Monday, August 30, 2010

New York's Massive Sexual Abuse in Prisons and Low Graduation Rates in High Schools

Last week, the Justice Department released its report on sexual in our nation's prisons and jails. New York State emerged as the state with the most sexual abuse in its prisons and jails. Also, we learned this week that New York is the worst state in graduating its Black males from high school. Shockingly, in NYC, only 28% of Black males graduate from high school. NYC is amongst the worst performing major cities in terms of graduating Black males from high school.

New York State Fails High School

new report by the Schott Foundation teaches us that less than half of all Black males in the US graduate from high school and that New York State and New York City are amongst the worst performers in the country in terms of Black male graduation rates. In New York State, only 25% of Black males graduate, and New York City is only slightly better than the state-wide average with 28%. Our state's 25% graduation rate for black males is the worst of all of the 50 states.

We can predict a lack of success for the Black community in New York State when we see that New York State's Black males are entering adulthood without a high school diploma.

Our failure to graduate Black males from high school in New York State should make us think very seriously about our prisons. A lack of education often leads to criminal behavior, and those without formal educations are most easily incarcerated when they've committed no crime at all.

Unfortunately, our state's poor performance in high school graduation rates is matched by poor quality prisons.

Justice Department Report

The US Department of Justice released a report by its Bureau of Justice Statistics with extensive analysis of sexual abuse in prisons and jails in our country.

The study is based on an anonymous survey of those incarcerated in our country. The findings leave us disappointed and concerned.

More than four percent of those in prison and more than three percent of those in jail have suffered sexual abuse. The rate on inmate-on-inmate abuse was more than twice as high amongst women inmates than amongst men in prisons and jails. Guard-on-inmate sexual abuse is far more common than inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse, and female guards abusing male prisoners is the most common type of sexual abuse in our prisons and jails.

The study suggests that sexual abuse of prisoners tends to begin very early in an inmate's time in prison or in jail and that individuals who have been sexually abused before their incarceration are more likely to abused during the incarceration.

Unfortunately, New York State's prisoners are abused more than any other state's prisoners.

New York Prisons and Sexual Abuse

Unfortunately, the sexual abuse problems we see across the country are at their worst in New York State's prisons. The Justice Department report found that three of New York State's prisons and one county jail have high rates of guard-on-prisoner sexual abuse. Having four of the worst facilities in New York State makes New York State the worst in the country for sexual abuse of its incarcerated population.

Nearly seven percent of those incarcerated at Bayview Correctional Facility and Attica Correctional Facility reported being physically forced or threatened into engaging in sexual activity by prison guards. Ten percent of female inmates at Bayview and seven percent of male inmates at the Elmira Correctional facility were forced into performing sex acts by those running the facilities.

New York State's Black Males

This week presented an unflattering snapshot of the state of our state. We live in the worst state in the country for graduating Black males from high school, and we also live in the state that permits the largest amount of widespread abuse of its incarcerated population by those empowered to control our prisons. Both results are unacceptable, and both results show how our public policy approach in New York State leaves Black males at a disadvantage.

We will not be able to be reach our potential as a state until we cease to treat Black males as a disease to be eradicated. Right now, we refuse to offer educational opportunities to Black males in New York State, but we are very effective at sending Black males to prison to be sexual abused by employees of New York State.

Our next Governor must make improving the prospects for our state's Black males our state's top priority.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Schneiderman for Attorney General

With the Democratic Primary three weeks away, we endorse State Senator Eric Schneiderman for New York State Attorney General.

New York Times Concurs

Senator Schneiderman is the only Manhattan candidate seeking the Democratic nomination, and he is also the candidate with the best record of taking courageous and correct positions on the key issues facing our state. Not only has he taken the correct positions, he's been a leading advocate for the biggest achievements of the State Legislature, including the historic repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

The New York Times endorsed Senator Schneiderman for Attorney General late last week, and they did so for the right reasons.

"We endorse Senator Schneiderman in the Democratic primary because of his sound judgment, legal expertise, political independence, and long history of fighting for government reform."

Amsterdam News Adds Its Support

In a lengthy and detailed endorsement of Senator Schniederman, the Amsterdam News focused directly on how Schneiderman has consistently proven his ability to lead on the criminal justice issues that have been the focus of those of us who live in Upper Manhattan.

"While in the State Senate, Schneiderman has been instrumental in passing legislation that directly affects the lives of our community. From a Clinic Access Bill to the legislation to increase the minimum wage, to his most recent legislation focusing on how inmates in upstate penitentiaries are counted by the United States Census, he has been there fighting for us."

