U.S. Marine Samuel Poulin wasn’t on active deployment when he was shot Sunday afternoon outside of a Times Square Starbucks, but you’d be forgiven for mistaking the Crossroads of the World for a war zone. The broad daylight gunplay was the second such incident in two months, and now counts a total of four casualties, including a child.
The earlier violence — and perhaps this incident as well — was driven by aggressive street hustlers “selling” their CDs. Anyone who has walked through the area for five minutes has been approached by a wannabe rap star asking if you “like rap music.” Natives know not to give these guys so much as an eyeball, but tourists — who are starting to trickle back to the city — may, out of interest or just to be polite, stop and engage with the phony pitch.
Then the strongarm appeal begins, with CDs thrust into hands followed by demands for money. Sometimes bills are timidly proffered; sometimes they are snatched out of wallets. In few cases is the exchange anything the Better Business Bureau would stamp as kosher. If you’re lucky, the disc will be blank; sometimes it’s malware, in which case you have fallen into a scammer’s parlay.
This has been going on for years, unfortunately. The NYPD used to ticket these clowns for “aggressive solicitation,” or arrest them if the hustlers turned the episode into an outright mugging. In 2009 one of these thugs pulled a gun on the cops and got killed for his efforts.
This game — which takes place all over downtown, not just in Times Square — needs to stop, now. Though the First Amendment protects the sale of “expressive matter,” the city is allowed to impose reasonable restrictions on vending, which is not allowed to impede pedestrian flow and which requires the possession of a sales tax ID.
But the bigger issue remains the widespread illegal toting of handguns, which the city appears powerless to cure. Mayor de Blasio brags about how many gun arrests the NYPD has made, yet it’s clearly not keeping up with the increase in shootings and killings.
Though Michael Bloomberg has cravenly walked back his Stop, Question, and Frisk policy, it was wildly successful at keeping guns off the street because perps knew better than to carry them in the first place. Thanks to de Blasio, who threw in the towel on the city’s appeal of a dubious court ruling regarding SQF, the NYPD is now under federal monitorship, effectively hobbling its anti-gun efforts.
And thanks to the 2017 “Right to Know Act,” the NYPD has to proactively inform people that they have a right to refuse being searched in many circumstances. For these and other reasons — including the diversion of gun charges to non-carceral “trauma-informed justice solutions” — chaos in New York has been codified.
The next mayor will have a devil of a time trying to get the streets safe again, because all the time-tested tools to do so have been made illegal.
Seth Barron is managing editor of The American Mind and author of the new book, “The Last Days of New York.”