On Saturday, September 2, 2023, I woke from sleep at four a.m. and looked out my window in search of the waning moon. Media had described the second full moon of August as a “blue moon” and a “super moon” and I hadn’t yet seen it.
I saw some black men partying on the sidewalk around Costello Park. Lately the park has become a site of all-night parties. Men gather on the sidewalk after sunset and remain till near dawn. I’d estimate about fifteen partiers. They sit on milk crates and metal chairs that Paterson, as part of a renovation, using taxpayer dollars from wealthier towns, placed in Costello Park. The metal chairs have been dragged out of the park onto the sidewalk for the all-night parties. Eventually these chairs, one by one, are disappearing entirely.
Car stereos blast rap music. There are kids in this building, black kids, Hispanic kids, poor kids. I grew up poorer than these kids, but I never had to struggle for sleep against intrusive noise pollution. I never had to sleep through classes in school because there was so much noise in the street the night before. Loud street parties were just not done. In my hometown, fathers left for work before we left for school. They worked hard all day. They arrived home in worn blue uniforms stained with dirt and grease. They ate dinner, they watched TV for a short while, and then they snored in comfortable chairs till wives or kids gently roused them and ushered them to bed. These hard-working men needed sleep, and the town was quiet at night.
I mentioned the noise in a Facebook post. I met Merlin when I was a grad student at UC Berkeley. Merlin is handsome, witty, and charismatic. He’s a PhD, polyamorist, international bon vivant, and Burning Man veteran. He lived on Grizzly Peak, 1,400 feet up in the Berkeley Hills, where even small homes cost over a million dollars. As night follows day, Merlin said that my mentioning Paterson’s noise was racist. Only a white supremacist would gripe about loud and obscene rap from car stereos all night long.
“Noise pollution loudest in black neighborhoods” announced a 2017 headline. “This is yet another study that shows that communities of color bear a disproportionate burden of pollution … [noise pollution] makes things worse for everybody,” UC Berkeley researchers reported. What does it do to children’s little bodies to emerge into a world of car stereos, police sirens, screams, crashes? Noise pollution damages children’s minds and bodies in all the ways described here. And the all-night partiers don’t just pollute with noise. They leave trash like paper plates and plastic bottles scattered on the sidewalk around the park.
I didn’t see the moon on September 2. I had been at the window for less than a minute. I returned to bed. I heard a crash. My nerves burst into flames; my muscles stiffened; my breath became rapid and shallow; my stomach clenched and poured out acid. I have become very familiar with this bodily response to stressful stimuli. I’m an adult and can try to quell this response with practiced prayer and meditation. I know that Paterson’s majority minority children are too young to master these skills and, as a teacher, I know that they suffer in ways that I don’t.
I investigated the apartment. I couldn’t find the source of the crashing sound. I went back to bed and tried to sleep. I had to get up early the next morning to work. Sleep eluded me. Again, at work, all day, I’d be fighting to stay alert, to rein in my dyslexia and spell words correctly.
In the morning light I saw the broken glass and the shattered pane. Someone had thrown a rock at my window, just after I had looked out that window in search of the moon.
I phoned the police. “I’ll make a report,” an officer said. There was no visit. The blasé response was nothing new. A few years back, very close to this spot, it was my head, not the window, that was hit with a large rock. On that occasion, I had unwittingly stumbled between two gangs fighting. I regained consciousness, pushed myself off the sidewalk, and stumbled home through scattering black youths, eager to remove themselves as rapidly as possible from the scene of a downed white woman. I phoned the police. A police officer arrived hours later, spent five minutes in my apartment, and told me with a sneer that I should not be living here. So much for the leftist fantasy that white women assaulted by black men exercise magical power over police.
I wrote to Passaic County Sheriff Richard H. Berdnik about the rock and the window. Debra Wahba, his representative, wrote back “Sheriff Berdnik wanted you to know he has directed our Patrol Officers to give this area extra attention.” There are good reasons, beyond my broken window, to “give this area extra attention.” The block bordering Costello Park is about a tenth of a mile long. In recent years, in this small area, there has been a fatal stabbing, a storeowner shot to death in his shop, a fatal shooting, and an elderly woman raped on the sidewalk. I have, though, seen no enhanced police presence around Costello Park, and the all-night parties continue and have, in recent days, grown louder.
