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Waiting for the Garner Grand Jury (The New Yorker.com)

On July 17th, New York City policemen wrestled a forty-three-year-old man named Eric Garner to the ground in front of a beauty salon on Staten Island. They claimed to have seen Garner selling cigarettes illegally, something he’d been known to do. But not this time, he protested. “I did nothing,” he said. “I’m just here minding my own business, officer. … Please, just leave me alone!” Despite Garner’s pleas, Daniel Pantaleo, a plainclothesman wearing cargo shorts and a baseball cap, came up behind him and put him in a chokehold; while Garner writhed on the pavement, three other cops rushed in to cuff him. Garner was a large man—six feet three inches tall and three hundred and fifty pounds—and asthmatic. Within seconds he was unconscious, and within minutes, dead. He gasped his last words: “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”

Many of us have watched this scene, in a widely circulated video shot by a bystander. When Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, found out about the video on the night of her son’s death she felt, for a moment, a sense of relief. “I said to myself, ‘There is a God,’ ” she told me when we met at her Staten Island home this past weekend. At least there was clear evidence of what had happened to her son, Carr thought, although she could not bring herself to watch it.

Five months later, the video is at the center of the deliberations of a New York City grand jury, which is expected to decide any day whether there is enough evidence for prosecutors to bring charges against the police officers and proceed to trial. New York is one of some thirty states that usually rely on a grand jury to decide whether a felony case should go to trial. (Other states tend to have a judge make that determination.) The threshold for going to trial—probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed—is low, but prosecutors have notoriously wide latitude in terms of what they choose to present to a grand jury. Carr told me that her main concern, particularly after Ferguson, is that protracted deliberations mean that the prosecutor is essentially trying the case before the grand jury.

Keep reading: http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/waiting-eric-garner-grand-jury

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The World’s First Reddit Party (The New Yorker.com)

Last summer, Erik Martin, the general manager of the link-sharing site Reddit, whose job requires him to oversee online conversations about everything from My Little Pony to Islamic State propaganda, noticed something strange. A Spanish political party that he’d never heard of was using the Web site to organize. “We’ve never seen anyone use Reddit as an organizing tool, not like this,” he said. The party, called Podemos (We Can), was only a few months old at the time, but it had created a subreddit—in effect, a party home page hosted by Reddit—with more than two thousand subscribers and significant traffic. About two hundred people were visiting the page at any given time, and there were a million page views in the month of July alone. “This was all in a market”—in southern Europe—”where Reddit is not even that popular,” Martin said. On the party’s page, an array of filters directs users to caches of videos, proposals, debate topics, and news. There are “digital assemblies” (a sort of virtual plebiscite), “Ask Podemos” (question-and-answer sessions with party leaders), and “Podemos Plaza” (a freewheeling discussion via message board). The other day, one user linked to a grim news item meant to spawn a local protest initiative: the municipal government of Madrid had dedicated a plaza to Margaret Thatcher.

When Martin and I spoke over the summer, he admitted that he didn’t know much about Podemos: Was it a serious party with serious prospects or was it a group of idealistic interlopers? That question has been on the lips of Spaniards for months.

A Court Closes in Brooklyn (The New Yorker.com)

The Talmud has nothing to say about basketball, but it does include a word or two about the Sabbath. At a hardwood half-court on Eastern Parkway, in Brooklyn, there’s no shooting, screen-setting, or rebounding allowed between Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, when the sound of squeaking sneakers and dribbled balls might disrupt the prayerful. The court belongs to a raggedy neighborhood gym called Eastern Athletic, which, for the past twenty-eight years, has leased the top six floors of the oldest reform synagogue in the borough.

John Turturro, the actor and director, has been playing at Eastern Athletic for more than twenty years, shoving and sparring on weekday mornings with a close-knit group of gym regulars. “It’s like therapy, only much cheaper than going to a psychiatrist,” he said between jump shots, while warming up for a recent morning pickup game. He was wearing gray Capri sweats and red-tipped CP3 sneakers. “You come here and get your ass kicked.”

It wasn’t immediately clear who would be administering the treatment. The elevator walls were covered in signs advertising “Shabbot for Tots” and a lesbian Jewish film night. The court, which has been there since the temple was established, in 1926, is walled off from a phalanx of weight machines and exercise equipment of nineties vintage. Two elderly men were sprawled on the floor, their legs splayed over medicine balls. An oldies station played over a patchy speaker system to a mostly empty house.

Keep reading: http://www.newyorker.com/news/sporting-scene/court-closes-brooklyn

Ciudad Juárez — A Documentary Mythology (The Guardian)

In September 2013 a woman in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, wrote an email to a local news outlet claiming responsibility for the murder of two bus drivers. She signed the note with a curious nom de guerre: “Diana, Huntress of Bus Drivers”. The email announced that these killings were reprisals, an act of revenge for all the women who had been brutalized along Juárez bus routes over the years. Since the 1990s, hundreds of young women were disappearing in Juárez: kidnapped, raped, killed, then discarded in the desert.

