The ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ Bank Robbery, 50 Years Ago Today
Good morning. It’s Monday. We’ll look at racial disparities in monkeypox vaccines, which have disproportionately gone to people with better access to the health care system. But first we’ll look back to 1972 and the “Dog Day Afternoon” heist in Brooklyn.
Credit…Larry C. Morris/The New York Times
Ralph Aiello says he stumbled upon the “Dog Day Afternoon” robbery by phone, not that he knew that was what he had stumbled upon. All he knew was the manager of the bank branch on Avenue P in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn did not sound right.
It was Aug. 22, 1972 — 50 years ago today. Aiello was an official of the Chase Manhattan Bank involved in overseeing a group of tellers who could be shifted from an almost empty branch to one with a crush of customers. He wanted one teller, Kathy Amore, to go to another branch and called Robert Barrett, the manager on Avenue P.
“When I got Bob on the phone,” Aiello, now 77, said last week, “it was ‘Oh, Ralph, it’s so nice to hear from you.’ Out of character.”
“I said, ‘Bob, I need to move Kathy Amore over to Avenue M,’” Aiello recalled. “He said, ‘Oh, Ralph, what a lovely young lady.’ Again, out of character for Bob. ‘I am so pleased to have had her work in my branch.’ Now, he’d never said that about anybody.”
“I asked him, ‘Bob, are you having a problem at the branch?’” Aiello said. Barrett replied: “Yes, very much so, Ralph, and have a nice day.”
Aiello said he immediately called Chase’s corporate security office, and someone there called the police.
The heist was a crime of passion dreamed up by John Wojtowicz, who wanted money to pay for a sex-change operation for Ernest Aron, whom he called his wife. Aron eventually became Elizabeth D. Eden, thanks in part to money from selling rights to his story to “Dog Day Afternoon,” which became one of the movies that defined New York in the 1970s — gritty and desperate.
Aiello said he went to Avenue P with photographs of the employees whom the robbers had taken hostage. He said last week that he waited through the night as the police took Wojtowicz and an accomplice to Kennedy International Airport in a limousine with one of the bank employees.
Wojtowicz had demanded a plane to take them out of the country. He had apparently piled into the limo without realizing that the driver was an F.B.I. agent who, after parking near the runway at J.F.K., shot the accomplice. The 14-hour siege ended with the authorities taking Wojtowicz into custody.
“Dog Day Afternoon” was acclaimed by almost everyone but Wojtowicz, who called it “in essence a piece of garbage” soon after its release in 1975.
His complaints were offset by his praise of Sidney Lumet’s directing and Al Pacino’s performance as Sonny Wortzik, the character based on him. “For almost two hours he was just fantastic,” Wojtowicz wrote of Pacino. “He made me laugh, cry, sweat and feel uncomfortable at times, all in one movie.”
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The racial disparities in monkeypox vaccine distribution
Last week, in a dismaying repeat of the early days of Covid-19, New York City released data that pointed to sharp racial disparities in access to monkeypox vaccines. I asked my colleague Liam Stack, who’s been following this story, to explain what happened and why.
What did the data show?
The big takeaway here is that Black New Yorkers are not getting access to nearly as many vaccine doses as they should. Black people make up 31 percent of the at-risk population, but they have only received 12 percent of the vaccine doses that have so far been given out.
No other racial group is really being underserved in that way.
Monkeypox vaccines have largely been given out on a first-come, first-served basis. Has that contributed to the problem?
Yes. The very first day of the vaccination effort was like a textbook case of what not to do: The city announced, in the middle of the day on a weekday, that vaccines would be available at one clinic starting 30 minutes later. It was immediately mobbed and began turning people away after an hour and a half. The people who were able to go there were overwhelmingly white and had the kinds of white-collar jobs that let them take a break in the middle of the day to go stand in line for a shot.
That provided a taste of what the next several weeks would be like. Vaccine appointments were doled out every few days through an online sign-up system that repeatedly crashed, and the availability of new slots was announced on Twitter. That made it more likely that appointments would go to people who spend time online — who tend to be people with higher-income jobs with flexible schedules.
That led to scenes like one that played out frequently at a vaccine site in Harlem. The people who lined up for doses there were mostly white and overwhelmingly from outside the neighborhood.
In the last few weeks the city begun giving priority to high-risk patients and giving vaccine doses directly to community health organizations.
Recently the federal government said the vaccine could be administered in a way that reduces the amount of vaccine in each dose. Why is New York making the change to the new method gradually?
The new vaccination method is controversial. One activist called it “a cheap accounting trick.”
The federal government had been looking for a way to make the most of the relatively small amount of vaccine available. That’s where this new method came in. Shots are usually given by injecting a full dose into the layer of fat beneath the skin. Federal health officials now want providers to inject one-fifth as much between the layers.
The Biden administration, which has been criticized for not responding more aggressively to the outbreak, is so committed to this new protocol that the White House said last week it would send 1.8 million vaccine doses to cities and states that had agreed to adopt it.
New York City will not get any of them, because it is not vaccinating people this way.
Dr. Ashwin Vasan, the New York City health commissioner, told us that the city needs time to talk to community groups and train health care providers in how to do it.
Is the monkeypox virus spreading as fast as it was a few weeks ago?
No. Between late May and late July, the city was seeing between 60 and 70 new monkeypox cases every day. Lately, we’re seeing an average of 54 new cases each day.
The big question marks are how many cases are going unreported, where are they and how will that affect the outbreak going forward.
The city is trying to get ahead of those potential problems. Officials said last week that they would provide $5 million in grants to community groups in low-income neighborhoods to promote vaccination.
How to say it
It was sometime in the mid-1980s, and I was at a rather pretentious specialty-food shop in Midtown. As I waited on the prepared food line, I noticed a well-dressed man behind me.
When it was my turn, I said I wanted a pound of the “porseeny” ravioli.
As the person at the counter prepared my order, the well-dressed man tapped me on the arm.
“Excuse me,” he said, “but in Italian, it’s pronounced ‘por-chee-knee.’”
I thanked him for correcting my error, took my package and was turning to leave when I heard him order four pieces of the “jal-o-peeno” cornbread.
I turned around and tapped him on the arm.
“Excuse me,” I said, “but in Spanish, it’s pronounced ‘hal-eh-pen-yo.’”
— Jerry Wolbert
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected]