Monday, May 25, 2009

Born In New York State, Memorial Day Continues to Shine

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. While the day has come to symbolize the start of the summer season, its true meaning - which was first established in New York - endures.

New York Gives Birth to Memorial Day

The town of Waterloo, NY is officially credited with creating what is now called Memorial Day to honor those Union soldiers who died during the Civil War. In 1866, Waterloo (a town that can be reached in an hour from Ithaca, Rochester, and Syracuse) set aside a day in early May for observances related to the fallen soldiers of the Civil War.

The Grand Army of the Republic (an organization comprised of Union veterans of the Civil War) was led by a friend of the founders of the Waterloo observances. That friend, General John A. Logan, chose May 30th for the 1868 observances because it was not the date of a Civil War battle. The May 30th date remained in place until 100 years later when Congress voted to move a number of holidays to Mondays to create three-day weekends. Memorial Day has been observed on the final Monday in May since 1971.

New York City Activities

Like the rest of the United States, New York City celebrates Memorial Day with a mixture of observances honoring those brave souls who gave their lives in service to our country and summer kick-off events.

Today, from 11am to noon, a traditional Memorial Day service will take place aboard the Intrepid, here in Manhattan, with a wreath laying and a flyover. The Intrepid is a floating museum located at 46th Street to the west of the West Side Highway in the Hudson River.

Click here for a listing of family-oriented events throughout New York City.


Memorial Day is set aside for us to remind ourselves of the tremendous debt we owe to those who have protected this country and who have died while undertaking that responsibility. It is a debt we can never repay. The best we can do is to remember the sacrifices that have provided us the opportunity to enjoy the privileges of liberty, hope, and opportunity in the greatest country of the world. If we forget those sacrifices most days, today gives us a chance to make up for lost time.

Monday, May 18, 2009

NYPD Stop and Frisk Outrage - Part II

Skin color remains as the key law enforcement proxy for criminality in New York City. After numerous studies and law suits, the largest city in a state with a Black Governor in a country with a Black President continues to equate being non-white with crime.

Making a Bad Situation Worse

In January of this year, on the eve of the inauguration of our new President and on the day that we commemorated the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, we addressed the outrage of racial profiling by the NYPD. We saw that nearly all of the New York City residents who faced a "stop and frisk" by the NYPD were people of color and that only 10% of those stopped were arrested or even received a summons. This pattern of harassment of our neighbors must stop immediately.

Unfortunately, the NYPD is on a pace to set a record for the number of stop and frisk incidents in our city in 2009. So far, the 2009 pace is 18% higher than the 2008 pace, and now people of color are 91% of stops instead of 80% of the stops as they were previously. Our city's population is 53% people of color, but 91% of those stopped and frisked by the police are people of color. More and more, the "crime" of walking-while-black is the focus of the NYPD.

Previous reports have shown the extent to which race is driving the behavior of the NYPD.
  • In 2006, 55 percent of the stops were of Black people – more than double the Black population percentage.
  • Cops found guns, drugs, or stolen property on whites about twice as often as they did on black suspects.
  • Stops of whites amounted to only 2.6 percent of the white population. By contrast, stops of Blacks, represented 21.1 percent of the entire black population.
  • Residents of Brownsville's 73rd Precinct and Harlem's 28th Precinct had a 30 to 36 percent chance of being stopped and questioned by police in 2006. Citywide, the average was about 6 percent.
Insult to Injury

As the NYCLU has pointed out, every one of the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who are stopped by the police each year has his or her personal information stored in an NYPD database permanently. Though no summons is issued and no arrest is made, the personal information is collected and retained. Since the stops occur only in non-white communities, this process amounts to a catalogue of personal details on the non-white population of our city with the target group skewing younger than the city as a whole.

The outrage of the stops is amplified and exacerbated by the scandal of the information collection.

