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Citizens Union

Mayoral Issue Grid: Civil Rights



Mayoral Issue Grid

CIVIL RIGHTS

-Use City Contracting Power for Civil Rights Issues?
-Gay Marriage?

For decades, the city government has its enormous financial power to move social agendas. In the 1980s, the city used its pensions to force corporations to divest from South Africa to protest Apartheid.

This year, the City Council passed an Equal Benefits Law, which requires contractors that offer benefits to spouses of their employees to extend the same package to domestic partners of workers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the measure.

Gay marriage has also become a key civil rights issue in the campaign. While marriage is legally a state issue, in February, a Manhattan Supreme Court Justice ruled that the city should not discriminate against same-sex couples. She ordered the city clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Mayor Michael Bloomberg appealed the ruling.

Fernando Ferrer

Fernando Ferrer supports the use of city contracts to advance social agendas. “Whether it’s… the extension of domestic partnership rights to those you do business with the city, or the rights of the transgendered - for me it fits into the same category,” Ferrer said at a forum earlier this year. “You cannot believe in some human rights and not all.”

Ferrer said he also supports gay marriage.

Michael Bloomberg

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has supported using the city’s contracting power to advance social agendas in certain cases, but he vetoed the City Council's Equal Benefits Law, which requires contractors that offer benefits to the spouses of their employees to extend the same package to the domestic partners of workers.

Bloomberg says that he while personally supports gay marriage, it is a state issue.

Last year, Bloomberg appealed the Manhattan Supreme Court ruling to begin issuing marriage licenses. He told the New York Times in February, “I do not want to see happen here what happened in California,” where gay marriages were authorized by Mayor Gavin Newsom and overturned by the state court.

RELATED ARTICLES:
- Civil Rights Issues Divide Bloomberg and Democratic Rivals
- Bully Busting
- Democratic Mayoral Candidate Forum: Gay and Lesbian Issues
- Lagging Behind In The Fight For Gay Rights
- Can Critical Mass Negotiate a Truce?

 

Human Rights Law: Will It Become An Issue In The Mayoral Campaign?


The most comprehensive strengthening of the city’s human rights law in 14 years was passed overwhelmingly on September 15, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- who opposed the bill in public hearings -- is not saying whether he will sign it or not.

“This bill broadens the scope of the city’s human rights law, and adds protections for people who may currently be slipping through the cracks: couples who have entered into domestic partnerships and people who have experienced retaliation for reporting violations of the human rights law,” said Councilmember Gale Brewer, the chief sponsor of the legislation, The Local Civil Rights Restoration Act, Intro 22-A. “Perhaps more importantly, it clearly acknowledges that the city’s law often provides more protection than state and federal law." The bill would require the application of the stricter standards of city law when someone is discriminated against illegally in New York City.

"Intro 22-A sets the city human rights law free from being treated as nothing more than a carbon copy of its ever-narrowing state and federal counterparts," said Craig Gurian, a former staff member of the city's Human Rights Commission who is now executive director of the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York.

The vacancies on the United States Supreme Court were much on the mind of the bill’s sponsors. "Years of Republican administrations have taken their toll on state and federal laws designed to protect people from discrimination," said Councilmember Bill DeBlasio. "We have every reason to believe that the assault on civil rights will continue as President Bush continues to appoint conservatives to the federal bench.”

Almost a month ago, Avery Mehlman, the Human Rights Commission’s Deputy Commissioner for Law Enforcement, said they were “reviewing the latest form” of the legislation to see if it is acceptable to the Bloomberg administration. When the bill passed, he referred comment to the mayor’s press office where Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for Bloomberg, said, “We’re still reviewing it.” The mayor had 30 days to review after the bill's passage.

The timing is such that this legislation could become an issue in the mayoral campaign. Fernando Ferrer “strongly supports it,” according to his press office. "The Civil Rights Restoration Act is an important step towards ensuring that the civil rights of New Yorkers are construed by courts in the broadest possible terms," Ferrer said in a statement. "Equally important, we must ensure that we both strengthen the protections against retaliation for those who bring discrimination suits and increase the potential penalties on those who violate the law. Finally, I believe that it is simply the right thing to do to make clear that discrimination against domestic partners will not be tolerated in this city."

