A high school teenager, a 20-year-old student, a Brooklyn man trying to wake up another man sleeping on a subway platform bench—these are among the latest victims of a spate of slashing attacks that has hit New York City.
The attacks come just one week after NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton lashed out at the media for failing to put the slashing attack numbers in perspective, saying, “If it bleeds, it leads—that’s your business.” Bratton went on to add, “This is not something we’re trying to downplay or diminish anything that creates public fear or concern. We want to work with you and work with the public to very quickly dispel that.”
At the Feb. 23 press conference, the commissioner and Mayor Bill de Blasio were questioned by journalists about the spree of slashing attacks in the city. De Blasio asserted that “only seven” of the 500 stabbings over the course of 2016 had been identified “as anything that apparently could even be random.
“What are the others? Criminal fighting a criminal, someone gets in a fight with someone else,” the mayor continued.
However, a NY City Lens analysis of media and police reports on 29 slashing attacks during the month of February 2016 found in that one month alone, 14 of the attacks appeared to be random, while the reasons for 11 others are unclear. In the remaining four incidents, the participants knew each other. Twelve of the 14 attacks this month that we defined as random took place before the mayor’s Feb. 23 statement.
The NY City Lens analysis defined an incident as “random” when the victim and perpetrator were not known to each other before the slashing. We were conservative; if there was a verbal dispute before an incident, we did not list the incident as “random” but as “unclear.” (In an email, the NYPD’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner defined a random slashing as “when you have no prior contact with an individual before he slashes or stabs you.”)
The incidents were largely concentrated in the South Bronx but were otherwise distributed across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.
Reports of slashing attacks in New York City in February 2016. Click the red dots for details.
A 20 percent increase in slashing attacks and stabbings so far this year compared with the same period last year has been cause for deep concern, Robert Boyce, chief of detectives for the NYPD, said at the Feb. 23 conference.
The reasons behind the spike in this kind of crime remain unclear. But the behavior itself could be contagious, according to David Kennedy, director of the New York-based National Network for Safe Communities and a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “People who are susceptible to that kind of influence take that in, and the likelihood that they are going to copycat goes up,” he said. This copycat phenomenon, he said, has emerged in events like suicide among young people and, in the past, airline hijackings.
The slashing attacks are continuing into March: A 34-year-old Dunkin’ Donuts worker was slashed March 2 after asking a homeless customer to leave the store. Mayor de Blasio has promised to do everything he can to keep the city safe. For example, the NYPD this week said there would be higher police presence in subway stations across the city.
In the meantime, some citizen groups in New York are taking matters into their own hands in the face of this crime wave. Rockaway Nassau Safety Patrol, for example, staffed by members of the public working with local police, has increased its patrols, even though the Far Rockaway, Queens area has not seen slashings of this nature.
“The priority is making sure that kids are safe, coming and going to school and getting to play outside when the weather is nice,” said patrol coordinator Sholen Klein, a community member and father of two.
Listen to Cydney Tucker’s interview with Curtis Sliwa, the founder of The Guardian Angels, an unarmed crime-prevention patrol group.