Good morning. It’s Monday. We’ll look at the mood in New York City after three emotionally grueling weeks. We’ll also look at a mural that is leaving Rikers Island after 50 years.
For many New Yorkers, the steady drumbeat of terrible news since Jan. 1 has compounded the cheerlessness of the pandemic.
There was the 19-year-old Burger King worker who was killed during a robbery in Manhattan. There was the fire in a Bronx high-rise that killed 17 people. There was the woman who was killed when a man shoved her in front of a subway pulling into the Times Square station. There was the 11-month-old baby sitting in a parked car in the Bronx who was hit by a bullet. There were the officers in the Bronx and Staten Island who were shot and wounded.
And on Friday, one police officer was killed and another was critically wounded when a gunman opened fire inside a Harlem apartment.
For many New Yorkers, the violence has made the city feel suddenly unfamiliar. Three of my colleagues — Michael Wilson, Chelsia Rose Marcius and Nate Schweber — write that there’s a new and deep unease at what can look like an erosion of social norms and a loss of a sense of security.
And it has come as the coronavirus pandemic drags into a third year. Cases have started to fall nationally, signaling that the Omicron-fueled spike appears to be letting up. New York City reported 13,422 cases on Saturday, down 63 percent from two weeks ago. But 84 people were hospitalized, slightly more than double the number hospitalized on Jan. 8.
The collective dismay is particularly acute for people old enough to remember bad-old-days New York. It is true that shootings and homicides have risen since 2018, but they remain a fraction of what they were 30 years ago. There were 488 homicides in 2021, compared with 2,262 at their peak in the crack wars in 1990.
“Things happened in the ’90s, but not like this,” said Michael Marcus, a 54-year-old barber whose shop in Harlem is a block from the apartment where the two officers were shot. “Right now, I don’t feel like it’s going to get better. And if it does, it’s going to take a while.”
Mayor Eric Adams said over the weekend he hoped it would take “days, if possible,” not months or years, to see results from steps he would take to address gun violence. Adams has fast-tracked the timeline for doing something substantive to bolster public safety.
His forthcoming “Blueprint for Safety” will focus on the underlying reasons for violence. It will also outline initiatives like reinstating a plainclothes police unit that was involved in a disproportionate number of fatal shootings. The unit was disbanded under former Mayor Bill de Blasio after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.
Gov. Kathy Hochul said that an interstate task force on illegal guns would meet this week, bringing together law enforcement officials from nine northeastern states. Two of the guns used in shootings last week were reminders of the danger posed by illegal firearms that reached New York through the so-called Iron Pipeline up the Eastern Seaboard. The Glock 45 pistol in Friday’s shooting in Harlem had been reported stolen in Baltimore in 2017. The police also said that the gun that a 16-year-old fired at an officer during a confrontation in the Bronx on Tuesday had been stolen in South Carolina in 2020.
“New York doesn’t manufacture guns,” said David Caba, the senior program director for Bronx Rises Against Gun Violence, a community program that stations anti-violence teams in three sections of the borough. “Everyone knows they are coming up the Iron Pipeline, I-95, and across I-80 from Ohio, but I-95 is the major one.”
“The big picture is it’s the socioeconomic issues that are driving this,” he said. “If housing improves, if employment improves, guess what also improves? Public safety.”
At least it will be sunny today. The high will be near 34, but with the wind chill, it will feel more like the 20s. Tonight there will be a slight chance of snow showers with a low around 30.
In effect until Jan 31. (Lunar New Year’s Eve).
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A new home for a Rikers Island mural
The vibrant 8 by 8 foot mural has an unusual history, starting with where it was hung when it was completed in the 1970s — a jail on Rikers Island.
It was both a first and a last — the first public commission by the artist Faith Ringgold, and the last oil-on-stretched-canvas piece that she did for years. It was called “For the Women’s House.” The warden’s willingness to let Ringgold interview inmates and install the mural seemed to hint at an optimistic, good-government approach to municipal facilities.
Now, after being shunted to a hallway where few people could see it, the mural is being relocated to the Brooklyn Museum.
As our writer Zachary Small explained, the city’s Public Design Commission, which has jurisdiction over art at city-owned properties, agreed to the move. The commission’s decision last week followed a request by Mayor Bill de Blasio, in the final days of his administration, that the mural go to the museum on a long-term loan. But next month it will be sent to to the New Museum on the Bowery for an exhibition, “Faith Ringgold: American People,” which will open on Feb. 17.
Ringgold, known for her “story quilts” and her impassioned activism, had won a $3,000 grant for the mural. She met with inmates, asking what they would like to see. The result showed women in careers that the inmates believed were beyond their reach: president, professional basketball player, minister, construction worker, bus driver. “All the things life could bring them if they had freedom,” she said in 2020.
The mural remained where it had been installed until the women’s facility was converted to house men, and it was whitewashed. Eventually a restorer removed the white paint, and the mural was hung in the gym of a new women’s facility, the Rose M. Singer Center, which, along with the rest of the Rikers jail complex, is scheduled to close by 2027.
Ringgold said last week that she had tried for nearly a decade to have it moved, failing to strike a deal with at least one university because of the cost of insurance. It was lent out at least once, for an exhibition of her works at the Neuberger Museum in Purchase, N.Y., in 2010.
The city said that to “to promote beauty and healing within the jails,” the nonprofit Art for Justice Fund, founded by the philanthropist Agnes Gund, had offered to underwrite a new mural that will fill the space vacated by “For the Women’s House.”
Not everyone celebrated the art commission’s decision to send the mural to the Brooklyn Museum. Some art historians and preservationists said that moving the mural to a private institution was a sign that the city cannot care for its own art collection.
“It troubles me that the city is embarking on this kind of enterprise again,” said Michele Bogart, an art historian specializing in the city’s public works. “And I just keep wondering whether they are doing a disservice to the people who are still in Rikers.”
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A few years ago, I was at a wedding in Berlin. Most of the guests were German, but sitting across from me was an American who, it turned out, also lived in New York City.
“Where do you live in the city?” I asked her.
“Upper Gramercy,” she said.
“Wouldn’t that be considered Murray Hill?” I said.
“Yes,” she answered politely.
— Daphné Jouanneteau
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
Melissa Guerrero, Olivia Parker and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].