If you go down to Zuccotti Park, you’re not likely to witness any dangerous activity, but according to the conservative media the Occupy Wall Street demonstration is causing an outbreak of sex, drugs and violence in New York City. According to articles in the New York Post, and conservative bloggers, television and radio shows that take their cues from Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid, the protests themselves are not only filled with criminals, they are indirectly responsible for an increase in violent crimes miles away. There’s only one problem with the claims: they vary from thinly to totally unsupported.
According to a Post article last week, New York saw an increase in shootings over several weeks and it’s because the NYPD are too busy monitoring Occupy Wall Street to prevent real crimes from occurring. “The number of people shot surged 154 percent two weeks ago—to 56 from 22 over the same week last year—and spiked 28 percent in the last month…. Four high-ranking cops point the finger at Occupy Wall Street protesters, saying their rallies pull special crime-fighting units away from the hot zones where they’re needed.” The Post relied entirely on anonymous sources, adding that 3,000 cops per day were being dispatched to handle the protests.
The story was picked up by other conservative outlets. Radio host Mike Gallagher talked about the story at great length, saying it was justification for the police to eject the protesters with fire hoses. Multiple conservative blogs repeated the story. Only one—Howard Portnoy of Hot Air—had the good sense to admit the obvious possibility that this was just random variation and no causal relationship had been definitely established: “So does this imply a cause-and-effect relationship between the two phenomena? Not necessarily. When you look at the small sample numbers available for comparison—56 shootings last week as compared with 22 for the same week in 2010—the finding may well be outside the realm of statistical significance.” But then he goes on to blame Occupy Wall Street for not just the overall rise in shootings but a specific one. “The drain on resources in high-crime neighborhoods was underscored dramatically last week when a pregnant Brooklyn mother was killed by a rooftop gunman.”
Neither the Post nor Portnoy cites any evidence that the cops would have been able to prevent that particular crime if Occupy Wall Street were not occurring. As for the claim that crime in the city as a whole rose as a direct result of police deployments caused by Occupy Wall Street, the most generous description would be that it’s unproven. “This is, of course, one of those questions for which there is basically no answer,” explains Michael Jacobson president of the Vera Institute of Justice. “First, you’d have to track shootings on a daily/weekly basis over time. I’m sure when you do that, you’d see some marked variation up or down based on a number of factors (seasonality, gang activity etc.). Then, assuming you saw some significant increase in the last couple of months, you’d have to rule out every other possible explanation to get to the ‘it’s the lack of cops on patrol’ conclusion.” Note that that neither the Post nor conservatives who repeated the Post’s assertions considered other possible explanations.