My first night in Manhattan was the night of my 21st birthday. I was captivated by the bright lights and elegance of Madison avenue and the plush Carlton hotel. My 3 nights in the city were graced with glamorous dinners, champagne and Broadway shows. Enchanted, I moved to New York to live and work in what I thought was an idyllic life in the greatest city in the world. The grimy side of the city became apparent to me when I moved to upper Manhattan in the crime ridden neighbourhood of Washington heights. It was 13 minutes on the train to Times Square, I had no idea about its bad reputation or that it has one of highest crime rates in the country. I got myself a shared apartment and a job downtown and began to learn about the culture of the inner city. People at my new job were shocked when I told them about my residence, but perhaps too embarrassed to warn me against its perils. I chatted happily with the Latino locals who always in seemed happy in the hot summer streets, the children playing in the water of the open fire hydrants ,dancing to the constant meringue music coming from open windows . Within the first six months I was on first name basis with many of my neighbours especially the younger generation. I found them to be compelling, excited and filled with life. My naivety had the possibility to lead me into a lot of trouble. One morning on my way to the subway, I stopped at the top of my block at the local J&J corner store to get my usual egg and cheese roll. I greeted Julio, one of the shopkeepers and chatted happily. I bought a copy of the New York Post and sat down on the train to read it. I came across a small article, not very noticeable or even on the first page, that read “Homicide in uptown corner store”. I continued to read that a shop keeper had shot someone inside J&J corner store at 4am that same morning and that the store played a large part in the drug rings of Manhattan. The shop keeper had apparently fled to the Dominican Republic and the crime was being investigated. There was no yellow tape at 8am when I walked into the store and it was running ‘business as usual’. From that day forward I resolved not to be naive anymore and to learn all I could about crime in Manhattan.
Photo copywright Dave Beckerman