It Takes Everyone In a Village
"patrolling in miniature jeeps, like mall cops in a transplanted suburbia."
I live in a small village within a large city. It wasn't always this small; for years it was just where I lived, ate and drank. But after having kids everything changed. Restaurant owners became fathers rather than proprietors, the park became the woods for my children instead of a place to buy pot, the local crazies became the colorful diversions my children's inquisitive minds needed. Having a park in the middle of our village creates a natural meeting place, an excuse to make our different daily paths converge. It's a place to go for company or just to lie in the sun.
Our park, which has a long history of unrest, from suffragettes to hippies to drag queens to homeless encampment, is patrolled by Parks Enforcement and the NYPD. And herein lies the problem. At least 20 times a day the 2 policing entities drive their squad cars through our tranquil and otherwise pedestrian/bike/stroller-filled park. Often they sit idling, staring at the young kids playing soccer as if daring them to break the law. The NYPD are almost always on their cell phones and I have frequently witnessed them on their laptops, sometimes even while driving. Besides their blatant disrespect for our lungs, the plants around them, and the small children chasing bubbles and rubber balls, it is quite clear that they are not catching any bad guys. If a crook were to be stupid enough to commit a crime right in front of a police car, he would still have plenty of time to get away before the often out of shape officers could finish their calls, pause their movies, untangle themselves from their devices and pursue. This is ridiculously obvious to everyone except the police officers themselves.
I recently witnessed the hot pursuit of a handful of middle school kids seemingly guilty of defacing public property. The police van chased the group, which immediately peeled off in 6 directions. The police van chose one child to chase, losing him moments later when he pulled the oldest trick in the book, the trusty turn-a-corner-and-duck-down-until-the-van-passes. I was not alone in watching this and yet neither I nor any other bystanders exposed the subject being chased. The van sped past dangerously, presumably on its way to drown its sorrows at the dunkin donuts on 1st avenue. I thought about it for a while afterwards. It's not that I wanted our lovely temperance fountain to be covered in graffiti and I would have given the offenders a piece of my mind if I had seen the crime being committed. Nor did I want to encourage the young man in question to run from the consequences of his actions. But the behavior of law enforcement in our meeting place, our Urban Campfire if you will, is so against any form of community, compassion or plain old common sense that I actually cheered the boys' escape. There are ramifications to being a foreign presence exerting control over a unified people. We seem not to have learned this internationally or locally. If you're going to win the hearts and minds of the people you claim to be helping you might try WALKING in their shoes for a day. At least.
Just above our little village lies the enigma of Stuyvesant Town or Time Life City or Peter Cooper Village, depending on who owns it at the moment. Passing through Stuyvesant Town is like finding yourself in Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles. The lawns are perfectly manicured, the playgrounds clean and mostly empty, the police are privately hired, patrolling in miniature jeeps, like mall cops in a transplanted suburbia. I've always had a love/hate relationship with the place. It can be a real sanctuary from the intensity of nyc and I have had blissful moments cruising through on my banana seat bike, disappearing into its curved thoroughfares, unsure about where in the city I would emerge. I have friends who have grown up in ST, friends that live there now and friends that would have given their left leg to be able to live there when it was still community housing. But I hate the gated community aspect of it. Only Grammercy Park, with its key-only nighttime access, has the audacity to attempt to restrict public access in this city that needs all the green public space it can find.
Several incidents have recently reinforced my disdain of this suburban subdivision. Riding home on my bmx hog, wind in my hair, city on full display, I approached one of the pretend officers in his comical squad car. As I carefully navigating my bicycle around him so as to avoid scraping his paint job with my rusty handle bar, the officer lowered his window, spat in my direction, whispered loud enough to be heard by only me "fucking asshole" and pealed away, almost knocking me off my bike. I was shocked and then furious but he was long gone. I vowed to avoid ST at all cost in the future, fearing a full scale Easy Rider moment if I returned. If a long-hair falls in Stuyvesant Town does anyone hear him scream? I doubt it. I had all but erased the place from my mind when a young friend in 7th grade vented to me the other day. He was red-faced and his bottom lip was trembling as he recounted his run-in with the same shadowy militia. It seems that a group of middle schoolers had a half day and opting out of sniffing glue, smoking cigarettes or getting 8th grade girls pregnant, had decided to play basketball on one of the completely empty courts in the walled town. What happened next can only be described as a crime against hoops, which incidentally, is like a religion in nyc. No ST residents wanted to use the courts. No youth basketball program or any other function needed the space. But one little Gary Coleman Cop decided that due to fact that the boys in question did not live in ST, they could not use the facilities, ride their bikes on the streets or in any other way blight the ST way of life.
New York City suffers from a completely ridiculous reputation for being unfriendly. In my 17 odd years here I have found it to be the friendliest place on earth. Our shared survival in the teeming metropolis strips away color barriers, sexual orientation hang ups, and cultural differences. We are all in it together. Now if we could just get law enforcement, in whatever guise they take, to join us rather do everything they can to treat us like an occupied territory.