[The above photo has been altered so as not to disturb readers who prefer not to see the color photo. You can scroll down to the bottom of this article to see the unaltered photo.]
A strange and somewhat disturbing sight on Ditmas Avenue in the Kensington neighborhood this morning led to an even stranger exchange concerning the role of journalists in the age of President Donald Trump.
It all began with a Facebook post by Matt Carman on a local Kensington closed group page at around 7:00 am on Monday, March 6.
“There’s a butchered animal head (Pig? Large goat? Hard to tell.) sitting on top of one of the posts next to the fire hydrant on the south side of Ditmas Ave between E 4th and E 5th,” Carman wrote. “I submitted a Dead Animal in Public Place report to 311, and they say they’ll respond in up to 10 days, which seems like a long time for a disembodied head to just sit there, but what do I know, I’m no Lord of the Flies.”
Responding as a concerned neighbor rather than a journalist, I drove to the block Carman described in order to photograph the animal head and put in another call to 311.
Ditmas Avenue is well-trafficked on weekday mornings, filled with commuters as well as young children on the way to school. Surely, this would be an upsetting sight to some. My hope was that additional phone calls would add pressure to remove the nuisance. I was shocked by the 10-day response noted by Carman.
At approximately 8:20 am, I parked at Ditmas Avenue in front of the CVS at East 4th Street and walked across Ditmas Avenue to take several photos of the animal head. The head rested on the top of a short metal pole, about the height of the fire hydrant immediately next to it. Carman’s reference to William Golding’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies was indeed accurate.
I walked back to my car across the street to call 311 and report the incident as well as to ask if I could email them the photo.
While dialing the number, I noticed an older man was approaching the head. He lifted the carcass with his bare hands and awkwardly placed it inside a large, plastic garbage bag.
I rolled down the window to ask him if he knew who placed the carcass there. The man then called out in Russian across the street in my direction. It was unclear if he were speaking directly to me.
I was in the midst of pressing the correct numbers on my phone to get to a live 311 operator when another man rapped hard against my passenger-side window. He gestured at me to roll the window down. The street was busy and I didn’t feel threatened by him.
“Give me your phone,” the man said. “You are not allowed to take photos.”
I identified myself as a journalist, explaining that taking a photograph on a public street was legal and he could not have my phone. He placed his hand a few inches inside the car through my open window, however, he did not try to remove the phone, which I was holding in my left hand.
“You cannot use that photo in a newspaper,” the man said.
“I wasn’t planning to, but it is perfectly legal to do so,” I responded.
“Trump is President,” he responded. “You can’t do what you want anymore.”
I paused for a moment, flabbergasted by his statement, and how my action to avoid a nuisance for the neighborhood had suddenly been politicized.
“Trump will find out,” he added. “He will.”
I launched into journalist mode, asking if he could tell me who placed the animal head on the street. He shook his head — seemingly annoyed by my question — and began walking towards East 4th Street. He turned right and walked towards Cortelyou Road.
I turned to notice the man with the garbage bag that contained the head. He made a left at East 4th Street towards Avenue F.
Two hours into my workday, a news story materialized a few short blocks from my home. I thought about President Donald Trump’s comments, the normalization of the term “fake news,” and his references to journalists as the “enemy of the people.”
I suppose I could have driven or walked down East 4th Street to catch up with the man. Beyond a political argument, I’m not sure I’d find out why the animal head was placed on that pole.
But strangely, my goal was achieved. The gruesome site was gone.
And my day as a journalist had just begun.