Thursday, March 15, 2007

Last night

So this happened about two blocks away from my front door last night.

Someone who heard the shots said at first they sounded like gunshots...but then there were so many of them that it seemed absurd, over the top, like something out of a movie, so it couldn't really be gunshots. You get a lot of weird sounds in this neighborhood. A truck exhaust backfiring, or firecrackers -- I remember one gas main eruption on the street that sounded exactly like a machine gun. So you filter it out. That may be why I didn't hear the shots, or at least consciously register them: it was just more random street noise. And then the police cars showed up in force to close off the street. And the helicopters, shining lights into apartment windows all over the neighborhood.

The helicopters were upsetting. I'm not sure what they were meant to provide, other than an overwhelming show of police presence at a crime scene. As it turns out, the lone assailant was killed before the copters could have arrived. But this week has been a bad one for police in the city, and a bad one for tensions between police and the public, and my immediate reaction -- fairly or unfairly -- was that the copters were here to demonstrate that the police were not going to take any shit from us. People outside their homes when the police arrived weren't being allowed to go inside, so I was glad to be indoors just then.

(I went through that once when my dad was still alive, arriving home one evening to find the house cordoned off and surrounded by police because a totally spurious bomb threat had been phoned in for the building next door. Standing behind the barricade, I tried explaining calmly and respectfully to an officer that I was the primary caregiver for a paralyzed seventy-year-old man, and if there was a credible bomb threat and the building needed to be evacuated, my presence would be required to move him. It wasn't so much that he was unsympathetic but that the words glided right past him, as if I was trying to explain quantum physics to him in Urdu. So I stood there and waited for half an hour -- pretty sure that the whole bomb threat thing was bogus, but still having no idea if they would go ahead and order the area evacuated anyway. Ultimately they didn't. That wasn't the only ridiculous bomb scare we had that year either.)

So this time I'm inside, and staying inside as the streets as being closed off, and not especially keen to go up on the roof either as there's no way to tell what's going on, or what the cops think is going on. New York's 24 hour cable news channel has nothing, the local broadcast channels have nothing, the radio has nothing. It's all happening right that moment, and there hasn't been enough time to report anything. You could get live updates on Anna Nicole's death or O.J.'s high speed chase as they happened, people all around the world saw the Twin Towers fall at the same time I did, but good luck trying to find out what's happening two blocks away. And then different local websites starting picking up the Associated Press feed and running it verbatim...but the story was changing every five minutes. There was a shootout at the Lion's Den bar. A bartender was killed and a group of gunmen had fled out the back, and were now on the streets. No, it was another bar. No, wait, it wasn't a bar but a pizzeria. No, it was a different pizzeria, no it was an italian restaurant and the bartender got shot, there were three shooters, there was one, one auxiliary policeman was shot and another injured by broken glass, the gunmen were shooting out windows, no they weren't...

When eleven o'clock arrived and the local news channels picked up the story, they all had interviews with the same two eyewitnesses and still didn't have an accurate description of what had actually happened. And now the police helicopters were joined by news choppers so that we could see our street cordoned off. Why? We didn't know. Just that something bad had happened and we had to wait until the smoke of police reaction and bad reporting cleared to find out what.

You'd think there'd be a better way to handle this sort of thing, wouldn't you?


  1. i think you and i share the same sense of how things *should* be a certain way, and an indignation when they're not -- but i can just as well turn around and debunk that as well -- how could you expect "the news" to be anything other than, as abbie hoffman once opined, gossip?

  2. You can expect it to be different because supposedly the journalists and those interviewed sense the gravity of the situation, and will apply their magical journalistic experience to the story, and extract from it the fairy dust of Truth.

    Yeah, it's a pipe dream, I guess. Still, there's gotta be better out there than CNN reporting a couple of weeks ago, in full 60 Minutes style, a story headlined "SEX WITH A VAMPIRE: SHE STABBED HIM, DRANK HIS BLOOD."

    The media might suck as an elemental property of its being, but I am sure it does not have to suck this bad.

    That police officer's dead, uncomprehending eyes when you wanted to get in to help your father, OY what an asshole. He could have least gotten another policeman to go in and check on him. What a terrible experience.


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