As gun violence spikes in cities like New York, many are looking to mass incarceration to solve the issue instead of addressing the root causes of violence.
With life adjusting to the new normal, cities across the country are dealing with increases in gun violence. New York City’s uptick in shootings totaled 505 people shot as of May 9th, out-pacing the number of incidents in the same period last year. As cities reel from the violence, many are calling for more police to stop violent crime and bring safety to communities. While this may seem like the obvious answer to some, others of us know that safety is not built in more policing, and that more police does not address the root causes of violence, such as poverty, a lack of access to health care, and other community resources. The data is clear and has been for some time: We can better address gun violence by investing in community interventions and not in policing and mass incarceration.
Following a shooting on May 8th in Times Square, calls for an increased police presence across the city, particularly in the already heavily policed Midtown area grew from prominent city officials, like NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea. They were not alone in their calls for more policing as Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he will be adding 250 more officers to MTA stations as 24/7 subway service resumes in the city.
It’s true that violent incidents, including shootings, have been increasing across the city, but adding more police to Times Square, MTA stations, and Black and Brown communities is not a solution that actually stops gun violence from occurring. Several NYPD precincts are already located near marginalized communities in the city. MTA stations and subway cars are already patrolled by police regularly, and the areas in and near Times Square are never without police surveillance. So if police haven’t solved the issue of gun violence in the city so far, how does adding more police make it happen?
We have to invest in solutions to public safety that center communities and remedies generations of structural violence and systemic racism that have plagued Black and Brown neighborhoods for far too long. Back in November, John Jay College’s Research and Evaluation Center released a compilation of evidence based findings on ways to reduce violence without police. The recommendations of the report put an emphasis on empowering communities to address violence by giving them the resources they need to address poverty through financial assistance, rebuild and enhance public spaces in neighborhoods, provide safe and affordable housing, remove barriers to education, create drug decriminalization and treatment programs, gun buyback programs, provide more opportunities to youth and young adults, and more.
Gun violence isn’t something that just happens out of thin air. Gun violence happens because of systematic inequality and disinvestment that leaves many communities without the resources needed to invest in community-based strategies for safety and healing. The inability to meet one’s economic needs can create a reality that forces someone to believe that gun violence is the only way to provide for and defend one’s self, and loved ones. Cities across the country have thrown more resources and dollars at the incarceration of people responsible for gun violence, instead of addressing the conditions that make gun violence possible. Solutions like establishing Offices of Neighborhood Safety (ONS) which have violence prevention programs in cities like Milwaukee and Oakland cost $4 and $26 per capita, compared to $502 and $727 per capita spending on their police departments respectively.
Recently, New York City Pride announced that they would ban the NYPD from marching or providing security along the main parade route and its surrounding areas. Many public officials decried the decision, with Mayor Bill de Blasio calling it a "mistake." In actuality, it is one of the boldest steps taken by event organizers to make Pride and its attendees feel safer now, and for years to come. Police at Pride have often harassed and profiled Black and Brown attendees in years past, and last year clashed with marchers on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, –a protest against police violence that grew into the Pride that we know today.
Our reliance on police and prisons to keep us safe will only continue to proliferate violence in our cities. If we really want to address violence, and do so effectively, we must address systemic issues without compromise, and end the carceral state. New York City spends significantly more on maintaining police and prisons than its social services, which are much more effective at preventing violence. If we are going to make our cities safer and end this spike in violence, we must prioritize communities by providing the resources they need to thrive, and not funding police and prisons.