Sohrab Ahmari spent an evening besieged by roving gangs of looters at 55th & Lex. NYC’s strict Gun Control laws, and prevailing hoplophobia, assured that he would be unarmed and defenseless.
As every parent knows, children can sleep through anything when theyâ€™re tired enough. So it was with our two kids Monday night. They snored away, oblivious to the buzz of helicopters overhead, the constant wail of sirens â€” and the distinct crack of gunshots that rang out at around 10:40 somewhere in Midtown East, where we live. Their parents, on the other hand, were bundles of racked nerves.
I went downstairs to see for myself. In the four hours that followed, I felt the insecurity of lawlessness and disorder more acutely than I ever had before â€” and Iâ€™ve filed datelines all over the Middle East, including from the front line of the Iraqi Kurdish war against the Islamic State.
But I wasnâ€™t the hero of these four hours. That role belonged to our two doormen, whom I will call Alfonso and Johnny â€” unarmed, upright, working-class people of color who were all that stood between the families in our building and the savagery of a depraved mob below.
Iâ€™d ventured out earlier, before the 11 p.m. curfew, which weâ€™d soon learn was a toothless fiction. At the corner of Lex and 55th, a few neighbors and I watched young men and a few women heading somewhere, typically in packs of four or five. A Cohenâ€™s Optical and a Verizon store were already smashed in, and some of the, er, protesters would walk through the broken glass and loot whatever struck their fancy; we avoided eye contact.
The NYPD had a presence at that corner, mind you: A regular squad car had blocked off 55th westbound, and we saw police vans going about this way and that. At one point, riot cops even got out of two of their vehicles and geared up, but then they got right back in and drove away. Not one officer confronted the ongoing looting, either because they feared being overwhelmed, I suppose, or because they had bigger fish to fry elsewhere.
They wonâ€™t come to our block, I thought. We have no sexy stores to loot.
My optimism was misplaced. When I went downstairs that second time, Alfonso looked alarmed: â€œUnless you absolutely have to go out,â€ he said, â€œplease stay inside.â€ He neednâ€™t have said anything: Instantly, I spotted more of those roving packs walking, sometimes running down our block, some heading west, some east â€” and some staying put and observing us through our glass entrance before moving on.
As I arrived, Alfonsoâ€™s shift was about to end and Johnnyâ€™s was about to begin. Johnny, it seemed, had no idea what was awaiting him. An agreement was reached: Alfonso would stay for an extra hour, partly to buck up and prep Johnny, partly because he wasnâ€™t sure it was safe for him to go home (in a different borough). I decided to stay, too.
â€œCan we lock the doors?â€ I asked.
â€œWell, sure,â€ replied Alfonso. â€œBut if they wanted, you know they can just break the glass and walk in, right?â€