After 904 nights of sleeping in Manhattan’s Midtown West, I took a three-day trip — to exotic, faraway Boston. What I found there was shocking: normalcy. Boston is a liberal city — but it is also a pragmatic city.
My 9 a.m. walk down to New York’s Penn Station for my train to Boston was normal — for the new New York. I had to avoid an emotionally disturbed gentleman brandishing a bottle, screaming at people to “get away from me.” (Good advice.)
Four hours later, I de-trained in Beantown, dropped my backpack at my hotel, and began a long walk — 21,599 steps.
I did not set out to take such a long walk: I had planned to spend much of the day working in my room.
But as I walked on, I found myself relaxing. I walked the tourist spots of Faneuil Hall and the wharves. I walked downtown. I walked the two parks. I walked to the Prudential Center, and then all the way through the Fens and the museum district.
I went to the museum, had a drink, took the T back, ate an outdoor dinner and walked to my hotel, by myself — in the dark.
I gradually realized that I did not feel nervous at all. Nobody accosted me screaming. Nobody looked like he was about to stab me if I refused to smile at him. The dusk-time Green Line T was a paradise of people on their way home from work, or on their way out to clubs.
Passengers chatted or scrolled their phones, rather than glancing at their fellow passengers to assess the stabbing risk.
The next day, I worked all day on my computer, outside — and the same unusual thing: Nobody harassed or threatened me. I took the Blue Line T to East Boston, and did not have to figure out where to stand on the platform to equidistantly avoid the would-be pusher and the would-be flasher.
I also noticed that there was no disorder: no piles of trash spilling into the sidewalks. No needles.
Yes, Boston has pandemic scars — empty restaurant and retail storefronts, fewer foreign tourists. But I didn’t wonder if a bomb had fallen on it.
My experience is backed by statistics: Boston is one of the only American cities not to have experienced a double-digit increase in violent crime over two years.
In 2020, Boston had 57 murders, matching the 2017 number. In 2021, it had 40 murders — matching the 2015 number, and 16% below the five-year pre-COVID average. This, when New York, in 2021, saw 488 homicides, 53% above the five-year pre-COVID average.
In Boston, rape, robbery and assault are all down since COVID (with the sad exception of domestic violence).
The good news has continued this year.
It’s not that Boston escaped COVID unemployment: It lost nearly 18% of its jobs, more than the nationwide level of 15%.
But: First, during the critical “defund” movement of summer 2020, Boston was lucky to have a longtime, moderate Democrat mayor, Marty Walsh. “I think that just arbitrarily cutting the budget isn’t the answer,” Walsh said in early June 2020.
This was during the worst of the protests-cum-riots. It was hard to take this stance — but Walsh showed cops that though he would insist on police self-discipline, he wouldn’t throw his force under the bus.
This moderate stance has continued, under supposedly progressive Mayor Michelle Wu. She killed police-budget cuts this year, winning praise from the conservative Boston Herald: “People got the message. Wu is supporting the cops,” the paper’s contributor Peter Lucas wrote.
Then, there’s Boston’s supposedly progressive prosecutor — who wasn’t all that progressive. Rachael Rollins, who headed the office until earlier this year, had a long list of “do not prosecute” offenses, including shoplifting — but then promptly prosecuted repeat offenders who wouldn’t cooperate with diversion programs.
“Contrary to what she seemed to initially suggest, Rollins has not implemented a wholesale policy of waiving prosecution of lower-level misdemeanors,” Commonwealth magazine reported.
In April, Rollins’ successor, Kevin Hayden, bragged about revoking the bail of an “unarmed” robber after repeat second chances. Can you image Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg doing that?
There’s no mystery to Boston’s success: Be lenient when you can. Don’t, when it harms public safety. I look forward to a trip back — to walk around without looking over my shoulder.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.