A couple of people have asked if I’d write about what it’s like here in NYC these days. First, thanks for your concern, those of you who’ve asked if I and mine are okay. We are; I know what it looks like on the TV news, but this is not a war zone. I went to the Greenmarket this morning, on the north side of Union Square; the south side has been the staging area for the Manhattan protests. The farmers were selling produce and bread, people were shopping, folks were wearing masks and being orderly. Nevertheless, when I asked one of the farmers whether there’d been extra thought given to whether to come in today, she said no but they expected the market would shut down early as it had on Saturday to give people a chance to clear out before the protests started.
I’ve been hearing helicopters since Friday, sirens occasionally. I’m in the West Village, about a mile from Union Square itself and a mile from Soho, where a lot of luxury shops were hit hard. Near Union Square I saw three broken windows — a restaurant, where the bar had been looted, a Verizon store, and a sneaker store. Nothing else, though some stores are boarding up in anticipation of more to come tonight.
Will there be more tonight? I suspect so, but I also think the intensity will taper off. In normal times it would taper way off as people went back to work, but of course part of the problem is everyone’s been out of work for nearly three months.
I’ve seen videos of the looting at Gucci, at Dolce & Gabbana, and I’ve seen a lot of posts asking, “How does this help?” Also, photos of destruction with “I’ve never seen NYC like this!” captions.
First, for the NYC-has-hit-the-apocalypse crowd, I refer you to the 1970’s fiscal crisis, to AIDS, to 9/11 — oh, go look it up: the history of NYC. We’ve been here before. We’ll be here when this is over.
Second, and more important, for the “How does this help?” people, I suggest that’s the wrong question. For the record, nobody’s saying looting Gucci “helps.” But I’ll bet a lot of good upright citizens in 1773 asked, “How does this help?” when rioters seized 342 chests of tea from ships of the British East India Company — a private company — and dumped it overboard to protest government action. The rationale then was the same as now, and can be encapsulated into this: when Colin Kaepernick took a knee to protest police killing black men, he was called a son of a bitch by the sitting President and he lost his job. Or this: the Tulsa Race Massacre, 99 years ago to the day today, when white Tulsa rose up and, burning, murdering, and rampaging, destroyed the most prosperous black community in the country. (Did you learn about that riot in school?) Or this: the NYC Draft Riots of 1863, when a group of white men, angry at being drafted into the Army by a white President to fight other white men, lynched black men and burned buildings, including the Colored Orphan Asylum, to the ground. (Did you learn about that riot in school?)
I suggest that instead of uttering a rhetorical gasp, people might read Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Colson Whitehead, Attica Locke, Ta-Nehisi Coates; to listen to measured voices, which are speaking even now; and to ask the only question that can even begin to stop this endless repetition, which is: “How can I help?”
Thanks for this! Hope to see you when this is all over.
I hope so, too, Greg! Stay well and safe.
Excellent comment. Thank you.
Good stuff, SJ. Thanks for taking the time. I had forgotten about Attica Locke (I loved her Bluebird book a couple of years ago); I’ll go look up what she’s doing now. You’re right on the head of the nail with those historic specifics. Most of us don’t know about those things. I suspect those who are clutching their pearls never paid attention to the many times oppressed people have tried to “play nice.”