Wednesday, March 28, 2007

City Service

The recent shooting of two auxiliary police officers in Greenwich Village points up to all of us, including the regular uniformed police -- that no area, including relatively low crime areas like Greenwich Village, SoHo, Noho and Tribeca - is safe from occasional violent acts. It is a dangerous job which is underappreciated and underpaid.

It is one of the reasons why there are frequently justified criticisms that New York City Police officers are not paid nearly enough - as compared to, for example, the Southampton Town Police, where hassling Guatemalans on bicycles without papers is about as dangerous as that job gets for $100 grand a year after 5 years. Four years ago an off duty Quogue officer shot one of the local immigrants for waving a tree branch at him.

Serious stuff.

But, while we all realize that being a cop is a difficult job and wonder why someone would choose to pick such dangerous work, many of us have come to accept the fact that family tradition, psychological make-up, esprit de corps, and a variety of other factors, all play a part in one's decision to join the Police Force for a living. It's not just a job.

Somewhere between the early 60's during which police became "pigs" and the 1940's during which there was a near-reverence for the "men in blue" --lay the typical reaction of the average bear in dealing with a perspective on the average cop.

Police Officers are not social workers. They deal with aggravation and tedium on a daily basis far more of the time than we can even imagine. Their job is to fight crime and keep us safe. They are hired to protect us from the bad guys.

But, something else has been happening lately. The Police in lower Manhattan have been having trouble distinguishing between the criminals and the law-abiding citizens that they have been hired to serve and protect.

Several incidents have occurred recently in which the police reaction to mundane requests for help have been answered with -- what can only be described as -- ranging from indifference to hostility.

Right here in River City.

Yes. Right here, where violent crime is virtually non-existent.

The First, and to a lesser degree the Fifth and Sixth Precinct are assignments where officers call in favors to be assigned -- rather than wind up being stationed in the South Bronx where it is not always a picnic to do a four to twelve. If your gig is Downtown, you don't have to be assigned to the rubber gun squad to feel safe.

We called on the police recently because after getting into a taxi, the car next to us got scratched. The driver from New Jersey took severe umbrage that his SUV was scratched and got out of his car and started screaming, waving his arms and cursing. You know, the kind of thing you expect from a Jersey driver trying to get to the Holland Tunnel entrance. The Police were called to ensure that the Taxi driver and Jersey driver simply exchanged paperwork - and that the passenger was not attacked.

The Fifth Precinct police arrived - along with hostility, surliness and rudeness. It was actually a shock. The little badge that appeared in the Jersey driver's wallet, of course, didn't help the situation for us.

But, what kind of incentive is this for a law-abiding citizen to enlist the support of the police in a minor incident in which nothing illegal has happened.

In another situation reported recently, a light pole snapped off on a windy street and landed on a car in which a woman and her sleeping baby had just parked. Neighbors contacted the police to make sure the occupants of the vehicle were safe and report the dangerous condition of City property that had obviously not been maintained very well. The several hundred pound metal light severely damaged the car - and it was miraculous that no one was hurt.

The police arrived and simply started writing a report. There were no questions about the shock to the woman and her baby. She was forced to stand in 30-degree temperature outside the police cruiser for nearly half and hour - while protesting that she was cold - as they finished writing. The police controlled the situation, directed her to stand by in the cold, and ignored any concern for her or her baby.

We are not training social workers and we are not training emotional counselors. But, we are training people to "protect AND SERVE."

This does not mean that the police need to carry trays with tea on it, nor does it require them to like us - even when we are polite and conciliatory.

Police training should require some degree of ability to be able to respond politely and considerately when assistance is being asked of them, and when they are being treated in a similar manner.

Hostility towards the police is neither productive nor deserved - unless that is what is expressed by the men in blue toward the average, law-abiding citizen.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Manning the Barricades

Last year we made reference to the pamphleteers who ultimately cost Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI their heads. The pre-Revolutionary writers of that period were irresponsible and, for the most part, had their facts wrong. Marie Antoinette, for example, was widely quoted as saying "Let them eat cake" when food shortages erupted during the 1780's and she was rumored to have participated in illicit sexual debauches. Most of this was the product of the active collective imagination of self-styled revolutionaries who simply hated all authority -- many of whom had access to a printing press. They camped at the gates of the palace and handed out pamphlets, which says a lot for the laissez-faire attitude of Louis XVI. Ultimately, the number of periodicals and the venomous quality of their message contributed to the downfall of the monarchy, despite Louis' Citizen-King reputation.

No matter that the debauchery rumors were more attributable to the King's phymosis than to the Queens sexual appetite and imagined debauchery.

So what does this have to do with SoHo and Hudson Square?

When the hoi polloi (Greek derivation), the Bourgeoisie (French), or the regular working slobs (the Honeymooners) get annoyed - even Truth can take on new meaning. It no longer matters that rules or laws dictate that things must be done a certain way or, as in this case, that zoning regulations must permit a travesty.

At some point, the rules or the laws, and even the politicians, become dispensible.

Take the Trump SoHo project, which, again, is located in SoHo not in Hudson Square. This Sunday a demonstration took place at Spring Street just off Varick -- with several hundred residents from block associations, arts organizations, neighborhood organizations and political groups all banding together to voice their objections to the edifice euphemistically known as Trump Godzilla. Or, if you visit a NYC, Bloomberg approved website: Trump SoHo.

Speaker Quinn had a scheduling conflict, Councilman Gerson didn't appear and Mayor Bloomberg may have been too busy meeting with Doctoroff trying to figure out what else to try to sell the public. There's Trump SoHo, Cirque Du Soleil for Pier 40 and, oh, yes, the Sanitation Garage for Hudson Square. It appears that the loss of the Stadium was more than the Bloomberg/Doctoroff development team could swallow and retaliation is in the air.

Deborah Glick
, however, showed up at the demonstration, as did Tony Avella of the City Council. Glick spoke to Lincoln Anderson of the Villager and was overheard as she commented upon Bloomberg pro-development stance - no, actually, she spoke of Bloomberg's "pro-Overdevelopment" stance. And, the Trump project truly is an example of the over-the-top over-development permissiveness.

Rather than correct the zoning imbalances downtown which allow almost anything to be built (as long as its called a hotel), the politicians are allowing Trump's 45 story hotel-condo monstrosity in an area that is seeing 8 or 9 story condominiums only, when anything that is not Manufacturing is being built. Everyone knows that the Trump building is being billed as a hotel to get 45 stories, only to be sold as condos for the multi-million dollar take.

Contextual zoning is the answer to the selling out of Hudson Square and the Western SoHo manufacturing districts. Glick sees the problem; Councilman Tony Avella sees the problem, why can't Speaker Quinn see it. Or does she see but cannot act? Contextual zoning. That's the "act" for this area. But, now, not later.

Avella is from Queens, is Chair of Zoning and a member of Land Use on the City Council - and he sees the problem. He was at the demonstration showing his support. What is an important member of the City Council who is from Queens doing in Hudson Square - why does he see the relevance of this issue and our own local politicians don't even show up?

When the "rules" (whether they emanate from City Planning or Department of Buildings) dictate that the multitude must sit back and allow the destruction of a neighborhood - when the promise of favors or contributions from corporate coffers blind the eyes of our leaders - extraordinary efforts become the response.

Don Lucchesi
said: Finance is a gun. Politics is knowing when to pull the trigger.

With the help of leaders such as Sean Sweeney of SoHo Alliance, David Reck of Friends of Hudson Square and Andrew Berman of Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, there were several hundred protestors with placards and words.

The people were not happy with what they have been hearing from the elected officials and want action.