End Race-Based Policing

As we stated in January:

There are those that argue that racial profiling is a legitimate tool of police work and should continue, but they typically fail to understand the real impact of racialized policing. In 1999, former NYC Police Commissioner William Bratton talked about the early days of his career in law enforcement in Boston, and he described the police response to escalating numbers of stolen Lincoln Continentals. He said that white drivers were assumed to own the Lincoln they drove and that young black males in Lincolns would be stopped. As a result, many stolen Lincolns were recovered. Of course, the value of recovering the Lincolns is undoubtedly outweighed by the stress, humiliation, and lost respect for the police experienced by all of the law-abiding black males who were stopped because they were black and male and driving a Lincoln. Moreover, the value of recovering the stolen Lincolns would be outweighed by the message sent by the law enforcement approach: white Bostonians can steal as many Lincolns as they wish without fear of being stopped by the police. It is the celebration of the recovered Lincolns to the exclusion of a focus on the horrors of government-led racial discrimination that permits our problems here in New York City to persist.

These problems are hardening and intensifying. We must take action at the polls and in our communities to reverse this trend toward the criminalization of being a non-white New Yorker.

Monday, May 11, 2009

NYC School Test Results Controversy

Last week, New York City announced that 11% more NYC public school students passed the New York State reading test in 2009 than passed in 2008. Instead of celebration, the announcement of these results raised new questions and left us searching for explanations.

Is Better Actually Better?

The 11% improvement would be worthy of huge celebrations if not for the other data that accompanied it. Buffalo, a city with a reputation for a failing school system, demonstrated more improvement than New York City. In fact, all major cities in New York State demonstrated equal or greater improvement compared to New York City. Perhaps the test was easier for the students to pass, and lower standards lifted all boats. We cannot be certain what caused all of New York State's urban school districts to have gigantic gains in the same 12-month period, but simultaneous improvement in the quality of education in those cities is unlikely to be the full answer. Teachers might be teaching to the test, year to year changes in the weighting of various sections of the test may have shifted this year to raise scores, the test itself may have become less challenging, and maybe . . . just maybe . . . the students really have obtained greater reading aptitude through improvements in their schools.

But, we cannot determine the cause of the improvement. The Daily News article regarding this topic last week contained a passage that illustrated the lack of clarity regarding the cause of the improved test scores.

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch pointed to an influx of resources, wider access to prekindergarten, a more unified curriculum and improved professional development for scores rising statewide. The number of city children enrolled in pre-K grew to 54,038 from 45,589 in 2005, an increase of almost 8,500 children, city figures show. Per pupil spending was about $11,640 in 2003 and rose to $16,236 in 2007, the most updated figure available from the city Education Department.

"The headline from me should be a four-year story," Tisch said, asking parents to look at long-term trends. She noted that over the last four years, New York City and Rochester improved their scores by 18%, Syracuse by 19% and Buffalo by 24%.

Testing experts said the state's reasons made sense, but that more was likely at work. "One of them is a huge increase in test preparation," said former testing chief for the city and NYU professor Robert Tobias. "It's kind of like how you get to Carnegie Hall - practice, practice, practice."

The skeptics have not been shy in pointing out that Buffalo's improvement has been greater than New York City's improvement. Sarcastically, they ask whether Buffalo's mayor should be asked to run New York City.

Skepticism On Display

Some have labeled the test scores as too good to be true and have questioned why the New York State test shows improvement around the state each year while the national test shows a lack of improvement. We have seen the federal data showing that the changes being made across the country to improve educational achievement have not resulted in a reduction in the achievement gap between white students and students of color. Those results remind us that we must always look behind the initial impressions we might get from the data to discover what the data really means for our children.

Charting a Dangerous Course

Mayor Bloomberg has promoted the concept of increasing the number of charter schools in New York City, but charter schools that design their student populations to be more affluent and less challenged than the communities in which they operate actually make the non-charter public schools in their communities endure the challenges of greater poverty and a higher intensity of problems than they would if those charter schools did not exist. As stated in the Daily News:

In other words, if you have language problems, if you're poor, or if you have special needs, you're far more likely to end up in the regular public school population than in a charter school.

