Someone tried to kill me today.
Turning onto Broadway from 125th Street, clearly in a hurry, a young man behind the wheel of a white van failed to slow down for his turn and entered the crosswalk. I happen to know that it is illegal for a vehicle to enter a crosswalk when the walking icon is white, so I pointed to the traffic light in an effort to raise the driver’s awareness. Then, in my best Dustin Hoffman voice, I admonished, “I’m walkin’ here,” and I smiled. The driver was not impressed. In reply, he gunned his motor, pointed his vehicle right at me, and accelerated.
I managed to jump out of the way, and my daughter’s Chihuahua, toddling beside me, managed to evade the oncoming wheel, but it was close. We did not survive because the driver meant to let us go. He would have relished the kill.
I staggered to the curb and I caught my breath before I looked up to see if I could ID him, but he was already cresting the hill, about to be out of sight. There was no license plate on the back of his van, so I had no choice but to watch him disappear into the ebbing traffic.
Witnesses abounded, but except for a young woman crossing near enough to us to have been concurrently endangered, no one so much as tsikached in disgust. The co-walker blanched and shook her head over and over but said nothing to me.
I’ll be seeing that man’s face as I attempt to sleep tonight and for many nights to come. As I nearly froze in the headlights of the man’s stare, glowing with delighted anticipation, I was aware of some prophets’ omens written on the subway walls.
First, this guy is not the first nor will he be the last to have a death wish for me. We have never met, and I don’t know him personally, but I am sure he was thrilled at the notion of eliminating an old white woman. I have lived in Harlem for a number of years, and I am aware that despite the fact that I am not in any way superior to my neighbors in income or quality of life, I look like I am, and I am often the object of their contempt. It’s the inevitable result of the extraordinary disparity between the haves and have-nots, more salient here than anywhere in the country. Resentment flourishes, and misunderstandings abound.
Columbia University, viewed by the locals as the bastion of the high and the mighty, is spreading through the area, encroaching on any territory their eminent domain allows them. Rents are rising just as quickly as affordable housing is disappearing. We are approaching something called a fiscal cliff, which few understand but everyone fears. People are desperate; unemployment is high, and there is little incentive to curb the natural impulse to take risks, to defy the law, to push the envelope to its tearing point because there is little to nothing to lose. I often feel like an interloper.
Second, the incident was undoubtedly seen and ignored by the police. There is never a dearth of officers on 125th Street, but the police simply do not patrol these streets for dangerous traffic violations. Harlem roadways, especially 125th Street, Broadway, and Amsterdam Avenue are more like freeways than local streets. Cars and trucks soar at high speeds, and police rarely give chase except after cars driven by the elderly and otherwise slow-moving operators, whom they get for expensive but nonthreatening infractions. The big things, like speeding or wielding the car as a loaded weapon go unchecked. Trucks and vans especially burn their rubber with abandon, heedless of posted limits, potholes, foot-draggin children and aged, or any other impediment to excessive speed.
Police are underpaid, overworked and apathetic. Citizens are harried, worried, pressured by financial insecurities and faced with staggering unemployment. There’s a fiscal cliff that few understand but everyone fears. It’s a scary world out there.
And someone tried to kill me today.