The Vigilante

RECENTLY I WAS referred to in a news story as the guy who organized some community bike rides at night in response to an uptick in nighttime sexual assaults in the area. Now, something you should know is there have been two whole rides so far—we’re busy, I’m sick, we have kids, the economy sucks—so if the story were just about that, it would be a little premature.

But the story is about the neighborhood in general, and I’m buried down in the eleventy-ninth graf, along with The Angel Figueroa, who got on a train really early with me one day last December. So okay, that seems about what the rides merit; they’re a little detail in a larger story, and happy to help.

But the comments!

MAN, PEOPLE WILL talk trash about anything. Vigilantes! Bernard Goetz! The racist hysteria of neighborhood newbies! (If you don’t live here, you don’t know the farmers-market-buying, noise-complaining, snobbified yuppies have planted our rent-raising pale buttocks directly upon the faces of honest, salt-of-the-earth real people, some of whose families have been here as far back as the 1970s.)

“Some of these buildings are over twenty years old!”
—LA Story

Partly, these commenters are the same wonks who’d spout about neighborhood newbies if the story were about how to weave a potholder. I mean, google them. And that crowd always feels like the same crowd behind this whole recent tantrum over what hashtags to use for local stuff on Twitter, which tantrum has a bunch of racial overtones that I just ignore because, well, I don’t care. Stereotype me however you want. Others have done much worse to me than you can. If you’re actually able to maintain the manufactured indignation long enough to get your way with it, I’ll use the hashtag, because I DON’T CARE.

But come on, Real People. Come on, Only True Spirit of the Genuine Inwood Community. Does the Authentic Voice of 10034 really sound like this when people organize citizen safety patrols after neighborhood women are attacked?

“It seems that a lot of these new Inwood residents have brought with them, all of their paranoid fixations and phobias. It would be great if they just left!”

Here’s a four-year Washington Heights & Inwood newbie’s response, in that wimpy, weasely voice you know we all use:

Grow up.

Yeah, you.

And yeah, I’ll say it to your face. Of course, you’ll have to identify yourself first, which isn’t something you’ve got a great track record of doing.

And tell you what, I’ll up the ante: Show up and do a patrol with us instead of whining, and I’ll say two other things to you instead:

I was wrong, and thank you.

ANOTHER OF THE WHINES goes like this:

“Wait a minute….bikes are NOT ALLOWED in the park. Many people have been hurt by riders speeding down the paths over the years, they disturb the rare animal species nesting in the woods, and they are used by people like the sex attacker to escape. But as importantly, they are ILLEGAL in the park, and if the local “safety patrol” feels it’s okay to disregard these laws that pretty much tells you everything about the nature of our problem…..”

Yes, the nature of our sexual assault problem, and the nature of the people-protecting-the-assaulters problem, and the nature of the community-scared-to-assert-itself problem is so very clearly illustrated by…bikes on empty paths.

But okay, you’ve got a (mostly irrelevant, but still valid) point: There are stencils that say “NO BIKES ALLOWED” on some of the path walkways—though I never quite understand what’s what in that regard, since everybody seems to anyway. They open hydrants, too. But okay, you’re right: There are stencils, and I guess it’s illegal, just like double-parking, jaywalking, blocking intersections, making U-turns from the right lane, and drug dealing.

Personally, the U-turns are what piss me off—well, that and the drug-dealing—but: Yes, stipulated. It is illegal to ride bikes in the park.

However, there are places where it IS legal to ride, including Dyckman Fields, where one of the attacks took place; the roundabout near Bennett Playground, which abuts some of the dicier parts of Fort Tryon Park; the streets looping around the Cloisters; and the entire Seaman/Payson/214th side of Inwood Hill Park.

So thanks for your concern, but us vigilantes have lots of places where we can shoot people down in cold blood and laugh our heart-chilling laughs without making you stay up nights, worrying about bikes on park paths.

LOOK—ALARMISM IS to be avoided, I agree. So is vigilantism, in any guise. However, so is lofty squawking from the anonymous comfort of your bedroom WiFi while other people fumble a little, trying to respond to women being hurt in a positive, productive manner. Perfect? No, of course not. That’s what happens when you try to do something instead of sitting on your ass: You do it imperfectly. Then you go, okay, that wasn’t perfect, and you try to do it better.

Let’s talk about what is and isn’t alarmism.

