An Ode to New York

I’m generally interested in writing about issues that I believe are pressing concerns for our generation. However, for a change I felt like writing an altogether more upbeat and personal post this week about a very positive and formative experience in my life. Living in New York.

New York has certainly had its share of problems over the years. From being one of the most dangerous cities in the world, through to suffering the tragedy of 9/11 it has been through a lot as a city. And it still has its fair share of problems, from huge disparities of wealth, to significant levels of homelessness, and poor healthcare provision. Yet somehow, despite all this, it has emerged as, what I believe to be, the best living example, of a truly global and multicultural city, on the face of this planet. So what is it that makes New York tick in the way it does? And on a personal note why did I fall so head over heels in love with it?

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A vicious cycle of degradation: America’s prison problem and its ‘war on drugs’

25% of the world’s prison population are housed in America, a country with 5% of the world’s population. It has the largest prison population in the world as well as the highest incarceration rate other than the Seychelles. The incarceration rate of 707 per 100,000 inhabitants is close to 5 times the rate of the UK while the prison population of more than 2.2m, is nearly 600,000 higher than China, a country more than 4 times it’s size. Add to this the 4.8m people on parole or probation and the result is that 2.9% of the US adult resident population (or the entire population of Hong Kong) is under correctional supervision.

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Race and policing in America – Not so black and white… or is it?

An officer in Cleveland was acquitted of manslaughter last week despite firing 49 shots at an unarmed couple in their car. Even without knowing all the facts, there is something in that statement that just shouldn’t sit well with any reasonable human being. Add in the context that the policeman was white and the victims black and this starts to feel all too like a number of other cases in the public eye in recent months. The case of unarmed citizen Eric Garner for example who died after being held in a chokehold by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo despite repeating the phrase now synonymous with this broader issue “I can’t breathe” 11 times. Or the case of the John Crawford III who was shot and killed without warning by police in a Wal Mart in Ohio for picking up an unloaded air rifle off the shelves of that same store. And in this case Melissa Williams and Timothy Russell two unarmed civilians who were shot at 137 times by police, 49 of which were from the gun of officer Michael Brelo whose job it should be to protect them as US citizens.

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Britain – no longer a haven for human rights?

So I intended to mostly focus on US current affairs with this blog, since that’s where i’m living and it felt like I might have a more interesting perspective as a foreigner. However, the announcement by the new Conservative government in the UK last week regarding the potential repealment of the Human Rights Act (HRA) left me speechless. And so ironically I felt compelled to write about it.

When it comes to human rights, as a Brit, there are many events and times in our chequered history that represent, colossal sized blemishes. During the heights of imperialism the way we treated inhabitants of the countries we colonised was nothing less than despicable. While not to excuse any of this behaviour it also has to be understood within the context of its time. The world in general pre-1900s was one of attrition, nationalism, racism, and intolerance. However, in the latter half of the 20th century huge strides have been made towards establishing basic universal human rights and by this time Britain was at the forefront of helping to institute these. After being one of the first countries to stand up to the atrocities of Nazi Germany, in the years ensuing that catastrophic war it was pivotal in the establishment of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR was drafted by the Council of Europe, led by British MP and lawyer Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, as a way to prevent the types of atrocities from WWII from ever happening again.

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Reclaiming the American Dream

I never studied American history at school. I suspect this may have been in part due to  the bias of the UK education system towards historical events where Britain came out ‘on top’, whatever that means. But I digress. Anyway, from what I do know, America is a country that was built by immigrants and entrepreneurs. Immigrants it seems have an outsized propensity to become entrepreneurs. This is no doubt due to the fact that there is something innately entrepreneurial about someone that chooses to leave their home to start afresh in a new country. And so it was in America, immigrants came, swiftly became Americans and with this entrepreneurial spirit ensured rapid economic development and significant individual wealth creation. This is the massively condensed version of course. But the ethos of hard work accompanied by a lack of social constructs impeding socio-economic mobility is what became known as the American Dream.

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Starting out

Despite being an avid consumer of content I had never thought of becoming a creator of it myself until now. I had always felt that I had nothing to say of interest to others and that I lacked any area of particular knowledge and most of all I think I saw the practice as being rather “American”. I realise that to generalise (and yes I do intend to use UK spelling throughout) any practice as being common to nearly 320m people of almost every race, religion, and background is misguided in the extreme. However, it is exactly these types of preconceptions, that moving to New York, helped me to cast aside.

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