Archive for July, 2007

NYC public housing: a shambles in need of fixing

the CVH public housing tour

Many low-income people in NYC rely on public housing as one of the few sources of affordable housing available to them in this city of sky-rocketing rents. However, the conditions in public housing are often sub-par, with poor maintenance and major repairs left undone for years. These conditions are threatening to get worse, even while residents are forced to pay higher rents.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which runs public housing, is facing a budget deficit of $225 million, largely due to major funding cuts from the federal and state governments. NYCHA has been scrambling to make up for this deficit, but most of the measures that it’s taking wind up hurting the residents of public housing: rent increases, additional fees charged for basic household appliances, delays in making urgent and essential repairs, and the planned layoff of more than 500 workers from an already understaffed agency.

Last Thursday, Community Voices Heard, a member-led grassroots organization of low-income New Yorkers, led housing advocates and elected officials on a tour of public housing developments to show them just how important it is that NYCHA gets much-needed funding (and utilizes it well, of course – just because the money’s there doesn’t mean it’ll be used right.)

In one apartment on the the tour, a bathroom wall had been left without repairs for two years; a sheet of plastic has been hung over a gaping hole, leaving pipes and hazardous materials exposed. In another building, the walls of a fire-damaged hallway have not been cleaned for over a year. Residents complained of stoves that haven’t worked for ages, one of which was removed two years ago because of a gas leak and not replaced until last week, when the media contacted NYCHA after the CVH tour.

Agnes Rivera, a CVH leader and a resident of one of the housing developments, spoke of the worsening situation in public housing and how important this housing can be:

We are bringing our elected officials on this tour to show them that our housing is deteriorating. The Housing Authority doesn’t have the money to make the repairs that the families living in public housing need…

I was in the shelter system, due to a domestic violence situation, and was lucky to have public housing as my safe haven. Public housing has helped me live in an affordable home and to afford sending my children to college. My children want to be able to afford the same things for their children.

At the press conference after the tour, CVH and their allies called for Governor Spitzer to sign the shelter allowance bill (S.4329/A.7905) which recently passed both houses of the New York State legislature and could add $47 million to NYCHA’s suffering budget. The bill would make the state’s contribution to NYCHA for residents receiving public assistance the same as the state’s current contribution to private landlords who house public assistance recipients. Coucilmember Rosie Mendez was among those calling on Spitzer to sign the bill:

There is no explanation for public housing authorities receiving less than half the payment private landlords receive for the same size apartment. I urge the Governor to sign the bill and avert the unthinkable consequence that NYCHA is financially unable to continue to provide quality, low-cost housing for New Yorkers that are least able to afford shelter in our city’s overheated private housing market.

Now, maybe Governor Spitzer is a little distracted by the whole Bruno debacle, but his attention needs to be drawn back to signing this crucial bill. Despite our capitalistic society that gives to each according to cash instead of need, public housing should not equal sub-standard housing for low-income people. Email, write to, or call Governor Spitzer to demand his prompt signature of the bill so that the much-needed funding can soon reach NYCHA and ultimately public housing residents.

Second Annual New York Gender Equality Festival

Girls for Gender Equity, the organization that I mentioned in my recent post on street harassment, is organizing the Second Annual New York Gender Equality Festival this Saturday, July 28, from 11am to 6pm in Von King Park in Brooklyn. From their site: “Featuring performances by artists including singer/songwriter Pamela Means, hip hop artist Carlethal, Women’s Project theater group, and spoken word poets Urban Word NYC, the Gender Equality Festival is a free public event for education, networking, resource sharing, community interaction, arts and recreation that is open to New Yorkers of all ages and genders.” Check out the GGE site linked above for more info.

NYC Queer and Trans Youth of Color – Know Your Rights!

FIERCE! is offering an awesome training (details below) at their office this Friday. While FIERCE! is an organization for queer and trans youth of color, their FIERCE Friday events (like this one) are open to all allies. Trainings like these are important because the cops most definitely take advantage of folks not knowing their rights when it comes to dealing with the police. It’s hard to know how to deal with a cop, especially when you already feel targeted and vulnerable because of your age, your race, your sexuality, your gender, your class. Hopefully this training will help folks understand what rights they do have in such situations (not to say that some cops won’t completely disregard those rights anyway, but still.)

