There is, of course, every reason to be skeptical. Cumia makes a living setting up pranks and saying outrageous things, and after 20 years of doing so, it would be foolhardy for listeners, whether skeptics or enthusiastic fans, not to be looking out for the setup to some punchline.
The pictures Cumia tweeted do not exactly support his account, either, unless he is in the habit of taking pictures of scaffolding on nondescript city streets. The photo he describes as the inciting incident shows a woman who is already agitated, not caught by surprise, which might suggest some prior provocation.
And as upset as Cumia claims to be, he did not take the next logical step and call in the alleged incident. A New York Police Department spokesman checked for me and said no Anthony Cumia had filed a report for a Tuesday altercation.
But whether or not Cumia was assaulted is not actually the point. Cumia himself made sure of that when he took to Twitter in the small hours on Wednesday morning to pontificate on the state of New York and African Americans in a rant amply documented by Gawker. (Both the Gawker post and links to Cumia’s tweets that appear later in this piece contain wildly obscene and offensive language.) It is a fascinating document of a kind of thinking about crime that plays an increasing role in our policy debates and of the sensitivities of people who think they have an exclusive monopoly on the right to transgress. (Update: Per Cumia’s Twitter, he has been let go from Sirius.)
Cumia seems to believe that present-day New York is indistinguishable from the troubled metropolis of the 1970s, complaining that “It’s a jungle out in our cities after midnight. Violent savages own the streets. They all came out 2 defend this pig. I had to yell like at dogs.”
In New York City, the total number of misdemeanors fell by more than 76,000 from 2000 to 2013, and in the seven major felony categories, the number of crimes fell by more than 73,000 in the same years. There were 673 homicides in the city in 2000, and 335 in 2013. Nationally, the trends in violent crime are similar.
All this evidence to the contrary, the belief that Cumia expressed here, that the United States remains crime-ridden and risks descending into utter lawlessness, is fairly common. It showed up among lawmakers and witnesses alike at a Senate hearing on gun control last year.
I would say I feel sorry for anyone who lives in a state of such pervasive fear in defiance of the facts if their terror did not have such terrible consequences for their fellow citizens. Cumia bragged that he is different from people like Michael Dunn, who shot Jordan Davis, an unarmed teenager. He suggested that he had shown self-control when the unnamed woman allegedly turned on him, saying that “If I was an illegal savage I’d have shot her,” but that did not stop him from noting in the same tweet and repeatedly thereafter that “I hope she gets killed.”
To Cumia, his alleged experience is proof of African American pathology. He accused the woman in question of being a “savage violent animal” who takes advantage of white people and criticized black men who he says stepped up to defend her. “The automatic jump to violence in that community is astounding. No discussion. It’s start punching at the least little thing. Uncivilized!!” he wrote. “There’s a deep seeded problem with violence in the black community. Try to address it and you’ll be exiled to racistville. But it’s real.”
What makes these sorts of sentiments almost as ridiculous as they are deplorable is that Cumia and his broadcast partner Gregg Hughes have spent 20 years in radio using comedy as cover for cruelty and attacks on what other people might see as civilized values.
These are the sorts of guys who convinced Boston that the city’s mayor had died suddenly. They convinced a listener who needed money that he had won a financially lucrative contest, then revealed that they were giving him a candy bar. Hughes and Cumia took advantage of a homeless man, broadcasting him saying sexually outrageous things about prominent women. And their once-regular contest to reward listeners for performing sex acts in public places got them fired from one gig when a couple did the deed in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Cumia and Hughes broadcast running commentary.
Whatever setbacks they have encountered, Cumia and Hughes’s campaign against people and values they perceive as square has generally propelled them up in the professional world, from local talk radio to national syndication. It is rich — and revealing — that when Cumia decides to draw a line, it is a racial one.
Apparently, it is fine for comedians to do whatever they want. But if a woman objects to having her picture taken at random on a public street, she is a crazed feminist making unreasonable demands and using sexual harassment as a cover for all sorts of unreasonable behavior. And if black men step up when a black woman is the target of racial and sexual slurs, now that is just too transgressive.