From little things


Last week ‘New York’s Finest’ were reaching for their Smartphones, posting happy snaps of panhandlers begging on Broadway and vagrants urinating in the streets. What the…?!

Back in 1993 former prosecutor Attorney Rudy Giuliani ran his New York City mayoral campaign on a promise to clean up the city’s mean streets. Born in an Italian-American enclave of Brooklyn, the son of an Italian immigrant who did time in Sing Sing Penitentiary for loan-sharking, Giuliani knew the territory. As a District Attorney he’d successfully prosecuted plenty of big boys, like Mafia boss John “Teflon Don” Gotti. But Giuliani believed big things start small, that problems set in when the little people lost respect for each other, and themselves, and that to correct the slide you had to work from the bottom up.


In his first term as mayor Giuliani applied the “broken windows theory” of urban decay – if broken windows in a building go unrepaired, vandals will be tempted to break more windows in the building, eventually break in, and perhaps then become squatters and light fires inside.

Giuliani’s administration controversially cracked down on the small stuff – the broken windows, the graffiti, the turnstile jumping, panhandling, and dope peddling. Within several years, rates of both petty and serious crime fell dramatically, and they continued to drop for the next decade. New York City was transformed, and although many questioned whether Giuliani’s timing was just coincidental with broader socio-economic improvements, the mayor’s bottom-up battle was broadly credited for the city’s salvation.

Now NYC cops are grumbling that their city is returning to its bad old ways. Claiming vagrants, hookers and junkies are again making life miserable on city streets, the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association last week emailed its members, urging them to take photographs to show the decline of the city, and post them online.

“As you travel about the city of New York, please utilize your smartphones to photograph the homeless lying in our streets, aggressive panhandlers, people urinating in public or engaging in open-air drug activity, and quality-of-life offenses of every type,” wrote SBA President Ed Mullins, who has been a major critic of the current NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Mullins hopes the online photos will shame city officials into action, after what he claims to have been two years of “failed policies, more homeless encampments on city streets, a 10 percent increase in homicides, and the diminishing of our hard-earned and well-deserved public perception of the safest large city in America.”

Not everyone agrees on the problem. But no doubt Rudy Giuliani for one would approve on the solution.

[signoff icon=”icon-username”]About the Author: Chris Nyst
Chris is one of Australia’s best known and most experienced lawyers. He co-founded the prestigious Griffith University Innocence Project, is an adjunct professor of law and a regular guest lecturer and speaker on corporate regulation, criminal law and advocacy. He is also an award-winning novelist and filmmaker, and former director of Screen Queensland.

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