Myrtle Avenue. Even before Saturday, the name made me hear the terrible sound of police knuckles against steel lockers in the back room of the station house, the curses and the cries and the helplessness.
That memory is from the dark days of January of 1973, when a police officer was killed on duty under bisecting elevated trains at the intersection of Myrtle and Broadway in the Bushwick neighborhood.
Last Saturday it happened again, four blocks away at the corner of Tompkins and Myrtle, in adjacent Bedford-Stuyvesant. Two officers were assassinated as they sat in their car. It never ends.
In 1973, Officer Stephen R. Gilroy was killed during a botched robbery at a sporting goods store, when four young men, caught up in an American Black Muslim rivalry, had tried to arm themselves.
For two days, the Bushwick neighborhood was shut down, power to the El cut off. But no more shots were fired because one of the great cops of New York, Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Ward, used modern siege tactics to wait out the men inside. At 1 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, promised they would not be gunned down, the men surrendered.
As part of the huge Times contingent that weekend, I was posted at the station house when three of the men (one went to the hospital) were booked, as officers pounded their lockers in frustration.
I also covered Stephen Gilroy’s funeral a few days later. To this day, I cannot hear bagpipes without thinking of the family coming out of the handsome old church in Brooklyn.
This year Americans have learned about senseless deaths in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island. I’ve read the stories, seen the videos, heard the interviews, parsed the testimony, second-guessed the grand jury work. My conclusion is that the tactics that Benjamin Ward espoused – patience, logic, fairness, rules, and, yes, toughness – would have kept Michael Brown and Eric Garner very much alive.
Benjamin Ward later became New York's first African-American police commissioner. I thought of him this summer when I visited the intersection of Myrtle and Broadway. Somebody is doing a reprise of the siege, and I was dredging up my memories, as one of the younger reporters on the scene that sad weekend.
In late August young (white) people were clumping down the steep staircase from the El, lugging roller suitcases, moving into Bushwick, to rehabbed houses on side streets. I had lunch in a hipster place where they served crispy kale. The sporting goods store is now a peluqueria – a hair salon. All 12 chairs were busy on a summer Saturday morning. Life was going on.
In the wake of Brown and Garner and other needless deaths, most protests have been peaceful, as if people had heard of Gandhi and King and John Lewis, but on the nearby Brooklyn Bridge somebody threw a garbage can at police and others jumped cops who were keeping the peace. All I know is, Violence begets violence.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.