The Lou Costello Memorial Park has been featured in The Sopranos and the 2016 Adam Driver film Paterson. It was created in 1992. The New Jersey Community Development Corporation renovated the park in 2022. The NJCDC spins a sanitized narrative of the park on its webpage. The park, this narrative runs, “fell into disrepair … it became a park that not many people felt comfortable visiting.” The NJCDC saved the park, it wants people to know, by razing a gazebo. Gazebos apparently ruin parks. The NJCDC then took taxpayer money from wealthier towns and erected a playground designed for autistic children. The NJCDC and Paterson’s mayor slapped themselves on the back. They had “improved” this corner of Paterson.
The NJCDC’s narrative is a fantasy. The park did not “fall into disrepair.” The gazebo wasn’t doing anything bad to anyone. It was an attractive, antique structure. Addicts and vagrants slept in the gazebo. Police could have removed them. Crippled by leftist ideology, they did not. So the attractive structure needed to be removed. Wealthier, better-run towns, with conservative local governments, do have gazebos. Rockaway, New Jersey’s gazebo hosts a summer concert series.
A few years back, I was trying to prepare a lesson. My concentration was interrupted by the sound of a man screaming and blows being struck. Without even realizing what I was doing, I didn’t consciously register the sounds and I pushed myself to focus on my lesson plan. Then I stopped myself. “What the hell has happened to me, that I try to ignore the sound of someone screaming and the sound of fists hitting a human body?”
I left my lesson planning. I discovered a disheveled black man in Costello Park. He was screaming and punching himself. I began the interior dialogue I have conducted many times. “Do I call the police? Are police the best solution? Am I invading this man’s space? Maybe he doesn’t want police. What he’s doing looks pretty self-destructive to me, but maybe this is how he wants to spend an otherwise quiet Sunday morning. Don’t the police have more important matters to attend to? Maybe this behavior will stop momentarily.”
I asked myself these same questions many times: when I saw a teenage boy beat a teenage girl and tear off her shirt and bra, in the middle of the street, leaving her naked to the waist. Both seemed equally aggressive. Did either really want police? When I saw a barefoot woman wobbling in the middle of an active commuter road at rush hour. The many times I passed a man standing, staring into space, and I asked, “Are you okay? Do you want me to call someone? Do you need help?” and the man couldn’t answer. All of the people in the above encounters have been black. Would a white police officer make these vulnerable people tense and would things spiral downward?
One of my students, a leftist, once went on a rant about the vagrants in Costello Park. “Doesn’t anyone see them? Doesn’t anyone care? Our society is so callous!” Surrounding listeners applauded her for her “compassion.”
I had no patience for her tired charade. “Open your eyes,” I said, no doubt sounding harsh. “Don’t you see the Salvation Army across the street from Costello Park? Don’t you see Eva’s Village, founded by a Catholic priest? Don’t you see the visitors from the mostly white, suburban evangelical church who visit the park regularly, offering food and aid, the government aid agencies dispensing taxpayer funded food, housing, health care? It’s not, quote, society, unquote, that doesn’t care about these men. It’s these men who don’t care about themselves or about you or me. If they cared about themselves or about us would they refuse the aid offered them? Would they be leaving discarded needles and emptied liquor bottles on the very sidewalks kids walk to get to Paterson school number two?”
The emptied liquor bottles from the all-night parties really get me. Multiple trash cans are conveniently placed in and around the park. An empty Courvoisier bottle can’t weigh that much. The partiers can carry a full Courvoisier bottle to a public park, but they can’t carry an empty bottle twenty feet to a trash can. And, no, they don’t just toss the bottles. They place them, upright and empty, on the sidewalk, sidewalks that they know will service dozens of pedestrians. It’s like they want normal people to know, “While you and your kids slept soundly, trying to follow the rules that create a normal, healthy, happy life, I was a hundred feet away, making sure that no matter how much you try to make this neighborhood better, you’ll always live in a slum.” I want to say to these men, “You are so poor, you have to stop drivers in traffic alongside Costello Park to beg for change, you have to urinate and defecate a hundred feet from autistic kids in their special new playground, but you can afford Courvoisier?”
The New Jersey Community Development Corporation lies continue. Costello Park “became a park that not many people felt comfortable visiting.” In fact, before the expensive renovation, there were always “many people” in Costello Park. A cute, petite housewife and mother who takes great joy in decorating her apartment and the surrounding hallway for every holiday was in that park every morning. She had a little fluffball of a dog. Every time I saw that pooch I’d bend down to pet her and she’d flood my face with kisses. On hot summer nights, folks who can’t afford air conditioning would sit around waiting for the temperature to dip one degree. Don Kommit, our Beat-Era-veteran poet, walked past the park to the bodega for his canned soup. Urban kids’ only experience of leaves changing color in fall took place in that park. Thank you to whomever planted the park’s Washington hawthorns.
If the NJCDC really wanted to improve the park, the solution would be right-wing – changing the behavior of antisocial people. But the NJCDC, it goes without saying, did not take that controversial route of addressing antisocial behavior. Rather, it opted for the left-wing solution – an infusion of taxpayer dollars. Taxpayer dollars generated by hardworking people who don’t party all night and who live in wealthier towns; see here.
As part of its renovation, the NJCDC installed a Little Free Library. A Little Free Library is a wooden box placed on a wooden post. There is a glass window. Inside are books, free to anyone who wants them. A Little Free Library can cost about four hundred dollars. Little Free Libraries pride themselves on distributing “books that provide perspectives on racism and social justice; celebrate BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized voices; and incorporate experiences from all identities for all readers.” The Little Free Library in Costello Park was immediately attacked as if it were an invading enemy. Someone smashed the glass, ripped up the free books, and tossed the pages all around the park. Someone smashed the wooden structure to bits, reducing it to nothing but a stump in the ground. See here.
Some naïve soul installed a second Little Free Library in Costello Park. The new Little Free Library was artistically painted. Whoever painted it wanted to make clear that the Little Free Library was meant to help children access free, attractive reading material, like picture books. Dr. Seuss and other beloved children’s book characters were painted on the Little Free Library exterior.
The destroyer wrecked the new, improved Little Free Library almost immediately after it was installed. Again, the glass was smashed, the wood was pried apart, and the books were ripped up and the scattered pages remained in the park for days, no one bothering to discard them in a convenient garbage can. The expensive, newly installed playground for autistic children was littered with pages from Little Free Library books. Taxpayer dollars sucked into Paterson from wealthier towns “renovated” the park, and within days it looked like a garbage dump.
Someone could have installed a cheap surveillance camera in the park, and discovered who was destroying the Little Free Library. That would not be done, of course, for the same reason the vagrants and addicts sleeping in the park would never be removed by police. Antisocial behavior cannot be punished. It can’t even be mentioned. If you mention antisocial behavior, you are a white supremacist, as Merlin will remind you.
The fate of the Little Free Libraries speaks loudly. You can pour all the money you want into dangerous and decaying cities like Paterson. That money, that comes from taxpayers who do follow civilizational guidelines, is stolen and squandered. Until you change the culture of the antisocial residents in cities like Paterson, no amount of money will improve the lives lived in Paterson.
In the nineteen sixties, America, following leftist ideology, decided that there are no standards, and no behavior can be judged as right or wrong. Identities, rather than behavior, were to be judged. Whites bad blacks good. America decided that illegal drug use is glamorous and funny, and those who condemn drug use are reactionary fascists. Now you cannot speak of “addicts;” you must use the Woke term “person with substance abuse disorder,” thus erasing any personal choice or responsibility. America decided that schools should not discipline any kids and especially not black males. Only racists discipline black male students. America decided that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, “love makes a family,” “Tango makes three,” and Heather will not suffer for not having a dad. America decided that “all cops are bastards,” and that Michael Brown was a “gentle giant” who said “Hands up don’t shoot.” A rich white woman living in a comfortable suburb can believe all these delusional, toxic, leftist lies and not suffer. This leftist ideology kills people where I live, and where millions of other Americans live. Leftist ideology doesn’t just kill individuals. Leftist ideology kills entire cities.
