Fact-checking poor reporting

Life

Apparently, the woman I captured on video the other night (from the George Floyd murder protest), throwing what I thought was a glass bottle at a stationary police van, actually threw a Molotov cocktail. (If you watch the video you can see that the bottle as it flies through the air is faintly glowing.) At the time, I had no idea that’s what happened, even though I was standing very close nearby! (Although you can see from the reaction of those even closer than me, that many people did see what the object was.)

As you can see in the video — which I shot at approximately 10:40 pm on the corner of Eastern Parkway and Washington Avenue — the bottle shatters harmlessly on the side of the van. Immediately afterward, the van then reverses on the street and four officers jump out and pursue the woman. They eventually corral her on the steps of the nearby Brooklyn Museum. Subsequent reports have listed her name as Samantha Shader, of Catskill, New York. 

Shader was initially charged with four counts of attempted murder of a police officer, attempted arson, assault on an officer, criminal possession of a weapon, and reckless endangerment.

From my perspective, it appears the case against her has been exaggerated by the police. And much of the news reporting on the incident has been shoddy — because much of the information in the reports came from police rather than reporters or eyewitnesses. For instance, multiple outlets initially blamed Shader for a totally separate incident of an unoccupied police van being set on fire in Fort Green, a different neighborhood in Brooklyn. (I live in Prospect Heights.) The oh-so-reliable Washington Times, for instance, writes, “The officers were able to quickly exit the vehicle before it became engulfed in flames.”

From my video, you can clearly see the bottle did not break any of the van’s windows, and the van certainly never caught on fire. (My wife Sari also filmed the incident, from our apartment window, and you can also see from her video that the van is unharmed.)

Other reports on the story I found last night on the web made similar claims, and errors. For instance, The Mount Pleasant Daily Voice wrote that “the four officers inside the van were able to escape as the fire broke out.”

It looks like much the misinformation can be attributed to an NYPD spokesman, Det. Brian Magoolaghan, who told Hudson Valley 360 that “the bottle shattered a window but did not explode on impact, Magoolaghan said. The four officers, who were not injured, were able to get out of the van before the firebomb exploded and van burst into flames, Magoolaghan said.”

In another example of poor reporting, the New York Daily News wrote that “An upstate woman admitted using a Molotov cocktail to set ablaze an NYPD vehicle with four officers inside. . . . At about 1:12 a.m. Saturday, Shader approached a police vehicle near the corner of Eastern Parkway and Washington Ave. and lit up a bottle containing ‘an incendiary chemical.”

So the Daily News apparently got their facts from the police affidavit, which has the time wrong by almost two-and-a-half hours. More importantly, they state that the vehicle was “set ablaze,” which it definitely was not.

To its credit, the Daily News reports that “Two other protesters are suspected of setting fire to a second police vehicle at about 12:57 a.m. Saturday near the 88th Precinct in Clinton Hill.” (Clinton Hill is adjacent to Fort Green, so sometimes the two neighborhoods are confused for each other.)

The New York Post initially wrote that Shader had set the van set ablaze and the four cops had barely escaped with their lives — but they have now changed the story to get closer to the facts (though with no record of their correction).

The N.Y. Post and Gothamist both write that the NYPD announced they were charging Shader with four counts of attempted murder, but apparently now the federal government is taking over the case, charging her with the much less serious crime of “Causing Damage by Fire and Explosives to a Police Vehicle.” I’m not sure if both cases will still proceed,  (The Gothamistpiece also gets the time wrong, saying it was at 1:12 AM — I’m assuming they got that from the police affidavit.)

The New York Times reported that “A Molotov cocktail was thrown at an occupied police van at around 1 a.m., Mr. Shea said. . . . While the firebomb Ms. Shader threw shattered a rear window of the van, the officers inside managed to jump out.” The time is wrong, and I still contend that the van’s window was not broken.

I’m not in any way trying to excuse what Shader did, but it appears — big surprise — that the case against her has been exaggerated by the police, and has been amplified by some weak reporting.

A non-narrative graphic narratives narrative

Comics, Life, Work
"Still Life" by Chris Ware

When I saw this week’s cover of The New Yorker, “Still Life,” by cartoonist Chris Ware, I was immediately reminded of a comics piece I had drawn nearly 30 years ago. Chris’ cover is a multi-panel non-narrative portrait of New York City under coronavirus lockdown. My piece, from the fall of 1991, is a multi-panel non-narrative portrait of the U.S. in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm (the first Gulf War).

