‘WELCOME to the New Downtown,’ I overheard a realtor say to his client as I waited for a friend in the lobby of his multi-million-dollar apartment building in New York City. The real estate agent had just given a short speech on how this part of Manhattan – an area bordering Tribeca, Battery Park, Chinatown and the Seaport – has been reinvented with restaurants, hotels, shopping and recreation.
I found this amusing.
For a few years in the late aughts, I worked as a real estate agent in NYC. We had several apartment listings in the Financial District – an area bordering Tribeca, Battery Park, Chinatown and the Seaport – which consisted mostly of office buildings. It was bustling during the day with men in suits and women in pantsuits, but turned into a ghost town at night. Unless they worked 12-hour days at an office in the neighbourhood, our clients never wanted to go down to the Financial District to see one of our available apartments. Some agents tried to give it a hip new name and rebranded the Financial District ‘FiDi’ but it never caught on. I suspect ‘The New Downtown’ is the new ‘FiDi’.
After the realtor and his client left the lobby, the concierge called a porter over to his desk. ‘You have to see this,’ the concierge said. As they looked at the security video screen, one of them said, ‘No . . . into his head?’ My curiosity got the better of me, so I walked to the desk and asked what they were watching. ‘Look for yourself,’ the concierge said. I walked around the desk and watched surveillance footage from the night before of a man shooting drugs into his forehead in the building’s back alley.
(Never having been a drug user myself, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I texted a friend who used to be a heroin addict and asked if he had ever seen this. He replied, ‘Anywhere there is a vein, it will work.’)
The video footage was from several hours before the concierge started his shift, but even if he had caught the drug user in action, he couldn’t have done much. Senate Bill S2523, signed by the New York governor on October 7, decriminalises the possession and sale of hypodermic needles and syringes. If anyone had called the police on the man shooting up, the cops would not have been able to do anything.
What’s more, possession of small amounts of drugs and injecting drugs are regarded as non-bail offences. Therefore even if the police did arrest the addict behind my friend’s apartment building, he most likely would have been right back behind the building and getting high again that night. That is why the police aren’t bothering to make these collars, and why should they?
Top this all off with the possible loss of qualified immunity, which protects police officers from personal lawsuits, and you have created a perfect prescription for crime-fighting deterrence. Again, why should the cops bother if they can get sued into bankruptcy for unintentionally hurting a violent offender during an arrest?
Once my friend arrived in the lobby, we walked out of the building’s doorman-guarded front entrance and found ourselves in the presence of a man in a zombie-like state, clearly high on something. He was stumbling around the sidewalk, fists clenched and arms in fighting position, with his eyes halfway closed. Like the other pedestrians, we had to make a real effort to dodge him. This is not the sight one would expect when leaving a multi-million-dollar apartment. But then again, this is present day NYC.
Welcome to the New Downtown.