WILD WEST VILLAGE
Editor's Note: Richard Goldstein's cover story in last week's issue, "Street Hassle: A New Youth Scene Fights for Turf in Greenwich Village," prompted an unusual amount of mail. Some of the letters and a brief reply by Goldstein follow.
With voices on either side of the "quality of Village life" debate getting more shrill by the day, it would have been nice to read a more balanced and thoughtful article on the situation in Greenwich Village than Richard Goldstein's. As a resident of the West Village since 1995, I have found myself getting increasingly fed up with the state of my neighborhood. I am not afraid of black men lurking in the shadows. What I am furious about is the noise level, the litter, and the utter lack of respect shown to Village residents.
I understand that youths such as those discussed in Goldstein's piece see the Village as one of the few places in the city where they can fully express themselveshell, that's one of the reasons I was attracted to the Villagebut what I cannot comprehend is why they feel they have the right to scream and shout outside my window until three or four o'clock in the morning, or why they think it's OK to defecate on the pavement, leave litter all over the sidewalks, congregate in phalanxes so that nobody can actually walk on the sidewalks, or spit at my dogs when I take them for a walk.
The fact is that this is not, despite Goldstein's best efforts to identify it as such, a race issueit is far more simple than that. This has to do with basic civility and manners.
Richard Goldstein's article "Street Hassle" made me livid. My first response was to urge the police to adopt the old practice described by an unnamed woman in the piece, and drive local community board chair Aubrey Lees and her friend Jessica Berk over to Jersey "and dump them." But after settling down, I became saddened by the realization that these women have support and power.
Most people in the Village pay ridiculous rents because of its bohemian lure, which is the same reason young people of color migrate to the neighborhood. If Berk's evenings are spent racially profiling those who come to her area pursuing that same lure but who unfortunately cannot afford the current rents, then maybe she should re-evaluate her lifestyle, move to Jersey on her own, and start taking the PATH home.
Is our city's freest neighborhood, where diversity reigns, now to be the place where bigotry lays its doormat reading "welcome"?
Thanks for Richard Goldstein's article. I too escaped an intolerant environment and came to New York to be free and to discover gay life. I have fond memories of meeting friends for drinks and going to dinner at many of the restaurants that I still frequent 15 years later. What I'd like to point out, however, is that I respected the West Village, its inhabitants, and businesses. I didn't loiter, sell drugs, create noise, and litter the streets. Now, as a Barrow Street resident, I find myself padlocking the gate to my town houseto keep these people from dealing drugs and urinating under my bedroom window. Nearly every night I find myself being awakened by people loitering on my front stoopscreaming, yelling, playing music, and having sex.
The Village should be a place that is open for all to enjoyprovided that those who come to visit respect the fact that others call it home. It isn't some party zone where all rules and codes of decency are suspended. The current situation is out of control, and steps need to be taken to ensure that the Village remains the open, safe, and free neighborhood that it has been for a very long time.
After reading Richard Goldstein's article, I am more ashamed than ever to be white. It's amazing how people try to disguise their racism and elitism under the platform of community cleanup. I remember my parents telling me "there goes the neighborhood" stories of how the racial makeup of the towns where they grew up changed, with residents fearing that their property values would decrease. Unfortunately, such feelings appear to be spreading in Greenwich Village today. No longer is it a fear of blacks and Latinos ruining the neighborhood. It now has grown to include gays and transvestitesprimarily of the black and Latino persuasion. It's sad to think that nothing has really changed; it only remains hidden until the threat comes to your block.
Richard Goldstein's article uses some very blunt and inaccurate language to express its general premise. That the gentrification of Greenwich Village is meeting resistance from the social groups that made it (in)famous for bending the rules is no surprise. That crime follows the bohemianism around town is also no surprise. The surprise comes from the racial profiling the author takes up on behalf of the police.
The article is generally agreeable in its assertion, but loses cred when it turns social friction into racial friction. The issues of Greenwich Village are of the quality-of-life variety, which always declines when a neighborhood becomes a tourist attraction.
Tourism is best combated by lively interaction among the residents. Those living on Christopher Street will help themselves most by creating a social agenda and presence among themselves and on the streetssomething for which the infrastructure of the Village was lauded in the 1960s. Creating issues of racial tension where there are none seems to be what Goldstein is doing, and it is irresponsible.
Martin F. Smith Jr.,
Richard Goldstein's overview of recent nightlife in the West Village was accurate. However, it lacked any input from gay New Yorkers who don't live there, but frequent the bars and restaurants. Twenty years ago when I "came out," the Village was a place where I could hang out and not worry about being ridiculed or harassed. That is the same atmosphere that attracted the early bohemians, the gay activist pioneers, and today's youth mentioned in the article. As I see it, the present problems stem not from racism, but from the fact that many of those flocking to the Village today are seeking more than a comfortable, non-judgmental atmosphere where they can be themselves. On a nightly basis, large groups take great pleasure in verbally intimidating and abusing passersby in a way that can be construed as threatening or, at the very least, extremely unnerving.
