Monday, July 27, 2009

New York Daily News Fails Gates Arrest Test

The New York Daily News took an unacceptable and dangerous position in its editorial two days ago regarding the arrest of Harvard Professor Gates in Cambridge. By suggesting that the arrest might have been appropriate, the Daily News reinforced Mayor Bloomberg's race-based policing philosophy and contributed to the abuse that people of color are facing at the hands of the NYPD.

Daily News Fails Crucial Test

Saturday's New York Daily News editorial contained the worst possible interpretation of the arrest of Professor Gates in Cambridge and added to the problems we face in New York City.

The New York Daily News described the arrest of Professor Gates by an officer named Crowley with words that are consistent with everything that has been reported elsewhere.
To recap, Gates and his driver arrived at Gates' house near Harvard after a trip. The door lock had been jimmied and the door was stuck. Gates and the driver forced it open. A neighbor reported two men attempting to break in. Crowley responded. On the porch, he asked Gates to step outside. Gates refused. Crowley asked for identification and followed Gates into his kitchen, where Gates produced ID. All that appears to have been standard procedure for a police officer investigating a potential home invasion. But Gates objected to this treatment, reading the cop as hostile. What happened next is in dispute. Gates said he asked Crowley, firmly but not belligerently, for his name and badge number to file a complaint and wound up arrested. Crowley reported that Gates became highly agitated, warranting a disorderly conduct arrest.

The problem is how the New York Daily News addresses the arrest.

That the arrest of Gates, a 58-year-old who walks with a cane, appears to have been unnecessary, as Obama still believes, does not translate into "acted stupidly." Or into Gates' description of Crowley as a "rogue." Or into a charge that Gates had been arrested merely for being in his house while black." Or into Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's description of the event as "every black man's nightmare." Then and now, Gates says he believes Crowley assumed him to be a criminal out of racial bias. He described in a radio interview what transpired after he showed Crowley identification: "I watched his face. He's trying to unpack a narrative that he has. This is where racial profiling came in. He was so sure that he had a catch. And all of a sudden he had to unwrite that story." Pardon us, but who was profiling whom? If anyone was.
  1. If the arrest of Gates in his own home for "disorderly conduct" is not "stupid", nothing will qualify, and being arrested in your own home for no good reason is indeed a recurring nightmare that black men face. But, the New York Daily News seems to have reviewed the nightmares of all of America's black men and comes to a different view than Manhattan Viewpoint.
  2. Professor Gates is under no obligation to avoid profiling a police officer who is challenging him in his own home. Professor Gates is a private citizen, with no gun, no governmental authority, and no power to arrest citizens. The officer had the gun and the power, and he chose to use that power to arrest a Harvard Professor for being "disorderly" in his own home.
  3. The only thing a police officer should be doing after realizing that he is challenging a citizen in the citizen's home is apologizing; he should not be looking for excuses to arrest the citizen. The obligation is on the officer (an not on the citizen) to ensure that the citizen's confidence in law enforcement is restored and that the mistake that the officer has already made doesn't create additional problems. Officer Crowley used his mistake to injure Professor Gates.
  4. The President was far too polite in his "acted stupidly" comment. Officer Crowley has refused to apologize. The President would be correct to ask how Black residents in Cambridge can feel safe with an unapologetic Crowley on the force. He is not a remorseful officer who claims that his misconduct was not racially motivated. He is proud of his arrest of a Black Harvard professor in the professor's home, and he needs to be taken off the streets before something much worse happens to another innocent resident of Cambridge.
  5. The New York Daily News is a New York City newspaper. In NYC, the current Mayor is seeking re-election, and that Mayor is on a pace to set a record for police stops of innocent people of color, despite the fact that stops of white New Yorkers are twice as likely to result in the recovery of illegal guns or drugs. In NYC each year, 2% of the innocent white residents are stopped by police, but 21% of innocent Black New Yorkers are stopped by police. Despite all of this, the New York Daily News fails to connect the police misconduct in the Gates arrest with the daily abuse of innocent New Yorkers of color by the Bloomberg NYPD. By suggesting that the Gates arrest might have been appropriate, the New York Daily News endorses the race-based police misconduct directed by Mayor Bloomberg every day, and the Bloomberg police misconduct is too dangerous, too de-humanizing, too unconstitutional, too racist, and too prevalent to be tolerated in our great city.
NAACP Demonstrates Leadership

