Archive for the 'nyc' Category

Can’t they just catch a cab?

The cash-strapped, teacher-laying-off, social-programs-slashing NYC government somehow dug up $9.3 million to subsidize a privately-run ferry service on the East River. Residents of “Dumbo, Williamsburg, Greenpoint or Hunters Point” are expected to especially benefit.

…some transportation experts worry that the boats will appeal only to an affluent sliver of the population — those who can afford upscale apartments along the waterfront.

…The first boat departed at 7:15 a.m. with a gaggle of dignitaries and reporters aboard. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in a seaweed-color tie, leaned on a blue plastic table and took in the view of the Midtown skyline.

“You have no idea what this does for property values,” the mayor said approvingly. “Wait till you see all of this development!” He waved at a pair of passing kayakers, who raised their oars in salute.

So, Bloomberg’s budget will eliminate upwards of $5 million for supportive housing for people living with HIV/AIDS, slashes funding for daycare and senior citizen centers, will result in the layoff of more than 4,000 teachers, will close 20 fire department companies, so on and so forth. And folks who rely on the MTA for transit continue to see fares go up and service go down. But a $9.3 million transit subsidy to a private company that will primarily benefit the wealthier residents of only a few neighborhoods and promote continuing gentrification there to boot? There’s apparently plenty of money for that!

This Friday in Brooklyn: premiere of a new film on gentrification and community organizing

This Friday I’m heading to Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn for the premiere screening of Some Place Like Home: The Fight Against Gentrification in Downtown Brooklyn, a documentary by Families United for Racial and Economic Equality. FUREE, a community organization lead by and comprised primarily of low-income women of color, has been rallying the community in a fight against the rampant development that’s going down in Downtown Brooklyn and the surrounding area. While developers, big business, and politicians alike claim they are only trying to improve the community, the development is being conducted with little care or concern for the residents and small business owners who are already there. Some Place Like Home documents the struggle of FUREE, the neighborhoods’ residents, and small businesses against the forces that are trying to push and bulldoze them out. Check out the trailer below.

If you’re in NYC, I recommend you check out the premiere if you can. It’s a fundraiser for the organization and the ticket prices will go far to support FUREE’s organizing around this and other important issues. Other FUREE projects include the Child Care Campaign, which works for better working conditions for child care providers, and their collaboration on the Fort Greene CSA, a community supported agriculture product that aims to provide affordable access to healthy, locally grown food (the CSA offers subsidized shares and accepts food stamps as payment.) And if you can’t make it to the premiere, try to catch the film otherwise – I’ve heard that FUREE is getting requests for additional screenings and may even air the film on some of the local TV stations. You can also donate to FUREE or to other organizations working to fight gentrification where you live.

Update: Police continue to harrass and terrorize members of Rebel Diaz

G1 of Rebel Diaz, one of the two people beaten and arrested last week for observing the police, reports that his apartment was raided by the NYPD in the wee hours yesterday morning. From rebeldiaz.com by way of illvox:

The uniformed police officers did not knock, nor announce themselves, nor verbally identify themselves before or during their entry into my apartment.

They pointed their guns at us the whole time as they verbally barraged MM and I with questions as to who we were and what we were doing there.

As I lay on the ground with my hands up, I replied loudly and clearly that I lived there, and that everyone in the house was supposed to be there.

They replied incredulously, repeatedly yelling their questions as to who we were, with threats as to what would happen to us if I was found to be lying.

Requests for explanations from the NYPD have, not surprisingly, yielded nothing.

The questions as to why several armed police officers mysteriously and violently invaded my home without any clear legal justification remain unanswered.

One is left only to think that the occurrences of this morning are not a coincidence of mistaken identity, but a direct response by the NYPD to an incident of police brutality I was involved in last week in the South Bronx.

Until we have a clear understanding of the causes and the people behind this morning’s home invasion, Rebel Diaz will engage in limited communication outside of our legal representation.

We are not looking for the next NYPD scare tactic to turn into a tragedy.

Let’s all hope that the NYPD chills the fuck out and stops trying to intimidate people into silence and submission. It’ll take just one trigger-happy or nervous cop to make these sorts of scare tactics deadly once again.

