Monday, July 25, 2011

Environmental Racism on Display in Harlem

Last week highlighted the environmental racism endured in Harlem. Harlem's waste water treatment plant, which collects sewage from all over Manhattan and the Bronx, caught fire and dumped raw sewage into the Hudson River in Harlem.

Harlem and Environmental Racism

Harlem is a community composed primarily of people of color. It is a low-income community, and a community dominated by residential properties.

Harlem is also a community that demonstrates the impact of environmental racism.

The waste water treatment plant on the west side of Harlem between 137th Street and 145th Street is the destination for all sewage (every flushed toilet) for the entire western half of Manhattan and for the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Harlem is treated as the toilet of Manhattan and the Bronx.

Harlem is the bus depot capital of Manhattan. Of the eight bus depots in Manhattan, seven are located north of 96th Street.  Bus depots centralize air pollution, noise pollution, and vehicular traffic in one area. Bus drivers often have to keep their engines running during the winter to prevent their fuel from freezing, thereby increasing the pain inflicted on the Harlem community.

For many years, Manhattan's trash all landed on the west side of Harlem. Starting early this century, New York City's trash was shifted to Newark, New Jersey, and Harlem ceased to be the destination of Manhattan's trash. Therefore, Harlem was the capital of sewage, trash, and bus depots.

Fire Sends Sewage into the Hudson River

Last week, flames shot 30 feet in the air at the water treatment plant on the west side of Harlem. Raw sewage was sent into the Hudson River, and sun bathers at beaches in some parts of New York City were told to avoid the water. This is the ultimate impact of environmental racism: the sewage from many communities was dumped into Harlem's waters.

The water treatment plant is below Riverbank State Park. We have written about the need for Riverbank Park to be focused on Upper Manhattan residents. Riverbank Park has, at times, been provided to private schools from far away, and Harlem residents have been excluded. The release of raw sewage into Harlem's waters highlights the need to ensure that the benefits of Riverbank Park are focused on Harlem residents; Harlem residents are the focus of the health risks and challenges of being the toilet for the rest of Manhattan.

Monday, July 18, 2011

NY Health Under Attack in Budget Negotiations

Last week, we saw the debate over the federal budget reach a fever pitch. The Republican Party demanded budget cuts, including cuts in areas that help keep our communities healthy.

Health Funding Under Attack While Health Declines

Lost in last week’s debate in Washington about increasing the debt ceiling was the impact of potentially massive public sector cuts on average Americans, especially lower income households and middle-class families.  One area that can ill-afford more spending cuts is the public health sector.
In a recent ground-breaking report, F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011, from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced that adult obesity rates increased in 16 states over the last year and did not decrease in any states.  Furthermore, twenty years ago, no state had an obesity rate above 15 percent; today, 38 states have obesity rates over 25 percent and just one has a rate lower than 20 percent.  Overall, two-thirds of all Americans are obese or overweight.
While NY State ranks 9th out of 50 states with a 24.7% obesity rate, the situation is more alarming among NYS’ African-American and Latino communities where 31% of African-Americans are obese (vs. 27% of Latinos and 24% of Whites) including 37% of African-American women and 24% of African-American men are obese.
The Report also describes the strong relationship between income, education, obesity, diabetes and hypertension which is often a predictor of heart disease.  As one might expect, lower income and less educated households have higher obesity rates which result in higher rates of diabetes and hypertension. In Upper Manhattan, we face some of the worst levels of education, some of the highest levels of hypertension and diabetes, and high obesity rates to go along with our problem of "food deserts."
The health threat posed by the rising rates of obesity and other noncommunicable diseases has become so severe that the United Nations General Assembly is convening its first-ever High-level Meeting on noncommunicable disease prevention and control in NYC on September 19-20.  The four main noncommunicable diseases - cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung diseases and diabetes - kill three in five people worldwide. 
The good news is that while funding for education, afterschool programs and non-profits remains under assault, several private and public sector organizations are filling the void by providing a wide-range of free fitness programs for New Yorkers including those listed below.
LUNA Free Yoga Series
YogaLocal and LUNA are providing 500 free guest passes for yoga classes at 24 yoga studios throughout NYC including Yoga for Bliss in Riverdale, MindBodyHealth in Washington Heights and Harlem Yoga.  The passes are available on a first-come first-served basis at  
Created by the NYC Parks Dept, BeFitNYC BeFitNYC is a search engine for free and low-cost fitness activities in New York City and it lists programs, classes, facilities, and leagues in the Parks Department's properties as well as those of a number of partner groups.  Visit