Ali Davis, legislative director for Brewer, said that the revised bill “came out of negotiations with the mayor’s office.” If Bloomberg does decide to reject the bill, she said, “the Council is willing to pass it over his veto."

Human Rights Commissioner Patricia Gatling testified against many of the key provisions of the legislation in April. When I wrote extensively about the bill in June, the administration was outright opposing it, though the administration does support a clause forbidding discrimination on the basis of “partnership status,” a compromise provision.

“This legislation poses a simple choice for the mayor," says Craig Gurian. "Align himself with progressive legislation supported by more than three dozen civil rights organizations, or facilitate the anti-civil rights agenda of the Bush and Pataki administrations. We hope the mayor abandons his opposition to the bill.”

Intro 22-A was backed by a coalition of more than 40 organizations, including the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Disabled in Action, Habitat for Humanity (New York chapter), Lambda Legal Defense, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

NYCLU v. NYPD

One year after the protests and mass arrests at the Republican National Convention here in New York, the New York Civil Liberties Union issued a 64-page report (in pdf format) critiquing police practices that week and calling for the creation of an “independent City agency to oversee the planning and management of large demonstrations.”

“The historical account provided by ‘Rights and Wrongs at the RNC’ is particularly important since the NYPD has defended all of its actions during the convention and has insisted it made no mistakes,” said Donna Liberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The performance of the police was a decidedly mixed one. While hundreds of thousands of people were able to make their voices heard, the right to protest was severely undermined by the mass arrests of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators and bystanders, the pervasive surveillance of lawful demonstrators, and the illegal fingerprinting and prolonged detention of nearly 1,500 people charged with mostly minor offenses. This compromised the Constitutional right to protest.”

More than 1,800 protesters and bystanders were arrested by the police during convention week. More than 87 percent of them were “found not guilty or had their cases dismissed or adjourned in contemplation of dismissal,” the New York Times reported. Some of those who believe they were falsely arrested are pursuing lawsuits against the city.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told the Times that police conduct during the convention was “a model of expert planning, professionalism and restraint.” He did not respond to the call for a new agency to deal with demonstrations, but did call the complaints catalogued in the report “a collection of old, untrue assertions and uncorroborated, self-serving statements by individuals who were arrested.”

Chris Dunn, associate legal director at Civil Liberties, told Newsday, “Protests are not a criminal event. They should not be treated as a law enforcement problem.”

 

Campaign 2005: Much At Stake For Immigrants


There is no question that New York, with its nearly three million foreign-born residents representing 200 ethnicities and speaking 175 languages, is a city of immigrants, as it always has been.

It should not be surprising that both the incumbent mayor and three of his four major Democratic opponents have said they support amnesty for undocumented immigrants – that the federal government grant legal status to those who have been in the United States for a certain period of time. (Only Anthony Weiner answered “no, not to all” at a mayoral forum.)

But in this city that more or less invented ethnic politics, advocates say they are hearing very little in this year’s local campaigns that directly addresses the local problems facing New York’s new immigrant population.

“There is a lot at stake this year for immigrants,” said Chung-Wha Hong, deputy director of the New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella organization consisted of more than 170 immigrant advocacy groups in New York. “But I haven’t seen any comprehensive plan in any of the candidates’ platforms.”

Almost by definition, immigration issues, it is true, are federal issues. But there are many immigrant issues that do not necessarily involve the federal government directly -- such as language barriers, immigrant students’ specific educational needs, employment obstacles and the difficulties of obtaining legal and social services.

And nothing that New York does in this area can be considered completely local. “Historically and politically, whatever New York’s locally-elected officials do,” Hong said, “has significant influence in the national debate in immigration policies.”

Education

 

New York City has the largest public school system in the United States, with more than a million school children from K-12. About one in seven are identified as English Language Learners, or ELL students (they used to be called Limited English Proficiency, LEP students), students who need extra help in English. Over the past four years, fewer of them are being taught in their native languages and more are being placed in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.

According to a 2002 report by the Manhattan Institute, less than ten percent of ELL students in elementary schools, and less than five percent in middle schools, achieved acceptable math test scores in the year 2000, much lower than the general city-wide average.

“Everybody wants to be the ‘education mayor’,” said Hong, whose organization counts immigrant education as a priority. “But they did not address one of the most serious problems: The LEP [Limited English Proficiency] students’ dropout rate is over 50 percent. It is a major crisis.”

