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Flatbush Flashback

It's the Economy, Stupid

An impromptu memorial for murder victim Mark Carson in front of the now-shuttered Barnes & Noble on 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village.
Regular readers of this blog may get the sense that I'm so caught up in my own writing career, such as it is, that I'm unaware of anything that happens that doesn't directly impact it. That would be incorrect. I pay attention to what's going on in the world, and sometimes some of it slips into The Daily Beaver. It is, for example, hard to ignore what's been going on in my own neighborhood lately.

Late Saturday night, on a Greenwich Village street, eight blocks from where I live, a gay man, Mark Carson, was shot in the head, and killed, by a gunman shouting homophobic slurs. It was the worst of a series of so-called "bias incidents" that have happened in and around this supposedly tolerant neighborhood in May.

The Carson story has been covered to death by the media, and every time I walk out of my house to run some errand on 6th Avenue, I can’t help but be reminded of it. I’m sure it’s been contributing to the vague sense of nausea I’ve been feeling all week.

But I also think the story goes far beyond an anti-gay hate crime provoked by people feeling threatened by the legalization of same-sex marriage in a dozen states. It strikes me as a story about another crazy person with a gun who, before he shot Carson, was threatening a bartender on West 4th Street. But it primarily strikes me as a story about the economy, which, as far as I can see, isn’t getting any better.

When an economy goes bad and stays bad for an extended period of time; when it seems as if the government is incapable of doing anything about it or doesn’t want to do anything about it; when people cannot find decent jobs; when they lose their homes; when they can’t afford to pay for medical care; when they’re being crushed by debt; and when they see a tiny sliver of the population grow wealthier and wealthier, people look for convenient and vulnerable targets. The classic example, of course, is Nazi Germany and the Jews. And in Manhattan, where the economic disparity becomes more apparent every day, especially downtown, it appears as if gay people are providing a very convenient and visible target for anybody looking to express their frustration with the current state of the economy. Read More 
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It Takes a Riot

My posting yesterday about how disturbingly close the UK riots felt to New York City generated a number of comments on Facebook and Twitter. So, while the situation in England seems to have calmed down for now, I'd like to respond to a comment by my fellow Headpress author Charles Shaar Murray.

“The big difference between what happened in London and what might happen in NYC and elsewhere in the USA is guns,” Murray wrote. “If the rioters had been armed—not to mention the storekeepers trying to protect their businesses, and the cops—as they would inevitably be in Merkuh, we’d’ve had a body count in the hundreds, if not thousands.”

Murray is referring to the fact that unlike in the US, guns in the UK—especially handguns—are difficult to obtain and the police are, famously, unarmed. And though buildings were burnt to the ground and stores looted, only five people have been confirmed dead, three of whom were run over by a car in Birmingham.

Compare that to what happened in LA riots of 1992: 53 dead. Or the Detroit riots of 1967: 43 dead. Or the Watts riots of 1965: 34 dead. Or the Newark riots of 1967: 26 dead.

The difference, of course, is handguns. In America everybody, including terrorists, has the constitutional right to own virtually any gun smaller than a cannon, and somebody like Mark David Chapman can walk into a gun shop, lie on the application about having been hospitalized for mental illness, put $169 cash on the counter, and walk out with a .38 caliber revolver that he will use to murder John Lennon. Or more recently, the clearly insane Jared Lee Loughner legally purchased a 9mm semi-automatic pistol with a 33-round magazine, and used it to murder six people and wound 13 others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, at a political rally in Tucson, Arizona.

So, yes, America is a violent country full of heavily armed lunatics walking around at a time of political chaos and economic turmoil, where the gyrations of the stock market can cause jobs and life savings to evaporate in one bad afternoon. And as I wander the streets of New York, where the increased tension is palpable, I think about the riots in England, and I remember how it was here, in the mid-1960s, when my city was on fire, everybody was scared out of their wits, and I heard too many people say things like, “I need to buy a gun to defend myself, because the police aren’t going to do it.”

So, yeah, it seems as though it takes a riot (and an impressive body count) before people can come to their senses. Might it happen here? I ain’t no prophet. I can only report what I see, hear, feel. Read More 
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