No candidate can claim to have a record of achievement as Attorney General; Schneiderman's competition has no one it who has held statewide office or been Attorney General. But, evidence of the independence, judgment, leadership, and sense of justice needed to become a successful Attorney General is abundant in Senator Schneiderman's record as an elected official. As the Amsterdam News observed, Senator Schneiderman has proven that he has the right skills and the right values to be successful as Attorney General. We look forward to seeing him in that role.

Rice is Wrong

Andrew Cuomo is supporting Kathleen Rice in the Democratic Primary, but she is not an acceptable candidate. She opposed the repeal of the Rockefeller drug laws; she refused to register as a Democrat, and she refused to vote in elections until recently. Her lack of leadership, her unwillingness to be a Democrat and her unwillingness to vote in elections demonstrate that she is not the best choice for the Democratic Party in 2010. Senator Eric Schneiderman is the best choice.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Islamic Center Remains At Center Stage

We discussed the planned Islamic Center for Lower Manhattan previously, and we return to it as President Obama and the Republican Party have unwittingly collaborated to legitimize the Islamic Center controversy as a national discussion topic. Also, we noticed (but were not surprised) that the New York Post is confused about Black entrepreneurs - perhaps the New York Post would say that all Black entrepreneurs look alike.

Obama Weighs In

President Obama decided to discuss his views with regard to the Islamic Center planned for Lower Manhattan, and his remarks left us more confused than enthused.

On Friday of last week, President Obama said that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. Mayor Bloomberg and other New York leaders cheered the support from the President for religious tolerance and interpreted his remarks as a bold declaration of support for the Islamic Center planned for Lower Manhattan.

However, the President clarified his remarks to indicate that he was not commenting on the wisdom of the project but simply endorsing freedom of religion.

The Republican Party has seized on the President's remarks about the Islamic Center to suggest that he is out-of-touch with America.

Let us hope that the President supports more than simple freedom of religion. He needs to support Manhattan as it leads our country to a better relationship with people of faith and people whose faith is Islam.

Manhattan Welcomes the Islamic Center

As we have stated:

"Manhattan NEEDS a mosque at Ground Zero. Manhattan needs to rededicate itself to embracing all faiths, finding ways to love each other's differences, and building bridges of understanding between different groups of people and among people from different parts of the world.

We need to learn to embrace (rather than simply tolerate) our brothers and sisters whose life experiences, beliefs, and values differ from ours. Anyone who comes to Manhattan to establish a peaceful community center is trying to make Manhattan better."

The New York Post Confuses Its Black Entrepreneurs

Yesterday, the New York Post attacked Desiree Rogers, the former White House social secretary for joining forces with Obama critic and BET founder Bob Johnson. But, Ms. Rogers accepted a position as CEO of Johnson Publishing, which has no connection to Bob Johnson.

Johnson Publishing, the publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, was founded in 1942 by John H. Johnson and his wife Eunice W. Johnson. Their daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, will move from the CEO role to the Chairman role as Ms. Rogers takes the CEO position.

Bob Johnson is not John H. Johnson (who passed away in 2005). Bob Johnson was born four years after Johnson Publishing was founded. By the time Bob Johnson got to high school, Ebony magazine was a must-read in nearly every Black household in the United States. The New York Post was correct that Bob Johnson is alive and leads several businesses; Ebony and Jet happen not to be within the Bob Johnson empire.

The New York Post should apologize to Ms. Rogers, the family of John H. Johnson, Bob Johnson, and all of the rest of us for its wrong-headed and silly attack on Ms. Rogers and for its disgusting ignorance of the difference between two of the most respected Black entrepreneurs in history.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Attacking Prison Gerrymandering in NY State

Prison Gerrymandering, a the process of drawing electoral districts that consider incarcerated people to be residents of the prison towns, has worked against New York City for many years, and the New York State Legislature has finally taken action to reduce its impact in our state.

Prison Gerrymandering

As we have stated in the past, the Census Bureau counts prisoners as residents of the town where the prison is located rather than as residents of the town where they lived prior to becoming incarcerated. That approach causes large numbers of problems, including the predictable shifting of electoral power to prison towns. Prison towns are able to count non-voting incarcerated individuals as part of their voting districts, thereby giving the voters in those districts more electoral power than people living in areas that do not include a prison.

