According to former New York Police Commissioner William Bratton, New York City is safer than it has been in years. And if you believe that, I’ve got a great deal for you, on a slightly used bridge.

Last December, the NYPD announced that violent felonies had dropped 17.2 percent for the previous 12 months, their biggest drop in 23 years. Murder, robbery, and assault went down 26 percent, 18 percent, and 10 percent, respectively, while rape somehow went down only five percent. (Clouding the issue even more. Board of Education spokeswoman Lena Kim told me last February 21 that city schools had recorded a 16 percent increase in violent crime during the 1994-95 school year.)

Last December also saw two massacres. Telling the black customers of a Jewish-owned, Harlem clothing store under “boycott” to leave, Roland Smith (a/k/a Abubunde Mulocko) then set a blaze which killed seven employees and himself. That the dead were all “persons of color,” while three survivors whom Smith/Mulocko had shot were white, outraged his conspiracy-sniffing supporters. And in a botched robbery of a North Bronx shoe store, drug dealer Michael Vernon shot five people to death. (Citing “confidentiality,” the Housing Authority covered up much of Vernon’s violent past. Despite Vernon’s remorseless confession to the massacre, and to having killed two cabbies in 1990 and 1993, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson immediately decided against seeking the death penalty; it was Johnson’s refusal to seek the death penalty in the March shooting of a white police officer by a Dominican thug that led Governor Pataki to remove the D.A., a controversial act that will doubtless end up m court.) More typically, last September 22 in Lower Manhattan, a Mutt-and-Jeff team of “Crooklyn boys” tried to mug me, the only white on a full A train. “Manhattan makes it, Crooklyn takes it.”

All of the above assailants were black men.

Things weren’t always so bad. While visiting my sister during the small hours on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the late 1970’s, nobody even looked at me funny. In 1990, an octogenarian lawyer told me of the long, romantic walks he and his wife had taken from Manhattan to Brooklyn on Depression-era Saturday nights, without being accosted.

Today, some prosperous New Yorkers hand over their money on the street to black males on demand, as a black man did in Brooklyn’s affluent Park Slope area last January 20, without being touched or even threatened. The declarations of middle-class mugging victims—”Thank God, I’m alive.” “They can take my money”—are music to any potential robber’s ears. Well, they can’t have mine.

When black pundits and politicians are not affirming images of violent “black males,” they are accusing whites of racism for believing them. In fact, most middle-class blacks are also terrified of young black males. Educated civilians and journalists of all colors reflexively note the “rule” about not looking “anyone” (i.e., black males) in the eye. However, the times that I have gotten hurt—all since 1991—were almost always when I did not stare down a criminal. (Subway muggers will rarely undertake anything without first landing a sucker punch, or otherwise getting the drop on a mark.) Playing on white fears, even black male noncombatants harass whites. Calling their bluff enrages them, whereupon they hope aloud for assistance from real “mopes” (cop talk for criminals).

Strangers bond or split over crime stories. Arresting two would-be robbers while off-duty in Brooklyn, a white cop saw his attackers cop pleas to misdemeanors and do two days of community service. A black mother from Far Rockaway complains that the police refused to arrest the 17-year-old black girl who had slashed her daughter’s chest. Working-class, black female “subway buddies” tell of unreported muggings. Yet middleclass black women I meet deny they are in any danger, and defend the black men who routinely attack black women as the victims of racist police.

Expressing upper-middle-class whites’ desperate hope for appeasement, the New York Times portrayed Smith/Mulocko as a man of principle, the Harlem Massacre as born of economics, not racism, and has misreported stories, in its search for violent crimes it could attribute to whites.

Often marked by “shank”-scarred faces and arms, and sporting jailhouse muscles, the black, and increasingly American-born “New Yorican” and “Dominicanyork” criminals in question were usually raised by mothers who neither wed nor worked. Of 7.5-8 million New Yorkers, 1.4 million are on the dole, including 300,000 whom democratic socialist Mayor David N. Dinkins (1990-1994) moved onto generous, federally funded “supplemental security income,” in cooking the books for the 1993 election.

Seeking to lure business back to the city, Mayor Dinkins’ police commissioners, Lee Brown and Raymond Kelly, began reporting crime “creatively,” even by New York standards. Liberal Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s former commissioner, William Bratton, has evidently continued this practice. Last October 11, the Daily News published a memo by Deputy Inspector Anthony Kissik, commander of The Bronx’ 50th Precinct, which merely formalized the city’s unwritten policy of “defining down” many violent attacks into misdemeanors or no crimes at all. At the other extreme, on January 29, Newsday‘s Leonard Levitt charged that the city had failed to disclose a recent double-rape, a shooting homicide, and the fatal shooting of a car thief by a cop. Such nondisclosures mesh with my own experience of a shooting that officially never occurred on the A train last December 8. On February 8, NYPD Spokeswoman Officer Kathy Kelly insisted to me, “There’s no shootings on the eighth.”