The other day I was talking to a Paterson old timer. His parents were impoverished immigrants. They had been mistreated and malnourished. They were not savvy. They came to Paterson, America’s first planned industrial city, a textile hub and manufacturing center, in the hopes of economic advancement. When they first arrived, their neighborhood was like them. It was poor, but it was safe, and clean, and people looked out for each other.
And then, this old timer told me the other day, everything changed. “It wasn’t slow. It was fast. It was like watching a time lapse film of a rose decaying.”
“Tell me,” I said, “what happened.”
“Well, white people got beat up in the streets. You were a white kid walking home from school and they’d just jump you and beat you up. They’d spray paint their neighbors houses. Break windows. Suddenly the streets were full of garbage. Cars stolen or just vandalized. Tires slashed. We knew we had to move. When I look at Paterson today,” his voice was full of emotion, “it breaks my heart. It was poor, but it was nice. If you had garbage on the street in front of your store, the cop would ticket you.”
I’ve heard similar stories many times. The power narrative is that “white flight” was all about white supremacy. After whites left, neighborhoods went downhill slowly but surely, only because of white neglect: no investment, no services, no repairmen. This old timer, and others like him, tell a different story. They didn’t leave because they didn’t like black newcomers. Many were immigrants and had minimal previous contact with black people. They had not inherited a culture of white supremacy. Rather, black newcomers hated white neighbors as their archetypal enemy, the white man, and targeted them for violent crime. Neighborhoods didn’t go downhill after years of neglect. They went downhill rapidly. The neighborhood’s decline was a reflection of culture. A gazebo didn’t suddenly render a park unsafe. Human behavior, fashioned by culture, rendered a park unsafe.
Leftists demonize anyone who says these things, and professional and personal punishment follow. White supremacists read accounts like this and insist that their sick, evil ideology is correct. And most people, who are neither leftists nor white supremacists, don’t care. Paterson’s bullets don’t penetrate their walls. They don’t have to enter into a conversation in which no matter what you say, you risk personal damage.
The leftists and the white supremacists are both wrong. Antisocial behavior is not an expression of genes. It’s an expression of culture. Yes, the individual black people who choose to deal drugs or steal cars are doing something wrong. Everyone, including white people, does bad things. I’ve certainly done bad things. When I did bad things as a child, nuns beat the stuffing out of me, mercilessly, even, sometimes, when I didn’t do anything bad. My parents supported the nuns. I got the message: you do a bad thing, and everyone will descend upon you with punishment, including God himself. There were no excuses for me. My behavior changed.
An individual black kid committing an act of vandalism, like throwing a rock through my window, meets with a different societal response, one that shapes his behavior just as my behavior was shaped when I did bad things. There are larger forces at work, and those larger forces are largely made up of powerful white leftists who insist it is racist to require black people to live up to the same standards as white people.
Behind the young men making sleep impossible with their loud car stereos blaring violent, sadistic, and misogynist lyrics, beyond the man screaming and beating himself in the park, above the wannabe gangstas shooting black kids dead in the street, I see armies of white leftists pushing each behavior.
I see LBJ, wanting to monopolize the “n-word” vote “for two hundred years,” enacting policies that damaged black families, but did ensure that blacks would vote for Democrats. I see smug Stephen Colbert, on his popular late night show, winking and nudging about how cool drug use is. I see teachers’ unions turning American public education into an oxymoron. I see Upper West Side voters choosing candidates who undermine police and refuse to prosecute violent criminals. I see Hollywood and music company executives who want black people to act out their own antisocial fantasies that they would never act out themselves. These entertainment executives profit from peddling images of black men as gangstas and black women as hos. I see the Smithsonian Institution using taxpayer dollars to demonize the very qualities that would rescue my neighbors from wretched lives. Being on time, being polite, believing in God, practicing the scientific method, working hard, are all “white” see the Smithsonian chart here. I see Pagans using my law-abiding, but poor neighbors as human sacrifices for their twisted religious rituals.
I see social media contacts, Merlin, Judy, Jean, Susan, Amanda, Ellen, none of whom live in black neighborhoods, none of whom read black conservatives, attacking anyone who voices any of these truths. When I invited Merlin to watch a video by black conservative Larry Elder, Merlin refused to do so, insisting that he would never expose himself to any ideas promoted by Dennis Prager.