However, C. Virginia Fields, the Manhattan borough president and one of the four Democratic candidates for mayor, promises on her campaign Web site to “develop small schools and programs focused solely on the instruction of high school-aged English Language Learners. I will also ensure that vocational education programs are capable of accommodating students with limited English proficiency.”

And former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer’s education plan, as outlined on his campaign Web site, does focus on addressing “the dropout crisis” in general, and also promises to dedicate $850 million a year “to expanding early childhood education programs and to strengthening special education and English language acquisition programs.”

Hong also stressed the importance of providing translations and translators to the non English-speaking parents of school children, in order to have them be involved in their children’s education. Under the Bloomberg’s new “Immigrant Opportunities Initiative”, the New York Immigration Coalition was able to get $9.1 million from City Hall to provide ESL classes, as well as legal and employment services to immigrants, up from $2.8 million last year. But the amount, she said, is “not at all sufficient.”

Another must, Hong believes, is professional training for schoolteachers in learning how to get through to children from varying cultural backgrounds.

Civil Rights and Criminal Justice

 

With post-911 heightened security and the introduction of the Patriot Act, many immigrants in New York City, particularly those without documentation, are fearful of deportation and police harassment. Under pressure from immigration groups and the City Council to protect the privacy of immigrants, Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued Executive Order 41 in September 2003 to forbid city agencies from reporting illegal immigrants to federal agencies.

“It gives assurance to all law-biding New Yorkers -whether you are an immigrant, a victim of domestic violence, or any taxpayer- that the confidential information you give to the city will stay with the city,” Bloomberg said at the time.

However, this “don’t tell” policy is limited and unclear. Immigrants who are arrested by the police are not protected by it, no matter how minor the offense. All New York City police officers are equipped with a NCIC (National Crime Information Center) mobile device, which hooks into the FBI criminal justice information system, which shows outstanding deportation proceedings. Once arrested, one’s immigration record will be revealed and those without documentation will be reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Thomas Doepfner, an assistant deputy police commissioner, said in a hearing held by the City Council Committee of Immigration in April that anyone whose driver’s license is checked by the police, even in a random traffic stop, will have his or her name and birth date run through the NCIC database. If someone is listed there as an immigration violator, ICE will be contacted. And if authorized by immigration officials to detain the person, the NYPD can hold the person for 48 hours for pickup by federal officers.

“It is not a good idea for the NYPD or any law enforcement agency to be involved with immigration,” said Tushar Sheth, of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which provides free legal services to immigrants. “You want to be able to trust the police so you can cooperate with them. It doesn’t help if the cop will ask you about your immigration status every time you talk to them. It makes it easier for immigrants to come forward in any investigation if they know their city leaders are behind them.”

Hong also denounces the practice as a “back-door” way to disregard Executive 41, which exempt from confidential immigration information about a person suspected of criminal activities by the police. “But illegal immigration is a civil violation. We need to adopt additional mechanism to protect the rights of immigrants. There are many loopholes to cover.”

Driver’s Licenses and “Real ID”

 

A national ID has been in the political debate for many years. It went back to the top of the agenda after 911 as the government tries to tighten the nation’s alarm system and prevent possible terrorists from traveling. The “Real ID Act”, a bill that requires all states to issue federally approved driver's licenses or identification cards to those who live and work in the United States, was passed by the Congress and will go into effect starting in May 2008.

Under the act, a Real ID will be required under federal law to verify a customer’s identity if one wants to drive, visit a federal government building, collect Social Security, access a federal government service or use the services of a private company. In a word, it will be almost impossible to live without such an ID.

“Having a driver’s license is part of many people’s livelihood,” said Sheth. “In a city with a significant immigrant population, I’d like to see our candidates to have that kind of New York sensibility to tell the federal government that it’s not good for New York. We can not comply with that on the local level.”

Non-Citizen Voting Rights

 

For the first 150 years after the founding of the nation, non-citizens voted and held public office: alderman, coroner, school board member. Yet the policy fell casualty to the anti-immigrant backlash of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

While many European countries have been allowing legal immigrants to vote for public offices for many decades, only a few municipalities in Maryland and Massachusetts allow non-citizens to vote for local affairs. Non-citizens in Chicago vote in school board election. New York had the same practice from the 1970s until 2002 when the school boards were disbanded.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on his weekly radio program on WABC-AM in April of 2004 that he opposed giving legal immigrants who are not United States citizens the right to vote in New York City elections.

