The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: supreme court

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.

NY Times: “A Landlord’s Uphill Fight to Ease Rent Restrictions”

James D. Harmon Jr. learned the value of a house as a child, shoveling coal into the furnace of one of two Upper West Side buildings owned by his grandfather, a French immigrant who worked as a waiter. “Jimmy, you take care of your building and your building will take care of you,” his grandfather told him.  “But the word he used in French wasn’t building” Mr. Harmon recalled the other day. “The word he used in French was ‘maison,’ which means home.”

Now Mr. Harmon, 68, who grew up in one of those buildings — a bow-fronted town house on West 76th Street near Central Park — has gone to the United States Supreme Court contending that New York City’s rent laws constitute a “taking” of his property without just compensation, a violation of his constitutional rights.

The regulations are meant to support the government’s goal of maintaining affordable housing for its citizens. Instead, he says, the laws have forced him and his family to shoulder the government’s burden and extend what is essentially “privatized welfare” to rent-stabilized tenants who are paying rent 59 percent below market rates and who have rights of succession to their lodgings in his house.

“Put yourself in our position,” Mr. Harmon, a former federal prosecutor, said of himself and his wife, Jeanne. “Suppose somebody told you, you’ve got an extra bedroom, we’d like to put someone in there for as long as they want to stay, and you have to take care of them for the rest of their lives and the rest of your life. That’s really what this is like.”

The city’s rent regulations have been challenged many times going back decades, making this case an uphill battle. Mr. Harmon has lost twice in lower courts, most recently in September, when the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, ruled that the rent-stabilization law did not constitute a “taking” because it did not stop him from using the building as a rental property and did not stop him from living there himself.

To continue reading, click here.

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