The NAACP announced its position regarding the Gates arrest last week. The NAACP observed that "even after Professor Gates turned over his IDs, and told the officer that he was the owner of the residence, he was arrested on the front porch of his own home, allegedly after exhibiting 'tumultuous' behavior. It is an experience familiar to millions of black Americans who are subjected to racial profiling, arrested, and jailed nationwide each year. Many of them are incarcerated for much longer than the four hours and fifteen minutes that Professor Gates was held."

The NAACP called for the following immediate changes with regard to law enforcement in Cambridge.

  • A comprehensive anti-racial profiling training program for law enforcement personnel in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Race and gender sensitivity and diversity training for law enforcement personnel.
  • The immediate formation of a Police Accountability Citizen Complaint Review Board. This board should be invested with the resources, subpoena power, and independence to investigate reports of misconduct, abuse, and racial profiling by city law enforcement officers; and with the ability to make recommendations for the resolution of complaints.

These NAACP suggestions represent solid leadership and constructive efforts to make the best of a bad situation. The President and the New York Daily News should learn some lessons from the NAACP about the appropriate approach to the abuse of Professor Gates by the Cambridge Police Department.

How Would a Fish Know What "Wet" Is?

If fish live only in water, how can they understand that they are wet. Similarly, white Americans typically struggle to understand "white privilege" because white privilege surrounds their lives the way that water surrounds fish. Non-white are often helpful in explaining white privilege to white Americans, but a white scholar's discussion of white privilege is probably a great place to start. Peggy McIntosh of Wellesley College wrote "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" in 1988.

Of the 50 examples of white privilege offered by Professor McIntosh, three stand out as relevant to the Gates arrest discussion. Speaking in the first person as a white person, Professor McIntosh offers:

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.
30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn't a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.
32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

In a week in which yet another study demonstrated that people of color get lower quality medical treatment in the United States, even when the people of color have greater wealth and income than their white counterparts, we must look at policing as suffering from the same racial discrimination. While skin color trumps all other factors in determining the quality of medical care that people of color receive, doctors and hospitals are not proud of this reality. That may be the most frustrating white privilege, the white privilege to be healed when sick.

In NYC, the Mayor is proud of his record of record on stops and frisks of people of color, and the New York Daily News is too surrounded by water to notice that it is wet.

Monday, July 20, 2009

City Council Slush Fund Scandal Grows

One New York City Council member has resigned as a result of the slush fund scandal, but as we vote in the September primaries, we won't know whether more elected officials will be forced to plead guilty. The scandal has at least one redeeming quality; the resignation of City Council member Miguel Martinez makes room for New York City's Immigration Commissioner, Guillermo Linares to regain his former seat representing Upper Manhattan in the City Council.

Slush Fund Scandal

In April 2008, the New York City Council was embarrassed by a scandal that apparently goes back for decades. City Council members had been allocating New York City budget dollars to non-existent non-profit organizations. Sometimes, the dollars were later directed to legitimate organizations, and often the funds remained with phony organizations.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has claimed that she is a whistle-blower rather than a culprit in this scandal, despite the fact that she has been the speaker since 1996 and has led the City Council through two budget cycles that resulted in funds being allocated to phony groups. Quinn has also acknowledged that she was aware of the "slush fund" that benefited her office and gave her leverage in winning votes for her preferred initiatives. She claims that she had not supported the allocation of the slush fund to organizations that did not exist (a reasonable position, but one that she seems to have been developed only after her first two budgets as Speaker).

Despite the fact that millions of dollars have apparently been allocated to non-existent organizations for the last 20 years, we have almost no insight into how much unethical and illegal activity has occurred or whom we should hold responsible for that activity. Two City Council staff members plead guilty in connection with the slush fund in 2008, and Miguel Martinez plead guilty last week. Martinez had only been in office for one term, and we have no way to analyze whether we should expect additional guilty pleas and resignations.

