They’re murders that never, ever should’ve happened in “New” New York–but did and continue to happen at an alarming rate in 2020. I’m not just talking about the senseless drive-bys now revisiting inner city communities with a vengeance. I am also talking about an uptick in attempted murders at tourist traps and homicides in tony neighborhoods–and of the likes not seen since the days when The NY Post ran its infamous, “Headless Body in Topless Bar” headline.
These recent murders particularly make my blood boil, because they’re clearly the indirect result of an incredibly smarmy Robert Mose-ian plan designed to “clean up New York.” The plan was this: let’s get rid of all the disgusting immigrant, minority, bohemian and working class slobs and replace them with “better” people. Once the icky scum are gone, NYC will be a crime and vice-free utopia to rival that of Japan’s. Hell, it’ll be such a cakewalk keeping the peace that policing will be a matter of just kicking back, standing around in an officious manner and occasionally roughing up a few “hood” teenagers. No need to actively police the city with so many affluent white and foreign national gentrifiers walking around with their Starbucks coffee cups and Whole Foods shopping bags in tow. It’s all good!
It was a plan that seemed bulletproof (no pun intended). And now all of a sudden–after years of urban planners, developers and neoliberal politicians successfully wiping out imagined hives of scum and villainy in NYC–violent crime is skyrocketing. It’s skyrocketed to such an extent that we’ve effectively erased the past 25 years of progress. If things get any worse, NYC will be right back to where it was in the 1970s, except without the cool colorful local characters, distinctive neighborhoods and vibrant cultural scenes that still made living here a badge of honor.
The most ironic thing about this new crime wave is that the grisliest murders seem to be occurring in those very neighborhoods that have been the heaviest hit by gentrification. The worst one–and sounding like something straight out of American Psycho (or Hannibal, for you young ‘uns)–took place last week at a brand spanking new luxury development on The Lower East Side. A 21 year old tech bro casually followed his boss (Fahim Saleh) into an elevator, murdered him under security’s watch, then proceeded to dismember him with a saw before being scared off by a visitor on a welfare check.
More shocking than anything about this particular crime was just how brazen it was. The murderer had all the coolness of someone who simply didn’t expect to be caught or even be regarded with any suspicion. The murder was done in such a calm, cool and collected fashion that it immediately reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. In that film, a man named Lars Thornwald kills his wife in front of his window, even though it’s located in a courtyard where all the neighbors can see each other in plain sight. Later, he buries the victim in that very same courtyard (again, in full view of everyone) and makes odd trips out in the middle of the night without even so much as breaking a sweat.
When James Stewart’s character, Jeff, airs his suspicions to his girlfriend, she expresses disbelief because she can’t believe that anyone would do something that crazy out in the open and with such a level of unconcern. However, as the movie points out, the reason why Thornwald is so confident in murdering his wife in front of everyone is that he knows that he’s in the type of environment where everyone pays so little attention to what anyone is doing that a person can openly kill someone and not be noticed.
In the case of Fahim Saleh, his killer was just as brazen as Lars Thorwald because he most likely felt confident carrying out a heinous crime undetected in a hyper-developed, overly-gentrified NYC that everyone now assumes is super-safe. It seems pretty cocky, but honestly, can you blame him? The filthy, disgusting plebs of the Lower East Side have been mostly replaced with affluent tech bros, Sara Transplants and Judy Jetsetters now futzing around on Shitty Bikes while chatting in a West Coast vocal fry on their overpriced gadgets. Clearly, The Lower East side has become safe to the point of nonexistent policing or security (*snark*)–so safe, in fact, that this generation’s Patrick Bateman didn’t even think twice about sauntering into a building undisturbed, hacking someone to pieces and then slipping away undetected. With “New” New York falling into a comatose-like false sense of security, who indeed would have noticed?