Trans Day of Action – Friday, June 27, NYC

Trans Day of Action

When: Friday, June 27, 2008 – 3:00pm
Where: Starting rally at City Hall Park, Manhattan, NY

Tomorrow is the fourth annual Trans Day of Action for Social and Economic Justice, organized by the TransJustice working group of the Audre Lorde Project. It’s the fourth year that I’ll be going and every year has been exciting, inspirational, and powerful. (You can read about the 2006 march here.) The Trans Day of Action is my favorite NYC Pride rally/march type event, because it’s both a powerful political demonstration and a strong celebration of our communities. It’s way more inclusive than the Dyke March in both the people it gathers together and the issues it addresses, and it’s obviously way more political than the very commercial and more mainstream big Pride march on Sunday. From the ALP website:

We call on our Trans and Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) community and on all of our allies from many movements to join us for the 4th Annual Trans Day of Action for Social and Economic Justice. We as TGNC People of Color (POC) recognize the importance of working together alongside other movements to change the world we want to see. We live in a time when people of color, immigrants and poor people are disproportionately underserved, face higher levels of discrimination, heightened surveillance and experience increased violence at the hands of the state. It is critical that we unite and work together towards dismantling the transphobia, racism, classism, sexism, ageism, ableism, homophobia and xenophobia that permeates throughout our movements for social justice. Let’s come together to let the world know that TGNC rights will not be undermined and together we will not be silenced!

I strongly encourage folks in the NYC area to come out and march with us. It’s open to all allies, so anyone can (and should) come.

cross-posted at Feministe

Hip hop activists attacked and arrested for daring to hold the NYPD accountable

Members of Rebel Diaz being arrested

Sometimes there’s too much to blog and far too little time. I’ve been wanting to blog about this since I heard about it last week, but Vivir Latino and illvox and Racewire and a bunch of other folks have gotten to it already so I’ll refer to them. From VivirLatino:

Last Thursday, independent, radical, revolutionary, activist Hip Hoppers Rodstarz and G1, two brothers known musically and in the movement as Rebel Diaz [along with MC/vocalist La Tere], were walking in the Bronx, NYC when they witnessed an all too common occurrence. Police officers from the 41st Precinct were in the middle of a sting against street vendors, aggressively confiscating the fruit and vegetables of a street vendor. What happened next was a mix of the sadly uncommon and the everyday threat that is faced in many of our communities. Rodstarz and G1 didn’t walk by quickly or quietly, watching their extended community being attacked. They approached the officers to ask why the vendor was being treated in that manner and asked for their badge numbers. The police, who aren’t exactly keen on the idea of being monitored by the very same community they allegedly serve, turned their aggressions on the duo. After beating them and arresting them in front of over a dozen witnesses, they were taken to the 41st Precinct.

Within hours, over 75 friends, community members and activists gathered outside the precinct (1035 Longwood Avenue at Southern Blvd.) to sing, chant, drum and march for over 4 hours, demanding that all charges be dropped and that Rodstarz and G1 be immediately released.

The following morning more than 25 people gathered at the Bronx County Criminal Court for their arraignment. The men are charged with two misdemeanors: obstruction of justice and resisting arrest, and are scheduled for court on September 3rd, 2008.

Check out video of the arrests and the subsequent protests.

Obstruction of justice and resisting arrest should really be renamed the Activist Charges, since they seem to be what all of us are threatened with whenever we’re arrested for either protesting or observing the cops and holding them accountable for their actions. The latter seems to particularly piss the cops off. I know this from personal experience, having been pepper sprayed along with other community members and seeing two friends being violently arrested for doing just that – questioning police actions, asking for badge numbers, taking pictures of their activity. All the charges against the two people arrested were dropped. Three members of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s Cop Watch were arrested while videotaping an arrest in Brooklyn in 2005. All charges against them were later dropped. When the cops went on a bike-confiscating frenzy in the East Village last summer, two people who dared to observe and question them were arrested. It happens over and over again.

Why? Because, as they’ve demonstrated on countless occasions, the NYPD has zero interest in being held accountable by the communities that they purportedly serve. In fact, even the threat of accountability seems to make them angry. So in response to peaceful observation and requests for badge numbers, they respond with rage, with violence, with threats, and ultimately with arrests on trumped up charges that are almost always dropped. It’s not about arresting people who are actually doing anything wrong – after all, observing the police is not officially a crime, though I’m sure they wish it were. No, they do it to scare us, make us too scared of arrest or other retaliation to hold them accountable.

