You’ve probably seen the footage on the news. The CCTV from the Kings County Hospital in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York City, which shows a 49-year old black American woman dying on the floor of the waiting room. It’s here. The TV News in Australia described her as a psychiatric patient who had already waited 24 hours for unspecified treatment and that the other patients in the waiting room, who ignored her for the whole hour she was dying unattended, were also psychiatric patents.
You would also have seen how she was observed and successively ignored by: a security guard; a doctor; another security guard – that’s right, the one who rolled his chair back to have a look and then rolled it back out of frame. And of the nurses who finally did come to her aid, one gave her a bit of a kick before bending to check on her.
The news you saw probably also had a New York public official saying something like:
“You might expect something like this to happen in a Third World country. You do not expect this sort of thing to happen in New York City.”
I disagreed with her. I’m not totally surprised that something like that happened. And I’m also not surprised that it happened in New York. I thought that the American cities I visited in the mid-80s all looked a lot more like Third World countries than I was comfortable with, including New York. I think there might also be quite a few Americans who are similarly unsettled by the nature of American cities.
And if there are any of you out there who’ve also been to New York City, you might just have picked up the same vibe from many of its inhabitants that I did.
That people seemed to be predisposed towards being deliberately unhelpful. And further, would even appear to take some deadpan pleasure in you being disadvantaged by this unhelpfulness. Always politely, of course.
Some of it was epitomized in the TV show Seinfeld: In scenes where the main or other characters would delight in or be dismissively uninterested in someone else’s misfortune. And then when the plot resolved and some disaster had overtaken the indifferent, their despair and pathetic pleading for assistance. I picked that recurring motif as very much a New York thing. In Australia, it appeared to be perceived as a combination yuppie Gen-X thing. The final two-hour episode was probably the quintessential example of what I’m talking about here.
Now, I’m happy to cop a roasting on this, particularly from any Americans who don’t see it as an indictment on New York or America anymore than backpacker murderer Ivan Milat reflects Australia. But that’s just it. He does reflect Australia. If you’re able to, check out some of the statements attributed to him by people who encountered him and tell me they’re not (admittedly) extreme examples of attitudes to women and crime that are not entirely rare in Australian males.
The indifference and deliberate inaction of those officials in the CCTV footage towards the dying woman is an (again admittedly) extreme example of attitudes you would not find altogether uncommon among New Yorkers.
We should be shocked, but not surprised.