City Parks Foundation
The City Parks Foundation provides free Golf, Tennis and Track & Field lessons for NYC youth under age 18 in each borough.   These FREE sports programs help promote physical fitness and build self-esteem in a fun, relaxed environment.  Visit

Monday, July 11, 2011

Derek Jeter Provides a Day of Joy

Last week, Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter established a new standard for heroics, leading the Yankees to victory on Saturday afternoon while becoming the first player ever to achieve his 3,000th hit as a Yankee.

Already a Hero

Derek Jeter had established himself as a future Hall of Famer long before last week's magical moment. He became the all-time Yankee leader in hits in 2009. He's helped lead the Yankees to five World Championships. He's won five Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers, and he's been the MVP of both the World Series and the All-Star Game.

We wrote in 2009 that Jeter should be the American League MVP for that year, and while he didn't receive the award, his performance was worthy of MVP recognition. The same was true in 2006, when he did not receive the award but was indeed the most valuable player in the American League.

Jeter has been a hero off the field as well. He's provided many millions of dollars of charitable donations to worthy causes focused on helping children live healthy, safe lives while they demonstrate to their peers how to thrive as youth. He founded the Turn 2 Foundation when he was a rookie in the Major Leagues and had not yet become a multi-million dollar per year fixture in the Bronx. Derek Jeter has consistently done the right things and said the right things as a leader and as a man. His exemplary character and his extraordinary work ethic reflect the values of the household created by Jeter's parents.

I remember sitting in the old Yankee Stadium and cheering wildly as Jeter eclipsed Lou Gehrig to become the all-time Yankee hit leader. Afterward, when asked about the fans' excitement regarding his new record, Jeter said, "I didn't expect that many people to be out there after the rain delay considering how hard it was raining when we started the game, but the fans were incredible. It says a lot about how they feel about their team and more importantly how they feel about the history of their team. I appreciate each and every one that was there."
His special mix of humility, maturity, and talent make him the best Yankee and the most beloved Yankee of his era. He has defined some or all of three different decades for the world's most famous and most accomplished baseball team with three contemporaries, Mariano Rivera (the most accomplished closer in Major League history), Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada.

While Jeter will likely play for the Yankees until 2014 or later (and will give us many more special moments), we should pause today to celebrate his record of success and dedication to excellence.


This latest achievement makes Jeter the 28th player to achieve at least 3,000 hits. Millions of people around the world strive to be Major League baseball players.
Since the Major Leagues began in the 19th Century, approximately 17,000 players have participated. Only 27 players had achieved 3,000 hits prior to last week. On the Yankees, Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio, Berra, and all of the other legends ended their careers with less than 3,000 hits as Yankees. Though there are players who have achieved 3,000 hits and have played portions of their careers with the Yankees, no one in a Yankee uniform has ever passed that milestone.

Gehrig's career was cut short by illness, and DiMaggio's career was shortened by service in the military during WWII. But, nonetheless, DiMaggio finished with 2,214 hits, and Gehrig finished with 2,721. Derek Jeter stands alone amongst all Yankees in history.

