The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: Racism

Stop and Frisk: “Reform” Debate Continues

As a result of powerful organizing and strong city-wide coalitions, Stop and Frisk has become one of the major issues that Mayoral Candidates have been forced to address.  Democratic mayoral candidates who did not seem critical enough of NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policies suffered in the election. Earlier this summer, the courts ruled that the way the NYPD has implemented Stop and Frisk is unconstitutional.  In attempt to improve police practices, Judge Scheindlin appointed an independent monitor and mandated that certain groups of police in high-crime areas must wear cameras. While we view this court ruling as a moral victory, we remain skeptical about how Stop and Frisk can remain in place in a just way.

Bloomberg and the NYPD are doing everything in their power to maintain Stop and Frisk as it is, and challenge the court’s ruling. This week, the union representing NYPD sergeants filed paperwork to appeal the court ruling, as well as to demand a seat at the table to help decide how the reforms will be implemented.

On the one hand, this seems fair- it’s their jobs and they’ll have to be the people carrying out the reforms. Just like we support teachers being involved in education reforms, perhaps police need to be involved in this process.  But when you dig deeper their role in conversations around reform becomes murkier- the NYPD sergeants are the very people who have been carrying out the unconstitutional practices. What’s more, they clearly do not believe that the program needs reform- which is why they are working to appeal the ruling.  If they don’t believe in the need to change their practices when those practices are clearly damaging, why should they have a seat at the table?

Stop and Frisk greatly impacts our work at UHAB. The tenants we work with are almost exclusively people of color, and Stop and Frisk policies (as proven over and over again) disproportionately impact communities of color. As a result, neighborhoods are deeply affected- from the way that people view the police and safety, to the way that they feel monitored and policed in their own homes.

Even “Operation Clean Halls,” the Stop and Frisk for privately owned apartment buildings, was deemed unconstitutional. But so little has changed. The NYTimes reports that:

Judge Scheindlin excoriated the Police Department for persisting in making illegal stops and arrests outside private apartment buildings — even after prosecutors had pointed out that they were wrongful.

There is a similar class-action lawsuit in the works claiming that stops in NYCHA buildings are discriminatory:

One resident, the president of a public housing leadership group, testified that life for families harassed by stop-and-frisk policies in their own apartment buildings was like life in a “penal colony.

Last week, Picture the Homeless  screened its new film “Journey Towards Change: Victory Over NYPD Profiling.”  According to Picture the Homeless’s website, “this short film includes interviews with our members, glimpses of activists in action, and reflections on what we’ve achieved and how much work we still have to do.”  To check out the film or get involved with Picture the Homeless’s work around Stop and Frisk, contact Shaun Lin at shaun@picturethehomeless.org.


Annenberg Institute releases report: “Is Demography Destiny?”

This month, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform released a disheartening report on the correlation between race, income, zip code, and college-readiness.  As you probably know, New York City high school students are not mandated to attend their local high schools.  Students apply to schools anywhere in the city, and can commute throughout.  This system has made it difficult to track student achievement with geographic location, but this is precisely what the Annenberg Institute did for their study “Is Demography Still Destiny?”  Through linking zip codes and demographics to college readiness, the report concluded that yes, demography is still “destiny.”

A few unfortunate facts unearthed from the report:

  • “The higher the percentage of black and Latino residents in any city neighborhood, the lower the college readiness scores of the students residing in that neighborhood.”
  • “The mean income level in each neighborhood was particularly strongly correlated with students’ college readiness scores – the lower a neighborhood’s mean income, the lower the college readiness scores of the students living in that neighborhood.”
  • “Only 8 percent of students from Mott Haven graduate ready for college, while nearly 80 percent of students from Tribeca do.”

While we feel there are several important pieces to draw from this report, we don’t agree with the notion that demography and college readiness is one’s destiny. Destiny is something that is unchanging, pre-determined, and takes any subjectivity out of our hands.  While race and class impact our lives through multiple mechanisms, we still have power to shape our own lives.

That being said, the report did highlight important information regarding the ways racism impacts students in our city.  The city, as a result of racism and classism, is clearly organized in a way that cuts off resources to students in some neighborhoods (often higher percentages of people of color) while provides opportunities to other students (likely in white neighborhoods).

School admissions processes can perpetuate this inequality with more prestigious schools giving preference to students with privilege. School admissions might give priority to students who have attended an open house or information session, for example, which might perpetuate the inequality of who can attend the school.

The authors recommend that schools:

Significantly increase the number of educational-option seats to ensure that students of all academic levels and all neighborhoods have a fair shot at seats in the high schools that are most likely to prepare them for college.

Authors of the report also call for community reinvestment  such as counseling programs and adding resources to struggling schools (not simply shutting them down).

As housing organizers, we also call for increased investments in our communities.  Poor housing, like college readiness, is also linked to lower-income neighborhoods and race.  Through our own research, we have seen that buildings in foreclosure with high code violations are overwhelmingly in neighborhoods of color.  We need to invest in those neighborhoods- stabilize housing, ensure permanent affordability, and provide access to resources that historically have been denied.  We hope that through continued research and organizing efforts- within buildings and neighborhoods- communities can gain power and demand those resources!

