Karp's eye moved on to the seventeen other people who had been killed in Manhattan since the beginning of the year. In ten of these, an arrest had been made, and these were naturally of greater interest to him. Karp had been doing this work for over twenty years. He had been a famous homicide prosecutor, and then the chief of the homicide bureau, and now he was the chief assistant district attorney, the operational head of the entire organization. He had not, he hoped, become callous, but he had a lot to do. The murder rate had risen rocketlike in recent years in pace with the citywide crack epidemic, and one more dead baby did not appear just then as pressing a matter as the legions of teenagers then roaming New York with heavy semiautomatic weapons. But he did not forget it, not entirely. Not forgetting the slain of Manhattan was one of his major talents.
That was the first dead baby. The second dead baby was found two days later, on January 12, by a track worker on the Broadway line, just south of the Ninety-sixth Street station. It was wrapped in newspapers and stuffed in a supermarket shopping bag. The complexion of the first dead baby suggested it was Hispanic, and this one was a girl and black. The track worker had called the cops immediately. A different team of detectives arrived, and another crime scene unit arrived, who collected and tagged the newspaper wrapping and the grocery bag. Service on the Broadway line was delayed for several hours, as a result of which the second dead baby created somewhat more of a media stir than the first one had. On autopsy, the second dead baby proved to have been smothered, and thus after the usual grinding, Baby Girl Doe Number One also appeared as a homicide line on Karp's daily computer printout, along with the four other people who had been killed (all drug-related shootings) since the last time he had looked. Baby Girl Doe Number One attracted rather more of his attention than her predecessor. Karp was not a political creature -- far from it. Still, Karp understood that the New York DA's office existed in a corrosive bath of media attention, and two murdered babies in a week was perhaps unusual even for the Big Apple. He paused and made a note to give his boss, DA Jack Keegan, a heads-up, so that he would be prepared for any questions should one of the city's many journalists choose to do a bleeding-heart piece.
That note proved, in the event, somewhat de trop, because on January 17, the third dead baby appeared. The third dead baby was different, and different for reasons peculiar to New York. On the late afternoon of that day, a young man named Raul Jimenez, a communications student at the Tisch School of New York University, was walking along 112th Street near Lexington Avenue. He was working on a school assignment, which was to make a three-minute video on "animals in the city." Jimenez had grown up in this neighborhood, had avoided, more or less, the drugs, gangs, and cops, and was now rising, but rising, he felt, with an edge. The other kids were going to do pigeons, puppies, and squirrels, he figured, while he was going to do bad dogs. It had lately become fashionable among the guapos on the street to keep large, nasty dogs, pit bulls or ridgebacks or rotties. Given the average life span of this class of person, and their average level of responsibility, many of their pets were abandoned, scavenging in garbage for food, menacing people, and usually ending up gassed in the pound or shot by the police. These feral dogs of Spanish Harlem were Jimenez's subject, and the location he now gingerly approached was a burnt-out building and an adjoining vacant rubble-field, where he knew the beasts congregated.
He heard a scrabbling sound and a growling from the rubble. Slipping through a gap in the ragged chain-link fence, he advanced cautiously, holding his Panasonic VHS camcorder up to his eye. Movement. Louder growling, a real dogfight, now. He came closer, correcting the focus. A white pit bull and an emaciated, mangy young Doberman were fighting over some garbage. The Dobe retreated, snarling. Perfect, thought Jimenez, good action, the contrast between the colors of the dogs, perfect. He used the zoom to close in on the pit bull, at what the dog was eating. Bile rose in his throat, but he kept the camera going. Suddenly the Doberman lunged and grabbed a piece. That was the beauty shot. The pit bull heaved harder and trotted away with its prize, leaving just a small piece for its rival, and vanished down into the weed-grown cellar of the former tenement. Jimenez sat down on the bricks and threw up his lunch. Later that day he brought the tape to his professor, who helped him negotiate the sale to NBC and the Post. The network used a doctored version of the tape that evening, with blur zones to water down the awfulness and also on advice from legal, but the Post gave it a full front page that evening: under the headline horror! a picture of two dogs, one black, one white, tearing apart a baby in the city of New York in the last decade of the twentieth century.
Copyright © 2000 by Robert K. Tannenbaum
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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