As charter schools become more and more a key piece of the educational infrastructure in NYC, we will need to advocate for policies that ensure that they are not leaving the surrounding public schools more challenged and less effective in teaching our children. Unfortunately, our charter schools have largely excluded special education students (5% of the charter school population versus 15% of the public school population). They have also limited their exposure to children from low-income homes (65% in public schools versus 57% in charter schools). These statistics indicate that charter schools might still be part of the problem rather than part of the solution to the problems we face in educating our children in New York City's public schools.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Bloomberg's Regressive Budget Solution

The latest budget proposal from Mayor Bloomberg avoids making tough choices and takes a regressive approach to increasing revenue for NYC. We are surprised and disappointed by the approach taken by the Mayor's finance team, and we are expecting voters in our city to note that the Mayor who called himself indispensable is showing himself to be anything but indispensable.

Budget Mess

Mayor Bloomberg says that he is indispensable and that we must re-write the rules that govern our great city (the world's greatest city by any objective analysis) to allow him to serve a third term as the city's chief executive. But, he also says that his 7+ years in leading our city have led us into a fiscal crisis. The two concepts are incompatible. If Bloomberg has led us into the mess we're in, how can he argue with a straight face that he is the only person prepared to clean up his mess. As President Barack Obama stated in one of his most effective attacks on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when they were both US Senators fighting for the Democratic Party's nomination for President of the United States:
"Once we had driven the bus into the ditch, there were only so many ways we could get out. The question is: Who's making the decision initially to drive the bus into the ditch?"

Indeed. Who drove us into this ditch?

Who was at the helm when we developed the $4 billion deficit we now endure? Could the person who led us into the ditch possibly be indispensable as the leader to help us dig out of the mess he created?

The current mayor in New York City has a tremendous challenge in front of him in terms of explaining why it was important to overturn the will of the voters to allow him to seek a third term and why he, of all people, should be in charge of leading the city through this dark time after his leadership brought the darkness to us.

In a poetic move that underscores the lack of creativity and the lack of leadership in the Mayor's office at this time, the Mayor unveiled his budget last week, and he was proud to announce that he was leaving it to the individuals with the lowest incomes to fill the budget deficit by paying higher taxes.

Ugly Solution

Regressive taxation should be avoided. By asking those with the lowest incomes to pay more of their income in taxes than those with the highest income, we increase inequality, punish poverty, dampen spirits, and promote social ills. We also lose moral authority. For privileged people to demand more of those with lesser privilege than they do of themselves creates an impression of reverse-Robin Hood politics - shifting wealth and income from poorer individuals to wealthier individuals based on a belief that wealthier people will make better use of the wealth being shifted. Mayor Bloomberg, as a multi-billionaire, may hold a view that wealthier people should have greater wealth than they do today and that poorer people should have less, but such a position is political untenable, morally repugnant, and contrary to basic principals of macroeconomics. When poorer people obtain additional wealth, they increase demand in the economy, which creates jobs and increases profits for businesses. Wealthier people are more like to save or invest additional cash - activities that are not unhealthy but that cannot create the level of economic growth that consumer spending does.

Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg's approach to closing the huge budget deficit that emerged under his leadership is to raise revenues for the government through a regressive sales tax increase. The sales taxes are implemented as an equal percentage for all purchasers. Therefore, those with the lowest incomes will pay the greatest percentage of their income in sales taxes. This proposed sales tax increase takes a regressive tax and amplifies its impact.

Ironically, anyone could have proposed placing the burden on the lowest earners, and such a suggestion is far more aggravating coming from a billionaire than from a Mayor of lesser means. Yet, the billionaire Mayor who says he is indispensable has nothing more to offer than to increase the most regressive tax we have in our city's system.

It Gets Worse

The Bloomberg budget proposal includes many other objectionable provisions, but its most glaring flaw is that it conveniently avoids hard choices and offers no long-term solutions. It is a stop-gap, election-year gambit, and we doubt that the sophisticated people of New York City will fall for this gambit.

Interest groups are attacking his cuts in homeless services.

Others concerns include his reliance on cuts in the city payroll and his reduction in services in New York City's correctional facilities.

We are focused on the disconnect between Mayor Bloomberg's self-described role as the indispensable redeemer of our city's fiscal and economic health and his real-world role as unimaginative regressive-tax promoting politician. His recent performance helps explain why he will not agree to limit his campaign spending.

We hope that you will demand better performance from the Mayor as he closes out his second term and morphs into a full-time candidate.