Amateur Night at the Apollo

There was another bank holiday this week. This time it was ‘President’s Day’ – always celebrated on the third Monday of February in honour of George Washington, the first President of the United States, who was born on 22nd February 1732. I didn’t get the memo, so I turned up at work anyway and thought it was a bit odd that there didn’t seem to be many students kicking around! Anyway, it actually worked in my favour. It was eerily quiet, so I managed to get lots of work done. I offered to do a book review for one of my colleagues at John Jay a couple of months ago, but had failed to get around to doing it. These are a great way to force you to think much more critically about a book and determine a way to summarise it all down into less than 1000 words. The idea is that it then gets published (hopefully) and serves as a mechanism to encourage other researchers to read the book. It’s entitled ‘Unarmed and Dangerous’ – all about exploring the context behind unarmed suspects who are shot by police in the US. The hypothesis being that the rather superficial reporting of such incidents in the popular press fails to do justice to the complexity of the context that led to such fatalities. It’s a really good read. The authors, Jon Shane and Zoë Swenson, write really well and certainly give me something to aspire too.

Whilst I was tapping away, the only other people in the Uni on Monday seemed to be the ‘John Jay Bloodhounds’ basketball team. My office is on the 4th floor, where the sports hall is located. They had been shooting a few hoops (see, I’m like a local now) and then retired to a classroom for a debrief with Coach. No doubt he has a name too, but in keeping with all US films, I am just going to refer to him as Coach. It seemed that Coach was a bit annoyed with the team and was bellowing at them, with plenty of expletives thrown in for good measure. Coach had obviously read a manual that prophesied the benefits of shouting at his players to enhance performance. Not sure I’m convinced, but he was certainly passionate and it really did feel like I was on a film set. No Michael J Fox though. I quickly hurried back to my office so I didn’t get shouted at too. 

I met with a colleague from London for lunch this week. He has been living in New York with his wife for a couple of years, working with law enforcement agencies on this side of the pond. We had a really nice lunch in a Thai restaurant I had discovered a few weeks ago and chatted about anything and everything for the best part of four hours. We shared similar anecdotes about our cultural observations of life in the Big Apple and it was nice to chew over some policing stuff with someone who is used to operating in the same context as me back home.

A potential pub quiz question…. 

How do doctors and dentists in the US avoid parking tickets when they park on the street in New York City?

Answer….

Their car registration plates are designated to show their profession, so they can park in specific parking bays. No need for a permit or to buy a ticket. A little thing I noticed this week which I thought was interesting.

(you can thank me later)

Wednesday evening saw us take a trip to the opening night of ‘Amateur Night at the Apollo’. Now in its 85th year, this show is an American institution that attracts acts (some more talented than others) from across the US. The winner picks up $20k! We got tickets for the bargain price of $8. It was a sell out and an absolutely brilliant atmosphere. The warm-up act could have sold out the O2 on his own, the comedian who compered the show had a wonderful knack of politely insulting the acts and some of the acts themselves where seriously impressive. Harlem has its problems, mainly opioid use, mental ill-health going untreated and homelessness, but overall it is a vibrant and interesting place to live with loads going on. Being able to walk 6 blocks in one direction to reach the Apollo and 6 blocks in the other direction to reach Central Park shows just why house prices are rocketing in this part of the city.

On Thursday I attended Dr Eric Piza’s Criminal Justice PhD class. I’ve been to these lectures a number of times and always really enjoy them. They are a small group with diverse perspectives, not least in terms of their backgrounds. Students from the US, Asia and South America all come together to make for really good conversation. I was in the chair this week, delivering a lecture under the heading of ‘Challenges in Programme Implementation and Replication’ I was making the argument that, as trainee researchers, it wasn’t sufficient to only be focusing on producing defendable research outputs that can inform public policy, but that there must also be a focus on how to translate that policy into practice. Specifically, the need to understand the leadership dynamics of target organisations and how to ‘sell’ research in a realistic and persuasive way, to make sure it delivers the benefits it is able to. They are a really engaged group and what was meant to be an hour long input led to a 3 hour conversation. One of the students is an ex officer from Taiwan, we exchanged badges at the end of the lecture. 

My own research agenda continues to be shaped by what I am seeing here in New York and the stuff I am learning by chatting with colleagues at the University. Whilst my data collection has, for various reasons, stalled a little, I am now starting to put pen to paper for my MBA dissertation and developing a proposal for a book, which I intend to get submitted to a publisher before I head home. It’s a tight deadline, but it’ll give me something tangible to aim for over the next few weeks. 

Lots more talk this week of nominees for the US presidential election. There’s some growing chatter that NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio may be about to declare his candidacy. His preferred line at the moment is “I haven’t ruled anything out” – which sounds like a yes to me. He is a very visible political leader in the City. Not a day goes by when he isn’t on the TV defending a policy or talking about a new initiative. His authority extends across all public services and he has the autonomy to hire and fire the top teams, across all city institutions, at will. The mayoral model seems a little more established here than in London, and with the decentralised political structures of the US, no doubt de Blasio has autonomy that Sadiq Khan would dearly like in London. Purely a personal observation into style and approach: de Blasio seems to have an openness, a willingness to engage in difficult conversations and a propensity to answer questions in straightforward language that isn’t ordinarily seen by politicians in the UK. He doesn’t seem to have been briefed to the nth degree like some of his peers in the UK would be and so has a much more authentic style. I’ll be interested to see how his fortunes progress as the race for the primaries hots up over the coming months. 

Our rental contract expires today and the next one doesn’t start for about 10 days or so. Short term lets of under 30 days are illegal under City law, so rather than buying a tent or melting my credit card in a hotel in NYC, we are going to head south and see exactly what people mean when they talk about the different way of life in the southern states. I’ve been given some policing contacts who will be able to provide a different perspective to the ‘big city’ policing I am used to, so it will be interesting to see what I can learn from them as we head through Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana over the next few days. The Fulbright vision is to make sure scholars get broad exposure to as much of their host nation as possible. So as we jump in a rental car this afternoon, that’s exactly what I intend to do! 

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