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First and Quail streets was a hardscrabble intersection even when Albany had a future, but it was never worth your life to pass through it. Today it is, which could be why the city now has nothing but a past.
There were six people shot in that intersection on Friday, one fatally. And a couple hours later, another man was shot to death just blocks away.
Mayhem in a microcosm, you say? After all, dozens were shot in Gotham over the weekend; the subway violence continued full bore; there was that bloodbath in New Jersey; and St. Louis proceeded on pace to become the murder capital of America. The good news is that when the Times Square M&M’s store got robbed Sunday night, there was no gunfire.
But for four years, a lifetime ago, I lived by First Street and Quail. I grew up in the city itself, and so I brought an expat’s attention to Friday’s news, even if it was no surprise; the intersection has a sanguinary recent history.
Just a year ago, five men were shot there, one fatally, in a drive-by; in 2019, a neighborhood daycare center was hit by stray bullets; in 2017, the brother of Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s adopted son was murdered there; and in 2008, a 10-year-old girl was a fatal stray-bullet casualty.
Traumatized locals, in other words, have come by their fears honestly. But to add perspective, Friday’s violence alone, adjusted for population, would be the rough equivalent of 625 shot, 175 fatally, on a single afternoon in the Big Apple.
Preposterous numbers, you might say, and you would be correct, except the exaggeration could explain why the capital city of the Empire State seems so utterly defeated these days, and pitifully so.
Says police chief Eric Hawkins: “One common theme that we’re seeing with these homicides is that they are involving young men who are not resolving conflicts in nonviolent, peaceful ways.”
So it appears.
Albany is big on nonviolent conflict resolution; it has tried block parties and so-called “pop-up” street BBQs, to allow cops and the community to mingle. When a tractor-trailer was burned two blocks from police headquarters during the George Floyd riots, City Hall’s response was to paint a Black Lives Matter mural on a major street. And money for midnight basketball is in the offing.
There is nothing wrong with reaching out, however impotently, but the problem is that folks who fire handguns into crowded public spaces laugh at such gestures. They understand that if the mayor and police chief had the courage to confront them, there would be fewer cops at pop-up BBQs and a permanent police presence at First Street and Quail.
But while cowardice calls the shots at City Hall, there is more of the same elsewhere in Albany — so much more, in fact, that a mayor who got serious about crime would be swimming against a very strong tide.
The local newspaper, where I spent 17 fruitful years, is a profound disappointment. Endlessly fascinated by irrelevancies, it can find no genuine outrage for blood-spattered sidewalks; this considerably limits the scope of permissible local debate. Other community engagement is of the woke variety.
Then there is Gov. Andrew Cuomo, now a permanent Albany resident and signatory of New York’s disastrous 2019 criminal-justice “reform” laws. He says he has no second thoughts, but you can bet that the next time he takes his powder-blue Corvette for a spin, he will be avoiding First Street and Quail. Stray bullets are for little people, don’t you know.
The Capitol building itself is only a brisk hike from Friday’s crime scenes, but don’t expect the legislators who cooked up those “reforms,” and who are hard at work on more such mischief, to be stopping by, either. And so it goes.
Albany isn’t unique. Other cities, and not just in New York state, have been swamped by murderous violence, and Gotham itself is rapidly catching up. But Albany is so small that its failures — its shamefully timid leadership and its absence of civic self-respect — is disproportionately obvious. And so it is that much more difficult to avoid when the bullets fly.
It is, in fact, painful. It’s true you can’t go home again, nobody can, but a fair question is: These days, who would want to? Certainly not to anywhere near First Street and Quail.
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