Reflections on a Weekend of Menace

Looking back one more time on the Memorial Day weekend, it was dreadful from an important perspective: An uncommonly large number of New Yorkers were shot to death, eight in all.


Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

One murder was especially stomach-churning, that of Claudia Millan, 29. She was shot in the head as she walked along a Bronx street, clutching the hand of her 2-year-old son. Why Ms. Millan became a target is not clear. The police have yet to catch the killer. But you have to wonder how anyone could be so devoid of decency as not only to gun down a woman — a mother of four, no less — but also to do it while she was holding on to her little boy.

Sickening, too, even if not lethal, was the sexual assault of an 85-year-old woman that took place early Monday morning on the Upper East Side. The police said that a heavily tattooed man believed to be in his 20s dragged the woman by the neck, took her to the sunken stoop of a brownstone, forced her to perform a sexual act, and robbed her.

“Monster,” The Daily News screamed in a front-page headline on Tuesday. That sort of shouting is not our normal style, but it was hard to disagree. Tuesday night, the police released a four-second surveillance video offering a pretty clear view of the suspect as he walked on the street. “The hunt is on, major league,” the chief police spokesman, Paul J. Browne, told me.

The eight killings occurred from Friday to Monday, six of them in Brooklyn and two in the Bronx (including Ms. Millan’s). Nearly all the victims were in their teens or 20s.

Anytime murders occur in a bunch, New Yorkers become nervous, wondering if the wheels are coming off the crime-control wagon. But as dreadful as the weekend toll was, it is too soon to push panic buttons about the possibility of a long, hot, deadly summer. Menace in the city has a habit of cresting one weekend, then cratering the next. Over the course of the year, it “tends to flatten,” Mr. Browne said.

In fact, the level of mayhem, over all, is no worse than it was a year ago. Through Monday, the police recorded 185 murders in 2011; the figure for the same period last year was 186. In 2010, the number of murders rose appreciably — to 536 from 471 in 2009. But 2009 was a banner year, with a stunningly low murder rate. Over the past decade, from 2001 to 2010, the city has averaged 547 homicides a year. At the present rate of killing, we are in the same ballpark for 2011.

Technically, there were nine homicides over the weekend, not eight. No. 9 was a victim who had been wounded before 2011 but did not die until now. In police-speak, he was a “reclassification.”

Homicides are counted in the year in which the victim dies, even if the episode occurred long ago. Sometimes, it can be very long ago. One man included in the 2011 tally, Mr. Browne said, had been shot and paralyzed in 1979. He died in January of complications attributed to his old wounds. There have been quite a few such reclassifications this year, Mr. Browne said — 15 thus far, compared with 7 at this point a year ago.

No matter how things turn out by year’s end, New York is sure to end up nowhere near its darkest days back in 1990, when the murder count peaked at 2,245. Then again, while comparisons of that sort are important, they mean little to the families of the victims. They will surely provide no comfort for the four children whom Claudia Millan left behind.

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