Neither Bullets Nor Blades

Photo: Alamy

John McGuire has been working as a paramedic in Brooklyn for almost a decade, shuttling his ambulance 38-Tom (Nice and Smooth, he and partner Josh Bucklan sometimes call it) through the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods, places like East New York and Brownsville. As a first responder, he has been witness to not only gruesome scenes, like on one of Bucklan’s first days on the job, when he called out to McGuire “You got to see this,” after they picked up a guy who had been shot in the cheek and had the bullet careen down through his mouth and leave a hole in his tongue. Apart from the gory stuff, there’s the heartbreaking: say, attending to a victim inside an apartment, then hearing knocks on the door from other people in the housing complex looking to score drugs.

Two weeks ago, on Monday, ­November 26, McGuire and Bucklan had one of their strangest days of work ever, though they didn’t know it at first. For their entire shift, they did not respond to a single shooting, stabbing, or slashing. In fact, from that Sunday night at 10:25 to Tuesday at 11:20 in the morning, the police department did not record any incidents of those three major crimes. Across the entire city. Among some 9 million people (not counting tourists and commuters). Peace at last. Peace for 37 full hours.

The absence of such violence in a city so big and so historically defined by its crime—its Mafia dons, Tammany henchman, Law & Order spin­offs, and so on—was touted as a major moral achievement. The great promise of the Great Pause is that if it could happen one day, it might happen on another. But the reality is that less bloodshed doesn’t mean guys like McGuire and Bucklan are less busy. During the Great Pause, they had to handle so many calls that they didn’t realize that none were for a bullet through a leg (“Most people don’t get shot in the face because most people who shoot can’t aim,” he says) or a razor slash across a cheek.

On a cloudy afternoon last week, waiting for the next call with Bucklan in a McDonald’s parking lot deep in Brooklyn, McGuire pulls out a sheet with the ambulance’s stats from November 26. “Mondays are usually busy,” he explains. “People think hospitals are busy on the weekends, so they wait and call on Monday. We always get a kid who doesn’t want to take a test or something, says he’s too sick. We go out on that.” McGuire looks down at the paper and reads the numbers. “Business was booming,” he says. “Normally, we do 3,500 calls on a Monday—we’d passed that by 9:30 p.m.” He remembered helping an elderly woman with breathing problems, an older guy who claimed he was having a seizure (turns out he was really just drunk), and having a turkey sandwich for dinner at a deli across from a hospital.

McGuire is not a criminologist. But eight years patching up gunshot wounds has given him a perspective on things. The violence he’s seen is so hard to make sense of that some of it will always elude even the most methodical efforts to stop it. Just a few hours ago, a call had come over the radio for a triple shooting. It reminded McGuire of another triple shooting they’d once responded to at the building where they’d done their last pick-up. “This was at 10:45 in the freakin’ morning! These people aren’t sleeping in,” he said. Soon enough the radio crackled, and Nice and Smooth was off again.

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Neither Bullets Nor Blades