The crime report reduction policy has enjoyed its greatest success with those whose knowledge of crime is limited to press releases. In the December 1995 Commentary, Irwin Stelzer celebrated a poll showing that 41 percent of residents believed the city was safer. Most such “suburban urbanites” live in buildings with 24-hour security. Some ride the subways only during rush hour, others pay through the nose for segregated, slow-moving taxis, and yet others drive to work.

The safest areas, however, are self-reliant, white, and immigrant working-class neighborhoods, such as Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst, where I lived from 1986-94. For 30 years, activists have hindered police in black areas with trumped-up charges of “excessive force” and “racial insensitivity” based on the premise that no white officer may arrest a black suspect. In truth, white cops are often guilty of excessive restraint. When you handcuff the police, people die. Last New Year’s Eve in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, my Puerto Rican host’s patrolman son observed that “in a rough neighborhood, you gotta be rough with the people. Either you’re gonna be in charge, or they’re gonna be in charge.”

Former Commissioner Lee Brown’s PR gimmick, “community policing,” portrayed cops in free-fire zones as social workers. Commissioner Bratton’s only real improvement, the crackdown on “quality-of-life” offenses (e.g., panhandling, public drinking, and urination) is being undermined by left-wing judges. On January 10, the Daily News‘ Miguel Garcilazo noted a state court report’s finding that “nearly 70 percent of all desk appearance tickets issued by police are either dismissed [in court] or that recipients never show up in court.” Bronx DA and former judge Robert Johnson is dismissing 25 percent of the summonses, before they ever get to court.

Judicial incompetence is so commonplace here that federal Judge Harold Baer had to outdo himself to gain national notoriety with his decision in favor of some drug dealers last January. Police had observed a car with Michigan plates slowly circling a block in upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights area again and again, at 6:00 A.M. It finally stopped in front of an apartment building, from which four young black men came out, and wordlessly packed two duffel bags (containing 34 kilograms of cocaine and two kilos of heroin) and then, depending on whether you believe the confessed drug courier Carol Bayless or the cops, either walked away or ran. Volunteering that she had made over 20 such trips since 1991, Michigan resident Bayless alternated between pleading that drug money was her “only means of survival” and bragging that she planned on buying a new Pontiac Grand Prix with her $20,000 courier pay.

Judge Baer ruled that the $4 million in cocaine and heroin police had seized from the duffel bags were the fruits of an illegal search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Despite accepting the officers’ claim that the men had run away upon spotting them, Baer noted that since police were known to be “corrupt and violent” in Washington Heights, it was only natural for locals to run away at the sight of them. In the ensuing cause célèbre, even many left-wing journalists deserted Judge Baer. Critics noted that Baer, who lives in the luxurious Carnegie Hall district, had apparently confused the Heights’ relatively clean, “3-4” precinct with Harlem’s corrupt, “dirty thirty.” In the February 5 New York Post, Jack Newfield quoted Detective Jerry Giorgio as insisting of Judge Baer, “He was writing out of pure fantasy and ignorance. He referred to this neighborhood as a black community, but it is predominantly Dominican.”

Initially calling prosecutors’ attempts to change his mind a “juvenile project,” Judge Baer finally yielded to intense pressure from none other than Bill Clinton, rescinded his initial decision, and allowed the seized drugs to be entered as evidence.

Cop-bashing judges have lots of helpers. Since the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) went all-civilian in July 1993, complaints against “the job” have risen 50 percent. While keeping its telephone number unlisted and its findings secret, the CCRB’s supporters seek the independent investigative powers of a counter-police. Last spring, CCRB staffer Lizette Navarro was caught making false “911” calls, reporting nonexistent “assaults in progress” at a West Village gay bar. (Only Navarro was fired, and neither she nor her boss was arrested.) Speaking with me last February 13, pro-Dinkins CCRB spokesman Joe Catrambone denied that the board has an anti-cop bias, and blamed the rise in civilian complaints on an “in-your-face” attitude he said Giuliani and Bratton had instilled in police. The Navarro case raised the specter of a gay activist-CCRB conspiracy to set up officers. The cop-bashing, gay activist New York Times refused to grant the scandal even a cursory reference. Note that cop-hating gays are guaranteed a response to all attacks against them, as bias crimes.

Encouraged by Eric Adams (the leader of the segregated, black officers’ fraternal organization), the Guardians, and by affirmative action, some young black cops are rankled by arrests of “brothers” for crimes against whites. A psychiatrist who screens Police Academy recruits laments, “It’s incredible, the pressure to pass people, just because they’re minorities. It’s all racial. They push, push, push with people who are inappropriate and are often antisocial themselves.” Black thugs, however, do not always return the solidarity. In October 1992, a black policeman was assaulted in front of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Medgar Evers College by a student he had caught smoking marijuana. Cop-hating Brooklyn Councilwoman Una Clarke and Evers’ president got the student and his street scholar accomplices released the same night.