End Racial Profiling and Police-ICE Collaboration! SB1070, S-Comm and Stop and Frisk

Today’s announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the “show me your papers” section of SB1070, Arizona’ notorious immigration bill, came as an unwelcome shock to immigrant rights advocates.  While this decision does not seem to directly impact New York City or the tenants we work with, the consequences are vast.  Not only have there already been several copycat laws passed and even more introduced in various other states, but this law highlights the blatant racism that guides our immigration and law enforcement systems.

As a reminder, SB1070 is the controversial immigration law implemented in the summer of 2010 designed to help the national government better enforce its immigration laws in Arizona. The bill essentially allowed for police in Arizona to act as immigration agents by asking for papers and detaining suspected undocumented immigrants.  The law also made it a state crime to be undocumented in Arizona and to work without papers.

The Supreme Court deemed three out of the four aspects of the law in question to be unconstitutional, but left the most controversial piece of the bill intact: police must ask those they deem “reasonably suspicious” to be undocumented for their immigration papers.  It has been argued several times over that this piece of the legislation necessitates police to use racial profiling since there is no way other way for police to guess someone’s immigration status without judging by someone’s appearence.

While a copycat law has not yet been introduced in New York, several other policies are in place which institutionalize racism in law and local immigration enforcement.  Secure Communities (S-Comm), recently reinstated statewide, is a national immigration program expected to be nationwide by 2013.  Like SB1070, this program creates distrust between communities of color and the police  since it allows for ICE and police collaboration, though in a less direct way. Through S-Comm, ICE can access and run immigration checks on local fingerprint databases.  The result has been a massive increase of deportations of people stopped for broken taillights or other non-criminal actions (the official reason for the program is to deport undocumented people who pose a threat to society).

A second widely criticized program which has served as a way to institutionalize racism in our communities is Stop and Frisk.  This New York City program is under a high level of scrunity by communities of color, activists, and increasingly elected officials. According to a report issued by the NYCLU,

Although they account for only 4.7 percent of the city’s population, black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for over 40 percent of stops last year. Nine of every 10 was found innocent. Even more alarming is that the number of stops of young black men exceeded New York’s entire population of young black men.

The report also reveals that while black and Latino New Yorkers are overwhelmingly more likely to be frisked than whites, they are less likely to be found with a weapon; police found guns, drugs, or stolen property on white suspects about twice as often as they did on black suspects. Overall, for each frisk, a weapon was found only 1.9 percent of the time.

Stop and Frisk’s faction “Operation Clean Halls” even more directly impacts tenants we work with since it allows for Stop and Frisk to take place in private apartment buildings.    Through the program, police are able to enter buildings and Stop and Frisk tenants in lobbies and hallways of their own homes.  To read more about this program, click here to read a past blog post.

Programs and laws like SB1070, Secure Communities, and Stop and Frisk do not make our communities safer.  Instead, they develop mistrust and fear of law enforcement, and we must get rid of these programs in order to live in a safe world devoid of racism.  To get involved in the conversation addressing S-Comm and Stop and Frisk locally, attend a forum this Thursday at 6:00 at Hunter School of Social Work.

Racism: Alive and Well in NYC

In light of the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida and of Shaima Alawadi in California, we are painfully aware of the blatant racism flourishing in this country.  Last week, we marched with hundreds of others through the streets of Manhattan, expressing our frustration at policy that profiles young, black men.  Shaima Alawadi was murdered in her own California home for being Iraqi. These murders are deadly explosions of racial biases that pervade our country and put minorities constantly at risk. This has forced us to examine the work that we do at UHAB and identify the racist elements of affordable housing in New York City – particularly in communities of color in the Bronx and in Central Brooklyn where we generally work.

As tenant organizers we are witness to an unspoken racism that permeates New York City. We often refer to it as the double standard: the housing standard that is considered acceptable in communities of color is not the same as the housing standard in white neighborhoods. In buildings where we work in the Bronx, repairs (if they come at all) are cheap, and quick to break. In Central Brooklyn, landlords typically remove mold violations by painting over the offensive bacteria.

We’re currently working in a building in Hunts Point, where tenants (primarily Black and Hispanic) get sick if they drink the water that comes out of their tap. If a group of White tenants in Park Slope couldn’t drink the water…well, it would just never happen. We can’t imagine it because if it were true, the NY Times would publish four or five Op-Eds about it and the problem would be remedied immediately.

While affordable housing will probably never be luxury high-rises, tenants do expect the same basic quality of living: apartments that are free of lead paint and mold, a monthly exterminator and doors that lock. They expect heat when it is cold outside and no leaks when it is raining. The cost of bad housing is immense, for families and for communities.

Trayvon Martin’s murder reveals the undercurrent of racism that exists in our communities. We are calling into question racism that affects the quality of life for marginalized communities across New York City. Landlords take advantage of tenants – tenants who perhaps have a limited understanding of English – because they feel that communities of color expect and deserve less. But the voices of NYC tenants will continue to demand equality and justice for affordable housing until this paradigm shifts.

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