New York City has not mourned the death of two police officers in the same line of duty since 2014. On Friday, two officers in their twenties and Hispanics – the force is increasingly ethnically diverse, compared to the predominance of Italian Americans and Irish in the past – went to a Harlem address for a call from a woman her son was threatening. With an illegal, rigged weapon from the Baltimore underworld, the man shot Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora, 22 and 27 years old, respectively. The first died almost instantly; his partner has succumbed to injuries this Tuesday in a New York hospital. The murderer, with accounts already settled with justice, died on Saturday due to head injuries that the agents, and a third companion who was unharmed, inflicted on him to repel the attack.
The ambush suffered by Jason and Wilbert was the latest incident in a week in which two other duty officers were shot and wounded, in a climate of growing insecurity that the mayor, Eric Adams – who was a police officer for decades – has described as “authentic public health crisis”. In addition to the agents, since the beginning of January, when he became mayor, there have been other victims of armed violence, such as Cristal, the Puerto Rican woman murdered during the robbery at the East Harlem hamburger restaurant where she worked, or the 11-month-old baby by a stray bullet while resting in his mother’s arms inside a car. In front of the fast food chain where Cristal died, on 116th Street, stands an improvised altar full of flowers, stuffed animals and balloons that gets fatter day by day.
Although violence has been on the rise during the pandemic, both in New York and in other major cities across the country, it may seem like a sinister twist of fate that this surge comes early in the tenure of a former officer and then captain of the police department. New York (with 35,000 agents, the largest in the country). His promise of a safer city, one of the tricks that gave him the mayoralty in the June elections, has been fatally confronted by the facts and this Monday, in a long televised speech, Adams advanced some details of his reform plans of the body. “We’re dealing with a tidal wave of violence,” Adams said; a violence that is also palpable in the city’s subway facilities, although for other reasons: because it is the daily shelter of numerous homeless people with serious mental problems, such as the individual who two weeks ago randomly pushed a 40-year-old woman onto the platform, who died when hit by the wagon.
But the trickle of shooting deaths, fueled by the transfusion of illegal weapons from the southern states and the Midwest of the country to large cities like New York, has introduced the qualitative variable in the statistics, in addition to accelerating the political response. “We are not going to hand over our city to a violent few. Security and justice are prerequisites for prosperity, there is no time to waste”, Adams stressed in his speech. Among other measures, the councilor announced the deployment of more police in the metro – currently a thousand uniformed patrol it daily – and in the 30 district police stations that concentrate 80% of the latest episodes of violence. He also promised to bring back a unit to detect and remove firearms from circulation that was dismantled by his predecessor in 2020. The difference is that the agents assigned to the previous version dressed in civilian clothes, and Adams now does not want to mask his presence.
Other thorny issues, such as the uncertain future of the 250,000 young people between 16 and 24 years old hand in hand in the city’s neighborhoods, fed by gangs or organized crime; the risk of a city that is increasingly more policed -a threat especially experienced by the Afro-American and Latino communities-, the resources to comprehensively address the integration and mental health of the homeless or the reform of criminal justice loom like slabs on Adam’s plans. The consolation is the present: a city with only 488 homicides in 2021… compared to the 2,000 that were registered year after year in the early nineties.
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