April 16, 2024

Do Black victims matter?

Editor’s note: This column was originally published in City Journal.

On Monday afternoon, a 17-year-old girl was shot near her Brooklyn public school. She is just one of the many Black kids victimized since 2017’s Raise the Age legislation prevented violent youth in New York from being held responsible for hurting people, leading to 204% increase in teen shooting victims.

Last year, 78 more teens were shot than had been five years prior. Even worse, by 2021, the number of murdered Black kids in NYC nearly quadrupled, with 42 victims that year, or 80%, being Black (including Black Hispanic). That’s 25 more Black youths killed than in 2017.

Violent victimization in New York City is perennially a Black problem, and this disparity has only increased since the state’s recent criminal justice reforms unleashed the most persistently violent on the most persistently vulnerable. The very tiny slice of the community responsible for this violence doesn’t have to worry much, if at all, about: being detained (thanks to the 2020 bail reform); getting prosecuted (the 2020 discovery reform); having parole revoked, even for criminal violations (the 2021 Less Is More Act); or, for youthful offenders, facing judges who will send them to criminal court’s adolescent sections or who will even be aware that they have been arrested before (the 2017 Raise the Age legislation).

MAN RUSHES AT BUFFALO MASS SHOOTER PAYTON GENDRON DURING SENTENCING HEARINGΒ 

It takes a willful effort to ignore the growing racial disparity in victimization. In 2017, 55.7% of the city’s 292 murder victims were Black (163 individuals)β€”already a disturbing number in a city that is only about one-fifth Black. By 2021, more than two-thirds of the 488 murder victims were black (327 people). By comparison, 28 white New Yorkers were killed in 2017; in 2021 that number was essentially unchanged at 29.

Unfortunately, willful ignorance is the order of the day in Albany. The ranking Black officials who championed these legislative changes in the name of Black New Yorkers are now trying to hide the mounting evidence that the Black community is suffering most under their reforms.

Last week, Albany County district attorney David Soares was scheduled to deliver testimony at a New York State Senate hearing on criminal justice data. At the last minute, the Senate counselΒ called the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York (DAASNY) at about 10 p.m. the night before the hearing to disinvite Soares. TheΒ concern was that Soares, a Black man, would highlight data showing that the recent criminal-justice reforms are causing “Black victimization” and disproportionately harming “my community,” as he had recently noted. Instead, DAASNY president Anthony Jordan read Soares’s statements at the hearing. Getting the bad news from Jordan, who is white, made it easier for officials to dismiss itβ€”a feat that might have been trickier if the person delivering it was a progressive Black Democrat.

“These reforms have had their most devastating impact on Black and Brown Communities,” read Soares’s testimony. “If you take an honest look at the dataβ€”the increases in crime, the victims of those crimes, and the location of the most violent crimes, the connection is quite clear.”

Senator Jamaal Bailey, the Black official presiding over the hearing, fumed: “Quite frankly some of the testimony as written is rather offensive, it’s a pejorative, and it’s condescending. . . . This testimony is replete with, quite frankly, condescending information if I may be completely honest and frank. I’m curious about how testimony like this even gets before us in a public hearing.”

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Senator Zellnor Myrie, also Black, used all his allotted minutes to offer a reprimand: “I don’t think this testimony is appropriate. I think this is a political document. I think there are a number of non-factual, political, exaggerated phrases in here, and I don’t think it is a good faith attempt by DAASNY to work with the Legislature to come to the right solution.”

These officials refused even to entertain the possibility that the reforms are harmful, instead redoubling their commitment to a weakened criminal-justice system. Bailey enthused about the passage of Raise the Age: “The signing of this bill marks another step in the right direction to meaningfully change the lives of young people and families across the state. . . . The criminalization of youngβ€”disproportionately Black and brownβ€”children perpetuates racial disparities in the justice system.”

Since the implementation of Raise the Age, Albany County, where Soares is district attorney, has seen about 312 Raise the Age cases, involving only 230 defendants: “34% of those defendants have been arrested more than once. 19% of those re-arrested were detained as minors. Of those re-arrested, 62% were re-arrested for a violent felony,” read Soares’s testimony. And the vast majority of these crimes took place in Albany’s Black neighborhoods.

In what way are these reforms helping Black communities, as Myrie and Bailey assert? Are Black people only Black when charged with crimes? Persistent offenders are the only real beneficiaries of these laws as they currently stand. Their cost to Black victims is growing daily.

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