It’s not just American Psychos who’ve reached a Lars Thornwald-like epiphany of epic proportions. Gang bangers throughout NYC–and fringe elements from outside the city hoping to exploit the chaos from the Black Lives Matter protests–have also come to the realization that NYC has become a free-for-all of violence, bringing the expression, “when the cat’s away, the mice will play, ” to a whole new level. GenZ thugs are having a field day gunning down fathers and middle-aged men in broad daylight; wannabe Patty Hearsts from upstate NY are throwing molotov cocktails at police; vapid Instagram bimbos are dumping bodies on roofs; and Alt Right Long Islanders are driving into the city to plow into protesters in Midtown.
In short, NYC has now become just one gigantic all-you-can-eat buffet for sociopaths of every palate to munch on, with its now beleaguered neighborhoods on the menu. Want some juicy drive-by action? Go out to one of the more peaceful hamlets in Brooklyn and start shooting up random pedestrians. Or how about some tasty attempted-murder-by-car? Just go out to Manhattan and wait for some soyboys and cucks to ram your SUV into. And today’s special? Some succulent dismemberment in The Lower East Side to unleash your inner Norman Bates. Take your pick, but remember–fries are extra.
If you’ve been keeping tabs on NYC’s deterioration over the years, this crime wave is all the more infuriating because it’s something that anyone who has been paying attention would’ve foreseen. But what makes it especially infuriating is that New Yorkers have been through this exact same cycle of gentrification and violence before, and yet still harbored this naive, racist and classist belief in the 2000s that gentrification was going to be the city’s saving grace.
I give you Exhibit A, a 1984 article from The New York Times that would be absolutely funny if things today weren’t becoming so dire. Called The Gentrification of The East Village, the fluff piece chronicles the growing pains of the neighborhood being transformed into a Yuppie and hipster enclave, complete with sushi bars and chic cafes. While some LES residents were naturally skeptical of and resistant to the changes, some denizens gushed with excitement because of the influx of people they euphemistically referred to as “a different kind of diversity/new equation.” The reason they were so giddy is that they believed that this “new equation” would make the LES safer:
ONE of the most noticeable of those benefits is increased safety. ”There’s a different kind of diversity now, a new equation” said Cathy Kirkpatrick, who runs the Life Cafe on East 10th Street near Avenue C with her husband, David. The cafe, swaddled in old Life magazine covers, is a magnet for the artists and philosophers of the neighborhood.
When they first opened the cafe, in 1981, they were fearful. ”I would walk out of my apartment and look this way and that way,” Mrs. Kirkpatrick said. ”There were drug deals being done on every corner.” Then, last January, the Police Department launched Operation Pressure Point, arresting 2,007 people in the first month. ”Now it feels comfortable,” she said. ”The other day I found myself walking out of the apartment and saying, ‘It feels so calm.’ ”
All seems so wonderful, doesn’t it? Too bad that less than five years later, The East Village would be rocked by drugs, homelessness, vagrancy and violence, which culminated in the now infamous Tompkins Square Riots in Alphabet City. Not only that, NYC itself became hit by a massive crime wave that peaked in 1991 with a little over 2500 murders and a per capita murder rate of just over 14%.
So, as it turned out, things didn’t turn out so well for the residents of The East Village–or anyone else in NYC who was welcoming gentrification in the 1980s with open arms. The reason why is that once law enforcement stepped up policing efforts to clear out the riff-raff to make it more amenable to Yuppies and hipsters, it left as soon as enough of those elements moved in, under the assumption that with enough of the “right” people residing in The East Village, the area would no longer have to be heavily policed. Squatters, bums, druggies and criminals took mental note, spread the word and silently moved back in again as the “new equation” complacently sat at their sushi bars playing the latest Genesis album on their Sony Walkmans.
Now here we are again, 36 years after oblivious lifestyle pieces in The New York Times heralded a new era of safety for New York because “new equations” were moving in. Not only are things not safer, it appears that we’re now on the cusp of a brand new crime wave to rival that of the 1980s and early 1990s. Don’t be surprised if a 1980s-style homeless crisis and drug epidemic return as well. This is what tends to happen when you take it for granted that changing demographics alone will rid a city completely of crime.