Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

Regular Ole’ Hood Shit

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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.

Racism!

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Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed into law a ban on ethnic studies classes, specifically in response to a class that teaches Mexican-American history, on the grounds that it would “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.”

Apparently irony isn’t one of her strong points. For starters, Arizona was Mexico. For seconds, if there is resentment towards whites in that state, wouldn’t it be from the fact that it’s discriminating against Hispanics? And isn’t this bill clearly more evidence of just that? Unbelievable.

Similarly, Jackson, NY*, a small town near Vermont, has signed a law declaring all official activity be done in English – itself unconstitutional – which is not only unnecessary (what non-English speakers would they find near Vermont? Errant Quebecois?) but ugly in the sort of support it’s getting. To quote one commenter,

This is an extremely positive development to stem the de-Americanization of America.

Because America’s entire history isn’t just one big long list of immigrants. I don’t see you people speaking Tsalagi. To quote another,

Then I thought to myself: if I was in court in say, France, I would not go to foreclosure court and assume that a translator would be made available to me. I would not own property in France and assume that my ignorance of French would be accommodated. Similarly, I would not go to the hospital, or to pay a utility bill, go to school, or out to eat and assume that those establishments would provide someone to assist me in transacting my business in anything else but French.

Which is ironic, since like most Europeans, French citizens have a more robust educational system when it comes to learning foreign languages, are surrounded by people who speak foreign languages and are more likely to be conversant in foreign languages (especially English) than Americans. Not to mention the racism of assuming that because one cannot speak fluently, one must not be allowed to own property, pay bills, go to school or the hospital.

The comments are not terribly dissimilar to those in today’s Times article on racial profiling in NYC:

FACT: Blacks and latinos commit a much greater percentage of crime in relation to their overall population then white people do. Hence, more frisks, arrests, etc.

Apparently said commenter has not heard of the self-serving prophecy. Forgetting about police quotas and the high rate of drug charges, it’s a fairly simple concept: More scrutiny equals more arrests. If cops harassed random suburban white boys with the fervor they did Black hoods, we’d see a far higher rate of incarceration for whites. (Not to mention more sensationalism about the negative effects of crystal meth, but I digress.)

Two steps forward, two steps back. And to think we’re supposedly the most egalitarian nation in the world…

*It never ceases to amaze me just how much upstate New York is total hicksville.

Oh My

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Not only did the NYPD make an arrest without having to waterboard anybody, but more arrests were made by working in tandem with law enforcement in – of all countries – Pakistan. It’s like the GOP narrative is breaking down as we speak. How dare Obama’s effete, liberal agenda on cooperation bear fruit!

Bravo NYPD

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Another potential attack is foiled by the NYPD – this time a carbomb parked in Times Square – and just like last time they didn’t have to go all Jack Bauer about it. The bag vendor who tipped the cops even proved the boon of the much-advertised suggestion, “If you see something, say something.”

Moreover, the trial on the Critical Mass incident has concluded with a conviction against Pogan – if not for assault than for falsifying records. That’s right: A pot-smoking wise-cracking activist who admitted he hates the police won a case against a cop son of a cop.

While Obama is continuing Bush’s policies against civil liberties and the racist xenophobia still reigns supreme in the South and Southwest, at least NYC still believes in the rule of law. Hurrah!

Free Floating Anger

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The trial’s begun over a cop knocking a Critical Mass participant off his bike two years ago and it looks like the biker might win this one.

Now, I’m by no means a fan of Critical Mass, but herein lies the dangers of indicting a whole movement in a legal trial that demands the specificity of one single actor: Sure, on the whole they’re counter-productive to their cause and incendiary, but policemen must always be consummate professionals else they look like dicks, and in this case officer Pat Pogan looks like a dick. Mainly because he is one.

While I’m calling people dicks, I’d like to get something else off my chest after n+1 arguments about this, where n is too many: Yes, people protested George W Bush, myself among them. Yes, a number of them did things slightly less than savory, tho specific instances outside of shouting matches with parade police elude me at this moment. (They certainly didn’t brandish loaded firearms in Town Hall meetings.)

But there’s where the similarities end. The anti-war and anti-globalization protests were attacking Bush’s policies. The anti-tax protests today are attacking Obama.

Never mind the hypocrisy of claiming the illegitimacy of Obama’s status as a citizen as he won a mandate majority of the vote, when the previous president actually got fewer votes than his competitor and was handed the election in an unprecedented decision by a state governed by his brother. Never mind the Tea Partiers claiming taxation without representation after they voted (and lost). Never mind the hypocrisy of Medicare recipients protesting against government health care, unemployment and welfare recipients protesting against government spending, and anti-tax zealots protesting tax cuts. Never mind the deficit hawks who voted for two wars right after a massive upper class tax cut.

Because they’re not attacking Obama on his policies. That’s the difference. They’re attacking Obama. When liberal protesters had placards comparing Bush with a monkey, they were criticizing his judgment, not his heritage. Just like Clinton, where a year’s worth of policies were held up not because of any legitimate reason of governance but because of the political ramifications when he tripped and fell into an intern. Except this time Clinton’s not just “Black” but Black. Which apparently makes all the difference in the world with some people. Or to quote Gene Wilder in Blazing Saddles:

You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.

Trafficking

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A few NYC cabbies are found out to be double-charging for trips, and people go ballistic.* Don’t they know that the only people allowed to gouge the American public are bankers, government contractors and insurance providers? Meanwhile hamburgers still go for $25 in Times Square, so in reality it’s only a crime if they force locals to pay these ridiculous rates.

Consequently, imagine my surprise at just how far Bloomberg’s gotten to documenting everybody (and the NYPD have been doing so a bit more aggressively as well) when, in hailing a gypsy cab up in Washington Heights I found that, to a man, they now had little plastic cards with the NYC logo showing their licenses and a bill of rights for customers, including how very illegal it was to hail them. It didn’t stop ‘em from ferrying me around, but hey: We must keep appearances, no?

Speaking of appearances, a Mercedes ad has cropped up on the pages of Bike Snob and Streetsblog, where some guy in a Mercedes SUV enjoys a leisurely trip while losing time in a race with a frenetic bike messenger. The former scoffs at the ridiculous route the Mercedes driver took, the latter rails against how they make Manhattan bikers look like maniacs. Well, this ain’t Amsterdam, after all (though I do have special enmity against one-speeds). They both forgot the most important part of the whole exercise: Where the hell is that guy gonna park a goddamn SUV in Brooklyn Heights?

*Seriously, get over yourselves, people. An extra $4 a trip average ain’t gonna break the bank if you’re taking cabs in the first place, it’s a scam as easy to catch as watching the meter tick once, 3,000 cabbies outta an estimated 39,000 – what with the high turnover rate – is far from universal, and saying you’re “not going to tip out of spite” or how we should “revoke their green cards” is petty and racist.

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