New York City is the head of the American social body. From Gotham the signals flow; what is important, what is cool, how to live. In the late 1960 s, New York embraced crime and drug addiction and abandoned its social spaces to crime and criminals; America did the same. The South Bronx burned, Harlem overdosed, and Brooklyn was ruled by the knives and bicycle chains of feral gangs. Then it got worse. The Mafia poured tons of China White onto the street and 13 year old warlords peddled vials of cocaine to passing cars. The media, and our own memories, present us only with a photo album of these times; an incident here, and incident there; the 77 Blackout, Bernie Goetz, crack heads, John Gotti.
Streets of New York brings the fragments of New York s social unraveling circa 1970-1990 into a contiguous form, so that we may inspect it for clues about how we may more precisely control the social order in all of our cities. The documentary subtly explores issues of race, and the media prism that separates criminal events into levels of importance by geography and social standing of criminals and victims. A treasure of archival television footage was unearthed to catalogue such phenomena as the Devil s Rebels gang terrorizing Bushwick Brooklyn in 1976, police involvement in Harlem s heroin trade, crack users getting high on camera, the worst mass murder in recent New York history, and the implementation of Rudy Giuliani s Compstat program in the War on Crime. Eleven New Yorkers talk about their own experiences from the streets to Riker s Island. We follow NoNo, a former gang member from 70 s era Sunset Park, Brooklyn, from being stabbed in a pizzeria at age 11 to crossing paths with the Son of Sam in prison; noted rapper Thirstin Howl III (former partner of Eminem) from his days robbing people for their coats in Times Square to starring on MTV s Lyricist Lounge television show in the late 90 s; and the best friend of the infamous Pistol Pete Rollack tells us how the Soundview section of the Bronx still has the cloud of death and prison hanging over it to this day. The tales of crime are placed within the larger socio-economic context of ethnicity, gentrification, and politics, through unique statistics and visual elements.