As we stated almost exactly two years ago:

"While, as of 2002, only 24% of those incarcerated in New York State are residents of Upstate New York, 91% of the prisoners are in that part of the state. Manhattan loses the votes of those incarcerated and must subsidize the education and lifestyle of upstate communities. Manhattan subsidizes the parks in upstate communities, and Manhattan's ability to fight back is limited by the increased voting power of upstate communities. In fact, many Federal program dollars are allocated based on the number of low-income residents in a given community, and the Census results in those dollars being provided to upstate communities who don't use the funds to aid those incarcerated individuals whose presence in their communities creates the windfall from the Federal Government.

It is worth noting that 80% of New York State's prisoners are Black or Latino, while the state's prison locations are nearly all in areas with very few Black or Latino residents. Though illegal drug use is equally common outside of communities of color as it is within communities of color, ninety percent of those incarcerated based on drug offenses are Black or Latino. Therefore, this theft from Manhattan is also part of a broader crime against ethnic minorities and people of color who reside in New York State. The impact of the diluted voting power and reduced resources that result from this theft is concentrated in neighborhoods where Black and Latino residents live in the largest numbers."

New York State Legislature Attacks Prison Gerrymandering

Last week, the New York State Legislature sent to Governor Paterson a new law that would count prisoners in their home communities rather than in prison communities for the drawing of local and state legislative districts going forward. All of those local and state legislative districts will be redrawn in 2011.

This new law is a wonderful achievement and a testament to the benefit of having the Democratic Party control the State Legislature and the Governor's Mansion; the commitment to true representative democracy is reflected in legislation.

Broader Problems Persist

The sad reality of this achievement is that it is narrow. Federal dollars will still be distributed based on prison Gerrymandering. Congressional districts will continue to be drawn using prison Gerrymandering. But, New York is improving the situation by correcting the problems it can correct. The full solution must come from Washington, DC.

Monday, August 2, 2010

ADL Attacks Manhattan

Last week, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) broke our hearts. In opposing the planned mosque for lower Manhattan, the ADL likely did more damage to itself than to the effort to bring the mosque to the area near Ground Zero.

Embracing Rather Than Tolerating

In the end, how we treat the mosque proposal will define us. Anyone opposing the mosque project will lose the ability to oppose bigotry in the future. When the mosque is built, it will be a shining symbol of the religious freedom available in the United States as well as a vibrant example for non-Muslims of how valuable the Muslims community is in Manhattan as well as all over the our country.

Manhattan NEEDS a mosque at Ground Zero. Manhattan needs to rededicate itself to embracing all faiths, finding ways to love each other's differences, and building bridges of understanding between different groups of people and among people from different parts of the world.

We need to learn to embrace (rather than simply tolerate) our brothers and sisters whose life experiences, beliefs, and values differ from ours. Anyone who comes to Manhattan to establish a peaceful community center is trying to help make Manhattan better. We should have a strong bias in favor of supporting such efforts.

Disappointing Support For Bigotry

The ADL has stood against bigotry consistently throughout its history. Its stated mission is to fight all forms of bigotry, but, in this instance, admitted that is was supporting a position that it would typically consider bigoted. In opposing the building of a mosque near Ground Zero, the ADL stated that the pain of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks justified the bigotry embedded in the ADL's position. That position is shameful, illogical, and disgusting.

The ADL and many other groups have proclaimed themselves to be defenders of minority groups. There is no more obvious minority group needing support in our country than believers in Islam. Islam remains a beautiful and peaceful religion, and Muslims remain under attack all over our country. The ADL's attack on the mosque project is backwards. The ADL should be leading the non-Muslim support for the mosque as part of their fierce opposition to bigotry. Instead they have sided against Manhattan and with the bigots.

In opposing the mosque project, the ADL has severely damaged its own credibility, but it has likely not harmed the mosque project's chances of success. New York City is better than the ADL. We believe in our own principals, and we truly love our fellow New Yorkers. Our opposition to bigotry is not a slogan. New Yorkers oppose bigotry every day as we offer subway directions, a helping hand crossing the street, aid in getting a stroller up or down subway stairs, and a word of encouragement to people we don't know and whose skin color, attire, and/or language suggest they are different from us in some way. We do not views these daily activities as political statements because we live in New York City. We practice what we preach.

NYC's Leaders Rise to the Occasion

Our Mayor, our Borough President, the local community Board (by a vote of 29 to 1), and all of the key elected officials have all expressed their support for the mosque project. In that regard, our elected officials and community leaders have shown more consistency, better morality, and superior common sense when compared to the ADL. Perhaps New York will lead the way, as it has so often, toward freedom and away from hatred and bigotry, even as it is opposed by the ADL.