FEAR WHEN A dark-skinned neighbor walks within fifty feet of you? ALARMISM.

Fear of your identity and way of life being threatened by light-skinned neighbors moving in? ALARMISM.

Fear of your children being shot at Payson Playground because of the drug activity on Dyckman and around the corner on Payson? NOT ALARMISM.

Getting out more at night and just being People Using The Neighborhood after three sexual assaults, in a small geographical region, in a short time, in an area with no local police precinct?

Not alarmism.

I mean, unless I’m hysterical—which, according to some sentiment I am, and who am I to argue with the wisdom of anonymous commenters?—that would all seem a decent reason to, you know, walk around (or ride around) during the hours when those things seem to happen. Especially if you’re out riding around a lot anyway and it’s nice to have another excuse to mount up. Especially if buying into the tired, narcissistic “us vs. them” “real people vs. gentrification” noise is less important than potentially contributing in a small way to the well-being of ALL Inwood residents.

YEAH, ALL. Guess what; no matter whether you think you’re an “us” or a “them,” your group includes women who are out at night. Wouldn’t you rather there were more non-rapists out and around at the same time as your loved one was walking home from the subway?

I would. I’d also rather the few of us doing this already didn’t add up to 100% male participation, because that’s a bit Macho Protector for me, but one thing at a time.

SPEAKING OF WHICH: A couple of women have mentioned they’d like to ride with us, but they’re a little intimidated by riding in the dark and/or riding in groups. So there will be some sort of daytime rides to get the confidence up, but first I need to get over the lung-hacking crud my kids gave me this week.

I SAY: How about we get out, be a presence, and shine lights in dark places once in a while? And then argue about Tony’s or Grandpa’s for pizza afterward?

You say: Squawk squawk squawk squawk squawk squawk squawk squawk.

People who squawk and do nothing are a bigger problem than vigilantes in this neighborhood—because:

There aren’t any vigilantes in this neighborhood.

So congratulations. You’ve got them outnumbered.


Filed under Being a grownup, Bicycling, BikeNYC, Community, Favorite, Inwood, Safety, Whatever

10 responses to “The Vigilante

  1. Somewhat off topic, but I remember preaching at a big youth event several years ago—there was a keynote each morning that someone else did, then I did the sermon each night. Five days. The feedback was mostly positive but there were a few nattering nabobs. The refrain among the planning team became, “Moses could keynote and Jesus could preach and there’d still be people bitching about it.”

    Put more succinctly, haters gotta hate.

  2. “Squawk squawk squawk squawk squawk squawk squawk squawk.”

    That was brilliantly hysterical.

    Although I know that wasn’t the point of your post.

    the sister.

  3. The Other Larry

    Good work all around, Keith.
    You could use a drink.
    You quote LA Story?

  4. Oh dear. Your response is as always entertaining, but never read news comments. They devolve so fast they can cause you to despair about the human race.

    (Oh dear twice. I coulda sworn I sent this yesterday. But apparently no. #olderthandirt )

  5. It’s interesting, how few people seem to want to do much about sexual assault, considering the absolutely appalling statistics in this country.

    As someone on the wrong side of those statistics, I thank you. And on behalf of a bunch of people who don’t know any goddamn better – thank you again.

  6. Kathleen

    I always love hearing people complain about the neighborhood gentrifying. How it’s racist and unfair, and why don’t these people go somewhere else? This is our neighborhood. Of course, before it was their neighborhood it was the neighborhood of the Irish and Jews. Hey, what do you know!! My people were here first! Does that mean I get to complain too?

    It makes as much sense for any of us to argue about who belongs here as it does to argue about it in any area of Manhattan. Whoever can afford the rent belongs in the neighborhood. Probably true of every city.

  7. nparmalee

    I’ll come out and ride at night. I’d love to, for any reason, and this is a good reason. Ping me on twitter next time you’re setting something up. (I’ll need enough advance notice to fix the flat on this bike. Maybe I should get on that now.)

    • That would be great. Follow @inwoodnightride on Twitter to stay up on it. I’m still fighting this cold or flu or whatever it is, but it’ll start up again soon!

  8. Oops—wife corrected something. It’s not Bennett Playground up there where the buses circle around; that’s on Fort Washington up from 181st. It might be Jacob Javits Playground. Anyway, it’s at the south end of Margaret Corbin Drive.

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