Sunday, October 28, 2012


  Bronx Fire Fighters found month old, Angela Rodriguez, unconscious in an empty bathtub in the Kingsbridge apartment
where her Mother’s boyfriend is alleged to have murdered her and stuffed her under a mattress which he then set on fire. 

(Sunday October 28, 2012, NY, NY)  Murder as all other categories of crime is more common in certain neighborhoods, Precincts and even blocks than in others.  This is a fact that holds true across the country.  In our City there are neighborhoods that have acquired over time notorious reputations for one reason or another.  Even after a once rough neighborhood has been revitalized, rejuvenated, or gentrified, the sinister reputation often lives on.  It seems that for the past 40 to 50 years New Yorkers look askance at you if you tell them you grew up or live in the South Bronx, Bed-Stuy, Brownsville ,East New York, long Island City, or any other of a number of our "tougher" parts of town, the blocks devoid of landmarks that draw tourists, neighborhoods where the socio-economic reality provides the setting for higher rates of crime of all sorts.

Without being conscious of the process, many among us seem to make automatic calculations while watching the news or reading the paper on the subway on the way to work if the topic is homicide.  Walking past a kiosk we can quickly scan the front page of The Daily News and Post, maybe glimpse a headline or two from the Times.  When they devote their front pages to a particularly newsworthy murder, based merely on the location of the crime, we tend to make judgments not only about the victims and perpetrators but also how far removed from our particular neighborhood the latest homicide occurred.

Perhaps we have just became too jaded, hardened by the reports of crimes, particularly murder, that we can only pause for a tale of some out-of-the-ordinary, inexplicable nature.  Implicit in the subconscious analysis are a series of value judgments largely predicated on our opinions and attitudes regarding issues of race, ethnicity and long-standing stereotypes.  Essentially, this calculus involves making value judgments on individual lives.  The front page of the New York Post shouts some lurid headline about 3 young men killed in a drug deal gone bad, or a melee at 4AM between rival gangs outside a club in Brooklyn and take it as par for the course. "That time of night, that part of town, they must have been Black hoodlums."   

But then comes a morning as we begin the commute and hear or read of a bizarre double murder perpetrated by a nanny in a posh Upper West Side building and we become hungry for details; we seem to “need to know” what evil forces, what form of madness could have been behind such out-of-the-blue savagery? 

Within hours of the “shocking” Upper West Side murders, a woman with a month old infant was brutally beaten, stabbed multiple times, stuffed beneath a mattress and set on fire while the precious breath of life was sucked out of the lungs of her baby daughter in the adjacent bathroom.  Why is this not “shocking”?  Why did this tragic story get little mention for a day in the New York media while the UWS murders have garnered round the clock, coast to coast media coverage?  The answer is easily answered. It is a simple matter of geography, race, and proximity.  How many New Yorkers living in Manhattan, the nicer neighborhoods in The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island read the short story and were nonplussed; after all “it is The Bronx”.  That’s just how “those people” live.  But, people live and die in a common human community that is differentiated only by birthright, birth place, circumstance, fate, and variables, seemingly arbitrarily metered by mysterious cosmic vagaries. While all things are theoretically possible for anyone to achieve, the practicalities of what is actually possible stand as daunting towering walls that are extremely difficult to climb.  From the hardscrabble day to day existence of those born into one set of circumstances to having the desire, tenacity, persistence and luck to make and find liberating opportunities, can be as challenging a chasm as there is to traverse.

 Lucia (left) and Leo Krim were killed by their nanny last Thursday in a posh
luxury high-rise on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.


New York City like other major American cities are many things, good and bad, common and unique, and home to some of the most dramatic yet proximal disparities in society.  In our City often a matter of a few blocks or the distance measured in just a handful of subway stops represent profound differences and make the disparities hard to ignore yet, most seem to do a fairly adroit job when it comes to giving much thought to how vastly alien the lives of people who reside so close by can be so far removed from their own.

White collar realities coexist with blue collar aspirations amid pockets of despair of those just trying to raise their children and hopefully provide a better life for them.  People and parents the world over have similar, often identical prayers and intentions for their families and in particular their children.  So what does it say about us as a society to express a degree of collective grief and outrage for the tragic loss of life on the UWS, and barely register the equally tragic death of Angela Rodriquez in the Kingsbridge neighborhood of The Bronx? It says a great deal and most of it is not good.  That we appear capable of “valuing” children’s lives so casually speaks to the rapidly expanding divides that are fracturing our society coast to coast. 