And you know what? Sometimes their fear tactics work. Getting arrested is fucking scary, and even just getting messed with or threatened by the cops is daunting. Especially when I’m alone, I get nervous to stop and watch the cops. Not even question them, not even take pictures, and certainly not even anything close to intervening – I get scared of standing nearby and looking at them. And that fear pisses me off. When I’m with someone else, it’s easier; with a group, even easier. The fear makes sense – cops and the power they wield are scary – but we can’t let it stop us from practicing our civil rights and our civic duties in holding them accountable.

Another important issue raised by this incident: illvox posted a press release from VAMOS Unidos (Vendedoras Ambulantes Movilizando y Organizando en Solidaridad — Street Vendors Mobilizing and Organizing in Solidarity) expressing solidarity and thanks to Rodstarz and G1. The release gives some background on the NYPD’s frequently awful treatment of street vendors, often low-income folks, people of color, and immigrants – all vulnerable populations:

Street vendors experience state repression day to day as they deal with arrests, crippling fines, confiscations, beatings, and abusive treatment by the NYPD. Members of VAMOS Unidos are often incarcerated for 1-3 days, severely beaten, victims of theft by the NYPD, and endure humiliating treatment. Marcela, a flower vendor in the Bronx for seven years, was violently forced to the ground as the police yelled xenophobic comments. She was handcuffed and placed against her cart as police gave her merchandise away. She was then taken to jail where she was kept all day.

It’s important to remember that even while it might be scary for some of us to observe the police and hold them accountable, there are often people who are even more vulnerable than us; even if it’s scary, we have to do what we can to stand in solidarity with them. Big ups to Rodstarz and G1 for doing that.

Convictions overturned for 2 of the Newark 4

Free the New Jersey 4 Two of the four young Black lesbians who were convicted after defending themselves from a homophobic attack in 2007 have had their convictions overturned. From the New York Times article:

An appeals court on Thursday overturned the convictions of two women accused in the beating and stabbing of a man who they said made unwanted sexual advances to them in Greenwich Village two years ago.

One of the women, Terrain Dandridge, whom a jury found guilty of second-degree gang assault, had her conviction reversed and indictment dismissed; as a result she can no longer be tried on those charges. A four-judge panel of the Appellate Division in Manhattan ruled that there was not enough evidence to support a guilty verdict for Ms. Dandridge. She had been sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

The second woman, Renata Hill, who was found guilty of second-degree gang assault and third-degree assault, had her gang assault conviction vacated, but she can be retried on the charge. The court ruled that the judge’s instructions to the jury on the charge were erroneous and that therefore her conviction could not be upheld.

She was sentenced to eight years in prison, but if the Manhattan district attorney decides against further prosecution, she is likely to be released because the maximum penalty for the third-degree assault is a year and she has already been in prison longer than that.

Alexis Agathocleous, the lawyer who handled Ms. Hill’s appeal, said he was pleased and was hoping “that the district attorney’s office will also do the right thing and dismiss the remaining charge.”

The appeals for Patreese Johnson and Venice Brown are still pending, but let’s hope that they’re as or more successful than these. I also hope that, as Agathocleous says, the DA will do the right thing and drop these sham charges.

Kenyon Farrow and Jonathan Adams at Racewire both point out that in addition to the lawyers and families who have been working so hard to see justice done here, there are some awesome organizations that deserve hearty congratulations and continued support: FIERCE, Human Rights Watch, Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship Church, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

Also: while some elements of the NY media had a field day tearing these women apart when they were on trial, calling them things like “killer lesbians,” “a wolf pack of lesbians,” and a “seething sapphic septet,” they’ve been remarkably quiet about the overturned convictions so far. Funny, that. We should probably be thankful for that, though; one can only imagine what sort of fucked-up things they’d say if they did take up the story.

Edited to add: More info from the Free the NJ 4 blog. Their press release is definitely recommended reading.

cross-posted at Feministe

Examining the justice that we seek

Thanks to Margarita for helping me talk and think and rethink through these issues today.

Like the other people I know with politics similar to mine, I was angry when I heard about the verdict in the Sean Bell case this morning. And I’m still angry, for sure. I still feel like justice has been controverted yet again. I still feel like a few sad messages have been reinforced by the verdict: that the lives of people of color are given little worth in our society; that the “justice” system is of little use for many classes of people, including people of color; and that the police pretty much have a carte blanche when dealing with people of color, amongst other oppressed people.

