Here’s a story that bubbled up in the New York tabloids and local TV news a few days ago but didn’t make it any further. That’s because as incidents of police brutality go, the two shots fired into the legs of construction worker Talwinder Singh by off-duty NYPD officer Quillian Virgil don’t really seem, on current evidence, to be that egregious an abuse. In fact it seems that brother Talwinder (pictured, via NY Daily News) may well have put himself in position to get hurt through a series of frankly bizarre actions.
“OFF-DUTY COP SHOOTS ENRAGED PURSUER IN QUEENS,” blared the New York Post, making clear who it thinks was the victim in the confrontation that led to the shots being fired, near the corner of 103rd Avenue and 116th Street in Ozone Park, which in that stretch is heavily desi — Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Indo-Caribbeans from Guyana and Trinidad. (According to the 2000 census, the three census tracts that abut that particular corner are nearly one-third “Asian” — which around here means desi, with another 18% classified as “two or more races;” the foreign-born population is nearly 65%. In other words typical outer-borough New York, with these trends likely to have only accelerated since the census was taken.)
Anyway, piecing together the info — the Daily News has the fullest article — it seems that Talwinder Singh had already once thrown a brick through Sgt. Virgil’s home window before returning last Friday evening for more mischief. Apparently Talwinder had a metal exercise bar — one of these joints, specifically — and was using it to smash the sergeant’s screen door. Alerted by his wife, Virgil got out of bed and stepped outside to find Singh wilding out. The papers say Singh then pursued Virgil down the block and at some point Virgil stopped, turned, and told Singh to drop the metal bar. The reports say Singh then lunged at Virgil, who then shot him in the legs to immobilize him.
Without endorsing any particular version of events, the whole story seems a bit… unhinged. I mean, who goes and vandalizes a police officer’s house — repeatedly? There has to be some other dimension and the tabloids are happy to provide it:
Talwinder Singh, 20, reportedly was sneaking up to see his landlord’s wife, and neighbor Sgt. Quillian Virgil informed the husband, the source said.
Aha! The love interest! It’s alleged that the landlord then consulted Virgil for advice about how to evict the young rascal. Talwinder got wind of this and decided to go for revenge. Now the landlords haven’t been named so we don’t know if they’re desi — a good chance they are, but it’s piquant either way. However lips are sealed:
The landlord’s wife wasn’t talking about the man who lives one floor beneath her in a basement apartment.
“I have nothing to say,” she told reporters at the 116th St. home yesterday. “Nothing.”
Meanwhile the peanut gallery is weighing in:
Some neighbors described Talwinder Singh, a construction worker, as a troublemaker.
“These fellas were always drinking and fighting,” Nazimudin Mohamed, 47, said of Talwinder Singh and his relatives. “I knew something was going to happen.”
Talwinder was taken to Jamaica Hospital and charged with a variety of offenses. Internal Affairs is investigating Virgil’s side of the story. Again, we’ll see how it all shakes out but what I dig about this story is how archetypal it is, with respect to characters, motive and dÃ©nouement. You could take out the desi names and put in Italian, Irish or Greek ones and you’d have an American urban story from a previous wave of immigration and settlement. Or you could keep the characters and change the setting to London, for instance, and it would work the same way. It’s confirmation that there are some constants in metropolitan life, and, perhaps, of that old writer’s saw that claims there are only four plots in human affairs, and all stories are merely variations. Continue reading →