Untitled by Josh Neufeld

The origins of my piece stem from a period when I was first starting to think about different ways I could use the comics form. Up to that point, pretty much all I had ever drawn were superhero-style comics, but I was losing interest in the genre and I was confused about what other possibilities there were for the form. So this piece, which is untitled, came out of that search.

The page mostly features familiar motifs of the first Gulf War era — camouflage, American flags, military helicopters — and some signs of the season — bare tree branches, fallen leaves. But it also has other more fanciful features. It’s like an impression of a certain time — in the life of the city, and in the psychology of a young man of that era.

One of the most striking similarities between the two pieces are images of New York City’s iconic skyscrapers in the page’s lower-left areas: Chris’s portrait of the illuminated Empire State Building at night, and my portrait of the towers of the World Trade Center, shrouded in fog. (If you are darkly sentimental, it’s easy to imagine those are the towers surrounded by the smoke of their own destruction on 9/11 — still some 10 years in the future.)

It just so happens that I know Chris Ware. We met in Chicago a few after I drew this piece, through a mutual friend, and our occasional get-togethers were very meaningful for me as an aspiring “alternative cartoonist.” Chris was always encouraging to me, and he taught me a lot about the practice of comics; and it was fun getting together with him and his wife Marnie.

Before you ask, he definitely never saw my non-narrative comic, and it has never been published — or until now, even publicly exhibited. I was just struck by the two piece’s superficial similarities.

(By the way, I colored the piece directly on the page with Design markers — probably the last time I ever used markers of any kind on my comics. Pre-PhotoShop!)

P.S. My very astute wife points out that Chris’s piece is very clearly NOT non-narrative (now that’s a confusing sentence). If you “read” it left-to-right, top-to-bottom, you realize that the story progresses through a day from morning to evening, and much of it is from the perspective of one person stuck in their apartment. There’s so much more to his piece than just an aspect-to-aspect series of images. Proof once again that Chris Ware is a genius!!

4th Anniversary

Life

Four years ago today, Sari & I held our commitment ceremony. We were celebrating the ten years we had already been together and formally cementing our relationship. And all because Sari had the good sense to propose to me!

I had long had an aversion to the idea of marriage, partly because my parents were so bad at it, and partly because I was offended at the idea that a religious or state institution was empowered to marry us — while at the same time preventing others (e.g., gay couples) from enjoying the same priviliges. So together Sari and I crafted a ceremony without any official endorsements, outside in a meadow (in upstate New York) with just our friends and family as officiants. And at the end we “married” ourselves.

We cobbled the ceremony together from a friend’s wedding, which was based on a secular humanist text, some other sources, and our own inventions, edits, and additions. And we were blessed by the participation of not only the 50 or so witnesses, but an amazing group of friends and family who together performed the service. We’ve since had the pleasure of attending a number of weddings which used our text as the basis for their ceremony. It would be nice to think that this type of event is taking on a life of its own.

The day of the ceremony was one of those perfect days — much like today — with temperatures in the 80s and no humidity. The sky was blue, with just a few clouds, and I’ll always remember it as one of the last truly happy days before the horrors to come. Only 16 days later, on another pefect late summer day, two planes flew into the World Trade Center.

In celebration of our fourth anniversary, I’m attaching the text of the ceremony below.

p.s. Special prize to anyone who can identify the source of our actual vows. They’re from two divergent places.

Stoopin’ Part III

Life

MILLENNIAL MADNESS

Being the third and final installment of my history of stoop/yard/garage/street/sidewalk sales, with photos, illustrations, near-disasters, psycho killers, and more.

2001 (June 9)

Brooklyn — Not even officially resettled in New York, I’m nonetheless ready to sell my junk! Fortunately, wjcohen (also relocated to Brooklyn) has just as much Jewish merchant blood as me and he’s more than willing to host the sale, which becomes our first official annual stoop sale (seeing as he’s got a stoop!). With significant others Sari and Alison (and 9-month-old baby Lila) joining the cause, we pull off a good one.

