As temperatures drop in September, late-night patrons of the Amsterdam Restaurant and Tapas Lounge on Amsterdam Avenue and 119th Street take shelter indoors. But, as anyone living around this street corner knows, calling the place a “tapas lounge” after 11 p.m. between Thursday and Saturday summer nights is a slap in the face to the neighborhood: Amsterdam boasts a compact, liquor-fueled nightclub downstairs. This club isn’t frequented much by the Columbia crowd, but rather by an older and louder clientele driving in from uptown in cars that could eat New York City cabs for breakfast. These clientele consume brown-bagged liquor on the sidewalk—a practice that often leads to belligerent arguments and fist fights.
July 20, 2013: Columbia Public Safety notifies us that a man was shot in the leg on Amsterdam between 119th and 120th shortly after 3 a.m.
Between the four gunshots and the time the Public Safety message arrives, I am sitting on the floor of my bedroom in an empty apartment a few feet of vertical distance above a black man in his 40s—possibly a father—lying face down and bleeding a large puddle of bright red blood out of his leg until an ambulance comes to get him. I am tired of hearing about another “non-affiliate” and pretending that “non-affiliates” live in a parallel universe.
Within a few weeks, I experience intense aversion to my apartment, and I seek therapy treatment for a stress disorder. I go through spells of panic when I hear or see police sirens. I cannot stomach walking on the east side of Amsterdam Avenue between 119th and 120th streets.
“The man was not affiliated with Columbia and was taken to St. Luke’s with non-life-threatening injuries. The shooter fled into Morningside Park. NYPD is investigating.”
Bwog quickly re-posted the message from Public Safety. Someone asked in the comments section, “Did anyone else feel that their use of ‘non-affiliate’ implied something?” In my four plus years at Columbia, “non-affiliate” has been a signal that Columbia will not further address the issue. Should it? Columbia owns the building and exercises immense power in the Morningside neighborhood. Why not use this power responsibly? The University should at the very least put pressure on the Amsterdam nightclub to vet its patrons (dress code? pat-down? strictly enforced liquor-free sidewalk?) and put pressure on requisite authorities to take away the business’ late-night liquor license, if not evict the business completely.
The nightclub is not directly at fault, but the bouncers’ indifference to regular fist fights creates an atmosphere where physical arguments supercede courtesy, logic, and law. A local resident wrote to me: “Even during the height of the crack years I’ve never witnessed firsthand such violence in my neighborhood as I have over the past few years that this nightclub has been in operation.”
Columbia “affiliates,” please choose to eat and drink elsewhere. Do it for the trauma that much of the Columbia community—student and faculty residents as well as employees of Columbia Housing—went through. And do it to protest the racial divide that ghosts the “non-affiliate” designation at Columbia. If the University is committed to opening its doors to minority scholars, it must open its eyes to the lives of minority citizens around it.
As fall begins, the conversation about the safety issues surrounding this street corner might quiet down. But unless we take action now, boozy nights, fights, and gunshots will resume with next summer’s warm weather. It is up to Columbia, Public Safety, and our neighborhood of consumers who co-fuel irresponsible businesses, to choose otherwise.
The author is a student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Her surname has been omitted to protect her safety, due to the sensitive nature of this piece.
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