The mayor said that while he sympathized with the plight of immigrants, particularly those who pay taxes, he still believed that "the essence of citizenship is the right to vote, and you should go about becoming a citizen before you get the right to vote."

Gifford Miller and Anthony Weiner have said they agree. Fernando Ferrer and Virginia Fields say they disagree, that non-citizens should be able to vote in local elections. A native of Taipei, Taiwan, Larry Tung is a frequent contributor to the Citizen.  

 

Mayoral Issue Grid: Immigrants



Mayoral Issue Grid

IMMIGRANTS

- Non-Citizen Voting?
- Drivers License Requirements?
-Amnesty
-School Translators?

There is currently a bill in the New York City Council that would give non-citizen immigrants (who have residency in the city for more than six months) the right to vote in all municipal elections. Advocates of the proposal argue that the estimated 1.3 million immigrants living in New York City, close to 20 percent of the population, deserve to be represented locally in government if they are expected to pay taxes and live with the decisions of elected officials. In New York City, non-citizen residents were allowed to vote in school board elections before the boards were disbanded.

Since January 2004, the Department of Motor Vehicles has been sending letters to thousands of drivers informing them that there is a problem with the Social Security Number in their files. Drivers who cannot provide a valid Social Security number will eventually have their drivers’ licenses suspended and lose the ability to drive legally in New York State. The crackdown has resulted in the suspension of the licenses of 7,000 immigrants, but advocates said the number of immigrants affected could reach 300,000. Immigrant rights groups say the Department of Motor Vehicles should drop proof of immigration status as a requirement for applicants.

Immigrants rights groups have proposed granting citizenship to undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for a period of time.

The New York City Council has proposed a bill called the Education Equity Act, which would require translation and interpretation services be provided to parents of children in the New York City public schools. It would also provide translation of report cards and interpretation at parent-teacher conferences.

Fernando Ferrer

Fernando Ferrer supports giving non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections. When asked about the bill, Ferrer responded in a written statement: “Non-citizen immigrants pay taxes, contribute to our economy, and are subject to our laws, but are not represented in our government. That is not right. Democracy thrives on allowing everyone access to their government.”

Ferrer’s position on what kind of information should be required for driver’s licenses has not been located.

Ferrer said if he had the power he would give amnesty to undocumented immigrants.

Ferrer said he would support translation services for parents of public school children.

C. Virginia Fields

C. Virginia Fields supports giving non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections.

Fields’ position on what kind of information should be required for driver’s licenses has not been located.

Fields said if she had the power she would give amnesty to undocumented immigrants.

Fields said he would support translation services for parents of public school children.

A. Gifford Miller

Gifford Miller does not support giving non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections.

When asked about the bill, Miller responded in a written statement: “I am opposed to non-citizen voting. I support citizenship and expanding citizenship, and have been a consistent supporter of increasing and protecting rights of immigrants by leading the council in such efforts as lobbying the mayor to revise his immigration policy and expand protections for immigrants. As mayor, I will continue to work for increasing immigration rights and protections.”

Miller’s position on what kind of information should be required for driver’s licenses has not been located.

Miller said if he had the power he would give amnesty to undocumented immigrants.

Miller said he supports translation services for parents of public school children and plans on passing the bill in the City Council.

Anthony Weiner

Anthony Weiner does not support giving non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections.

Weiner’s position on what kind of information should be required for driver’s licenses has not been located.

At a recent forum, Weiner was asked: Would you give amnesty to undocumented immigrants? Weiner answered "No, not to all."

Weiner said he would support translation services for parents of public school children.

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg does not support giving non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections.

When asked about the bill, Bloomberg responded in a written statement: “Without question, our country’s current immigration system is broken and in dire need of an overhaul. However, I believe that the right to vote is at the very heart of what it means to be a citizen, and therefore I support government efforts to speed the process by which non-citizen residents can become citizens if they choose, so that they can become fully integrated in our country’s economic, social and democratic culture.”

Bloomberg’s position on what kind of information should be required for driver’s licenses has not been located.

At a recent gathering of New York's Caribbean and African leaders, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that undocumented immigrants should be able to stay in the country without having to worry about being caught and deported to their homelands.

