Haven’t blogged in half of forever, so let me get back into the habit by starting small.
I’ve been caught up in a debate on what part of identity politics are nature and nurture (my answer: Aside from acknowledging difference itself, all reaction is nurture) and with that in mind I was considering how I’d describe an event I witnessed while biking home after dark today. Now, I still live in the hood in uptown Manhattan – ostensibly still a drug neighborhood, gentrified in parts so long as you keep west of Broadway, et cetera – and some parts are still flooded with cops as per the CompStat system. Indeed, normally while biking up Broadway I tend to see four or five squad cars breaking up groups hanging out on the corner or stopping motorists who appear to be cruising for drug purchases.
In the gap between two such stops was a fight that was raging up and down a block on Broadway between a barrel-chested Black man with long dreadlocks and a pot-bellied Sikh man with topknot. I don’t know how it started, but when I happened upon the scene, the Sikh man was bleeding from the hairline and was swinging at the Black man with a three foot iron bar.
I pulled over and asked a bartender from a cafe at the end of the block who was watching the proceedings what had happened and if anybody called the cops. “Oh, it’s been going on for some five minutes. It started because of someone disrespecting him or his girl or some shit. There’s cops everywhere except when you need ’em. Look at that girl over there just taping the whole thing.” And sure enough, there was a girl with her smartphone just taping the whole thing.
Aside from the combatants, there were about five or six guys guarding the storefronts, two guys attempting to pull the combatants off each other, four women who were standing well behind, on their phones, and the Black guy’s girlfriend, hurling epithets at the Sikh man. The fight was broken up when the two guys managed to drag the Sikh man into a bodega, close the entrance behind him, and push the Black man away from the door.
The Black man started to walk away until his girlfriend yelled at him, at which point he turned around and started shouting at the bodega entrance until the Sikh man emerged once more and the process started over. It was only when the other women pulled the girlfriend aside did the fight end for good.
It reminded me of a fight between two drug dealers in my neighborhood, one Black man and one Dominican man, where for three days their argument raged up and down the block in front of an audience of some dozen locals. I’d sit in my apartment and hear two male voices yelling at each other for about ten minutes, then die down, then two female voices start up, then the male voices resume their tirades. This would go on for hours. On the fourth day, the Dominican man shot the Black man dead and fled to the Dominican Republic, where he was extradited two days later.
On the face of it, it’s some honor bullshit: Some perceived slight spirals into a whole event. But it wouldn’t have dragged out as long or as bad as it did were it not for the audience, and within the audience the girlfriends specifically, egging them on. Would cops have changed things? Possibly. In the case of the drug dealers, the cops showed up twice in those first three days, which is how the fights actually ended, but no follow-up had been done. What interests me more is how that whole honor thing got to be so important as to matter more than anything else, and the answer to me is fairly simple: There is nothing else.
One of the results of the CompStat system was that violent crime in New York City – assaults, et cetera – dropped to historic lows, but they of course did so at a time of economic buoyancy – the late ’90s – where the unemployment rate was also at historic lows and the employment rate (ie: the percentage of adults employed) was around 65%.
Right now we’re of course in the throes of a jobless recovery following a major recession that itself followed ten years of stagnation, where the city’s unemployment rate is double what it was then and the employment rate is around 55%. And lo and behold, violent crime – over nothing, no less – is sprouting up, for lack of anything better to do.