Those living in the Village have a major problem, but I blame it on the immaturity of the perpetrators, not their race or ethnicity. It's ironic that many of these kids who travel to the Village to escape the taunts of being "different" have no problem with inflicting cruel barbs at those they deem "quirky." Sadly, unless this situation is put in check more gay New Yorkers will abandon the West Village for Chelsea, the East Village, Hell's Kitchen, etc., not because these areas are trendier or more appealing, but to once again bask in calmer surroundings which, at least to the naked eye, are more nurturing and accepting of everyone.
Richard Goldstein replies: I share Andrew Corbin's criteria for civility, but he seems unable to understand the relationship between bad behavior by young people and hostile behavior toward them by residents, community groups, and the police. The social contract depends on mutual respectnot to mention public toilets.
Thank you for James Ridgeway's item on Israeli soldiers of conscience who refuse to participate in the occupation of Palestine ["Oy No! We Won't Go!" Mondo Washington, April 16].
If we solely blame the Palestinians for the atrocities occurring daily, we will fail to reach the elusive destination of peace. For far too long, the Palestinians have been unfairly and unilaterally demonized by Tel Aviv's spin doctors.
Let us not forget that it was Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000 that sparked the current intifada. In his successful bid to become prime minister, Sharon vowed to negate the Oslo Accords, which so many people worked so hard to draft. Sharon was forced to resign as defense minister by a commission of his own countrymen for his blind complicity in the refugee camp massacres at Sabra and Shatila in 1982. "The Butcher of Beirut" haughtily claims that Israel is the only democracy in the region. However, how democratic is a society that continuously violates over 60 UN resolutions and militarily rules over 3 million of its inhabitants?
Granted, Arafat has earned his fair share of culpability in the treachery in this conflict. The suicide bombings need to stopthere is no dispute about that. However, in our myopia, have we forgotten that only when we cure the disease can we truly quell the symptoms?
Simply put, Israel must end its occupation of the Palestinian people.
Arsalan Tariq Iftikhar,
Midwest Communications Director
Council on American-Islamic Relations
St. Louis, Missouri
I applaud James Ridgeway for taking the moral high road in his column item about Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve.
The Middle East is mistakenly known for its violence. We forget the centuries of peace in which all lived side by side. The Israeli right of return is a recognition of the world community's shame and inability to embrace a people. The absence of the Palestinian right of return is similarly a country's shame and inability to accept its indigenous people.
When it comes to human rights and civil liberties, the contribution of the American Jewish community is praiseworthy. But its silence when it comes to Israel is loud and clear. We must say to Israelis and Palestinians, seize this opportunity to bury the differences rather than bury your peoples.
Ed Park's cover article on the cult of Henry Darger and the uncontrollable, sometimes obsessive, urge to analyze his world was excellent ["Making Sense of Henry Darger," April 23]. I hadn't seen or heard anything about the man for about five years when a friend took me to see his work at the American Folk Art Museum. I remember being haunted by what I sawI didn't know whether to fear or admire it, but I was awestruck nonetheless. I agonized for a few days about Darger, his motivation, and ultimately about myself, then the whole thing faded from memoryuntil now.
The world of Henry Darger is vast and intimidating, and it seems difficult to conclude anything without raising objection. In describing the controversy around Darger biographer John M. MacGregor, Park has given us a glimpse of the madness surrounding outsider art, wherein analysis begets analysis begets analysis. Park should be commended for writing such an insightful essay about an infinitely debatable subject.
DEGREES OF REPARATION
Re Alisa Solomon's article "Guys and Dollars" [April 16]: I'd be disappointed if women's sports went the way of men's sports, whether in the collegiate or professional realm. Yes, I believe women's sports deserve equal representation, but I would hope that love of the gameand it is just a gameisn't lost. Major men's programs seem no more than training grounds for the pros. The same, so far, has not been true for women's sports. The majority of female athletes graduate, I believe.
Kudos to 10-year-old female boxers ["Compete!" Laura Conaway, April 23]. At Chelsey Ramos's age I knew I could be a major league baseball player. After three years of knocking my male coach's socks off, receiving MVP awards, and hitting hardballs to bring my team to victory, I was told, simply, "That can never happen." Thanks for destroying dreams, Coach. Anytime you wanna come to Gleason's I'll kick your ass.
I could hardly believe this line in Christian Hoard's review of Wilco's new album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, in last week's issue ["Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)"]: "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is basically a good album, even a great album if you're in the mood, though if you listen to a lot of hip-hop (or house music or basement bhangra or any other genre not dominated by white people), it probably won't be the most extraordinary album you'll hear all month."
Maybe Hoard should also warn country and western fans that the next Jay-Z album might not be right up their alley.
LERNER WINS EMMA AWARD
Voice medical writer Sharon Lerner is the winner of the National Women's Political Caucus 2002 Exceptional Merit Media Award for her article "What Women Want." The award will be presented at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on May 8.
JOWITT WINS GUGGENHEIM
Voice senior dance critic Deborah Jowitt has received a Guggenheim Fellowship to complete a biography of Jerome Robbins.
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