Liberals have backed soft crime policies – now it’s happened on the New York campus
Columbia University President Lee Bollinger called the stabbing murder of doctoral student Davide Giri on Thursday evening “unspeakably sad and deeply shocking.”
It’s sad, but it’s not shocking.
Elite universities may prefer not to talk too much about violent crime as much as they can avoid it, but they can’t protect their accusations from what’s going on in a newly violent New York City.
Giri is the second Columbia student to be killed in a stranger-to-stranger attack in a supposedly safe public space in less than two years. In December 2019, in another attack just weeks before students left campus for the holiday season, three teenagers targeted a female victim, Tessa Majors, 18, at Morningside Park. They tortured her to death, immobilizing the vulnerable young woman and stabbing her.
The NYPD, which had already withdrawn from preventive policing even before the BLM protests erupted six months later, had failed to stem a wave of similar thefts before Tessa’s murder.
Today, Giri, 30, a computer superstar, is dead – he was reportedly targeted by a longtime adult gang member on “supervised release” after a series of violent arrests and convictions on a decade. Giri’s suspected killer, Vincent Pinkney, seriously injured at least one other person, an Italian tourist, in Thursday night’s attack. He did not ask any of his victims for money. He may have been drugged, he may be gravely mentally ill, or he may have been motivated by racial hatred – or all three. Competent state parole oversight should have addressed the first two.
Bollinger has good intentions and he no doubt wrote his letter to students and staff in a state of distress. But there is something shocking about another part of his statement: âIt took place just steps from our campus. This echoes what NYU said when a student was hit by a “stray bullet” near its engineering campus in Brooklyn in early fall: “The university is … concerned about the occurrence of ‘a shootout so close to one of our buildings.
Words from above make it sound like we’re not worried about the senseless explosion of violent crime across New York City, most of which victimizes black men and poor teens. We just worry when it affects us.
But trying to protect the city’s campuses as chaos rages is always a losing proposition. Just this week, Sam Collington, 21, a Temple University student, was shot dead in a burglary near his Philadelphia apartment, not far from campus. Last month, Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng, 24, a 2021 graduate from the University of Chicago, was killed in a burglary in Hyde Park, just outside the university. Surprisingly, Zheng was the second member of the University of Chicago community to die violently this year. In June, student Max Lewis, 20, was killed by a ‘stray bullet’ while going about his own business on the city’s elevated rail system. Last year UC-Berkeley student Seth Smith, 19, was shot and killed while walking near his own off-campus apartment in the northern California city.
The best universities in the country are found in cities, as students and faculty need a dense environment to do applied research and work with nearby businesses and hospitals. They can protect their own campuses well enough, but they can’t lock up students. There are no âsafe spacesâ against general disorder.
Many students, like Zheng and Giri, not only are not from New York, but are not from the United States. They are busy studying intensive science courses and are often not exactly up to date. So they may not be at all aware of the massive wave of violent crime that American cities, including New York City, have experienced over the past two years.
Since 2019, the neighborhood around Columbia has seen shootings triple and assaults increase by almost 60%. Hate crimes increased 800%, from one to nine. City-wide murders have increased 42% in two years.
In another era, university presidents would demand more preventive policing. But that’s a tricky proposition now. When Smith died just outside the Berkeley campus, the Chancellor used his statement on his murder to give a short lecture on police brutality. Police brutality had absolutely nothing to do with Smith’s murder. Berkeley might as well have used his student’s obituary as an excuse to speak out on climate change or global poverty.
When Majors was killed two years ago, Columbia stepped up its own softer measures, like adding more on-call staff and extending the hours of a campus shuttle. Okay, but people don’t come to New York to take refuge on a school bus. Young people want to go out in parks and streets after dark, which should not be a death sentence.
More often poor black adolescents and young adults die on the streets due to the rise in urban violence, more often elite students will die as well. “Steps away from our campus” is no protection. Lee Bollinger should instead use the influence of the university to insist on new mayor Eric Adams, city council and Albany are making the city safer for all New Yorker.
Nicole Gelinas is editor-in-chief of the City Journal at the Manhattan Institute.