At Manhattan Viewpoint, we hope that prosecutors will give New Yorkers an update soon (in advance of the September Primaries) that will allow us to enter the voting booth with confidence that we are not voting for candidates who are in the process of negotiating plea deals.

Commissioner Linares Seeks His Former Seat

Because of the resignation of Miguel Martinez, former City Council member Guillermo Linares has begun a campaign to regain his former seat. While he starts without a campaign organization or campaign funds, Linares begins the campaign with a reputation and a track record of which he can be very proud.

Guillermo Linares grew up poor in the Dominican Republic and went on to become the first Dominican elected to public office in the United States. He entered the United States at age 15 without any knowledge of English and drove a taxi to pay for college. He went on to receive a bachelors degree and a masters degree from City College and a doctorate from Columbia. He served his Upper Manhattan constituents well and is ready to serve again.

So, this scandal already has a silver lining.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Another Bloomberg Blunder - And - Albany Reloaded

Three days ago, Mayor Bloomberg announced retroactive raises for his senior staff members, demonstrating once again his unlimited arrogance.

Separately, New York State Senator Pedro Espada came full circle in his turncoat / traitor odyssey and rejoined the Democratic Party to give the Democrats a 32 to 30 majority in the New York State Senate. As part of his double-cross of the Republicans, Espada will be elevated to the role of Majority Leader in the New York State Senate. So, it seems that crime does pay after all.

Bloomberg's Retroactive Raises

Mayor Bloomberg has surpassed his previous demonstrations of arrogance with his granting of retroactive raises to nearly 7,000 members of his staff. In essence, the Mayor's team will receive bonuses representing the additional earnings they would have received if the raises had begun 16 months ago. They get a 4% raise for all of last year and a 4.16% raise for all of this year.

As absurd as the bonuses and raises appear on their face, a broader context illuminates how unacceptable this latest mayoral maneuver really is.

1) The Mayor demanded that City Council change the City Charter to allow him to seek a third consecutive term, despite two referenda in which the people of New York City voted overwhelmingly to disallow Mayors to serve for three consecutive terms. In arguing for the third term, Bloomberg has suggested that the intense economic and fiscal crisis facing New York City requires keeping Bloomberg in power (ignoring the fact that Bloomberg got us into this mess). Bloomberg's answer to the economic and fiscal crisis is to give huge bonuses and raises to his staff. Now, at least one of the Deputy Mayors will have a higher salary than the salary provided to the Mayor's office by law. The third term seems unwise.

2) At Manhattan Viewpoint, we have been highly critical of the Mayor's decision to use sales taxes to balance the city's budget. The Mayor's obsession with protecting high earners from taxation has resulted in a painfully regressive budgetary approach that relies on poor people to pay more taxes to fill in the budget gaps created by the economic downturn and by the Mayor's unfortunate reliance on Wall Street revenues during his first 1.5 terms. It is ultra-shameful that a mayor who so thoroughly believes in regressive taxation would be so generous to his own senior staff during a fiscal crisis. He is demanding that poor people pay more so that he can pay his top advisers more.

3) Bloomberg is setting a record pace for stopping and frisking people of color. He has given the crime of "walking while black" the official City Hall stamp of approval, and his administration is retaining all of the personal information of those that are stopped. 90% of those stopped are non-white even though whites who are stopped are 2.5 times more likely to have illegal substances or weapons in their possession. Yet, Bloomberg will stop and frisk more people of color this year than any mayor has ever stopped in New York City.

4) The Mayor chose to reject federal aid from the Obama administration because it would have expanded the availability of food stamps to more poor people.

Bloomberg is demonstrating the type of leadership that suggests he should have had only one term and should certainly not attempt to impose a third term on our great city.

Albany Reloaded

Pedro Espada came roaring back into the Democratic Party late last week. Given his weaknesses and challenges, no one should be pleased that he is now the New York State Senate Majority Leader. While the Democrats have waited about 70 years for the opportunity to set the public agenda for New York State, relying on the loyalty and leadership of Pedro Espada is not at all consistent with the progress we must make in our state. He is more likely to be indicted or declared ineligible to hold the office to which he was elected than to turn out to be a leader that we should admire. For now, Espada's latest move puts the Democrats in charge of the New York State Senate. Given the Democratic control over the State Assembly and the Governor's Mansion, the Democrats are now responsible for making tangible improvements and have no excuses and no one to blame but themselves if they fail.

