Posts Tagged ‘new york city’
At Harper’s, Scott Horton makes a great catch:
Senator Joseph Lieberman has developed a knack for craven fearmongering. His latest proposal was born from the police operation by New York’s finest that led to the capture of Faisal Shahzad last weekend. Shahzad, a financial analyst, is a United States citizen and, as a long-time resident of Bridgeport, one of Lieberman’s constituents, which Lieberman considers a troublesome complication. Lieberman says he will sponsor legislation under which the president will be given the power to deprive a person of his citizenship simply by bringing certain charges.
Lieberman is vague about the proposals, and he offers no explanation of how a citizen could be stripped of his citizenship by executive fiat consistently with the Constitution,a step that would have all the traditional badges of tyrannical government. He also apparently believes, incorrectly, that only U.S. citizens have a right to receive aMiranda warning. (That’s the sort of mistake that a young lawyer sitting for the bar would never make, although Lieberman has been a lawyer since 1967 and was a former Connecticut attorney general.)
Though obviously legislative adventures such as those of Mr. Lieberman should be avoided at all costs, I think it is important to remember that the “facts” of the Times Square incident are now murky and inconclusive at best. We have a “suspect”, but no idea if he actually did it; we have a confession, but no idea how it was extracted. For all the front-page accusations of his supposed “links” to “The Taliban”, we know only for sure that
1) – A crude, incompetent bomb consisting of M-88 firecrackers (the sort children play with), a sealed tank of propane, and a couple bags of fertilizer was placed at the back of an SUV in Times Square. This is not how you make a bomb, and given that the sort of firecracker he bought cannot undergo self-reignition (one M-88 can’t set off another M-88 with its detonation), I have real doubts that the “explosion” would have even broken through the car. It was hardly the sort of device one envisions upon hearing the phrase “car bomb”, particularly as the citizens of Baghdad have come to know it.
2) – A Pakistani-American citizen was picked up at an airport attempting to leave the country with a ticket he paid for in cash. The Times sent its reporters scurrying to find his relatives the moment the NYPD released his name, and they emerged with a hit piece on how the suspect, Mr. Shahzad, “fit the profile of a Terrorist”. Rife with circumstantial evidence, the article describes his “‘money woes”, his newfound “zeal for Islam”, his “strong religious identity” and so forth. The article does not mention the evidence against Mr. Shahzad, and takes his guilt as a foregone conclusion.
3) – The suspect confessed. But I should stress emphatically that that is all we know of his confession. Mr. Shahzad has been accused of five terrorism-related charges, according to the New Statesman, and apparently gave his interrogates “the goods” – that is, he confessed to having trained in Pakistan, having “links” with “The Taliban”, etc – precisely what our policy planners might have wanted. The AFP was kind enough to note that Mr. Shahzad has not been in a court, and has in fact, “disappeared” since his “dramatic arrest” 4 days ago. We don’t know where he was taken, who interrogated him, or what exactly he confessed to.
I do not wish to be called a “conspiracy theorist”, but it is well known (and given the tone of coverage, tragically well accepted) that if you are accused of the crime of Terrorism, you will be interrogated in secret and tortured at the very least by days or weeks of sleeplessness (try it, reader!). I have no idea how Mr. Shahzad was interrogated, except that it was done by the military. Unless I see documentary evidence to suggest otherwise, I think that given the military’s past experiences with interrogation, we can assume Mr. Shahzad was tortured.
Then what is his confession worth? Very little, it would seem, and even less given the almost hilarious nature of his “crime”. The contents of his car were essentially inert. Is it a crime to have firecrackers, a sealed propane tank, and a few bags of fertilizer in your car at Times Square on a Saturday night? Evidently, if you happen to be on a particular list, everything is a crime.
It would be difficult to overstate the danger of Mr. Lieberman’s proposal and those like it. By classifying a certain class of crime (“Terrorism”) as one for which normal rules do not apply, one creates a dangerous precedent. Who, after all, is a Terrorist? Mostly Muslims, for now, but the Administration has given indications for years that it plans on expanding the definition to, say, civil disobedience.
This is an unhealthy trend, and ought to be stopped. To have two sets of laws – one for people accused of “Terrorism” and the other for everyone else – is illogical and absurd; and worse, it demolishes the idea of whether or not we can conclusively ascertain a “Terrorist’s” guilt. Precisely because Mr. Shahzad likely confessed under torture, we shall never know whether or not he was actually guilty.
I cannot claim to have had any more than cursory experience with the various crime organizations in New York, but I would like to record this conversation, however imperfectly, with a someone who claimed to be prominent member of one.
“See that guy over there? He’s a worker.
(He indicates a crumpled-looking person with narrow, watery eyes)
He makes the deliveries. So if someone calls him up, says “Hey, I need a nickel, I need a dime”, he’s the one that answers the phone and gets it to them. Any problems – junkies, cops, whatever – he’s the one’s gotta deal with it. I don’t pay the cops to leave mu guys alone. I know some people who do, but its a bad idea. They leave you alone at first, then they keep comin’ for money. And when you don’t got it, they bust your ass. If you’re sharp, if you know what you’re doing, you should be havin’ problems anyway.
It’s hard to find good workers. Some you trust, some you don’t. You get these guys: they’re honest, lived in the ‘hood all their lives, can’t get a job, just tryin’ to make some cash. And then there are the junkies – the motherfuckers think I’m handin’ them a free fix. (He darkens.) You gotta teach those ones a lesson. But most workers I give 15% of the profit from what they move. Then I take twenty, and the rest goes to the importers. The ones you trust, you can give them more at a time, let them eat a little better.
So coke, then – I get the stuff pure for say, $32 per gram. Then I resell it to that guy over there for $40 Then he does whatever, cuts it, puts shit in it, you know, and sells it again for $45. Then that guy sells it to is a user, who might sell some to tourists in Manhattan. Shit, they’ll pay whatever.
I don’t fuck around with weed. It’s too bokey. Bokey – you know – uh… hard to conceal. It smells, and you can’t carry it around in bulk. There’s a bigger clientele, but you gotta be turnin’ over pounds. The penantlies are lower, but you have a much, much bigger chance of getting caught. Shit, catchin’ dumb kids with weed is like a national sport for the cops. Then they rat your ass out. It ain’t worth it.
My position’s pretty good. I don’t have to carry the shit on me; I just know some good suppliers. So I can just make the deal, bring supply to demand, and make a nice cut on the side. I make $8 per gram – so if I sell this guy 250 grams, I just made two G’s. But you gotta know a lot of people. They gotta respect you, fear you even. People can’t think they can fuck with you – they gotta be afraid.
I always tell people – I can be the nicest guy in the world, but don’t fuck up, don’t make me show the other side. It’s like the lion in the jungle – why is the lion king of the jungle? (He indicates his bicep.) It’s because of this. Most of these guys… I mean look, this is my block, but somebody wants to eat, I’m not gonna prevent from eating. But they gotta go through me.
Sometimes you get tough. I been lookin’ for this one guy all day. He fucked up my money. I told him, right from the beginning: I’ll let you make money on this block, I’ll let you eat – but don’t fuck up my money. But that’s exactly what he did! The junkie,he used all the shit I gave him. I said: here’s 300 dollars worth. Sell it, take a percentage, give me the rest.
But he don’t want to play that – motherfucker uses it all, comes back sayin’ “I don’t have your money, I don’t have your money” Fuck that. People like him, they’re just looking for their next fix. They don’t ever think about the future, they never plan for it. Totally passive; just take the future as it comes. He probably ain’t even worried about the beating I’m ’bout to give him.
(I express shock.)
Oh hell yeah, I’m gonna whip his fucking ass. You don’t fuck with my money. It isn’t even the $300 – I could give two shits about that. I get thousands a day. It’s the principal. You don’t fuck with another man’s money. And shit, who knows? He fucks with me, nothing happens, maybe other people think they can do the same thing.
So what I’m gonna do – I got this pool cue. I’m gonna break his fucking hands. When he puts them up to defend himself. I got the bottom half; it screws off – it’s not gonna break. His hands will.
I ain’t gonna kill him. But you can be sure his ass is gonna land in a hospital. Shit, maybe they clean him up.
You gotta show people, y’know? They see I fucked this guy up, maybe they think twice before messing with me.
(I compare his method with the US justifications for going to war in Southeast Asia: The “Domino Theory”, etc.)
I don’t know nothin’ about that. All I know is when you let one person fuck with you, suddenly they all are. I gotta protect my interests.”
(I note the irony).
Side conversation: Musing on the changes that have taken place in his lifetime.
(He expresses nostalgia for the early ’80s)
“Yeah, I’d say the city’s safer overall than it was back then. More people are working, less violent crime. I mean it happens all the time, but it isn’t as open. Shit, I remember back when me and my buddies had straps, vests – we’d walk around just carryin’ our shit. You can’t do that anymore. I still got my bulletproof vest and my nine [millimeter pistol], but those are in a safe place – only for when I need ’em.
They got cameras and microphones now. You fire a gunshot in this neighborhood, they got mikes to pick up exactly where it came from and dispatch a squad. No one’s even gotta call anymore. And everyone always snitches. The penalties have gone way up – now if anyone hears about a gun, someone’s always tellin’.
Oh, shit happens. Just the other day guy was shot two blocks over. But you can’t shoot people on the street anymore. Before, we’d be battling in the streets, at least you could see the fucker shooting you. Now you get shot in the back.
And the hustlin’, man. That’s changed for sure. Back then, there’d be someone selling on every street corner. Two, even. The cops would just roll right by. Now people hustle on their cell phone. You come down this street looking for something, you could pass 10 drug dealers and they wouldn’t sell you shit. They don’t know you, they don’t sell to you. Everyone’s afraid of selling to a cop.
That’s where the cell phone comes in. You know this guy, you trust him, you give him your cell number. You tell him: don’t give it out to anybody you don’t trust. And of course he doesn’t want to fuck up, so he’s gonna be careful. It’s gotten more sophisticated. You can’t just sell to whoever you want anymore.
What’s the cause? People snitchin’! There’s no honor, no loyalty. Used to be you didn’t dare open your mouth to the police. You had dignity. Now you got people snitchin’ left and right. I guess the new generation is fuckin’ up. The penalties are way higher now. Before, you get caught you do a one year, two year bid. But now it’s five. You get these junkies, they don’t to go away for that long, be away from their fix – so they’ll sell out whoever. Shit, those fuckers would sell out their own mother.
There’s a lot more money in the city now. Everything costs way more. Drugs included. And shit – even if you want to live in this shitty-ass neighborhood, unless you on section 8, you’re paying $1200 for a one-bedroom.
(Section 8 is the popular name for New York City’s rent stabilization program)
It’s getting to be that you can’t even afford to live here anymore. This whole block’s Section 8. If it weren’t for that we’d have a whole lot more homeless people.
Yeah, I guess it’s gotten better. You can walk around without worrying about getting caught by a random bullet. You can raise your kids here. But shit, people ain’t eating any better. You still got people living paycheck to paycheck. It’s still tough to survive. So where’s the progress?”
The lack of conspicuous poverty in New York City is quite astonishing, given the financial holocaust of which it stands at the epicenter. Unemployment has spiked here, as everywhere else, and sits just below the national average: 8.7%. Yet to an untrained observer, the city still bustles with activity. Pedestrians either walk with focused strides or the confused gait of a tourist. Tourism, incidentally, has continued unabated – if anything it has quickened its pace. Times Square is so choked that the city has seen fit to close Broadway, freeing the herd to graze.
The property values in Manhattan are absurd, and continuously become more so. To live in Manhattan implies one of two things: either the adult a) has resided in their apartment for more than 15 years or (b) has an income in excess of $85,000 per year. If children are involved, the number almost quadruples. South of 90th street, it costs approximately $1500 to share a two-bedroom apartment, $2000 for a studio, $2500 for a one-bedroom, and upwards of $4000 for a three-bedroom suite. On Park Avenue, those values may be doubled, or south of 70th street, tripled.
Even in the boroughs, little visible poverty shows. Low income areas have residents who certainly don’t seem well-off, but everyone appears to be making a living, if sometimes only just. Still, a two-bedroom apartment in Queens costs $1700.
Every so often on the subway an odoriferous, disheveled, pot-bellied, yet clearly well-fed gentlemen will commandeer the car’s attention. Very rarely, he will have a crippling injury. After excusing himself, he’ll launches into a brief speech as to his misfortunes, add a plea for some small change (invariably so that he may get “a decent meal”), and end with an emphatic “God Bless You!” Most ignore, but a few can always be counted on to give a dollar or less. I have also seen five dollars donated, but never more. On average, if one spends eight hours a day at such an occupation, at five minutes per car, allowing breaks and lunch one can expect to make a very rough approximation of $85 per day (at an average of $1 per car).
The crisis’ evident lack of effect in New York City (compare to Detroit, for example) I think can be attributed to two major state-run programs, both of which amount to a seniority-based incentive structure. The first is affectionately referred to as ‘Section 8′ by longtime residents. Tenant unrest forced the city to enact rent stabilization in the ’70s, allowing long-term residents to pay only 30% of their net income as rent, while the city covers the rest. One low-income resident told me gravely that if the city were to revoke the Section 8 clause, “There’d be a whole lot more homeless people”
The second is New York State’s unemployment insurance program – generous, inclusive, and a far sight off from it’s Michigan counterpart. Claims have increased at such a rate as to induce the Department of Labor to set up an expedited online claim process. Newly laid-off workers can file a claim the very day they receive the news. The catch, of course, is that one has to have held a job in New York for a significant period to qualify. Still, I have spoken with seven or eight well-dressed bourgeois in Manhattan parks who told me they had been unemployed for months. They did not appear overly worried.
No discussion of poverty in New York could be complete without this anecdote, which occurred in Central Park two months ago. On a bench far off the path a visibly dirty homeless man with half his yellow teeth missing sang some nonsense into the wind. I approached him to make conversation, which he did in a jester-like fashion, and I asked what he did for a living.
“Me? Nah, I don’t work”, he replied.
“But surely you had a job at one point”, I suggested
“Oh, yeah, I worked at the S&L for years!” he laughed. I expressed confusion. “That’s Standing and Leaning!” he got out between laughs. Then, more seriously – “No, I’ve never worked”.
“Then where do you live?”
“I live here. This is my park. I’m homeless.”
During the conversation he ripped open a high-fructose “cream pie” package – Little Debbie was the brand, I believe – and scarfed it in two bites.
“I tell you what though,” he said between mouthfuls, “I get $300 per month food stamps, $200 per month from the shelter, and a place to stay – so I’m makin’ like $800 per month”
I mentioned this was more than I made, and asked if he felt he should give something back to society for the livelihood it allowed him to draw.
“Give something back?” And here I must say to his credit that he at least considered it. Then he declared: “I do give something back! I’m puttin’ on a show for these people!”