However, I’ve also had time to do a lot of thinking and talking about the case, the verdict, what “we” (me, my friends, others with politics like mine) would have liked to see happen today, and what that all means. And it’s really complicated stuff.

I was reminded of this complication when I saw this picture of the cops who killed Sean Bell in the NY Times:

Since the shootings in 2006 and throughout the subsequent trial, I’ve found it jarring to be reminded that two of the three cops being charged in relation the incident are people of color. It’s almost as if that detail gets lost for me in the bigger picture of the case and I need to be reminded of it again and again. When I saw this picture this morning, it troubled me more than usual, because it made me realize that I was angry that three people, two of whom are men of color, are not going to prison.

I’m not used to being in that position.

If all of the cops being tried for the shootings were white, I think that my anger over the verdict would have been much more clear cut. I would have interrogated it far less. It would been black and white, quite literally; another case of white cops working within a racist police department taking the life of an innocent Black man. If they were convicted and sent to jail, I wouldn’t have shed a tear for them. If they were acquitted, I would have been enraged.

But feeling anger over the acquittal of two men of color? Yeah – that’s a weird spot for me to be in. Probably in part because that doesn’t happen very often; usually the story is the other way around and I’m getting angry over people of color being unfairly convicted and sent to prison. I don’t believe that imprisonment is the answer to any of society’s ills; in fact, for the most part I believe in prison abolition. As has been demonstrated many times, including some reports that have received a bit of public attention, the United States imprisons an appalling amount of people, and the vast majority of those people being imprisoned are people of color and poor folks.

And then there’s this case. Three cops shooting three unarmed men of color and killing one of them with 50 bullets. Two men of color on the trial for shooting three other men of color and killing one of them. Two men of color acquitted, one dead.

In a situation like this, where and how could we possibly find justice?

This is the crux of the problem: the situation is framed within a system that is so completely fucked up to the point that little good could possibly come out of it. Our ability to achieve justice is limited by the fact that the only recourses for justice available in our society are inherently unjust. So instead, we’re left grasping for approximations of justice that will invariably be unsatisfactory in the end.

Many of the organizations involved in the People’s Justice coalition – ALP, FIERCE! and SRLP among them – do not believe that imprisonment equals justice. Some of the organizations are explicitly abolitionist. And yet the emails and web postings coming from these organizations and their members about the protest at the Queens D.A.’s office, a protest that was planned no matter what the verdict wound up being, today all began with the news that all three cops were acquitted. One can only infer that these organizations don’t think that was the right verdict. Like me, these organizations are taking a stance that seems to conflict with their larger politics.

But what are we supposed to do? In this society, we take what justice we can get. A guilty verdict in this case would have sent the message that no, it is not all right for the NYPD to shoot and kill unarmed people of color with abandon, that yes,Sean Bell’s life and the lives of other people of color are worth more than that, that no, the NYPD can’t kill and injure and oppress with impunity and walk away scott free. The family of Sean Bell would have felt like someone was truly being held accountable for the murder of their son, their brother, their husband-to-be, their father.

And yet, a conviction would still be no more than an approximation of justice. First, because nothing that could possibly be done could make up for Sean Bell’s death. Second, because these three cops aren’t really the problem. Imprisoning them wouldn’t suddenly make the NYPD stop being the racist, classist, homophobic and transphobic force that it’s been for its entire existence. These three cops would take the fall, but the system that shaped them, trained them, set them up to fear and distrust and undervalue people of color – that system would emerge relatively unscathed. And in the end, two more men of color (and one white guy who’s probably not terribly high on the white male scale of privilege else he wouldn’t be a cop) would be in jail. All of that doesn’t add up to justice to me.

But we’re still angry, and we’re right to be. There is no justice here, not even a conflicted approximation of justice. What little recourse we have for achieving justice, flawed as it may be, has failed us yet again. And what’s perhaps most galling is that, time and time again, it fails us in the opposite direction. This tremendous “burden of proof” that the judge didn’t think the prosecution met in this case so often seems to disappear when the defendants are poor people of color who aren’t cops and don’t have the protection and support afforded to Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper. If Isnora and Cooper weren’t cops and the same scene had played out that night, I’m pretty sure that both of them would be in jail already (and most of us probably wouldn’t have ever heard about it.)

no justice. none.