(The two candidates vying for the Office of the President, incumbent Democrat Barack Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, their Party’s ideologies, priorities and philosophies clearly put this societal fracturing in stark relief.  But, this is not a political story and to try to discuss it in political terms detracts from the core issues, the human tragedy of the loss of these young innocent lives, and disrespect those who will most mourn their deaths.)

There are New Yorkers who have never ventured into parts of the City unfamiliar to them.  This may be a simple matter of having no need to go to an unfamiliar neighborhood or simply a matter of not wanting to be “caught dead” in some notorious pocket of another Borough.  There are probably very few residents of West 75th Street in Manhattan who have ever walked a few blocks in Kingsbridge in The Bronx.  Actually, the lousy reputation of The Bronx was so well ingrained in the collective minds of non-Bronxites that attendance at Yankee games plummeted until the City invested money in revamping the 161st Street Subway stop, increased the visible NYPD presence and in general “cleaned up” the neighborhood.  That is just a fact of life; here we all are almost 10 million strong, from 200 countries, speaking over 300 distinct languages and dialects, adherents of an untold number of religious and spiritual practices, existing in every nook and cranny of the socio-economic strata of today, all living, in a sense, shoulder to shoulder, cheek to jowl, all familiar with the fact that “one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor” in the smallest, by square miles, yet most densely populated urban center in America.  Yet, we remain capable of keeping our distance from “them” and by doing so weaken society as a whole and help perpetuate the divides.  But, it’s just human nature, right?


We live our emotional lives and interact with the rest of the world from the center of a series of concentric expanding circles just like a dart board.  The small innermost circle we occupy with family, loved ones, those most valuable to and important in our life.  As we move into the ever widening circles they become decreasing in value.  Our circles might spiral from that central radius to the next ring occupied by extended family, neighbors, friends, coworkers.  As the rings spread towards the periphery of our dart board they contain those with lesser and lesser commonality.  We share space in those rings with folks from the same place of birth, zip code, religious beliefs, political affiliation, ethnic origin and so on.  An event impacted a member of our core circle where are passions are most invested does not affect us nearly as personally when a similar event occurs out in one of the more peripheral rings.  It is human nature.  Evolutionary biology has offered theories of how we acquired the ability for altruism even when it is expressed towards individuals far from our central core. 

But we all know where our passions reside, the limits to our charity and the extent to which we care.  Proximity and passion function under what we can refer to as an inverse corollary.  We react most strongly to those we most easily identify with but our passion does not necessarily keep pace.  For many years the Irish-American communities in NYC and Boston kept the Irish Republican Army (IRA) armed and dangerous by providing generous financial support.  It was possible for these Irish Americans to provide "bullets and bombs for Belfast” because they were so far removed from the line of fire.  There was no chance that one of their children would get caught up in the bloodshed of crossfire or a misplaced bomb on a school bus.  These financial backers, while professing passion over the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, were able to do so because their proximity was so far removed.

Yes, so much of how we live our lives comes down to the all-encompassing rubric of “human nature”. 


So what does it all mean?  Where do we go from here?  Good questions; no easy answers on the horizon.

Ironically, as of this writing, there is a rare and vicious force of natural barreling towards our City.  This common threat will not discriminate, will not skirt the tonier neighborhoods and crush only the tougher places.  No.  This is one situation that reveals the simplest truths about us as New Yorkers, as residents of the same place and our fellows from South Carolina to Maine are within the punishing reach of Hurricane Sandy – the “Frankenstorm” – a convergence of 3 individually potent weather systems that could collectively cause unprecedented damage and take lives in manners not very familiar to most of us who live in this City.  After all, hurricanes only happen to “them”, rednecks in the South and Gulf Coast; tornadoes only kill “them”, poor hicks, hayseeds and hillbillies in the Ozarks and simpleton farmers in the "fly-over" expanse of the Midwest.  Just another divide largely of our own construct.  We will see how rigorously treats our City and we will all probably share common emotions if it hits and in its aftermath.

The gale force winds will rip across Brooklyn and Queens, the storm surge will crash along the beaches of Staten and Fire Islands and torrential rains will flood streets in The Bronx, Inwood, Harlem, Canarsie, Astoria, Woodside, Sutton Place, Hell's Kitchen, Gramercy Park,  and the Upper West Side equally.  We’re really not as different as we may be comfortable thinking and each of our lives is of equal value.  We ought to keep that in mind, consider it for a minute or two after Sandy passes and the sun rises over our City, all 316 square miles of this place we all call home.



Copyright The Brooding Cynyx 2012 © All Rights Reserved

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