September 21, 2020
Dear Jane Mulkerrins,
I read with interest your article published in the Telegraph on September 19, 2020 entitled “How My New York Dream Has Turned Into a Violent Nightmare.” I frequently flip through the innocuous news feed on my phone as I migrate between the spaces that comprise my painful and disappointing life as one of the psychiatrically disabled. What pops up in this digital space is occasionally interesting and frequently banal, but of all the objectionable things that rubbed sand in my eyes this morning the most offensive was your article about the perils of being rich in Manhattan.
I should preface my criticisms by stating that I do not live in New York City. I cannot afford to. Instead I live in Suffolk County and sleep on a couch in a basement apartment that I share with a relative. Poverty is much easier to hide in the suburbs. The luckiest of us occupy couches, closets and spare rooms. Otherwise we sleep in cars. When that’s not an option it’s simply a matter of sleeping rough, spending nights in shelters or the woods and the days hiding in public libraries.
I don’t travel to New York City anymore, not out of a fear of violence but due to the exorbitant cost of making such a trip. And leaving aside COVID-19 restrictions, I cannot enjoy the cultural amenities you mourn. They are too expensive. I am not living anyone’s New York dream.
With all that said, your references to violence visited upon friends and acquaintances seem rather overstated. Getting spit on is a far cry from being choked to death or shot in a stairwell, and even a good solid punch in the back of the head pales in comparison to being sodomized with a broomstick.
I think your lack of perspective might stem from the sea change this represents. Until recently such encounters were an unthinkable peril for the upper classes. First Guiliani and then Bloomberg had effectively cleansed the city of the poor and the implicit danger they represent. You speak of an air of permissiveness that “commentators” reference, but I have to make an assertion that permissiveness runs both ways. In a city where brutal inequality is upheld by brutal police why would anyone feel incentivized to adhere to an unstated social contract?
When you reference your New York dream I wonder if you have ever considered the dreams of the mangled poor beneath your feet- that they may awaken without a police officer prodding them with a nightstick, ready to run their name for any outstanding warrants. Or that they wake up at all as the cold of winter descends. Or perhaps that they be allowed to access healthcare that would help them to avoid lapsing into the psychotic states that offend you. In fact, it seems to be the case that your overall objection is that you and your class have to see these people at all, and that they have not been locked away in Riker’s Island for your convenience.
Your reference to observing protesters ‘kettled’ in the park that your apartment overlooks fails to identify who was doling out violence in this scenario. You’ll have to forgive this reader for assuming that you were speaking of the protesters, the hooligans who dared litter the sidewalks with glass from the posh restaurants and ‘corporate-lite’ storefronts where you enjoy your well-deserved brunches and purchase commodities that are wildly out of reach for most of us. Are the culprits in these “running street battles” the protesters who had the nerve to bruise the fists and truncheons of the NYPD as they beat and pushed and bullied those objecting to the shooting deaths and violent assaults that are perfectly acceptable as long as they’re committed by cops?
And let it be said that there is something particularly offensive about your references to jet setting. A sit-down with George Clooney? Heli-skiing with Navy Seals? How lovely for you. I guess violence can be celebrated when it’s perpetrated by a handsome American who doles it out overseas. It’s as though you’ve been placed in the midst of an action movie fantasy as the leading lady, ready for capture by the terrorist hordes, ready for rescue by the leading man.
There is a bit of an intermezzo in your article when you discuss your efforts to cram not only eggs but your own humanity back down your throat (with assistance from a mimosa or two) as you ponder, seemingly with some shock, the idea that your lifestyle might be disgusting as you observe families utilizing a food pantry operating out of one of those pesky eye-sore homeless shelters. I wonder how the waitstaff and cooks feel about the New York that you love. Is it possible that they look less than charitably on their posh overlords as they take public transportation back home to one of the outer boroughs that they and their families have been relegated to? I hope you tipped them enough to not have spit in your drink.
You speak of an escape to the Hamptons and Catskills by the wealthy, as if this will somehow allow them to hide from the poverty and desperation that they have created. As someone who has served in the reserve army that makes the miserable trek East every morning to all but wipe the asses of the rich I have to assert that you’re just as hated on Long Island. You simply don’t have to look at us when you’re dipping hors d’oeuvres in bowls filled with Gwyneth Paltrow’s self satisfied cluelessness. In fact, one of the poorest places in New York State lies on the automobile route to your upper crust enclaves, the Shinnecock Nation’s Reservation, a place where your lament for the passing of the invisibility of the poor would echo as if shouted down a well. But it’s possible that you travel by helicopter.
Without a bit of irony or an attempt to name the Upper West Siders for Safe Streets fiasco you discuss residents’ reports of increases in “drug dealing, prostitution and assault.” Leaving aside for a moment the hypocrisy of those making these ‘reports’ I’ll take a moment to challenge yours. You make mention of the fact that on your sojourn home from brunch you were struck by the bleak economic situation that has descended upon us. Why then the surprise that people would turn to the use and selling of drugs or to prostitution? I would posit that these are activities that should be legal, and that effectively are legal for the wealthy. Serial predator Jeffrey Epstein and his professional groomer Ghislaine Maxwell hail from the pool of human turds that you consider yourself so lucky to hobnob with. It is only when the poor and the desperate fall back on these survival activities that it becomes offensive to the tut-tutting bourgeoisie.
And circling back around to the hypocrisy previously referenced, the increase in assaults that was ‘reported’ omits the spirited calls to violence by the West Siders for Safe Streets themselves, which include incitements to kicking people in front of busses and spraying them in the eyes with insecticide. And since we’re all so sensitive to quality of life issues it bears mentioning that one of these internet warriors urged people to smear public benches with dog shit to discourage shelter residents (and literally anyone else) from sitting on them.
It is interesting that you end your screed against those people who are surviving the unsurvivable by bemoaning your recent encounter with cockroaches and rats and the satisfaction you derive from ending the lives of these other unfortunate survivors. It is almost impossible to miss the equivalence implicit here- that you view those people forced to battle their demons on street corners as nothing more than vermin to be poisoned or bludgeoned to death. But I assure you with a fair degree of certainty that despite whatever campaigns of violence your class visits upon them the immiserated masses will continue to survive, mostly by the skin of their teeth. I wish I could say we’re coming for you but the reality is that for now at least we’re too busy surviving.
In closing, please decamp to London or whichever other metropolis you feel has been successfully remade to provide you with emotional stability and condominiums from which to view the forces of law and order as they assault those who object to a world that is grinding them into slurry. But don’t forget the events of 2011 in your country of origin when the amorphous and unknowable masses enacted their brief but furious revenge on a society that cares nothing for them. And please consider the possibility that the upper class with whom you identify must either submit to a thoroughgoing redistribution of wealth or live with the possibility that it is only misery and violence that will be subject to redistribution.
Post-script: On the day following the publication of your article William Barr designated New York City, Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington as “Anarchist Jurisdictions” and threatened to withhold federal funding unless police agencies are granted complete impunity. This sends a clear message from the Trump administration to lesser branches of government that any objection to the current paradigm must be crushed or the targeted municipalities will be financially strangled. Maybe you will get your New York dream back after all, a dream built on the nightmares of the poor.