To add some emphasis to the achievement, his 3,000th hit was a home run. Only one other player has ever hit a home run as his 3,000th hit. As amazingly, Jeter was five-for-five during the game that included the 3,000th hit. Only one other player has ever had five hits in the game that included the 3,000th hit. In so many ways, Derek Jeter stands alone amongst all players in Major League history.
As of this morning, Jeter has 3,004 hits. May he have many more hits and a long, happy life after baseball.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Prison Closing Praise and Criticism while Cy Vance Struggles

While Manhattan DA Cy Vance seems to be developing a losing streak and facing criticism, our state has decided to close prisons. The losing streak is not leading to fewer prisons, but it does highlight our challenges in criminal justice.
Cy Vance
We endorsed Cy Vance in his 2009 campaign for Manhattan District Attorney, and we continue to expect him to be a very successful leader in Manhattan and beyond. However, he has been surprisingly unsuccessful thus far.  Let us hope and pray that he can fix the problems in his office in short order.
Prison Closings
The Correctional Association of New York, our state's leading voice on prison conditions, is led by a dynamic new Executive Director, Soffiyah Elijah. Her statement regrading our state's decision to close prisons and the state's highly questionable choice of prisons presents a complete and balanced picture. We reprint it below in its entirety:
The Correctional Association of New York applauds Governor Cuomo for his announcement yesterday to close seven prisons, the most significant commitment to prison reduction since the prison building boom of the 1980s. The plan includes four minimum-security facilities for men: Buffalo Work Release; Camp Georgetown; Summit Shock; and Fulton Work Release, in addition to three medium-security facilities for men: Arthur Kill; Mid-Orange; and Oneida. 
Closing prisons is long overdue: New York's prison population has dropped by over 15,500 people in the past decade and the state system has nearly 8,000 empty beds maintained at enormous cost. These closures will eliminate 3,800 empty prison beds and save taxpayers $72 million in 2011-12 and $112 million in 2012-13. 
While we commend the Governor for his commitment to eliminating excess prison beds, we are concerned that approximately 50% of these beds are located in or near New York City, even though New York City prisons only house 25% of the total state prison population. Therefore, the closures affect downstate prisons at a rate three times greater than prisons upstate. More than 60% of the state's prison population is from New York City and its suburbs. Closing downstate prisons will result in incarcerating even more people far from their homes and prevent them from maintaining family and community ties, which lessen the trauma of parental incarceration on children and lead to greater success post-release. The closure of Arthur Kill, an effectively run prison with numerous programs and one of the few facilities where lifers and long termers from New York City can be housed close to their loved ones, is particularly troubling. 
It is also significant that these prison closures will eliminate one-third of the state's work release beds - an already underutilized program. Work release helps people in prison gain critical employment skills to prepare them for a smooth transition back to their communities; however, the number of participants in New York's work release programs has already dropped by over 25,000 over the course of 12 years to only 1,900 in 2010. 
We are hopeful that yesterday's announcement is merely the beginning, and that the Governor will build on these positive steps by further downsizing prison beds in New York State. We urge the Governor to consider the following critical criteria in making future downsizing decisions: (1) the existence and quality of rehabilitative programs and specialized services in the facility; (2) the existence and quality of medical and mental health services in the facility; (3) the proximity of the facility to the geographic area in which the majority of incarcerated people lived prior to their incarceration and where they will likely return; and (4) the ability of the facility to keep incarcerated people and staff safe. We also expect that maximum-security and women's prisons will be included in future closures. 
The Governor can take additional measures to further reduce the prison population without sacrificing public safety, including: diverting some individuals from prison into alternative to incarceration programs; releasing inmates earlier in their sentences after participation in prison programs that have better prepared them for successful reintegration into their communities; and reducing the number of formerly incarcerated individuals who are returned to prison for technical parole violations. 
We commend Governor Cuomo for his dedication to eliminating excess prison capacity, moving away from an unjust overreliance on prisons as fuel for economic growth and ensuring more efficient use of taxpayer funds. We urge the Governor, along with New York State policymakers, to build on these significant steps and further reduce the state's prison population and capacity. By doing so, we can reduce the state's continued costly and misguided overuse of incarceration and free up much-needed funds to support in-prison programs, alternative to incarceration programs and other community-based services that build healthy, safe and productive individuals, families and communities.