After seeing his beloved city disintegrate amid COVID-19 and rising crime, JASON CURTIS ANDERSON, 39, poured out his heart in a Medium post that was widely circulated on local Facebook groups. Here is an expanded version of that essay:
Had you met me a little more than a year ago you would have met a man having the time of his life. Back then, I was the digital marketing director for SUNY schools, where I mostly produced videos and worked on presentations. The 2019 version of me usually woke up 10 minutes before my alarm clock went off, excited to start my day, and often went to sleep feeling a sense of accomplishment. I had finally arranged all the little details of my NYC life in such a way where I didn’t want to change a thing.
In 2020, having front-row seats to watch the city that never sleeps get brought to its knees is an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Many people claim things weren’t that bad here, and they’re entitled to write their own opinion pieces. Although, I can’t imagine an article about how great life in NYC was this year being very interesting — or very honest. Even Jerry Seinfeld wrote his defense of New York from the safety of his compound in the Hamptons, not the Upper West Side. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.
I was born in Sleepy Hollow and grew up in Westchester, but have lived in NYC all of my adulthood, spending the last decade just a few blocks from Chelsea Market. As a person who was in the West Village on the morning of 9/11, I am no stranger to tragedy. I had a car back then, and tried to escape Manhattan that day via the West Side Highway. The only cars heading toward downtown that day were police cars, military, and firemen from other states and cities. These brave heroes drove full speed into a city under attack as the rest of us fled what would later be known as the darkest day of our lives.
This year feels different though. 2020 was like watching a horrible play, but one where no one knows how many acts there will be. There seemed to be no point in watching dystopian movies about pandemics or a new episode of “Black Mirror,” because we were living in it.
As COVID-19 settled into its new home in NYC, my local coffee shop closed, my gym shuttered, I lost my job at SUNY, and everything I loved was temporarily put “on pause.” A term that nine months later now feels like a cruel joke. None of us knew what we were facing back in March, or how long it would last. The streets became quiet, the city became still. All the sounds, the familiar faces, the busy restaurants, the daily rituals, the very pace of our existence slowed to a full stop. The silence was deafening.
The homeless and mentally ill flourished in my Chelsea neighborhood overnight. Many residents fled our beloved city to safer suburbs and second homes. After a night in the West Village where I saw men looting cars, and a gunpoint robbery happen by the West 4th train station, I no longer felt comfortable here. I decided that I couldn’t abide the lawlessness and my first pandemic at the same time, so I spent the first wave of the pandemic upstate in a guest room at my family’s house, where at least I didn’t have to worry about the crime.
After spending three months in quarantine upstate, I decided it was time to start putting my NYC life back together. The idea of suffering through this time with my closest friends felt like a step in the right direction. Even if we didn’t have our bars and restaurants for an undetermined amount of time, at least we’d have each other.
I imagined my summer would be filled with long walks, bike rides on the West Side Highway, and small gatherings on rooftops. I imagined we’d get over COVID and that the energy of the city would come back slowly over the next six months. I was optimistic, loved my city and loved my life here with all my heart. I hopefully assumed most New Yorkers had the same feelings I did. And then the riots happened.
The dark tone of daily life here now seems permanent. For months after the riots, stores in my area were still being burglarized. The helicopters were so close they would shake my top-floor apartment all night. In peak summer there were always two or three homeless people on both sides of every street in my area. Every aspect of my life became about avoiding them and staying far enough away from anyone who might attack me. Someone broke into my building one night but fled when they accidentally set off the alarm on the roof. The whole summer felt like living in a war zone.
Dating used to be a pleasure for me, but during my summer in Chelsea there were so many stabbings and robberies within one block of my apartment, I no longer felt comfortable making plans that involved meeting anywhere. I’d walk to get coffee in the morning and get harassed and threatened by homeless people every day.
Six months after NYC’s first wave of riots, I was clearly wrong about my hopes of returning to the fast-paced yet wonderful life that I once loved. I sublet my apartment and have been staying with friends and family ever since.
Unfortunately, the worst parts of 2020 now all seem to be the new normal: homeless people wandering the streets, businesses closed, rampant crime, protests, riots, random acts of violence, dangerous subways. The day I moved out of my Chelsea apartment, I was packing the last of my belongings when a homeless man cut someone’s throat in a parking garage less than one block away.
