The NYPD's Night Out Against Crime in Union Square last night promised a "neighborhood block party," but a party, it failed to deliver. The annual event, celebrated by police precincts nationwide to "strengthen neighborhood spirit and heighten drug and crime prevention awareness," was entirely overwhelmed by ordinary Union Square traffic, and no one-the NYPD least of all-seemed to mind. In fact, I might not even have found the event had it not been for the two NYPD shirts meandering in the vicinity. Rather than connecting with the public in any real or symbolic way, two police booths were cordoned literally behind a steel barricade, out of the way of general Square merriment. At the FBI booth, a woman who gave the name Dinah, handed me a coloring book and various pamphlets geared toward children, including one on "how to spot a terrorist." "Do you have kids," she asked, and when I replied that I did not, she said: "What about nieces and nephews?" as she continued to pile the cartoonish pamphlets into my hands. I asked Dinah if she could talk me through the purpose of the event, but as I reached for a notebook she stopped. "You're not going to take notes, are you?" she asked. Two girls with braces at one NYPD table (the other was abandoned) encouraged me to take more pamphlets, as they fumbled for an explanation for why they were there. A police officer ate a hot dog nearby and struggled to stay out of people's way. Finally I was directed to an NYPD spokesperson. "Can you tell me what this event is about?" I asked. She replied, as the woman next to her poured butter into the popcorn popper, it was a nationwide event with the intent of showing community members police departments were serious about crime prevention. "So it's about building relations between the NYPD and community members?" I asked. "Yes," she said. "Do you feel these relations have been suffering lately?" "I'm not going to answer that," she said. I asked if she would provide me her name. "No, I will not," she said, covering what I presume was a name badge. The friendly faces I encountered at the renewable energy table were a welcome relief. "Please, talk to me," I said, as I dropped my stack of pamphlets onto their table. After they recited their congenial spiel, I asked what they were doing at the NYPD Night Out Against Crime event, squeezed between a Jamba Juice booth and one hawking keychains. "We just sort of show up to events like these," they said. "We don't really know what this is about." Confusion seemed to be the ambiance of the day. At the Starbucks table-an added perk of the event was the NYPD's stated desire to "connect with local businesses"-a man stood behind a spread of iced beverages. "Yes," he said, seemingly exasperated, as I approached, in the voice of someone tired of being the main attraction for all the wrong reasons. "Yes, yes, yes, before you even ask." I sheepishly grabbed a complimentary iced coffee and booked it out of Union Square. As I left the area, a man stopped me. "Hey, are they giving away free iced coffee?" he asked, indicating the small blur of blue tents. Foxreports six people were shot in NYC on National Night Out, putting a damper on the night's success.
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