Queer and Trans Youth of Color: Do You Know How to Talk to the Cops When They Start Talking to YOU?

No, really? Do you?

You have the right to learn your rights when dealing with encounters with police. FIERCE is offering KNOW YOUR RIGHTS training and self-defense workshop on FRIDAY the 27th

Where: FIERCE Office 147 W. 24th Street. 6th Floor;(Right by Paws on Chelsea)
Take the F/1/C/E to 23rd street.

When: FIERCE FRIDAY!!! July 27th from 600-800pm

Allies Welcome

More info: 646-336-6789 x203

Louisiana’s fashion police

Several parishes (like the counties, not the Catholic congregations) in Louisiana have banned saggy pants, clothes that leave underwear exposed, and “dress not becoming to his or her sex.” Parishes are proposing fines up to $500 and even jail time for violators of the new laws, which may yet be unenforceable since they’re most likely unconstitutional.

Of course, the numbskulls who support this legislation have already started with the cries of “we’re not racist!”:

Despite concern that enforcement could result in racial profiling, supporters of the ban insisted that the dress code would be applied uniformly.

[Lafourche Council member] Toups argued that this isn’t a black and white issue but said he sees the ban as opportunity to put parents and grandparent back in charge.

“If you are Canadian, Serbian, or Afghan and your pants are hanging low, it doesn’t matter what color you are. We will ticket or arrest you,” Young of Pointe Coupee said.

Oh, that’s comforting. A fashion style that’s typically associated with (though certainly not limited to) Black folks and other people of color is banned, but it has nothing at all to do with race! Next, dreads and cornrows will be banned, but you know, some white folks have those, too. The law will be applied uniformly to any Black folks and folks trying to dress like Black folks! Can’t have those white folks trying to imitate Black people, you know.

However, the part of all of this that I find to be really chilling, personally, is “dress not becoming to his or her sex.” Um, what? Does this mean that people can’t wear clothing that’s typically designated to be worn by a person of the sex to which they weren’t assigned? Man, remind me never to visit those parishes in Louisiana or I will be screwed. KatRose at Pam’s House Blend says that a representative from one of the towns appeared on MSNBC and said that the law wouldn’t be used that way. But, like KatRose, I’m not really willing to buy that. The law will be on the books as such and I don’t see that much is going to stop people from applying it in a way that cracks down on people who aren’t conforming to their assigned gender roles. As if trans and gender non-conforming people aren’t vulnerable enough.

Race, class, and street harassment

So, I have to admit – I was a little nervous when posting about street harassment the other day. I was really eager to open up the conversation, especially because it was focused on a queer/gender non-conforming/trans experience and perspective that I’m not used to hearing. But I was also worried about certain dynamics that tend to surface during these conversations, namely dynamics of race and class.

While women and other gender underprivileged folks of all races, ethnicities, and classes can and often do experience street harassment, the voices that I usually hear in these discussions are most often of women with either race or class privilege. This is not unique to conversations about street harassment: most larger conversations are dominated by the voices with the most privilege. In conversations about street harassment, though, this has an interesting and profound effect, as you’ll often have some very complex and conflicting power dynamics going on: men exerting their gender privilege and sexism over women who have class and/or race privilege over them.

Continue reading ‘Race, class, and street harassment’

Gender/queerness and street harassment

Yesterday morning I listened to a segment on the Brian Lehrer show about street harassment (cat-calling) in NYC. Lehrer interviewed three women: Latosha Belton and Ashley Lewis, two Brooklyn teenagers who worked with Girls for Gender Equity to create “Sisters in Strength Strikes Back: Our Struggle with Street Harassment,” a city-wide summit this past May; and Maggie Hadleigh-West, maker of the anti-street-harassment film War Zone.

