Late Winter 2004
RUMMAGING FOR OSAMA
By Henry William Brownejohns
BROOKLYN, N.Y. A man in the neighborhood discovered, one Saturday, that he had too many things, and as his father and his father’s father had done before him, he laid them out in the sun in front of his home and began to sell them to passersby. Yes, he had a yard sale and the result? Five plainclothes police officers of the New York City Police Department descended in a slow-motion daylight raid and issued him a summons. Our protagonist was left standing over a bed sheet spread with old shoes, music boxes, coffee-mugs, ill-fitting sweaters, unread books, unpleasant lamps, forks and spoons and knives, and a plethora of those products which makes the American household a fire-hazard and a hub of consumer anxiety: electric shaving-cream warmers, food-processors and juice-machines, holding a flimsy ticket. His customers went right back about their commerce, buying and bartering, and incidentally, unanimously cursing the shoddy service of the NYPD.
There have been quite a few of these sorts of incidents in old Gotham lately, where a citizen of no particular offense is given an expensive citation by some idle, quota-driven police officer for breaking an obscure line of civil code. A man was ticketed for sitting on a milk-crate, another for playing a game of dominoes on a folding table, and a pregnant woman for resting on the top step of a subway station staircase. Of course, this is all part of the famous revenue campaign the tycoon-mayor Mr. Bloomberg is waging against his citizenry. His is something of a continuation of the war begun by Mr. Giuliani, whose late canonization has obscured the memory of his venomous political inhumanity and the wicked condescension he harbored toward his own public.
The Bloomberg Police Department, however, has received greater scrutiny for their penny-ante dragnets. Some have argued that the department officers could do the public greater good if they were somehow folded into the War on Terror. Why should five armed men with badges waste their time busting yard sales when they could be on the lookout for men carrying almanacs, rifling through luggage, or directing a guided missile to the lair of some al-Qaeda fiend?
But really, there isn’t much of a distinction between the Ticket Blitz and the Terror War. Only in the present tundric climate of civil liberties could Mr. Bloomberg in fact conduct such a miserable campaign. The public has been systematically intimidated by two years of fear-mongering, and our leaders do not let a day pass without lobbing a few shells over your head New Terror Threat! Watch your Neighbor! Report Suspicious Activity! It is only too easy to scrape up fifty or a hundred dollars from the civilian population once they have been owed by the booming voice of Apocalypse. For they know one thing if only one thing: nobody would dare insult the integrity of “America’s Heroes” the policemen and firemen and politicians so long as our numerous enemies remain bent on our destruction. Nothing was so discussed in the wake of the 2001 attacks as was our ‘perseverance,’ unless it was instead our ‘courage and unity.’ But nearly thirty months later, this reporter sees rather a lot of meekness and impotence instead, and a hierarchy of government stumbling upon itself to reap the lucrative benefits of a docile citizenry. Skeptics of a certain stripe might say this is the Price of Freedom; but a savvy consumer worthy of the designation ‘American’ knows that he had first better be sure he is getting what he is paying for.