Where Are We Ever to Go?
I don’t, as a rule, like to enter any political discussions in my writespace. Disturbed by the trends toward suppression of ideas and the suspension of critical thinking evident on both the right and left these days, I disagree with just about everyone. It makes sense to remain aloof. Today, however, I am compelled to jot some thoughts about what is happening in New York City because I will be casting my early Primary vote this week, and rank voting could very well obviate my vote. I want to have my say.
We may be on the verge of electing our first female mayor, and I should be ecstatic. But the candidate most likely to win that distinction is a woman for whom I have little respect, a woman who walks in the shadow of Bill DeBlasio.
Two things irritated me from the moment Bill DeBlasio appeared on his mayoral campaign trail.
First, he used his family as his calling card. Rather than exhibiting any real laurels or touting bona fide credentials, DeBlasio held his family as a shield against all critics. Every time he spoke, every time he appeared on camera, his wife and kids — the real people or posters bearing their photos — stood in front of him, his black badge of courage. As though their color were proof positive he’d be good for NYC. If anyone dared question him, he recited his holy trinity: Chirlane McCray De Blasio and the two offspring.
Second, he struck me as a Tammany type. I found him a shady, slippery, slick talker, who said nothing. He shook hands all over the city, pronounced empty platitudes meant to be inferred as promises we all knew he could never keep, and ate ethnic foods as though eating were a skill required for the office he sought. He exhibited little that was of any interest to me as a voter. He had been a campaign manager for Charles Rangel and had served a brief term on City Council. He never had responsibility for any administration, had not even run a major business or organization. His only track record was having crossed the color line and married a woman with dark skin.
I never would have voted for DeBlasio. But the Republicans failed to put up a candidate with any kind of persona at all. Oh, well, I thought, at least he’ll do right by Harlem, which has been my home now for nearly twenty years.
I was wrong.
Harlem has deteriorated at a steady pace since I moved in. Deteriorated in ways that many don’t even recognize as deterioration. There are far more upscale apartment buildings, co-ops, and condos in Harlem than ever before. Celebrities like Marcus Samuelson have moved in, and like his Red Rooster, restaurants and shops have made central Harlem a tourist mecca. As the businesses reopen, what the tourists don’t know is that danger has proliferated. Gun violence is up citywide by 54% over last year, shooting incidents have risen by over 97% overall, and murders are up nearly 20%. No one knows exactly what the stats are in Harlem because much of the crime here is left unreported, and it has been growing continually since DeBlasio took office.
DeBlasio’s first big gesture as mayor was to erase stop and frisk. I hated stop and frisk, don’t get me wrong. It was a horrible bit of unconstitutional programming that snagged kids for minor infractions, tricked innocent people into bondage, usurped the balance of the city. But it also kept weaponry to a minimum. It needed to go. But if should have been replaced by something that would protect us from the ubiquitous guns murdering our citizens. Police trained in Social Work methodology might be an answer. But Social workers without police training are not.
Just days after Stop and Frisk had been soundly defeated, I found a friend from the Projects across the street from me sitting at a bus stop weeping.
“What’s the matter, Doris? Can I help,” I inquired?
“Nah. There is no help,” Doris wailed. “The guns are back.”
Doris’ neighbor and close friend had been murdered the night before. Mowed down by her own 18-year-old stepson, who resented his father’s choice of women.
“The kids are all carrying again,” Doris moaned. “There’s nothing to stop ‘em.”
DeBlasio put nothing in place to stop the guns. But at least we had police.
Since the George Floyd murder and the onslaught of the BLM movement, DeBlasio has hobbled the police. Few write about what’s going on in NYC these days because the publicists don’t want to scare away the tourists, who are returning from pandemic sequestration. But I can tell you that living here in Harlem, I see a frightening breakdown of order.
Gangs of kids terrorize the streets on loudly buzzing motorbikes, which they ride en masse in the middle of the streets, ignoring stoplights or pedestrian crossings. They drive onto sidewalks and force walkers out of their way, often into the street or back-slammed against building walls. They mow down anyone not quick enough to get out of their way.
