said.
The decline in overall crime continues a decades-long trend but follows a two-year uptick in violent crime in 2015 and 2016 that raised concerns about the possibility of a broad shift in the pattern.
“This largely shows we are not standing on the precipice of a national crime wave,” Ames Grawert, senior counsel for the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said of the latest crime statistics.
RANSOM (12/19/19): The killing of Ms. Majors came as the city’s murder rate has reached a record low, and it has jarred the city and evoked an earlier era of high crime.Has this horrible killing "evoked an earlier era of high crime?" It certainly seemed to do so on CNN as Cuomo made an unexplained, apparently inaccurate reference to "the rising crime rates that are across this country, and what makes kids do something like this."
The tone of this segment struck us as inappropriate and near-hysterical throughout. Oddly, Callan offered information about New York City's vastly reduced crime rates early on, then seemed to second Cuomo claim about a significant increase in violent crime:
CALLAN: Well it's a horrible, horrible crime, and it sends shivers across New York City.Callan started by noting the remarkable drop in homicides in the last three or four decades. Then, turning on a dime, he seemed to support Cumo's suggestion that violent crime is on the rise again.
And you're right. It brings back the memory of the Central Park Five case, which I represented two of the Assistant District Attorneys who reinvestigated the case, and found that the confessions were inaccurate, and the wrong people were arrested in that case. But that case terrified the city because it happened in a beloved park, and it really emphasized how dangerous the city had become.
And just to give you an indication, when I was a Homicide Assistant D.A. in Brooklyn, in the 1970s, the homicide rate was about 1,600 per year. It then peaked at over 2,000 per year in 1980.
Last year, you know what it was? It was 289 homicides. It had fallen to 289.
And now, police are saying that violent crime may be up as much as 25 percent in New York City. And you're right. It is a trend that we're seeing nationally.
Is that true? Are police really saying "that violent crime may be up as much as 25 percent in New York City?" Is it true that this is "a trend that we're seeing nationally?"
Neither Callan nor Cuomo made any attempt to source or clarify these familiar scary claims. As for New York City, when we Googled, this report came up first:
CHAPMAN (7/8/19): Major crime in New York City reached a record low for the first half of 2019, but the number of shootings rose, police officials said Monday.The shootings were up by 7%. That's less than 25.
For the first six months of the year, the New York Police Department recorded 43,294 major crimes, which includes murders, rapes, large thefts and felony assaults. The figure is the lowest for the first six months of a year since the NYPD started tracking major crimes 1994.
Cuomo strikes us as a thoroughly decent person. We were amazed by the lurid tone of this segment, and puzzled by the scary claims.
According to Neil Young, rust never sleeps. Rather plainly, neither does hysterical, unhelpful reaction to crime.