The three women talked about their extensive experiences with street harassment directed at them from men of all ages. Ashley Lewis described how she feels like her new way of responding to street harassers is better than staying silent:

The approach I’m taking now, I feel like it’s better ’cause I’ll ask a man something, “Do you really think it’s appropriate to come at me in the street?” And they’re so taken aback by the question that they’re stunned, they don’t know what to say. So instead of answering it, they kind of walk away from me, so it kind of helps.

Hearing that, I couldn’t help worry that the girls would encounter some men who would do far more and far worse than run away. Continue reading ‘Gender/queerness and street harassment’

Rugby: officially the most hardcore sport in the world

Well, I always knew that rugby was pretty hardcore*. That’s part of why I’ll always watch it if I get to change to (which is infrequently) and why I wanted to play for a while in college (except I was quite out of shape and super over-committed to campus activism.) But this just takes it to a whole new level. From

Rugby player Ben Czislowski kept competing for more than three months despite the headaches that started after a clash with an opponent…

“I’ve got the tooth at home, sitting on the bedside table,” he said. “If he [Matt Austin, the player to whom the tooth originally belonged] wants it back he can have it. I’m keeping it at the moment as proof that it actually happened.”

* That is, of course, if we measure hardcore-ness by the level of recklessness, violence, and likelihood of getting really, really dirty.

Guest blogging at Feministe

As you may have gathered from the little “cross-posted” note at the end of my last post, I’m guest blogging over at Feministe this week. I’ve never guest blogged before; it’s an honor and quite exciting. And I think it’ll be a good springboard for this whole “blogging a lot again” business. I’ll be cross-posting stuff here, but I suggest that folks check out and engage in discussion in the comments over there, in addition to reading the posts by the resident Feministers and my fellow guest bloggers.

ACTION ALERT: Call for last-minute clemency for a Georgia man unjustly sentenced to death

Somehow, I managed to miss Troy Davis’ story until this morning, when I was listening to today’s podcast of Democracy Now. I’m a steadfast opponent of the death penalty in any case. But Davis’ story is one of the most enraging and saddening examples of how deeply flawed the judicial system can be.

Troy Davis is on death row in Georgia, where he was convicted in 1991 for the murder of a Savannah police officer. His execution is scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday) night at 7pm, despite an abundance of evidence of his innocence. The case against him was comprised entirely of witness testimony, which even at the time of the trial contained inconsistencies. Since the trial, seven out of nine of the non-police prosecution witnesses have recanted their testimony. Some of the witness have even stated that they were coerced into giving testimony against Davis. Jared Feuer, Southern Regional Directory of Amnesty International, said this in his interview on Democracy Now!:

You know, what we have to talk about when we discuss the witnesses is that in some cases they were sixteen years old. They had a number of children. Some of them did have prior records. And they were told that if you do not tell us what we want to hear, you will be going away to jail, or we will actually be fingering you. And the witnesses were scared out of their minds. I mean, they had a number of police who would, you know, arrive at their house and tell them, “You sign this, or you’re going to go to jail.” One of the witnesses was given a signed statement, and he can’t even read.

Only two of the non-police witnesses have not recanted: a witness who said they could not identify the shooter, only the clothing they wore; and Sylvester Coles, the original suspect in the shooting, whose testimony swung the police’s case against Davis.

So, from the get go, Davis’ situation looked grim. As Feuer says, “there was an officer who was down, and the police really wanted to make sure that they got their suspect.” Such tales are as old as american racism itself: a white person is killed, especially a white cop, and “justice” must be had, even if it comes at the expense of an innocent young Black man. Amy Goodman gives this related statistic from the American Bar Association: “Among all homicides with known suspects, those suspected of killing whites are 4.56 times as likely to be sentenced to death as those who are suspected of killing blacks.”

Davis wound up being convicted and sentenced to death; the appeals process up to the state level was unsuccessful, at times because of “procedural defaults” that prevented the defense from introducing new witness statements. One of Davis’ final avenues – turning to the federal appeals court – was closed off to him in 1996 with the signing of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. This law, passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed by President Clinton not long after the Oklahoma City bombings, severely limits the ability of federal appeals courts to consider cases like these.
Earlier, in 1995, Congress voted to eliminate federal funding for legal organizations which provide legal assistance to death row prisoners, hobbling these organizations to help those inmates with the fewest resources.

