The scene was “National Night Out Against Crime.” The place was the Lower East Side in Manhattan.
More than 2,000 people, including dignitaries and NYPD brass, jammed into Stanton Street between Clinton Street and Ridge Street to show support for the police and their community.
The Aug. 2 event was designed to promote crime prevention on a night of peace.
But instead the affair became the site of yet another bloody crime scene. And it occurred right in front of the Assembly speaker and the NYPD chief of detectives.
Across the city last Tuesday, neighborhoods in Manhattan and the outer boroughs joined the NYPD to participate in the "National Night Out Against Crime."
The Lower East Side event attracted a list of dignitaries who took their seats on the raised dais platform. Among them were: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver; Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh; State Senator Daniel Squadron; Councilwoman Margaret Chin; Councilwoman Rosie Mendez; NYPD Chief of Detectives Phil Pulaski; Thomas Purtell, the Commanding Officer of NYPD Manhattan South; Deputy Inspector Nancy Barry, the outgoing 7th Precinct commanding officer who's moving to the 24th Precinct on the Upper West Side; and her top aide, Captain David Miller.
The ceremony began around 5:30 p.m. with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner with scores of cops who were assigned to crowd control standing at attention along with everyone else in attendance.
The precinct commander stepped to the podium and addressed the audience about the ongoing excellent performance of the NYPD in fighting crime.
But just as she was finishing that message, a chilling and shrill scream shattered the evening’s moment. The cry was quickly followed with more screaming and chaotic pushing and shoving.
A 25-year-old man had been stabbed and slashed badly across his right shoulder while standing near the platform, my sources said.
Suddenly, a group of toughs started pushing their way through the crowd. They spotted a cab at the corner of Stanton and Attorney streets. They piled in and sped away, court papers say.
A couple of cops stopped the taxi. They grabbed William Garcia, 22, of Ridge Street and Christopher Edwards, 23, of Columbia Street, and pulled them out. There were box cutters stuffed into each of their pockets, court papers say. Two other young men — Granville Eversley, 25, of Water Street, and Christope Mirabal, 28, from Virginia — were also hauled away and charged with the rest on assault, gang assault and weapons possession charges.
Sources say the victim was whisked away from the scene to the hospital, where he need 27 stitches to close his wounds.
From the dais, it was hard to exactly see that a stabbing had occurred, according to my sources.
The volume on the music rose and attention was quickly brought back to the stage. Inspector Barry soon resumed her presentation, talking next about her precinct’s "Officer of the Month." And the "Night Out Against Crime" on the Lower East Side now continued without another crime taking place.
There have been five murders so far this year in the 7th Precinct compared to one last year. And it’s a mixed bag for the rest of the major crime categories. Looking at two-year comparisons, four categories are in the plus column, meaning murder, rape, burglary and grand larcenies are up in the precinct, while two categories, robbery and auto theft are down.
In many ways, crime in that Lower East Side precinct is a microcosm for the city.
After nearly 20 years of steady declines, it appears "America’s Safest City," as Mayor Michael Bloomberg likes to describe the Big Apple, is showing signs of hitting a bottom and possibly turning in the other direction.
According to citywide police statistics for the first seven months of the year, four of the seven major crime categories are up compared to 2009: murder is up 5.8 percent; rape is up 27.8 percent; robberies are up 3.4 percent; and assaults are up 11.4 percent. And burglaries are down only a scant .5 percent.
That leaves grand larceny and auto theft as the only categories firmly still in negative territory by minus 4.8 percent and minus 11.4 percent, respectively.
Some critics say the numbers are heading upwards because cops have stopped cooking the crime books because of several scandals. Others say the upturn stems from the fact that the NYPD has been shrinking from highs of 42,000 cops to around 35,000. Hundreds of officers are deployed to “counter-terrorism” and intelligence assignments and many good veterans are retiring. Likely all of the above form a collective culprit.
However, Thomas Repetto, the former president of the Citizens Crime commission and author of “NYPD: A City and Its Police,” believes we're a long way from returning to the crime levels of the 1970s and 80s.
“If we see rises in a year and then in another year,” Repetto said, “then there could be a real sign of a reversal.”
So for now, there is no need for panic.
Unless, of course, you were that 25-year-old spectator at the “Night Out On Crime” whose shoulder needed 27 sutures to close.