Jack Tame: Call it racial profiling, but the streets are cleaner

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It was a plain A4 sheet, wrapped around a post with a few twisted bands of sticky tape. On it, a man's photo in black and white. Below his face were a few sentences, smudged and stained by the rain.

It could almost have been a poster for a lost cat, except Rory Forehand was a son, a brother and a man with a girlfriend who was four months' pregnant. He was 23 years old, and Googling his name revealed a man far more complex than a photo or poster could convey.

Rory Forehand worked as a mechanic. He had a passion for creative writing. He enjoyed rap music and poetry and had just passed the entrance exam to become a New York City firefighter when, late one night outside a bar on Second Ave, someone shot him dead.

Five years since his murder, police still haven't solved Rory Forehand's case. Five years since his murder, his family or friends put posters around the block where Rory was killed, in the desperate hope that someone may be able and willing to help.

Five years after his murder, I moved into an apartment a few metres from where Rory Forehand bled to death, and stopped to read a tatty A4 sheet on a Second Ave lamppost.

"Welcome to the neighbourhood," I thought.

Violent crime is a characteristic ingrained in New York's identity (fairly, perhaps) from decades of violent reality. But, in 2007, when Rory Forehand was killed, what might just have been another sad homicide is today becoming increasingly uncommon within the confines of Gotham City.

New York City had its lowest murder rate on record last year, with shootings at their fewest in 18 years. In a city of around eight million people, about 420 were murdered last year. In 1990, there were five times that number.

The mayor and police chief are crowing and backslapping while conceding controversial policy is probably to thank. Statistics-based policing has been introduced throughout New York, whereby beat officers are pressured to meet specific prosecution targets, leaving little room for common sense discretion.

A friend, who misplaced her wallet before a taxi ride and had to rush up to her apartment to get cash, returned to the taxi a few minutes later to find her cabby had misunderstood, and called 911 to report a runner.

The attending police officer lamented that because he'd been called, he was required to complete an arrest. She spent 50 hours in the cells.

Perhaps even more controversial, though, is the city's consistent support of police officers' right to "stop-and-frisk". The law allows officers to question or pat down anyone they consider suspicious, even without direct evidence of a crime. Critics claim it promotes racial profiling and of the almost 700,000 people stopped and frisked in 2011, 87 per cent were Hispanic or black.

These, claim the bureaucrats, are the costs of a lower crime rate; the costs of changing a city's reputation. These are the costs of saving the next Rory Forehand, the costs of making New York "the safest big city in America".

And there's little escaping the effect.

For most of its residents, 2012 in New York was a great year to be alive; this year may just be even better.

- Herald on Sunday

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