Watch a statistics-dense Prager University presentation by Larry Elder, here. Read an excerpt from the superb book False Black Power by black conservative Jason L. Riley, here. These two black conservatives and other black conservatives like them agree: policies initiated and supported by leftist whites hurt black people.
I don’t just see rich white leftists building an ideological fence around antisocial behavior and rendering it immune to corrective consequences. I also see very good people, productive people who are white and black and brown and trapped in hell because they are poor and leftists have decided that poor, majority minority communities, unlike rich, white communities, will not have any standards or police or law.
Yes, I see black men partying on the street day and night. I also see black women in nurse’s aide uniforms leaving for work before dawn. I see black women dressed up for church on Sunday morning. I see black women driving Paterson’s buses. I saw my own black, female students working hard to do well in college classrooms. Black women aren’t just more likely to be in college; in one study, black females actually responded to perceived racism by improving their eating and exercise habits, while black males did not. I don’t know if anyone has the definitive answer to why there is a shift of “wealth and power” from black males to black females, but we need to look at this and apply whatever women are doing right to men.
One of my neighbors is an Hispanic immigrant. He has a landscaping business. He also has a workshop in a garage where he tinkers after hours. He also has cultivated “waste” ground along Route 80. One day he stopped me and made me take zucchini, celery, and a large bag of tomatoes. He doesn’t even know my name; he just sees me walking past his garden and wanted to do something kind.
Another one of my neighbors is a black woman. She’s a jazz singer. She’s been well-reviewed in the New York Times and the New York Post. She has been invited to sing internationally. She does volunteer work to improve her community. One day she saw me walking and offered me a ride in her very old but serviceable car.
A few of my neighbors are adjunct professors. They teach future generations. Adjuncts make less than minimum wage for the hours that they work. They live in low-rent neighborhoods.
If parents, teachers, and police enforced civilizational guidelines in Paterson, my neighbors who, yes, are poor, but, again, who work hard and play by the rules, would have better lives. The refusal, by those in power, to address antisocial behavior from a minority of the population, or the refusal by those in power who insist on misrepresenting antisocial behavior as something glamorous or revolutionary, betray the Hispanic immigrant who works like a dog, the talented black jazz singer who is well-reviewed and has appeared on Broadway but who can’t earn enough from her art to live in Rockaway, the adjunct professors who work in Wayne but live in Paterson, the housewife with the fluffy dog who loves to decorate, and the innocent kids who couldn’t help being born here and who are just starting out in life.
Sunday, October 1, I really needed to get away. The rock through the window was just one of a series of mini disasters. I’d recently gotten bad news about my health, and stress has been eating me up. I walked to Garret Mountain and saw a fire in the woods. I phoned Paterson police. An operator said that Paterson police would not respond. I needed to be transferred to state police. She put me on hold and eventually hung up on me. I phoned state police. An operator told me that state police would not respond; Paterson police would. She said she’d transfer me. I gave up. I told myself that I can’t fix Paterson police. I told myself that maybe someone else would see and report the fire.
I got home and tried to relax. I began watching a Bollywood romantic comedy; perfect escape fare. And then I heard an all too familiar sound: pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. It’s like fireworks, except there is no shower sound at the end. Someone was just shot, I realized.
“You can’t fix it,” I told myself. “Just ignore it.” And I did. I’m still thinking about that. That I just wanted to ignore someone getting shot to death less than a hundred feet from me.
My ability to ignore the drive-by shooting that took place outside my window was limited. I eventually gave up on retreating into the Bollywood rom-com and joined my neighbors in the street. We saw what you see after a shooting. Yellow tape, many police officers, one of whom was placing white markers near where bullets were found. Mary Taylor was a 22-year-old woman. Accounts say that she was an “innocent bystander.” This strikes me as an odd way to put it. Gunning people down in the street does not strike me as an appropriate way to end any human life. Of course she was an innocent bystander. The gunman, according to reports, was wearing a ski mask and driving a stolen car. As of this writing, he is still at large.
It would be another night when it would be difficult to sleep.
