Fear won out over doing the right thing in Hollis and Jamaica this week when the city effectively canceled two family-oriented events over concerns that one might turn violent and that there weren’t enough police available to cover both.
It’s a shame that had to happen, especially for the kids who would have had a great time at the events, Hollis Day and 40 Day, the latter named for the 40 Houses projects, formally called the South Jamaica Houses.
Here’s how it went down: The rap star “50 Cent,” aka Curtis Jackson, was rumored to be planning a concert at 40 Day. Jackson grew up there, and the show was meant to be an example of giving back to his community.
But the rapper, commonly referred to as “Fitty,” hasn’t always walked the straight and narrow. Just the opposite: he was a drug dealer before he became a rapper, was convicted of selling cocaine to an undercover cop and was found to have crack and heroin in his house. He did his time and kept rapping. Years later he was shot at the South Jamaica Houses, surviving despite being hit nine times.
So Fitty pretty much epitomizes the gangsta rapper who breaks the law and could be a target of violence at any time, in contrast to, say, Run-DMC, the Hollis-based group that was honored with a street renaming in their old neighborhood on Sunday. But even Run-DMC, with their clean lyrics and good rep, suffered the effects of rap violence firsthand when their DJ, Jam Master Jay, was shot and killed in his studio several years ago.
Those incidents, however, don’t speak to the character of the people who wanted to enjoy Hollis Day and 40 Day. And they shouldn’t be an excuse for the city to not provide police protection to residents who want to celebrate their communities. But that seems to be what happened.
Flushing Meadows Park’s Reflecting Pool was recently the scene of a raucous, alcohol-fueled bit of boisterous fun, when hundreds of people in togas joined in a mock naval battle — waged by “gladiators” in homemade “ships” and punctuated by fireworks. It was a heck of a lot of fun and went off without injury, but it was inherently more risky to life and limb than a family day or rap show. It’s unclear if the city even knew about it, but the best thing would have been for the police to be there just in case.
And that’s the point with the canceled events in Hollis and South Jamaica. Rather than deny residents of those areas the fun they were looking forward to, the city should have made it a point to blanket both areas in blue — just in case. The NYPD is the best, and biggest, police force in the country. It handles far larger events like the New Year’s Eve celebration and the Thanksgiving Day Parade as a matter of course. It protects visiting dignitaries from the president on down all the time. Officers are more than willing to put in overtime for the extra pay it brings. How could the city possibly claim it couldn’t deploy enough officers to let Hollis Day and 40 Day go forward?
We’re not saying there is no risk of trouble at such events; of course there is, just as there is on Dec. 31 in Times Square and every day in Central Park — or any other place where people gather in the hundreds or thousands. And we’re not going to claim the city acted out of racial bias, as some undoubtedly will. But it does look as if, in this case, for whatever reason, City Hall and the NYPD brass were less responsive to what the people they serve wanted than they usually are. We hope they do better next time, for the sake of all the people in Hollis and South Jamaica — and anyone else who wants to celebrate their little corner of the world’s greatest city.