A Conversation With New York City Councilman Rory Lancman

 Originally published July 22, 2020


With the rise in crime in and around New York City, the Queens Jewish community is growing more and more concerned with the direction the city has been taking regarding criminal justice reform and the relationship with the police. Some of these measures included ending cash bail, closing Rikers Island, and creating community jails closer to the courthouse. Councilman Rory Lancman, who represents the 24th City Council district (which covers Kew Gardens Hills, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Briarwood, and more), has been a strong advocate for much of these policy changes.

When discussing the issues with Councilman Lancman, he seemed incredibly concerned about the increase in crime around the city, but was confident that those issues would not hit his constituents. “The district that I represent is safe,” Lancman said. “Crime is down dramatically in the 107th precinct, and my part of the 103rd precinct. The [Queens] Jewish community in particular…are safer this year than they were last year, and much safer this year than they were in the year before I took office. The increase in shootings are happening in other parts of the city, but nobody who is a reader of the Queens Jewish Link should feel unsafe.”

When discussing the issues in the rest of the city, Councilman Lancman put the onus on the NYPD. Lancman elaborates by saying, “We’re in a situation where the Police Department is in open revolt against the democratically elected City Council and more importantly, the democratically elected mayor, who is their boss.” While Commissioner Dermot Shea is openly blaming the increase in crime around the city on the latest policies, Lancman claims that these accusations are debunked. “Each one of those excuses, each one of those justifications, each one of doing everything but looking in the mirror on the part of the Police Department, for why they’re not containing shooting in different parts of the city, gets debunked, gets shown to be demonstrably false and statistically impossible, and then they move on to the next one.” The New York Post recently reported that, based on the NYPD’s own data, the shootings reported in New York City are not being conducted by those released from prison due to COVID-19 or people who were released without bail.

The main takeaway is that the relationship between the NYPD and the New York City Council and the Mayor’s Office is extremely fractured, possibly broken, without a possibility of repair under Mayor de Blasio. Commissioner Shea is constantly refuting the Mayor, and as Councilman Lancman elaborates, NYPD action is viewed as insubordination. The fact is that crime is rising in New York City. Whether that is caused by the recent reforms made by the state legislature and City Council, or merely correlates with those recently instituted policies, cooperation between lawmakers and the police is paramount to the continued safety of the residents. If the NYPD is at war with the City Council, the only winners are the criminals and the only losers are the innocent.

When discussing the history of the relationship between the NYPD and the Mayor’s Office, Councilman Lancman mentioned that the NYPD leadership “went nuts” when Mayor de Blasio discussed having “the talk” with his black children during a press conference. This, according to Lancman, was “an example of a wild overreaction on the part of the police officers and the union.” The fact that black children need to be given “the talk” about how to deal with police officers when confronted “should have been a moment for reflection” for the NYPD. Lancman is referring to a 2014 press conference after an officer was not indicted in the death of Eric Garner. “Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years, about the dangers he may face,” de Blasio said. “A good young man, a law-abiding young man, who would never think to do anything wrong, and yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face – we’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades – in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.”

The NYPD took great offense at the insinuation that police officers treat black suspects differently, as they should. If, after the shootings at the Chabad of Poway or the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, a prominent Jewish official, like Chuck Schumer, gave a press conference where he said that he had to give his children “the talk” about how non-Jews have historically hunted and killed Jews, would that have been a productive way to unify after a tragedy? Or were de Blasio’s remarks the first step in a long journey that led to a point that “the Police Department and police officers have been deliberately holding back,” according to Councilman Lancman. “Arrests are down dramatically, and they’re doing it to make a political statement, to make a point, to assert themselves, because they’re not used to not getting their way.”

The recent reforms made to the criminal justice system, which are opposed by the NYPD, were largely motivated by the statistical analysis that black people were being disproportionately affected by the enforcement of the laws. In order to change the result, the enforcement mechanism was changed. However, this does not mean less crime will be committed; this only means that less punishment will be doled out. By comparison, if a high school was suspending far more boys than girls in a given year, and the principal decided that the gender punishment gap was too great, ending all suspensions would close that gap. However, that wouldn’t solve the problems of the school; it would merely remove a punishment mechanism. Expanded out to New York City, the problems do not disappear if the city has decriminalized certain misdemeanors; probably the opposite will happen. The latest policies, including the closing of Rikers Island and making certain “quality of life” offenses civil matters instead of criminal ones, seem to have been passed in the hope that criminals would be so grateful that they would stop committing crime.

One of the most controversial policies enacted was the end to cash bail. When asked about this, Councilman Lancman admitted that removing cash bail was only half the solution. “Here’s what’s missing in New York,” he said. “Right now, New York is one of only a handful of states that do not allow someone to be remanded, to remain in custody, based on a determination that they are a danger to the public. We don’t have that in New York. So what we have, the only use of cash bail in the law in New York is to secure a defendant’s attendance before trial.” When asked why the state legislature didn’t add the ability for a prosecutor to make the case that a detainee is too much of a public danger to be released, Lancman says that “our criminal justice system is permeated with racial inequality at every level.” Therefore, “disproportionately, people of color, and Black people in particular, will be deemed dangerous” and held. However, even having that mechanism would have prevented someone like Ayana Logan, who was arrested and released three times in as many days, from committing further acts of violence. Instituting the end to cash bail is merely a half-measure, at best.

When lamenting the racial inequality of the criminal justice system, Councilman Lancman begs the question of “Why is this happening?” Is every level, from the cop on the beat to the judge handing down the sentence, merely being more stringent on people of color? Or are there other factors, like prior arrests and convictions, or the fact that a disproportionate amount of violent crime is committed by poor people, and a disproportionate amount of poor people in the city are people of color? If so, what measures can be taken to help lift people out of poverty? For years the government has been pumping money into the system, but the fact is that broken homes and poor education continue to persist, and as long as that exists in any community, regardless of color, members of that community will be front and center of the criminal justice system.

That being said, the best take-away from the conversation with Councilman Lancman is that the conversation, itself, is worthwhile. There are differences of opinion and different paths toward the same goal. The left and the right don’t agree on much; but as long as the conversation persists, there exists an increased chance at repairing the divisiveness that has permeated the culture. By working with the police, despite all the past differences, our communities can be safer, and this steady increase in violence across the city can be an aberration instead of a trend.

Moshe Hill is a political analyst who has written for The Daily Wire, the Queens Jewish Link, The Jewish Link of New Jersey and www.JNS.org. He is regularly featured on ‘The Josh M Show’ podcast. Subscribe to www.aHillwithaview.com  for more content from Moshe Hill. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/ahillwithaview and follow him on Twitter @TheMoHill.

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