Reactions outside of the courthouse
Reactions outside of the courthouse. Brendan McDermid/Reuters

The cops who murdered Sean Bell have been acquitted of all charges. I would say that it’s unbelievable, but it’s not. It’s all too believable, but no less shocking and appalling.

There may be civil, federal or departmental charges filed against the cops, and those cases may wind up approximating some sort of justice. But in truth, justice could never be served in this case, even if these officers had been convicted on all charges. Nothing could possibly make up for another life taken by the NYPD.

A protest has been organized by the People’s Justice coalition for 5:30pm today at the Queens district attorney’s office. I will probably get my ass out there (ETA: didn’t make it) but admit that I am nervous about it; hopefully the cops will be held in check because of the nature of the case and the protests, but one never knows. We can’t let the police scare us into silence and submission, but be careful, folks.

Jena, New York

At a Brooklyn rally for the Jena 6 on September 20, many speakers spoke of “Jena, New York,” referencing the fact that egregious and often violent acts of racism and injustice occur every day right here in NYC, pointing out that this sort of racism is not just an anachronistic, small-town Southern ill.

That phrase and concept was immediately called to mind this morning when I got the news that a prominent Black professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College found a noose hanging on her office door yesterday. From the Columbia Spectator:

On Tuesday, an African American professor at Teachers College, the nation’s top-ranked education school, came to her office to find a noose hanging on the door. Today students clad in black will rally in protest of this hate crime at 2 p.m. in front of Arthur Zankel hall before a town hall meeting at TC.

The hate crime comes after a series of politically and racially charged events that have occurred over the past two weeks including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial appearance, the discovery of racist and Isloamophobic graffiti, and the announcement of an appearance by conservative author David Horowitz, CC ’59, for Islamo-fascism awareness week.

With the nooses found on the University of Maryland’s campus in early September, it seems like we have a new racist trend on our hands. But while the fallout from Jena’s nooses has been much more severe, violent, and endangering of the victims of racism, it is important to note that these two other prominent incidents have occurred on college campuses – one an Ivy League institution in a “liberal” urban center. I think some people might be tempted to write off Jena’s racism as something endemic to “backwater” Southern whites, but that view is inflected with classism and regionalism, trivializes the state of racism in this country, and is proven patently false by incidents like these.

SRLP Press Conference – Monday, October 1, 2pm @ City Hall

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project is holding a press conference on the steps of City Hall this coming Monday, October 1 at 2pm. We hope to have the folks who were arrested and attacked by the police, members of allied community organizations, and supportive city officials speak out against police violence against our communities. We would love to have as many folks as possible show up and demonstrate support. Please come if you can! More info below.

***

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: SEPTEMBER 28, 2007

Contact: June Brown
E-Mail: june (at) srlp (d0t) org
Office : (212)337-8550(x114)
Cell: (646)334-3717

On Wednesday, September 26, 2007, officers from the New York Police
Department’s 9th precinct made an unprovoked, excessive use of force
against members of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and other community
members. While pepper-spraying a group of people who were gathered
outside of a celebration and benefit for the organization’s five year
anniversary, the police also violently arrested two people from the
crowd, Ileana Mendez-Penate and Reggie Gossett. These two people were
released the following night, and all charges were dropped. For more
details and for further updates on this issue, please see our full
press release at www.srlp.org .

A press conference will be held on Monday, October 1st @ 2pm on the
front steps of New York City Hall in Lower Manhattan. We at The Sylvia
Rivera Law Project would like to thank all the local elected officials
and their staffers, especially Rosie Mendez and her staff, who had a
hand in the eventual release of the two detainees.

WHO: Community members and Allies of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project,
including the two arrestees, Reggie Gossett and Ileana Mendez-Penate.

WHAT: A press conference on the steps of New York City Hall.

WHEN: 2:00 pm, Monday October 1, 2007.

WHERE: On the Steps of New York City Hall, in City Hall Park between
Broadway, Park Row and Chambers Street.

WHY: By holding this press conference, transgender activists and
allies prepare to send the message that excessive unprovoked police
force and false arrests by the 9th precinct or any other precinct will
not be tolerated.