The attack on an elderly Filipino women named Vilma Kari in New York City this past week was horrific. I don’t want to make light of it in anyway. But I do want to talk about two related issues to this attack.
The first is whether this was a “hate crime”. There are genuine hate crimes, attacks where the only rational is the victim’s race, color, or national origin. I want to suggest that this might not be the case here.
The attacker, Brandon Elliot, had recently been paroled from prison. He had been sent there as a 19 year old for having murdered his mother by stabbing her in the chest. He had been sentenced to 15 years to life, got out in November 2019 after having served 16 years and was unceremoniously dumped on the streets of Manhattan with no job, no home, no support system. He banged around from flop house to flop house until he ended up at a hotel turned into a homeless shelter for the duration of the pandemic on West 40th Street. That hotel had been made into a homeless shelter because a hotel previously used for that purpose had to be closed because of complaints from the neighborhood residents.
Put a pin in that thought, we’ll get back to it in a moment.
Dermot F. Shea, the NYC police commissioner, put it succulently when he said
“I don’t understand why we are releasing or pushing people out of prison not to give them second chances, but to put them into homeless facilities or shelters — or in this case a hotel — and expect good outcomes”
Taking a 19 year old kid who obviously had serious mental health issues, so serious that he killed his mother, throwing him in prison for 16 years with no psychiatric therapy or even remedial education or job training, and then releasing him back to society is a recipe for an outcome that is never going to be good. That it took nearly a year and a half for that fetid pot to boil over is amazing in and of itself. That it happened to manifest itself as an attack on an Asian woman in the midst of a national outcry over anti-AAPI hate crimes I submit was just a coincidence.
Perhaps what was going through the unhinged brain of Brandon Elliot was not seeing an Asian and blaming her for COVID-19 but rather seeing an old woman who might have had a slight resemblance to his mother. “You don’t belong here” might have meant “You don’t belong here because I killed you 19 years ago”. It might have meant “I killed you once and paid for it and now here you are to continue to torment me”.
So he did the only thing he knew to do, the thing his life experience in prison had taught him to do. He attacked.
To ascribe this as a hate crime by definition means the perpetrator has to KNOW he is carrying out his actions solely and only because of his victim’s race. Brandon Elliot is, pardon my bluntness, a crazy person. Crazy people listen to the voices in their heads, not to the propaganda from Fox News.
The second point I’d like to bring up concerns the two security guards and the delivery man who are seen in the video of the attack standing around not doing anything to help the victim and then closing the door with the victim still on the ground and Brandon Elliot running off.
Like the voices in Brandon Elliot’s head, those three men did what the voices they heard from on high told them to do. The thing is these voices were real and they all said the same thing.
Don’t get involved.
Their bosses say “don’t get involved because we don’t want you getting hurt”. Nice, but that’s not the real reason. That real reason has to do with insurance and possibly getting sued; sued by the victim, sued by the guards, sued by the perpetrator, sued by the guy who just happens to be walking by. Better to do nothing and be called callous then to do something and get your financial ass handed to you.
The delivery company’s rational is even more cavalier. Don’t get involved because you need to finish your route. Mrs. Fancy Pants has been waiting two days for that special cream from Amazon and if you don’t get it to her by 5pm we’re going to never hear the end of it. The route, the route, that’s the only thing that matters. A crazy person stomped on an old woman outside the building you were delivering to? Too bad, so sad, did you get your deliveries done?
In both cases it comes down to commerce over compassion, keeping your job over being fired.
360 West 43rd Street is located in what they now call Midtown West. Back in my time in NYC we called it Hell’s Kitchen and it was, to be polite, not a nice place to be. It’s the West Side in West Side Story. It’s the dirty streets of Sleepers. It’s where Sonny Corleone had his talk with his brother in law.
Nowadays it’s been renovated into an upper class island of prosperous housing, trendy restaurants, and high end shopping. The kind of neighborhood that has security guards, not doormen, in the lobbies.
Remember that thought I asked you to put a pin in? Time to pull it out.
The hotel that was closed down as a homeless shelter was on 36th Street, four blocks from the hotel Brandon Elliot was now staying at on 40th Street. Four blocks closer to 43rd Street. If it hadn’t been closed down there is a good chance Brandon Elliot never gets near 43rd Street, never sees Vilma Kari, never goes nuts, just remains yet another whack job roaming the streets of New York.
I hope the neighbors who forced the hotel shelter out of their neighborhood think about that. I hope the parole board who released Brandon Elliot think about that. I hope the New York Department of Corrections and Community Service who were handed a mentally unstable 19 year old and turned him into a severally disturbed 37 year old through neglect and inattention think about that.
But they won’t. Like the security guards at 340 West 43rd Street, they’ll just close the door.
A much better version than Sinatra. See what Marty Scorsese and an unlimited budget for cocaine can do?