Motorized scooters and bicycles have proliferated on our walkways. They are unchecked, unmonitored. Riders sneak up behind pedestrians, threatening all but the most alert with bodily harm. The vehicles can be lethal. Yesterday Lisa Barnes, an actor, beloved member of the theater community, died of injuries she sustained when she was mowed down by a black and red scooter, whose driver did not even stop to survey the damage he had wrought.
Car drivers routinely run red lights, ignore “WALK” signs, exceed speed limits exponentially. They are rarely stopped for anything, and the only tickets car owners ever get these days are sanitation tickets. A car innocently parked in the way of a street cleaner — an oxymoron if there ever was one — is likely to be ticketed. But a truck careening down Amsterdam Avenue at upwards of 65 miles an hour in a 25 MPH zone gets a squeamish wave from the crossing guard watching the truck smash through her crosswalk.
Every broken glass violation Dinkins introduced, which his successors so carefully protected, is gone. Gangs of kids, even in the pandemic, have been out in the streets in droves, shooting off illegal fireworks every weekend, playing loud music on the streets until the sun is up in the morning, throwing projectiles at cars and pedestrians, smashing eggs and garbage from their windows above the streets.
The trend is citywide.
Worst of all is that even in broad daylight there is reason to fear for our safety on the street. Old people and Asians are summarily knifed, beaten, slashed, cursed wherever they are. Subways are rife with danger. Attackers brutalize the same vulnerable groups in the underground passages, where they cannot be heard calling for help. There used to be a police presence in the subways. No more. Bus drivers cannot enforce fare payment let alone attacks by one group of riders against another. It used to be entirely safe to ride the bus because there is no hiding on a bus. Nowadays, it’s impossible to feel safe.
Because I live in Harlem, I am acutely aware of what goes on around me.
Last month, returning from my children’s home upstate, I got to the Metro-North station on 125th Street at around 8 PM. Sunshine still lit the streets, but shadows were spreading. I looked for a cab, expecting to see a fleet of them parked, as they usually are, at the double-door entrance. One lone taxi stood in that spot, and when I went to ascertain whether the cab was available, I found the driver crouched down on the floor. He signaled me away and pointed behind me. I turned and saw what was frightening him. Out in the open, amid terrified travelers scurry9ng to get away, a gaggle of teenage boys was chasing one another with large hunting-style knives. I ran up the street to catch a bus pulling away from the curb a block ahead. As I boarded, I looked behind me and watched the boys carry on their awful dance, oblivious to the horrified crowd.
DeBlasio has left a curse on my city. And now the Progressives, the so-called Woke, threaten to carry on his legacy of do-nothing administration. Maya Wiley, who offers no solutions or policies except the promise to cut a billion dollars from the police, threatens to put her feet into his unscuffed shoes. I heard her speak today, and she said that she is concerned that too many lies about the crime in New York are being spread in an effort to subvert the police reforms. If she really believes that, she is further out of touch than I gave her credit.
Though incidents of crime here in Harlem are rarely reported, we who live here know what is going on. Last month, two men were shouting across the street from my apartment. One shot the other. My next-floor neighbor, whose apartment has a balcony, witnessed the shooting, took photos, which he sent to local papers. No one ran the story.
No one in this city can deny the police force needs to be re-trained, re-socialized, re-formed. The system should receive more not less money so that it could truly revamp itself. Restructuring does not equal dismantling, and everything Wiley suggests sounds more like dismantling than reform to me. I want to feel safe when I ride the subways or walk my aging body from place to place.
Endorsed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the arrogant, attenuated adolescent, who thinks she knows how to govern a city, Wiley seems poised to throw the city under a runaway bus. Most of the candidates seeking the mayoral nomination in the Democratic Primary appear clueless as to what it takes to live here, and Maya Riley consistently offers a storybook version. The Democrats want to wake us up. To what? Most of us know we pay far too much rent, are far too often overcharged for electricity and gas, have far too few amenities, and enjoy far too little protection.
If we get any more woke, we will have no alternative but to leave. Then there will be no one left to see what we’ve been awakened to. Those of us who want true equality, who want true opportunity for all, who want our exorbitant taxes to ensure our security in our own homes will be forced out of the city. Then that middle class the Dems are trying to guilt into submission will be entirely gone.
Ask history what happens to a city without a middle class.