Lt. Governor Controversy

Governor Paterson appointed a Lt. Governor last week despite guidance of the New York State Attorney General and from decades of precedent that suggested that he did not have that power. While we are not qualified at Manhattan Viewpoint to challenge the Governor or the Attorney General on the proper interpretation of the New York State Constitution, we certainly are qualified to state the obvious: a Lt. Governor chosen under circumstances that many credible people see as unconstitutional will be bogged down in litigation and will not be legitimized until all legal challenges to his appointment have been defeated.

The Governor's choice, Richard Ravitch is an excellent choice in terms of a person whose intellect and integrity are unquestioned. We just may not get the opportunity to benefit from the services of this superb public servant for weeks and months while we wait for the legal process to come to some conclusions about the legality of the appointment.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Assessing the Albany Coup and Enjoying Henry Hudson's "Failure"

Just days after celebrating the birth of our nation with uplifting ceremonies and arresting fireworks, we are now back to reality. The New York State Senate remains in chaos.

Also, two days ago, we celebrated the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's first trip on what is now the Hudson River by moving New York City's July 4th 30-minute fireworks show from the East River to the Hudson River. Those of us in Manhattan can trace the start of the development of the Manhattan we know to the "failure" of Henry Hudson's 1609 voyage to discover a "northern passage" from Europe to Asia.

Closer Look at the Albany Coup

Tom Robbins wrote an insightful column in the Village Voice last week that addressed the underlying motivations of Tom Golisano and the Republican Party as they moved to elevate Democrat Pedro Espada to the Presidency of the New York State Senate in early June. The Republican Party and other powerful interests around New York State became fearful that the new Democratic majority would turn their progressive agenda into legislation that would ultimately become law. The Democratic majority in the State Senate had already proven to be the key ingredient in the successful effort to repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws after decades of seeing the repeal effort fail because of Republican control of the State Senate. That same Democratic majority in the State Senate was poised to take on other powerful interests, and those interests initiated a coup that has caused a stalemate in Albany and undermined the will of the electorate in the last election.

As Robbins correctly points out - in describing the nature of the effort to destroy the Democratic majority:

The threat to power here was the slim Democratic majority that won control of the Senate last fall for the first time in more than 40 years. Consider the timeline: The plotters launched their coup on June 8, the day before the Senate's housing committee was due to consider legislation—given a good chance of passage—that would curb rent hikes on hundreds of thousands of city apartments. Worse, it was even possible that the new majority might vote to give control over New York City housing policies to the city itself. Imagine that? Home rule! For the real estate and landlord lobby, which had long held full sway in the Senate, this was an impossible state of affairs. A pair of renegade Democrats were recruited at a still undisclosed price. The rebels stepped across the aisle to vote the Republicans back into power, thus ensuring that there would be no further incursions into the business of real estate profit or any other sacred Albany cows.

Robbins focuses on reality of the Albany coup as an attack on progressive public policy rather than the caricature of foolish mismanagement of public affairs that has been presented by most of the local media when addressing the Albany coup. We encourage Manhattan Viewpoint readers to read Robbins' column in its entirety.

This analysis reminds us that elections have consequences and that we must all keep on fighting, even after an election ends with results that please us. Because of the coup, legislation that would keep us safer, legislation that would improve our economy, and efforts that would ensure that powerful business interests must abide by the laws already in place have all be put on hold. The fight in Albany is just beginning.

Henry Hudson's "Failure"

As we commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first trip by Henry Hudson up the Hudson River, we are reminded of how the Manhattan we enjoy today got its start with Hudson's failed attempt to travel from Europe to Asia by traveling northward. Though Hudson died viewing his efforts as failures, his trips led the way to the control of Manhattan by the Dutch (Hudson was British but was employed by the Dutch), and that Dutch control started Manhattan on a journey that continues to our era. Underneath the abuses of the Native Americans, the long period of slavery, and the support of the Confederacy during the Civil War, a wonderful city grew into what is the greatest city in the world today.