Why are so many violent criminals walking free?

Is this the new normal? A U.S. congressman and gubernatorial candidate was attacked by a man who attempted to stab him. If the suspect had succeeded, we could be talking about Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) as the late U.S. congressman and gubernatorial candidate who was assassinated in broad daylight. Fortunately, though, Zeldin was not injured.

In a normal, sane world, the suspect would have been behind bars immediately. But that didn’t happen in this instance because this is New York, home to the Yankees, Lady Liberty, Niagara Falls — and laws that protect criminals more than law-abiding citizens. 

“Relieved to hear that Congressman Zeldin was not injured and that the suspect is in custody,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said after the attack. “I condemn this violent behavior in the strongest terms possible — it has no place in New York.”

Yet, somehow, the suspect wasn’t in custody for long. 

“His words as he tried to stab me a few hours ago were ‘you’re done’, but several attendees, including @EspositoforNY [running mate Alison Esposito], quickly jumped into action & tackled the guy,” Zeldin tweeted after the attack. “Law enforcement was on the scene within minutes. The attacker will likely be instantly released under NY’s laws.” 

Coincidentally, Zeldin was giving a speech on New York state’s cashless bail laws when the attack occurred — and his prediction proved prophetic: The alleged 43-year-old attacker was charged with a state crime and released on his own recognizance within 24 hours, according to the sheriff’s office. It wasn’t until he was charged with a separate federal count two days later that the accused attacker was held without bail, pending a July 27 hearing

One would think, even in deep-blue states like New York, that such attacks would be taken with the seriousness they deserve. It wasn’t long ago – in 2017 – when four people were shot in Alexandria, Va., as Republican congressmen practiced for the annual congressional baseball game. Among those shot was Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), whose Capitol Police security detail killed the attacker. 

Examples of those who commit crimes while awaiting trial, despite having no business being free, are far too numerous to list here. Perhaps the most egregious example occurred in December in Wisconsin, when Darrell Brooks allegedly drove through a Christmas parade and killed six people (including an 8-year-old and three elderly women from the group “The Milwaukee Dancing Grannies”) and injured dozens of others. Several weeks prior, Brooks was accused of running over the mother of his child and was arrested, only to be released on a paltry $1,000 bail. Brooks has pleaded not guilty to all 83 counts against him.

As with Zeldin’s accused attacker, Brooks was allegedly attempting to murder or harm another human being. Yet Brooks, who had a rap sheet a mile long, was able to post his own bail after the incident with his child’s mother. Forget about raising the amount — no bail should have been offered, because why wouldn’t he be expected to do something like that again? And five days after committing that act, he did it again, destroying many lives.

Zeldin’s attacker initially was charged not with attempted murder but with attempted assault in the second degree. That’s because the congressman wasn’t injured, thanks to bystanders who tackled the attacker as he repeatedly lunged at Zeldin.

There is hope in this case, now that Zeldin’s alleged attacker has been charged federally with attacking a member of Congress. If convicted of that, he could face up to 20 years in prison. Under New York law, however, there is the real possibility that local prosecutors could plead the state charge down to a non-violent felony since Zeldin wasn’t injured — even though that was only because people around him bravely stepped in and risked their own safety to subdue the attacker. 

We don’t need to hear more stories like what happened to Daniel Enriquez, who was sitting on a New York subway train, going home from his researcher’s job at Goldman Sachs, when he was shot dead in May. The accused killer, Andrew Abdullah, had a long criminal record and was released without bail after being arrested a month earlier. Among the charges on which Abdullah was awaiting trial at that time were assault and weapons possession. Yet Brooklyn Criminal Court Judge Leigh Cheng denied a prosecutor’s request for bail. 

Through May, according to the New York City Police Department, approximately 950 criminal offenses were reported on New York City’s transit system. According to a recent Siena College poll, 76 percent of New York City residents are somewhat or very concerned they’ll be a victim of crime. Perhaps that explains the exodus New York is undergoing. 

This can’t continue. But until New York and other progressive states begin electing leaders who will enforce the rule of law and protect citizens over dangerous criminals, we’ll continue to see these real-life horror stories play out over and over again. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.