The Wire is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. Just phenomenal from start to finish (with the exception of season 2). The show centers around the drug and crime culture in the Baltimore area. In an effort to curb shootings and homicides during a particularly violent period in the show’s story, a major (“Bunny”) in the Baltimore Police Department comes up with the idea of creating a “free zone” for drug dealers in which they are permitted to conduct their illegal operations without fear of legal action. The only thing that would get you in trouble in Hamsterdam—as it was dubbed by the dealers, none of whom had heard of Amsterdam, the intended name for the zone—was violence.
As long as you weren’t committing violent crimes you could sell, buy, and shoot all the smack you wanted. Right there in front of BPD officers if you felt like it. If I recall correctly, they even provided clean needles for addicts to use to help reduce the transmission of diseases. Basically, Hamsterdam was a junkie’s paradise. Yes, it was in a shitty, condemned part of town, just a couple blocks of dilapidated row houses, most of which were sure to be full of depressing and tragic memories. But you could chase the dragon there without having to worry about gunshots or police harassment. What more could you ask for? It was paradise to the dealers for the same reasons. More importantly, it had the intended effect which was to reduce violent crime. Unfortunately, this whole “free zone” experiment is executed without permission by Bunny, whose character is that altruistic-but-alienated-police-major-who-the-brass-always-seems-to-have-it-out-for type that every great crime drama has. The project is promptly shut down, filed under “This Never Happened”, and that’s the end of it.
I think some politicians have been watching reruns of this HBO masterpiece recently and felt compelled to revive Bunny’s vision. They’re watching the Hamsterdam episode(s) and saying, "fuck it, I’ll create my own version!”. Except instead of trying to fight the violence that results from the drug trade by effectively legalizing the drug trade, they’re trying to fight that violence by effectively legalizing a whole bunch of other dangerous crimes. As if somehow maybe criminals will call it quits because they feel their profession no longer challenges them enough.
At least that’s the only explanation I have for new Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s Charmin Xtra Soft stance on crime. He released a 10-page memo on Monday detailing his
Hamsterdam plan, or rather his list of reasons why Manhattan is soon to take over San Francisco as the best city in the country for a criminal to break into the industry1.
I’ll pick on my favorite one:
6a. An act that could be charged under PL §§ 160.15 (2, 3, or 4), 160.10(2b), or 160.05 that occurs in a commercial setting should be charged under PL § 155.25 if the force or threat of force consists of displaying a dangerous instrument or similar behavior but does not create a genuine risk of physical harm.
First, let’s define what the hell all these PLs are.
Robbery in the first, second, and third degrees
are were all felonies. Now, so long as you don’t load your gun or physically hurt anyone while robbing a business, you’re only looking at petit larceny (a misdemeanor), for which the maximum penalties are up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
“One is the new five-to-twenty-five.”
- robbers in Manhattan now (probably)
If you’re a police officer, do you even bother going after most people anymore? Nobody is going to get prosecuted anyway. Plus, the criminals will no doubt become bolder. Why wouldn’t they when the risks have all but disappeared? Doesn’t seem worth it to me. If I’m a police officer in Manhattan I’m saying, “no thanks”. And if I’m a criminal in Manhattan I’m forwarding Bragg’s memo around to all my criminal buddies with the subject line: MOVE TO MANHATTAN E-Z $$$ LMAO. Kind of like what bros in Miami are doing, except less nerdy tech & crypto and more near-riskfree crime & robbery.
“I fear for the safety of New York residents, businesses owners and tourists. They tried the same reforms in San Francisco that focused on decarceration and what you see very fast is a descent into a free-for-all.”
- Richie Greenberg, former San Francisco mayoral candidate
Even if someone were completely oblivious to the circus that is San Francisco, I’m not sure how they could possibly think this policy would be a good idea. But we all have eyes and an Internet connection which means we already know what happens when you (effectively) remove the laws meant to deter crime (hint: it’s rampant crime). So to downright copy the playbook knowing full well what follows? That’s dangerous and irresponsible.
P.S. Alvin Bragg had a busy first day in the office. In addition to his public advertisement beckoning criminals, he also closed the investigation into former NY governor Andrew Cuomo’s role in underreporting the number of Covid-related nursing-home resident deaths.