Back in the 1970s, kids, there was no more potent symbol of crime and breakdown of social order in New York City, in its pre-Koch and pre-Giulani days, than graffiti-covered subway cars. From stem to stern, they were covered in it. We're talking about every train looking like this:
Wealthy liberals, who of course never went near the subway or a bus, excused this outrage as "vibrant urban art." Meanwhile, middle-class people (New York still had a middle class then) had to ride to work in the squalor depicted above.
Then along came Mayor Ed Koch, one of the great big-city mayors of our time.
At a press conference back around 1980 Koch discussed his anti graffiti initiative. A reporter asked whether the City was planning to place dogs in the rail yards where the subway trains spent the night, and where the graffitists vandalized them.
"No," said Koch. "We're going to use wolves."
Just a bit of hyperbole to make the point. But in those few words, the people knew they had a mayor who was on their side. Fashionable opinion, especially of the "vibrant urban art" persuasion, was outraged. Koch, they said, was a primitive, a reactionary, a fear-monger, an extremist, a divider, a polarizer. Oh, and of course, a racist.
Funny thing, though. From that point on, the graffiti started to go. The vandals became afraid that Koch just might be crazy enough to make good on the wolves.
It marked the successful jump-start start of an intensive and ultimately triumphant program to clean up the subways. The last graffiti-covered subway car was removed from service in May 1989.
I was reminded of this by the sad news of the riots in England. A third night of it and they're debating whether to use rubber bullets, as London and Birmingham burn.
There aren't enough police, and in a country with strict gun control, the rioters know the population is defenseless.
London Mayor Boris Johnson and Prime Minister Cameron should mind the example of Mayor Koch. Tell them you're sending in the wolves.
If they do, there'll be no rioting tomorrow.