Prosecutors do what they can. In June 1993, an 18-year-old black girl, emboldened by her girlfriend and the ten black and Hispanic young men surrounding me, called me racial epithets before trying to “shank” me in the face with a scissors in Greenwich Village’s West Fourth Street station. My bloody hand, a corroborating witness, and a satisfied crime scene lieutenant failed to impress a young, white prosecutor named Kunkel. Admitting he only took taxis at night. Assistant District Attorney Kunkel thundered, “Because of you, two black girls spent a night in jail!” (He suggested I was a racist who swore out false complaints against blacks.) Upon hearing my story, a black bus driver who had fled Brooklyn for New Jersey asked knowingly, “Did you bring a lawyer?”

According to the Washington-based Sentencing Project in 1995, 32 percent of black men ages 20-29 were either in jail, or on probation or parole— not counting those convicts who had finished their sentences. In areas such as Brooklyn’s East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Brownsville, and Queens’ Far Rockaway, the number tops 50 percent. However, white Queens College sociologist Andrew Hacker urges black men to perpetrate more violent crimes against white men. Insisting that authorities conspire to incarcerate innocent black men (including O.J. Simpson!), he interprets racial attacks as acts of political rebellion, and advises those same authorities to go easy on black racists. Only 60 percent of all Bronx criminal juries hand down guilty verdicts (in contrast to a national rate of 75-80 percent). Bronx judges are even worse, with a mere 48.6 percent conviction rate in non-jury trials during 1994 and 1995. And yet, the D.A. Robert Johnson fought plea bargaining.

With black mopes nine times more likely to harm blacks than whites, racist jury nullification is self-destructive. As with white mopes who occasionally commit racial attacks against blacks, racism is but a pathetic rationalization for what violent people enjoy doing, irrespective of their victims’ race.

But, what do I know? The influential Thank-God-I’m-Alivers on Manhattan’s West Side struggle for gun control and for the release of convicted Philadelphia cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. (Having courageously routed smokers from public places, they soldier on against a Chinese restaurant distributing take-out menus in co-ops, and the proliferation of social service agencies in their own backyard.)

Many cops unofficially support citizens’ right to self-defense. One spring afternoon in 1990,1 ran into three “uniforms” from Staten Island in the East Village. They had just swept some black “peddlers,” whose real business was breaking into cars in the adjacent parking lot. After some good-natured ribbing back and forth, the sergeant asked where I kept my (illegal) gun. When I nudged the leather attaché bag at my feet, he advised me, “Be careful, you don’t get the bag stolen on you.” I was too embarrassed to admit that I didn’t have a gun.

New Jerseyans may defend themselves with mace and tear gas. In early 1995, however, a 42nd Street store manager and his assistant told me they were jailed for three days by William Bratton’s police, for the sales of mace and tear gas that Lee Brown had tolerated. And pistol permits are awarded only to those civilians who least need them.

Returning to the September 22 attack on me, the two black cops who happened onto me spraying “Jeff” with tear gas, after he had broken my nose, were not at all happy about arresting him and “Mutt.” A sergeant had Mutt and Jeff booked for assault, attempted robbery, carrying an illegal weapon (a boxcutter), and possessing, with the intent to distribute, crack cocaine. He also had me handcuffed, charged with “possession of a noxious substance.” Some white cops called me “Bernie Goetz,” after the notorious subway gunman. I had heard that compliment before, when I was the guest of the Fifth Precinct in August 1993, following my similar handling of a big, white bully.

Is the city really safer? Neither Shirley, a 30-ish, black home-health attendant from Bedford-Stuyvesant, nor Ylluminada, a 29-year-old Dominican fast-food worker from Sunset Park, buys the new line. Residents from Mott Avenue, Far Rockaway, to Alexander Avenue in the Bronx rage that drug dealers ply their wares in full view of police precincts. A 40-year-old, black cabbie in Far Rockaway insists, “The city’s no safer than it was five or ten years ago. That’s just Giuliani saying that, because he wants you to vote for him. It’ll take 10 or 20 years to make this city safe again.” You could hire more cops and fudge the facts all you want, but the city will not become safer until New Yorkers insist on living as citizens in a republic.

In Far Rockaway two days after the Harlem Massacre, a black teenager praised his 15 or 16-year-old girlfriend’s rap, “I got my Tech to your neck.” With the Commodores playing on the radio, I asked the 3 5-year-old cabbie driving me home what explained the deterioration of black music since the 1970’s. He answered, instead, an unspoken question: “We stopped loving each other.” It does not matter, if “we” meant “blacks” or “everyone.” Once ignited, the flames of violent hatred will not be contained.