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President Biden tries to navigate crime wave in New York visit

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden wades into the politically treacherous issue of crime and guns with a trip yesterday to New York, where recent shootings of police have highlighted a growing fear of violent disorder in America’s big cities. Biden, who is traveling with Attorney General Merrick Garland, will meet with newly sworn-in mayor and rising Democratic star Eric Adams at New York Police Department headquarters, and then visit community intervention leaders in Queens.

The moving sight on Wednesday and last week of thousands of New York police officers massing in Manhattan to honor two fellow officers killed while answering a domestic call in January underlined the pressure he will face. Six officers in the Big Apple have been shot just this year, and they’re among the nearly three dozen shot across the country in January, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Major crimes in the city are up 38 percent this year so far, reflecting spikes in most major urban areas. A January study by the Council on Criminal Justice showed homicides in 22 cities increasing five percent in 2021 over 2020 — and a whopping 44 percent over 2019. And whether it’s carjackings around Washington, DC, or smash-and-grab raids on San Francisco department stores, news bulletins paint a grim picture of a country struggling to regain its footing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The crime wave, which still leaves US cities generally far safer than in the 1980s and ’90s, has been connected by experts to a combination of social disruption linked to the pandemic and fallout for police departments in the aftermath of a spate of botched arrests in which Black people were killed or badly injured. But Biden is increasingly taking the blame. According to an ABC/Ipsos poll released last week, 69 percent of Americans disapprove of Biden’s policies on gun violence and 64 percent his handling of crime.

“Our cities are war zones, our country is in turmoil and police officers are being hunted in the streets. Where are you, Mr. President?” the Fraternal Order of Police’s national vice president, Joe Gamaldi, said on Fox News last week.

Treading the line

Biden is under pressure not just from the right, which labels him as weak on crime, but also the left, which wants reform-and even dismantling-of police departments. Republicans hoping to get control of Congress in November midterm elections see blaming Biden and the “defund the police” wing of the Democrats as a winning target. But teaming up with Adams gives Biden a chance to show he can tread the line between his leftist supporters and right-wing critics.

Biden will discuss his vision for “smart policing,” a senior administration official told reporters, describing the president’s attempt to balance strong law enforcement with the kind of reforms demanded by the Black Lives Matter movement. On one hand, he will call in his speech for half a billion dollars in new funding to support both hiring of more police and boosting of community violence intervention groups-civilians on the ground who work with potential victims and perpetrators.

Biden will also lay out initiatives to crack down harder on the illegal gun trade, especially “ghost guns,” which are firearms made from untraceable home kits. Biden has always “been a forceful advocate for accountable community policing. He does not think the answer is to defund our police, but instead to give them the tools and the resources… so that they are able to build trust with the community, so they treat everyone with dignity and respect,” the senior official said.

It’s the kind of centrist approach that Adams himself is modeling. A former New York police officer, Adams took office in January after winning election on a platform that included tougher policing tactics, such as redeploying a disbanded undercover unit. Yet as an African-American Democrat with a growing national profile, he has plenty of political capital in the bank-and seems happy to share some with Biden.

Adams, who has previously dubbed himself the “Biden of Brooklyn,” praised the president Monday as “my dude.” The admiration is mutual. Biden picked New York for his speech, the senior official said, because it has seen “a spike in gun violence,” but also because it’s somewhere that “has successfully deployed many strategies like those the president supports.” – AFP

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