The murders were too widespread to attribute to any single person or group. And yet, it was worse to consider the murders for what they were: a social trend, an epiphenomenon, a case of bloody mass misogyny. Some of the city’s bus drivers are said to have been involved in the rash of murders, as they ferried lone, vulnerable women to and from the factories where they worked, at odd hours of the night and on remote, dark stretches of desert road. It was believed that the men driving these buses had ties to drug cartels, or else committed barbarities simply because they could get away with them.

Diana, Huntress of Bus Drivers, soon captured the attention of the international press, and before long local authorities were investigating. The pursuit was short-lived. It began to look like her initial email was a hoax, but even so Diana’s myth spread just the same. Her notoriety had made her real. Local residents told journalists that they admired her, that her killings were justified; some even seemed to take solace in the fact that she was out there – somewhere – meting out justice.

Keep reading: http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/sep/03/juarez-play-review-murders-life-cartel-violence

A Logo for America (The New Yorker.com)

On a recent Thursday, the Chilean conceptual artist Alfredo Jaar celebrated a homecoming of sorts in midtown Manhattan. Just shy of midnight, he stood in Times Square, surrounded by a crowd of about fifty friends and supporters. All eyes were trained south, toward a billboard on Forty-second Street, where, between 11:57 P.M. and midnight, each night for the entire month of August, Jaar’s landmark work, “A Logo for America,” is playing on repeat.

The piece débuted in 1987 on the same billboard, which at the time was just a light-bulb-studded screen. (Thirty years later, it’s a sleek digital canvas, with high-definition L.E.D. technology.) Times Square was a darker place then, “basically just a red-light district,” Jaar said; now the streets are illuminated by shimmery billboards. “A Logo for America” opens with an image of the continental United States, and across it flash the words: “This Is Not America.” The font and the graphics are pixellated, and they look primitive in the Times Square of today, but more arresting for it. An image of an American flag follows, with a second disavowal: “This Is Not America’s Flag.” The word “America” blinks on the screen, in a bigger and bigger font, either a taunt or an exhortation, until the “r” transforms into a map of the whole of the Americas—North, Central, and South. It spins like a pinwheel, and for a moment the landmass resembles a pair of eyeglasses, as if to confirm that a misunderstanding is being couched and clarified. It’s all over in less than a minute.

“A Logo for America” is upbraiding us: when we say “America” and mean the U.S., we’re claiming a geography that isn’t our own. “It would be like the French calling themselves ‘Europe,’ ” Jaar said. Coming, as it did, at the end of a period of bloody U.S. interventions in the Americas, the message of the work was barbed, and many New Yorkers in 1987 were not pleased with Jaar’s remonstrance. Most commonly, “A Logo for America” was seen as an anti-American affront, which missed, but also proved, the point.

 

Keep reading: http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/logo-america

Desperate Characters (NewYorker.com)

Andy King, a first-term city councilman from the Bronx, is a bow-tie enthusiast. He likes them in a range of colors (teal, purple, gold) and has a catholic taste for prints (dotted, striped, checkered). On the job, he wears everything from red slacks to bright yellow blazers to lime-green shirts paired with aqua khakis. One recent morning, the council member made a brief stop in Times Square, dressed in a purple shirt and matching purple horse-bit loafers.

King is finalizing a bill directed at a group he calls “costumed individuals.” These are the people, largely immigrants, who dress as Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Spider-Man, to name just a few, and pose with tourists for tips in Times Square. (Earlier this summer, I wrote about a nineteen-year-old Elmo named Virgilia Reyes.) Their ranks have swelled since the Bloomberg administration closed off parts of Times Square to car traffic, in 2011, leaving broad patches of fresh pedestrian space. Now, up to eighty costumed individuals mill around Times Square on any given afternoon.

Being a Times Square Elmo (New Yorker.com)

Last Saturday, a few blocks north of Times Square, a nineteen-year-old named Virgilia Reyes was wearing a red Elmo costume, with a drawstring bag slung across her back and an Android phone in her hand. She was moving up and down the block, and had been texting her shifting coordinates to me for half an hour. It was 4:30 P.M., and the streets were jammed with tourists. On each corner, and everywhere in between, a swarm of characters, Reyes-as-Elmo among them, tried to pose for photos with the passersby, then relieve them of a few dollars in tips.

On the median strip at Forty-fifth Street and Seventh Avenue, a woman stood naked from the waist up, her bare chest painted the colors of the Brazilian flag. Statues of Liberty, swaddled in spray-painted silver gowns and perched on stepstools, held plastic torches and called out to each other in Spanish. A man with a ponytail sold tickets to a comedy club, while guys in green vests hawked tickets for a bus tour. The crowds inched past. In the interstices of the mob were a Power Ranger, a Spider-Man, a Woody from “Toy Story,” Minnie Mouse, two Cookie Monsters, a Super Mario, Hello Kitty, two more Elmos, and a Batman.

Reyes summed them all up in a word: competition. “There are too many characters out here,” she told me. The streets were full of easy marks, but also too many hucksters. She fixed her stare on the topless Brazilian. “Who does that? I have too much respect for my body for that.”

Keep reading: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/currency/2014/06/being-a-times-square-elmo.html#slide_ss_0=1