To each his suff’rings: all are men,–Thomas Gray
Condemn’d alike to groan,
The tender for another’s pain;
Th’ unfeeling for his own.
Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
‘Tis folly to be wise.
I got the notice that the Upper East Side was under attack on my “Citizen” app. It’s a crowdsource crime app, sort of an Instagram of misdeeds. I thought it might be helpful when I installed it 2 years ago: it alerts you to crime in the vicinity as reported by other users. At first it was fun: a glimpse into what’s quietly transpiring around you at all times.
After awhile, it began to feel like a doomsday device. Over time, knowing about all the crime–some of it fake or erroneously reported–warps your sense of reality. Rapes, fistfights, petty theft, 24/7: are people really this awful?
Like British poet Thomas Gray first said in 1768, and echoed more recently by Cypher in The Matrix: sometimes, ignorance is bliss.
But I kept the app out of FONK: fear of not knowing (and the fear I’d blame myself for being ignorant if something awful happened). I envisioned scenarios, so farfetched then, when I might miss out on an event that might harm me or those I love because I’d deleted Citizen, or simply turned off the notifications. Our addiction to technology is real and prevalent. No one under lockdown these past months needs that reminder.
Last night, my phone buzzed, and I checked it eagerly. After all, the night before, bands of thugs ravaged the SoHo neighborhood, snatching whatever they could while the NYPD–the best trained and equipped police force in the country–largely stood down on the orders of our feckless mayor, Bill De Blasio.
Yesterday, I made my way down to SoHo. It had been mostly cleaned up, here are a few images from last night’s turmoil.
The news: a “large group” was marching up 5th Ave. I pulled on shoes, grabbed a face mask (in part because, ridiculously, they’re mandatory in my building’s lobby and elevators). I walked toward 5th, but stopped short at Madison. There was already ample activity. Broken glass all over the sidewalk, mannequins askew.
Police cruisers were staged every two blocks on the avenue, lights on, sirens off. A simulacrum of safety: I could flag one down if need be, and I did once, more on that in a moment. The overall air was one of a storm having just passed. One urge was to chase it, to see more damage done, to stare at the thing. The wiser impulse prevailed: here was a shop with a broken window and no one to protect it.
A masked woman wielding a hammer told me the crowd of hoodlums had already moved North. I stared at her hammer. She understood my unstated accusation and said, “No, not me! I’m putting up boards!” Sure enough, behind her, a window-covering installation of plywood was underway, covering the storefront of Kate Spade, the eponymous fashion starlet who allegedly committed suicide by hanging herself from a doorknob with a red scarf.
These are shops I’ve walked past for years, seemingly inviolable spaces of wealth and snootiness. Had I ever thought, “Screw these pompous assholes” in passing, coldly measuring their customers, the ladies-who-lunch crowd? Of course. But to see the facade broken, the human-shaped forms wearing designs of European tailors on the dog-piss sidewalk, was jarring.
Are the store owners idiots for not removing everything of value after yesterday’s SoHo smash-and-grabfest? Yes. They are idiots. But that’s taking the line that American humans aren’t decent enough to consider the established social custom of paying for things you want. You know, capitalism: the economic system that has lifted more people out of poverty than any other.
It may be gaudy at times, but it’s a workhorse. It deserves its flamboyance. Capitalism is king for a reason.
The showroom windows of several surrounding stores on Madison had also been broken, but I decided to stick with this one tree for fear of losing it for the forest. The shop, J. Mendel, is an old furrier, established in 1875. Of course fur was one of the earliest currencies in North America, the closest rival to gold in methods by which settlers got rich in the New World.
The shop, but a bauble. A vestigial remnant of a once proud, nation-building trade. Why was the window broken? So many possible lefty triggers: because it represents wealth? Animal cruelty? Or because it’s owned by Jews?
I stood there in front of the store, arms crossed, increasingly resolute to stay. I felt vaguely responsible. The window was broken, dresses and furs still lined the shelves. I imagined the vandals who had broken the window, “just a few minutes ago,” according to the Kate Spade window-boarding duo, were either frightened away by police or the shattering noise. I’d like to think it a moment of shame at the callous audacity of their criminal act in the midst of a pandemic, in the very city that was recently its epicenter.
The first to interact with me were a group of black teens in an sedan. They pulled up to the red light and leaned out the windows. “Ooooh!” they sang in unison. “They busted that shit!” Noticing me, they hollered various phrases, laughing. Their tone wasn’t angry, it was more of a probe: what’s this guy going to do if we try to go in there? Is he an employee?
“There’s some real furs up in there, huh player?” I just stood there, knowing anything I said would be fuel on the fire. “Oh he a thug!” [derisive laughter]. “No man, we just watching.”
The light turned green. They drove off. I was keenly aware of the officers in their cruisers two blocks away, within my line of sight.
The next visitor was a man in a small SUV crossover. I apologize for the poor image quality. He crept up the street, surveying the damage, till he reached J. Mendel, staring at the broken window and the wares still inside. He stopped and put it in park. I took a photo of his license plate, then of him. It’s perfectly legal to take a photo or video of anyone, by the way. Don’t listen to low-info idiots on this score.
Am I a male Karen? Maybe. I’m fine with that label under these circumstances. While taking the pictures, he asked what I was doing.
“I’m taking photos of everything about this crime scene. I’m going to write about it later,” I said.
“You can’t take my picture,” he said.
“Hey, I’m photographing all of this, everything.”
“You can’t do that.”
“Yeah, I can. I have your license plate too.”
“You’re stupid,” he repeated. “You know that? You’re stupid.”
He stayed, as did I. Furs at Mendel go for thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars. It was a weird moment. I did feel, to use my new friend’s word, stupid. For risking my wellbeing in protection of some multimillionaire’s wares on one hand, and like a societal placeholder on the other. Why weren’t more people taking to the streets and trying to stop mayhem? It’s not a Karen moment, it’s no pedantic quibble. This is destruction of property. Looting.
It’s one thing in Los Angeles. You expect it there. New York, for all its flaws, is still our largest city, and one of our oldest. It’s the American standard as far as cities go. Its history, its architecture, its glories and tragedies–all of it is inescapably American. Love it or hate it (or both), New York is ours, warts and all.
A group of three black teenage girls approached, all likely 14 to 18. They clocked me dismissively. The guy in the SUV glanced at them and me, then returned to tapping away at a text.
“Damn,” one said, peeking into the store.
“They stuff in there.”
They glaced down the avenue at the waiting cruisers, then back to the furs and dresses.
“No,” I said.
“What you say?” she replied.
“We ain’t doing nothing.”
I just looked at her. It was awkward. I’m a white man, she and her friends, black teenagers. Nevertheless, I was still angry after watching the videos of teenagers like these three looting Target stores, CVS pharmacies, and more immediately, the shops in SoHo, three miles south, the night before, just 24 hours prior. I stepped into the street and flagged a police SUV. It slowly pulled forward, never breaking 15 miles per hour for two short city blocks, about 200 yards. Finally it reached me.
“Hello officer thanks, but you’ve got a situation here. The window is broken and there’s thousands of dollars worth of furs in–“
“Yep, we’re aware.”
“OK, thanks, jut wanted you to know, this–“
Long story short, he pulled away. All the cruisers began to advance up the avenue in what appeared to be a containment pattern, slowly advancing behind the crowd that had caused the damage, but never reaching them.
I looked back down the block. A group of teens had come around the corner, maybe 12 of them. A few carried long objects, they looked like lengths of pipe. The three teen girls had disappeared. It seemed like a good time to leave. Masked mobs? What the hell was I thinking, being out alone and without a firearm? Which would be illegal in NYC anyway. Giving a damn here is a Catch-22.
It’s one thing to follow the reporter’s instinct. It’s another to take it personally, to live out some savior fantasy. Live action role play with nothing more than a pocketknife? That’s stupid. I felt ashamed. I am responsible to others, not merely myself. How would I judge my actions if I saw someone doing the same thing in a video online?
