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Monday, June 27, 2016

Angry Mobs

Yesterday evening, there was a loud bang outside our house. By the time my wife made it to the window, several cars were crashed and shouting people were surrounding one of the cars.

By the time I got down the steps, somebody had taken the keys from the driver. A shattered mess of debris had sprayed outward from the crash site. The passenger-side window was broken where a young man smashed it with his fist. It was immediately clear the driver was drunk. 

The drunk driver's car had come to a stop in front of our house, where it had destroyed the back of a double-parked car and crumpled it into a car parked in front of it. Another car with its driver-side mirror was parked behind it. The crowd growing around the car yelled about other cars the driver hit careening from one side to the other as he smashed his way down the street.

A boy and others from the corner showed up with a bent bicycle. Apparently he jumped off before the car crushed his bike down at the intersection.

People were growing increasingly angry. Another driver in particular was ready to drag the drunk out into the street for a public beating. He claimed to own the first car that was struck, and said he had followed the driver all the way from Westchester County, witnessing six or seven collisions along the way. It seemed like an overreaction for a broken mirror, although it was clearly infused with indignation over the state of the driver putting lives at risk on the road. Some of my neighbors were growing angrier as talk swirled about how easily he could have hit a child. The car he crushed where he came to a stop had a child seat in the back (but thankfully no child inside).

A few calm-headed neighbors pulled the angry driver off the drunk and back the crowd away from the car. Then it became a challenge to keep the drunk inside with the door closed for his own protection. He wanted to fight back, which only fueled the rage. Speculation that the driver would never end up going to jail clearly drove a desire for street justice in the crowd. Meanwhile, despite several 911 calls, including one by my wife explaining that the crowd was growing violent, the police were nowhere to be seen.

Finally, a half hour after the crash, with the drunk driver already in an ambulance, the police finally arrived. They took a few photos and coordinated removal of the vehicles. Fortunately, the neighborhood had managed to quell the anger and the crowd died down on its own. But it takes precious little imagination to see that as the NYPD treats traffic collisions as low-priority calls and the entire justice system continues to ignore traffic violence, it may only be a matter of time until a mob delivers its own sentence. 

The weather is growing hotter. Next time, the kid may not jump off the bike in time. Perhaps the parked car will have a child in the back seat. Hopefully it doesn't come to that. Hopefully our police and prosecutors start to treat violence with a car just as seriously as incidents involving a gun.

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