In 2022, after honor student and Paterson resident Robert Cuadra was shot to death while helping his grandmother carry groceries into her home, I wished I could write an essay about Robert that would make people care about him. That would make his name as famous as that of George Floyd. That would rouse America into addressing the factors that contributed to his death.
I now wish I could say anything worthy about Mary Taylor, whose death I heard as I was trying to escape into a romantic comedy. She was my neighbor. No doubt we crossed paths many times, but I didn’t know her. All I can tell you is her name, her age, how it sounded when she was shot to death, and what the pavement looked like after her body was carried away.
I wish black celebrities with powerhouse resources, I’m thinking Beyonce, Christian Cooper, Denzel Washington, Lebron James, and Barack Obama, read about the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, and other research like it. I wish they would mount a project that would have an equal and opposite impact as LBJ had on the black family. Children who grow up with a biological father in the home are less likely to end up in jail. Period. End of sentence. You’ve got that information; now apply it in the real world. The late, great black conservative, Walter E. Williams, stressed the inescapable issue of the black family again and again. See here, here, and here.
Second wish: broken windows policing. Read more about broken windows policing here. Given previous criminal activity, major and minor, Mayor Andre Sayegh and police had every reason to know that this one-tenth-mile stretch of Paterson, NJ, would soon be the site of another drive-by shooting. If they had practiced broken windows policing, one 22 year old woman might still be alive.
Mayor Sayegh’s approach is different. “I am bringing taxpayer money into Paterson,” Mayor Sayegh boasts. “So what?” many Patersonians ask. “So what if you siphon money from richer towns into this poor city? The streets are still full of garbage. Crime is still rampant. Schools are still failing students.” “Paterson NJ Public Schools Are Falling Apart Despite $500 Million from State,” and “Paterson NJ High School Graduation Scores Fall Short,” are a couple of recent headlines. “Almost 90% of the city’s students failed math … while more than 60% flunked language arts,” Reported the Bergen Record in August, 2023. Because Paterson students do so poorly, a leftist solution was attempted: standards were lowered to make it easier for Paterson students to graduate. In spite of this leftist lowering of standards, “the academic performance gap between Paterson students and their counterparts from the rest of New Jersey grew larger in the past year.”
On his Facebook page, Mayor Sayegh, who seems to be a very nice guy and dedicated to his job, boasted of yet another project bringing money into Paterson. Romeo Habibi, who self-identifies as a dishwasher, commented, “You can change the city look but you can’t change the people mentality what’s the point of building and we can’t walk safe with our kids or smelling drugs” [sic].
Mary Taylor was murdered a third of a mile from the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. As North Jersey dot com put it, “Mayor Andre Sayegh hopes to make” the Paterson Falls Park “the centerpiece of Paterson’s revival.” The money poured into the Falls Park is like the money poured into Costello Park. Until someone in power addresses the culture, there will be no “revival” of Paterson. The press reports that the murder of Mary Taylor “was across the street from Costello Park, where the mayor held about a half dozen press conference in recent years to highlight a $1 million recreation renovation project,” and also near other investment sites that the mayor boosted. “David Soo, head of the tenants association of an apartment building across the street from where the woman was shot … took issue with the mayor’s social media videos highlighting what Sayegh calls his accomplishments in Paterson. Soo said the mayor’s videos send ‘a clear message that playing make-believe is more important than the people of Paterson.'”
Criminals, even in Paterson, are the minority. The rest of us are poor, but we are normal. We are a housewife and mother who loves to decorate for the holidays. We are poets and adjunct professors. We are honor students looking forward to benefitting from a scholarship. We are 22-year-old women just starting out in life. We obey the law; we don’t take drugs; we yearn for normalcy. A normalcy we could only experience in a world where kids are brought up by both biological parents, where the state does not undermine the family, where teachers are allowed to set and enforce standards, where cops are, as they always will be, imperfect, but respected for the necessary work they do.
Mary Taylor, 22 years old, was one of us. Though I certainly passed Mary many times, I know nothing about her except this: she was a human being. Her life mattered. Her death matters. She deserved better. And here I am, saying her name.
Danusha Goska is the author of God Through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery