This week has left us wondering: How many weeks in a row can a person say “what a week”?
We won’t try to answer that question in this edition of Allegedly. But we will provide updates on the week’s courts and crime news!
For The Allegedly List, we’ve got the latest on New York extremism, celebrity divorce, and a rapper’s alleged K-2 use. For The Allegedly Original, Robert Sietsema explores the dialogue surrounding New York City’s crises.
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The Allegedly List
New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Department on Thursday “to end its pattern of using excessive force and making false arrests against New Yorkers during peaceful protests.” The suit stems from numerous accounts that NYPD cops roughed up and wrongly arrested protesters this summer. James’ lawsuit is calling for the “implementation of a monitor to oversee the NYPD’s policing tactics.” Via NY AG
Mary-Kate Olsen’s divorce from her estranged husband Pierre Olivier Sarkozy is almost over. In a virtual Manhattan Supreme Court proceeding Wednesday, her lawyer said in court: “All issues have been resolved.” Judge Lori Sattler was skeptical, given that their proceedings have dragged on, and remarked: “I am going to keep control of this case so we make sure this gets done … let’s get this done and get them divorced.” Via Vulture
Rowdy Rebel absolutely did not use K-2 in prison, OK? That’s basically what the rapper, legal name Chad Marshall, told the parole board prior to his release. When they asked about a disciplinary infraction for allegedly having K-2 in his cell, Marshall replied: “Come on, I am not doing no synthetic marijuana and be running around here throwing up on myself.” Via Vulture
Several New Yorkers were arrested for involvement in the January 6 Capitol attack including Aaron Mostofsky, who dressed like a cave-man and repeatedly implicated himself by talking about his involvement. MTA employee William Pepe was also arrested. Aspiring Proud Boy Eduard Florea, who was not present at the riot but posted menacing messages online, was busted on charges of illegal ammunition possession, authorities said. Via Intelligencer and The New York Times
Rudy Giuliani, who was Donald Trump’s lawyer until a recent falling-out, faces calls for disbarment for his alleged role in the “violent insurrectionist attack on the United States Capitol.” State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Dem who chairs the chamber’s judiciary committee, on Monday officially requested that court administrators strip Giuliani of his law license. The New York State Bar Association has also launched an investigation to determine whether he should be booted from their membership. Via The New York Times
The NYPD has determined that deputy Inspector James F. Kobel wrote numerous racist posts about Black, Hispanic, and Jewish people on a message board, using a synonym. Kobel, who was “responsible for combating workplace harassment,” submitted his retirement papers last week. Department officials nonetheless plan on bringing administrative charges against him. Via The New York Times
The Allegedly Original
Yes, Things Are Bad
By Robert Sietsema
I moved to New York City from Madison, Wisconsin on June 10, 1977, a notorious low point in the city’s history. People often ask me in this era of the coronavirus pandemic, are times as bad now as they were then? Well, here’s my answer: yes.
When I arrived, the city was quite literally on fire. As I pulled up to my new home, a walk-up tenement on East 14th Street, plumes of smoke could be seen rising from disparate points in the East Village and on the Lower East Side. In common with the more famous fires in the South Bronx and Harlem, buildings had been kindled — depending on who you chose to believe — by greedy landlords intent on driving rent-stabilized residents out of these decrepit tenements, or residents who wanted to take advantage of a $3000 relocation allowance then in place.
Either way, vacant lots with buildings in various stages of smoldering demise were springing up on many blocks, to become the community gardens of the next decade. Buildings that survived in more intact shape became squats devoid of gas and electricity, with the block near me on 13th Street, between Avenues A and B, one of several centers of the burgeoning squatter culture. One building even sprouted an electricity-generating windmill on top.
With the economy in turmoil, vacant storefronts were everywhere, and many were illegally turned to residential usages. You could tell which ones by the halfhearted displays of broken furniture, art works, and dog-eared books thrown in the windows to fool authorities. There were also a dozen or so actual junk shops in the neighborhood that specialized in used merchandise gleaned from the trash in more affluent neighborhoods. That was how I assembled my collection of LPs.
Son of Sam hadn’t been caught yet, and the level of fear generated by the guy we now know as David Berkowitz — who claimed he was given instructions by a dog— can’t be overstated, even though he favored couples necking in cars along lovers’ lanes as his victims. In my building, for example, there was a single skinny guy with his pants pulled up under his armpits and hair slicked back whose apartment was furnished with a single stick chair. He must certainly be the Son of Sam, my friends and I thought.
The week I arrived, I was playing Scrabble with some of my new friends when the lights flickered, sputtered, and went out. The electricity remained off for a week in the Great Blackout of 1977. Across the street, hapless tenants on the higher floors of Stuyvesant Town had to pull water up to their apartments with ropes and buckets, since water pressure failed above the sixth floor of any building.
For us, the blackout was an adventure, and the sight of the darkened city from our rooftop was thrilling. However, there were looters everywhere; in fact the auto supply store at the end of the block was picked clean late one night after thieves lowered themselves through a skylight in the near pitch-blackness. We could hear them crashing around in the dark.
One day later that summer, I was sitting in the bathtub in my kitchen and heard a loud explosion. I ran naked and dripping to my living room window to discover the super had been welding his rattletrap van and forgotten to empty the gas line. The thing sent a fireball whooshing past my window that went up five storeys, incinerating cars up and down the block. The burned-out cars remained for weeks.
Drugs were everywhere during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. In the early years it was heroin addicts, who nodded out in doorways and sometimes even died when they got drugs that were too strong. A dentist from Jersey who’d driven into the East Village one evening to score was found slumped over the wheel parked next to Tompkins Square the next morning, needle still in his arm. His patients and family had had no idea he was an addict, an incredulous TV anchor reported.
In the latter half of the 1980s, smokable crack held sway, and the sour smell of its ignition in tiny glass pipes could be smelt in doorways and even on the subway. Visually, colorful little crack vials accumulated in sidewalk cracks. Filled with two crack rocks, each vial would sell for $3, meaning a crack fix was cheap, but you’d need a lot of them in the course of a day. Artists picked up these vials and made art; little children collected them and invented games. Bicycle seats disappeared as they were stolen by addicts and sold cheap.
An image that I stumbled across right as I arrived in the city stuck with me during the whole era. There had been a stabbing in the Third Avenue L station, a station rarely used by anyone since the L train was so infrequent. The victim had dripped blood as he staggered around the East Village, and I’d spot vestiges of the blood trail for months as I explored my new neighborhood, a warning to be vigilant of street crime.
The similarity of the current era occurred to me as I traipsed a few days ago down Seventh Avenue past the St. Vincent’s Triangle, now known as the Aids Memorial Park and the hospital across the street — now turned into luxury condos— where patients were once treated. Once again, I spotted a trail of blood spatters that extended to the corner and turned down Greenwich Avenue, presumably by someone who had just been knifed. Or maybe it was just a nosebleed.
But many other things are similar to the decade 40 years earlier. An economic downturn has ushered in an era of mass unemployment. The number of people living on the streets has visibly increased, and I’ve once again seen people shooting up under scaffolds and on dark corners. Inexplicably, construction on highrise condos continues, even though there must be few takers among potential buyers. The streets in the West Village now seem deserted, principally because the wealthy have departed the city en masse, and the windows of most townhouses are darkened, making the streets palpably darker and scarier after 8 o’clock or so.
Now, as in the East Village of the earlier era, many storefronts are empty. And residential rents are dropping. City services are eroding too, as piles of garbage nibbled by rats have accumulated on the street corners. Covid has closed many restaurants in a protracted and dispiriting process, and estimates range as high as 75% for those that may have closed permanently. Meanwhile, as winter overtakes us, the fanciest restaurants have outfitted their curbs with heated enclosures, where one can dine in full view of the often-hungry populace, usually to the tune of $100 or so per person.
Casting my mind back to the 1970s in the East Village, there were far fewer restaurants back then, many of which didn’t stay open past six in the evening. The density of open restaurants has returned to what it was back then. In front of churches and other non-profits, long bread lines form, a sad sight that recalls the earlier era, but also the Great Depression.
Now there are other visual signatures not common to the late 1970s and 1980s: most wear masks; lines of ambulances pull up in front of emergency rooms; outdoor cafes are everywhere, and one can often see fear in the eyes of the passersby — and not fear of crime either. Now the fear is of disease, a more intangible fear than being simply stabbed and wandering aimlessly in search of help.
Neurotic and random coughs were once a feature of the city’s soundscape, on the streets and in movie theaters. Coughing now means all eyes will immediately be upon you, so it’s much rarer. And a visit to a favorite local store no longer occasions a convivial chin-wag with the proprietor. Now it’s buy quick and get out, always conscious of how many virus particles you may be inhaling.