After 6 straight years of dropping crime rates in East Harlem, the trend is now reversing. Over the past year, robbery, killings, rape, and use of drugs have gone up by about 40%, while they had plummeted by 70% between 2003 and 2009. The issue is specific to the area: in other parts of the city, crime rates have either lowered or stabilized to their 2009 levels, and the average increase in crime in New York City from 2009 to 2010 is about -4.30%.
NYPD officers at the 23rd precinct all declined to give their names because of their professional confidentiality agreement. Yet they explained the rise in crime as a consequence of the dull economy, unemployment, poverty, and fear-inducing gangs. Moreover, the construction of new luxury condominiums in East Harlem has urged people out of their homes and worsened poverty.
“We hear shootings every day, and on Friday, a teenager was gunned down,” said one officer, standing outside the precinct and constantly keeping an eye on the group of youngsters gathering nearby. The NYPD officer was referring to last week’s killing: George White, 15, was shot in front of his home after he had left a party with friends.
Yet despite the NYPD statistics, residents in East Harlem claim that the area feels a lot safer. “Clearly, in the 1990s, it was really bad. People did not walk in the streets alone and it was unsafe. Today, it’s still pretty bad but it’s a lot better than before,” said David Mafuz, 27, from East Harlem.
Most people agree with Mr. Mafuz. Michel Laregui, 63, who works at La Sinagogua Church on 125th Street, said: “East Harlem is safe and I feel safe. Crime is not more common here than in any other parts of the city.” As Mr. Laregui pronounced these words, a group of people were demonstrating on a nearby street to denounce domestic violence and abuses.
Some in the neighborhood complained that the police deliberately try to depict East Harlem as a dangerous place and tend not to show the neighborhood’s positive aspects and progress in terms of education and ethnic diversity. “Here, you have Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and some Whites and Jews living all together. Race is not an issue at all,” said Mr. Mafuz.
While numerous social programs and projects in East Harlem have aimed at providing free support for children and their families for a few years already, locals feel that the area has been changing for the better: better education, more jobs available, better career opportunities, and less crime and poverty.
However, the recent issues the NYPD enumerated earlier –unemployment, dull economy, poverty, fearful gangs, and the construction of luxury complexes- are not to be neglected. They are now causing more fatal damage in East Harlem than its population wants to believe.