Still Stoopin’ After All These Years

Life

I’m what you’d call a dedicated stoop-seller. For the last five years I’ve had an annual sale here in Brooklyn (at my friend’s place in Cobble Hill to be exact), and I’ve had sales at many other places over the years. In fact, I may hold some kind of stoop/garage/yard/sidewalk/street sale-location record, with (in reverse order) San Francisco, Chicago, Manhattan, and San Diego also on my list.

It must be in my blood: my great-grandparents included a Turkish rug merchant and the proprietor of a Lower East Side corner store. In addition, my mother, who’s an artist, has integrated a huge traveling garage sale into her installations for more than thirty years. But whereas my mom uses the form of the garage sale to comment on the nature of art and commodification, I just love sellin’ stuff.

Believe it or not, though, it’s not the profit motive that compels me. What really jazzes me about a sale is the idea that somebody wants something — a shirt, a picture frame, an old magazine — that I no longer need. And when their eye lights on that thing and we exchange some token amount of money, we both walk away from the transaction feeling like winners. I guess this confirms something about the world, about perception and point-of-view. Eye of the beholder and all that. And I gotta admit, it doesn’t hurt to get rid of a lot of junk and have some extra change jangling around in my pocket!

(Which is also why I’m an inveterate online auctioneer. I made my first eBay sale back in 1998 and I’ve been a regular there ever since. I go through periods of obsessive selling, but I’ve pulled back a bit and only put things up when I’ve got the time, which lately isn’t very often.)

But stoop sales are what I really look forward to, the opportunity to meet your customer and make that exchange face-to-face. Being a self-employed stay-at-home type, the stoop sale is my once-a-year chance to rub shoulders with — and sell stuff to — New York’s melting pot. Even in the white yuppie stronghold of Cobble Hill, our patrons include veiled Muslim women, Latino immigrants, Caribbean truck drivers, Chinese vagrants, European tourists, and the usual allotment of grungy hipsters.

An added bonus of a good sale is the chance it offers to spend time with your friends. Recently, we’ve been doing group sales, with five, six, or more buddies, and what other opportunities are there nowadays to hang with folks for six hours? The social sphere of a sale is filled with chances to chat one-on-one, join together in a good pitch, swap clothes & junk, and dandle each other’s pets and babies. And when the day is done, the stoop is clear again, and the leftover stuff has been sent to Goodwill, there’s noting better than spending your earnings on good food and drink with the sales gang.

Being a merchant at heart, I’m not much of a stoop sale customer. Unlike Sari, who will cross the street to check out a sale, I pass ‘em by without a second look — unless a vintage comic or cheap DVD catches my eye. Otherwise, I’m strictly a seller. Which is not to say that I haven’t “stooped” to accumulating inventory purely for the purpose of re-selling it. Being an artist, I’m not averse to “finding” stuff on the street (or in a garbage can or dumpster), not to mention the odd incredible deal at a thrift or antique store. But I know this is an unhealthy practice, and I try not to let it control me. Mostly my inventory is actual my stuff that for one reason or another has become obsolete or unnecessary. And of course all those useless holiday gifts that are un-returnable or not even worth re-gifting!

So, in honor of the form, here’s a blow-by-blow list of sales I’ve taken part in, from way back in the 70s, to the hair-raising East Village of the 80s, to sprawling sales in Chicago’s Wicker Park in the 90s, all the way to this decade in (to quote fellow stooper WJC) “The Lyn of Brook”…


THAT 70s SALE

c. 1978

Anecdote

Life

This is the last time i’ll write about my finger or physical therapy:

The other day, while Mayte was working on my finger, she passed on some important knowledge. Tapping the outside of my hand, between my wrist and my pinkie, she said, “This is what boxers break.” Indicating the other side of my hand/wrist, she explained, “This is what skaters break.” Pointing to my middle finger, she told me, “This is what basketball players break.” And then, pointing to my broken finger she said, “This is what little Jewish boys break.”

OUCH!!!

Pain and Torture

Life

One of the first things my physical therapist asked me was, “You know what P.T. stands for, right?”

“Uh, ‘physical therapy’?” I quavered.

“No,” she cackled, gyrating my poor finger in all sorts of impossible directions. “’Pain and Torture’!”

And boy is she right. I thought I knew what pain meant after the ER doc re-broke my finger to get the bones back in the right place. But what I’ve been enduring — three times a week for the last three weeks — is worse, because it just goes on and on and on.