Indeed, it looks like the government has been doing more and more to ensure that “justice” be served by executing people as quickly as possible, wrongful convictions be damned. As Feuer put it, “we have a death penalty system in this country that favors expediency over getting it right.” Read that over a few times. Let the awful truth of that sink in. Because this is the ultimate punishment; get something wrong here, and the mistake is irreversible.

Troy Davis’ lawyers appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in late June to try, one last time, to convince a court to stay the order of execution and reopen the case. The Supreme Court declined. Now, Davis’ only recourse is the Georgia Board of Clemency, which can exonerate him, grant a stay of execution (and possibly a new trial), or allow the execution to take place. Davis’ clemency hearings began at 9am this morning; the clemency board has until 3pm tomorrow (just four hours before the time set for his execution) to make their decision. I encourage everyone to take a few moments to visit the Amnesty International page and send a fax to the clemency board demanding that they make the only right decision — to save an innocent man’s life.

UPDATE: The clemency board granted Troy Davis a 90-day stay of execution, within which the defense will have one last opportunity to present the case for his innocence. While this in itself is an important and heartening victory, the case can still go either way, so I encourage people to continue to send in faxes, make calls, spread the word and take action. And let’s hope that this case can do much to bring attention and an eventual end to the deeply-flawed and inherently unjust system of capital punishment in this country.

(cross-posted at AngryBrownButch)

Hierarchies of health care: who deserves what?

There’s an interesting conversation going on over at Feministe, where Holly’s posted about various aspects of health care: universal health care and the lack thereof in this country; the very limited state-provided health care that does exist in this country, specifically for prisoners, foster children, and other “wards of the state;” and trans health care and the constant uphill battles for access and coverage free of societal prejudice. Both Holly’s posts and the ensuing comments elucidate the wide range of responses that people have to these topics, especially when they’re all mixed together into one big messy dilemma.

Some people wonder why convicted criminals should have access to free health care far and beyond what’s available to most people on the outside of the bars; here, I find it necessary to point out that, of course, due to our royally screwed up (in)justice system, it’s not just criminals behind the bars and upstanding citizens outside of them, this being just one of the many arguments against making access to health care a merit-based system. Other folks question whether trans health care is really a necessity; in the face of countless trans people and medical professionals who maintain that, yes, trans health care in its various forms is medically necessary for some people, this is simply another form of meritocracy, with trans people’s needs falling rather to the wayside, being deemed less important than – what – “normal” health needs? Still others take the “divide and conquer tack”, asserting that by advocating for the inclusion of trans health care in universal health care, we’re providing conservatives with ammunition that can take down the whole damned cause. Funny, this sounds familiar: hasn’t social movement after social movement tried to shunt their less popular members and issues out of sight, asking them to take the back seat so as to not prevent the more publicly palatable people and issues from getting a pass from the establishment?

I found one point that was made in the course of the commenting to be particularly interesting and something I haven’t considered before: even if we did end up with universal health care, who’d have the power to decide what would be covered and what couldn’t? Individual patients and their doctors? The larger medical establishment? Or, heaven forfend, the government? With the latter especially, what kind of frightening roles will religiosity, moralizing, and prejudice take in deciding who and what are worthy, and who and what are not?

Holly ties up her entry quite well here: “If you accept that trans health care is neither experimental nor unnecessary, and a doctor has prescribed it to a patient, then you have to provide it to those patients who the state has an obligation to provide health care for.” And, it would follow, in the push for universal health care, no medically sanctioned health care should be pushed to the wayside, whether out of misunderstanding or prejudice or some sort of subjective “morality.” Universal health care should be just that: universal, for all people, regardless of where they and their needs fall on some sort of hierarchy of normalcy and necessity that conveniently places the needs of the people in power right up top.