It offends me when people encourage me to toughen up and remind me that NYC has always had crime. This is not normal, and we should not be downplaying the drastic changes in public safety we are all experiencing. People getting shot in Grand Central Station is not normal. Walking by a store in Flatiron as it gets robbed at 4 p.m. on a Monday is not normal. A 1-year-old baby being shot and killed in a stroller is not normal. Our safest neighborhoods now becoming dangerous for the first time in 30 years is not normal.
As a person desperate for answers, I took to Twitter to see what other residents were saying about life in NYC.
What I found was New Yorkers of all backgrounds, desperately crying for help regarding quality-of-life issues. It seems many of us agree that the streets are no longer safe, and that the homeless-hotel deals bring crime to what were once safe neighborhoods. Random acts of violence happen daily, commuters are pushed in front of subways regularly, and no matter how loud we yell about our new societal problems, our elected leaders don’t seem to hear us.
What’s interesting about this group of New Yorkers is that they are not Internet trolls, but a diverse group ranging from young adults to senior citizens, from property owners to writers, some of whom seem to know the inner workings of politics like it’s their job.
For the last six months I’ve watched this group of concerned citizens beg our mayor and the City Council for help on Twitter every day. People began forming groups based upon common-sense themes like @FidiResidents or @SaferStreetsNY and tried their best to raise awareness about crime and homelessness with City Council members like Helen Rosenthal and Ben Kallos. All of which is completely ignored except for the occasions where someone gets scolded for not being sensitive enough to the needs of the homeless.
Just the other day, I asked City Council member Stephen Levin what he thought about naked homeless people wandering our streets, including some photos of homeless people having sex in public. To which he responded, “As far as I can see, these people aren’t doing anything to be undeserving of my kindness or yours,” and “How do you know they are homeless?”
That’s the kind of leadership we currently have. How is it OK for homeless people to be having sex in subway stations or on Broadway and 78th Street? Why do I even have to ask these questions?
If there was ever a time when our city desperately needed leadership, it was these last nine months. During the course of the summer I watched all of Mayor de Blasio’s press briefings in shock as he failed to address the rising crime, homelessness, and other pressing issues. I would ask myself: “How can you expect people to pay their bills while not allowing businesses to reopen? How do you expect people to pay NYC rent when so many people lost their jobs?”
It became clear over time that none of my questions would ever be answered.
Meanwhile, his wife posts a video of herself dancing on the steps of Gracie Mansion while mentally ill people have taken over New York. Isn’t the mental health of NYC supposed to be her specialty? Every day here is like “The Joker” movie.
Carjackings are back; street prostitutes are back. Last week, I took the subway for the first time since March and it was filled with heroin addicts screaming at each other. It’s been almost a year and I don’t know a single person who’s comfortable walking home after 9 p.m. That’s where we’re at.
The messages that do come from our City Council seem to fall into fairly predictable categories of empty platitudes, systemic racism, weighing in on national politics, Trump, anti-police rhetoric, or whatever projects they have been working on that somehow all got prioritized over public safety, a shattered economy, and a divided people.
The ongoing dialogue between what I have nicknamed “The Sane Center” and our far-left progressive politicians reads like the script of “Groundhog Day.” Our politicians avoid answering quality-of-life questions at all costs, and once in a while they throw us a nonanswer that reads along the lines of, “More policing can’t be the answer to everything,” which helps exactly no one.
While our politicians claim to care about our black and brown neighborhoods the most, these very same neighborhoods have actually suffered the worst uptick in violent crime and gang shootings in the last year. So how exactly are we helping them?
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but I don’t want to read about politicians’ beliefs and values anymore. I want to read about rock-solid policy, plans, timelines, and actions to solve our most serious problems. Now is not the time for the “I Have A Dream” speeches. If our politicians don’t get their act together soon, we won’t have a city left to save.
If life somehow manages to get back to “normal” within a reasonable amount of years, it’s not going to be because of bail reform and prosecutors who think charging criminals is racist. Being lenient on the homeless people who have taken over our streets and subways is not going to bring our beloved city back, no matter how many likes and retweets your noble aspirations receive.
Progress on these issues is only going to come when our leaders actually prioritize the city’s most important problems. A new park does the city no good if it’s not safe to take the train there, or walk home from at night. I understand that being a public servant is often a thankless job. I just worry that our current elected leaders are not actually the right people for this job — as they have already proven by ignoring these problems for an entire year.