Columbus Circle is a relatively safe place. But it might be frequented by drug sellers selling to white clients who don’t dare go into the ‘hood. I know that used to be common in Washington Square. So, it sounds more like a quarrel between drug gangs than anything else. Some gang trying to invade another gang’s sell spot.
Columbus Circle is one of the safest places in the city, after St Patrick’s Cathedral and the Metropolitan Museum. The Time Warner building is there, with dozens of upscale restaurants and stores and Whole Foods, and it’s on the corner of Central Park South where the horses and carriages take tourists on rides through the park. It is always active and jammed with both locals and tourists. It is not a place where drugs are sold.
Or, just where the guy happened to catch up with his target.