What’s the cause of the “mayhem in the streets” that has taken over sidewalks in the outer boroughs?
Sure, everyone points the finger at the incompetence and stupidity of Mayor de Blasio. Gotham’s astonishing decline on his watch is an indisputable matter of record, and as we head into the last year of his reign of error, it’s no surprise that things are getting worse.
But the street-level chaos The Post recently reported is especially symptomatic of what has happened to Gotham in this year of pandemic and riots. The clogging of the sidewalks with vendors, 90 percent of whom don’t have licenses, is crushing the prospects of many of the city’s small businesses. Those prospects were already dim owing to the COVID-19 lockdowns — this, even while big-box stores and Amazon, which are unaffected by the coronavirus rules, make obscene profits.
The illegal-vendor disaster didn’t just happen, willy-nilly.
The refusal to enforce the rules on street vendors is a direct result of the way the Black Lives Matter protests have pushed de Blasio to ditch the last vestiges of broken-windows policing. That vision of law enforcement helped save the Big Apple in the 1990s; even Hizzoner has acknowledged it as a pillar of the city’s livability.
The abandonment of that successful effort — cracking down against misdemeanors so as to prevent even more serious crimes — is a clear indication that the city is sinking under the weight of left-wing ideology. The broken-windows reversal will continue to chase more New Yorkers out of town and likewise push prosperity out of reach for ordinary Gothamites.
Yes, the explosion of vendors is partly a product of pandemic privation. But the fact is, illegal stands that take up most of the space on sidewalks throughout the city both impede traffic to existing stores and steal trade away from businesses that are paying taxes and rent and remain subject to the city’s arcane rules governing brick-and-mortar stores.
Everyone can sympathize with poor and working-class New Yorkers who are struggling to get by. As the educated classes work remotely from home while complaining about how they miss going on vacation, those not so fortunate see hawking goods on the streets as their last resort amid a lockdown recession. But letting the vendor situation get out of hand is a knife in the heart to the small businesses that are the pathway to prosperity for so many immigrants and others seeking their share of the American dream.
This has happened as a direct result of the pressure put on de Blasio by his radical allies, to prevent the police from doing their jobs.
In June and July, a violent rabble took over the streets to, er, “peacefully” protest police brutality. In response, the City Council disgracefully agreed to slash $1 billion from the NYPD budget. Our leaders also switched enforcement of code violations from the cops to the Department of Consumer Affairs. The result has been a predictable collapse of the rule of law in the streets.
Leftists celebrated and claimed it was belated justice for the 2014 death of illegal-cigarette vendor Eric Garner while in police custody. But the decision is killing what’s left of the city’s small businesses.
It’s also creating an increasingly dangerous situation on the sidewalks, making them hard to navigate, as well as allowing disreputable vendors to sell unsafe food, like the repugnant, worm-filled crabs The Post reported on.
Too many illegal street vendors may not sound like a crisis in a city already facing economic collapse and the social pathologies that Hizzoner’s leftist allies have imposed on it. But it’s far more important than you might think. When both criminals and ordinary citizens understand that reasonable regulations that govern daily life won’t be enforced, that’s a green light for a complete collapse of the rule of law.
If de Blasio doesn’t reverse the ruling on code enforcement for street vendors, it’s one more sign that whoever it is who succeeds him in a little more than a year will inherit a city in a state of moral and economic collapse.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org.
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