I watch liveleak.com on occasion, I know what happens when some dude tries to confront a mob. As for the furrier, my inner narrative changed quickly. “If they don’t have insurance, that’s their problem,” I reasoned. “They should’ve emptied their shelves like so many others did.” After all, I don’t know the actual owners of the shops.
But I do care about my neighborhood. Civic pride is fertile patriotic soil. If one’s city is one’s home, one’s state is one’s yard, and one’s country is one’s town. Would that we all saw America that way.
I walked home. I called an old friend who said his great grandparents had lived here long ago. He shared a story about angry rioters soaking porous stones in kerosene, lighting and hurling them through the windows of 5th Avenue mansions. Residents had to scramble to extinguish the flames before they spread.
The story sounds at once apocryphal and plausible. This embarrassing war grinds on, between those who want to enjoy what they’ve worked for and those envious and angry over their station in life.
No matter how much a black person achieves, there’s the unescapable question of whether it was earned or given.
One can subscribe to any number of sociological theories and economic models for why things are as they are. “Institutional racism” is too hocus-pocus for me, it’s a boogeyman to which one can ascribe any number of ills. It’s a convenient catchall, it’s soft science.
To deny that there is a racial problem is equally fatuous. To simply point to IQ is simplistic. Studies have shown that IQ increases in all humans with the proper stimulation and steady home environment. And this leads back to my North Star on matters of race.
Welfare emasculates the black man in America. Great Society legislation championed by Lyndon Baines Johnson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the undoing of the black American family. Before 1964, single parent black families held steadily at 20–24 percent.
The number today is 77% and rising.
Three of four black children you meet on any riotous May morning were raised without a father, and that is directly attributable to the party of racism.
Not that calling people racist matters anymore. The word has lost its meaning through spittle-flecked overuse by leftists too lazy to dig deeper for its cause than new wave identitarian blather.
So I don’t mind being called a racist. I know in my heart that I want for blacks what I want for everyone: a clean, legal shot at the American dream. Achieving it is meaningless, indeed impossible, with greased rails, a leg up, undeserved admittance, a dual standard on crime, and a grandstanding, falsely aggrieved public reaction to every injustice, followed by debauched looting while the left looks the other way, not so much forgiving as not expecting anything better. Accepting the ugly end of the welfare-for-votes bargain: sometimes ya gotta let ’em blow off steam and steal. Remember, they’re oppressed, and this is their cry of anger!
I agree that blacks are angry, but I think deep down they’re angry that the game is rigged in their favor. No matter how much a black person achieves, there’s the unescapable question of whether it was earned or given. The sword cuts both ways.
On our honeymoon, my wife and I went to Kenya and the Seychelles. It was my first trip to Africa. We did all the usual safari stuff and then had some beach time. It was amazing, etcetera. Upon being driven back to the airport in Nairobi in a hotel-owned Land Cruiser at 6:00 a.m., bleary in the dawn light, I noticed groups of men standing and huddling in the median of the highway. Dressed in simple sheet-like garments, they were dirty and thin. I guessed that they were manual laborers, waiting for someone with an odd job to pick them up.
At a stop light, I stared at yet another group of them, maybe 40 feet away. One of the men met my gaze and narrowed his eyes. I didn’t look away. He raised his middle finger defiantly. I was made aware of the stark situation. Here was I in an expensive, air conditioned automobile with the name of a resort emblazoned on the door, and there he stood, on the side of a dirty highway, in rags, flipping me off.
So I flipped him off too. And he broke into laughter and began to clap. We smiled at one another as the light turned green and our vehicle pulled away.
Treat a man honestly. Don’t apologize for him or design all sorts of elaborate safeguards for him, those are insults cunningly sold as insurance. They make the giver feel good while slighting the recipient. Worse, once he has internalized the notion that he gets things for free, he will come to expect more every time he is aggrieved.
There’s a reason progressive cities are looted. Rioting is not the “language of the unheard.” It’s payback for supporting the hashtags like #ICantBreathe and #BLM, but treating blacks like children. Payback for not meeting their stare and treating them fairly. When they say “fuck you,” it’s important to reply in kind and say “fuck you too.”