The Bloomberg administration testified against the Education Equity Act, arguing that it would add burden and costs for the Department of Education.


RELATED ARTICLES:

- Non-Citizen Voting
- Citizenship and Voting
- Immigrants and Driver's Licenses 

Mayoral Issue Grid: Civil Rights



Mayoral Issue Grid

CIVIL RIGHTS

-Use City Contracting Power for Civil Rights Issues?
-Gay Marriage?

For decades, the city government has its enormous financial power to move social agendas. In the 1980s, the city used its pensions to force corporations to divest from South Africa to protest Apartheid.

This year, the City Council passed an Equal Benefits Law, which requires contractors that offer benefits to spouses of their employees to extend the same package to domestic partners of workers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the measure.

Gay marriage has also become a key civil rights issue in the campaign. While marriage is legally a state issue, in February, a Manhattan Supreme Court Justice ruled that the city should not discriminate against same-sex couples. She ordered the city clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Mayor Michael Bloomberg appealed the ruling.

Fernando Ferrer

Fernando Ferrer supports the use of city contracts to advance social agendas. “Whether it’s… the extension of domestic partnership rights to those you do business with the city, or the rights of the transgendered - for me it fits into the same category,” Ferrer said at a forum earlier this year. “You cannot believe in some human rights and not all.”

Ferrer said he also supports gay marriage.

C. Virginia Fields

C. Virginia Fields supports the use of city contracts to advance social agendas.

“I am for marriage equality,” Fields said at a recent forum. “I am for the Dignity for All Students Act. I am for adoption rights for LGBT parents as well as the repeal of “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” because it doesn’t work. I am for the protection of transgendered people.”

A. Gifford Miller

As Speaker of the City Council, Miller helped draft and passed an Equal Benefits Law, which requires contractors that offer benefits to spouses of their employees to extend the same package to domestic partners of workers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the bill.

Miller also supports gay marriage and, if elected, promises to issue marriage licenses.

“I have been for gay marriage since I ran for office for the first time in January of 1996,” Miller said. “The right choice is to issue those marriage licenses, to stand up and say, ‘The equal protection laws of the State of New York applies to LGBT New Yorkers,’ and I, as mayor - if you choose me, if I’m so fortunate to be elected - will issue those marriage licenses immediately, because it’s the right thing to do.”

Anthony Weiner

Anthony Weiner supports the use of city contracts to advance social agendas.

Weiner also supports gay marriage. “I have a history of fighting for civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered New Yorkers,” Weiner said at a forum. “When I was running for Congress in 1998, long before the issue of gay marriage was particularly hot, and at that time civil unions was the big issue being contested, I endorsed gay marriage.”

Michael Bloomberg

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has supported using the city’s contracting power to advance social agendas in certain cases, but he vetoed the City Council's Equal Benefits Law, which requires contractors that offer benefits to the spouses of their employees to extend the same package to the domestic partners of workers.

Bloomberg says that he while personally supports gay marriage, it is a state issue.

Last year, Bloomberg appealed the Manhattan Supreme Court ruling to begin issuing marriage licenses. He told the New York Times in February, “I do not want to see happen here what happened in California,” where gay marriages were authorized by Mayor Gavin Newsom and overturned by the state court.

RELATED ARTICLES:
- Civil Rights Issues Divide Bloomberg and Democratic Rivals
- Bully Busting
- Democratic Mayoral Candidate Forum: Gay and Lesbian Issues
- Lagging Behind In The Fight For Gay Rights
- Can Critical Mass Negotiate a Truce?

 

Street Vending Licenses


Maria Samba, a 49 year-old immigrant from Ecuador, makes a living by selling flavored ices in the summer and hot dogs in the winter. Like many other undocumented immigrants, Samba couldn’t apply for street vending licenses and often has to pay fines for illegal vending.

So when she heard that the city has passed a law allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for street vending licenses, she wanted to be involved.

That is why she was in City Hall last month holding one of the pens that Mayor Michael Bloomberg used to sign into law a legislation that would prohibit the Department of Consumer Affairs from questioning applicants for street vending licenses about their immigration status.

“I won what I wanted,” she said in Spanish through an interpreter, joining many other vendors at the step of City Hall. “I won my dream.”

“We’re all very happy,” Flor Bermudez, staff attorney for Esperanza del Barrio, a group that works with Mexican and Latino immigrants, told Daily News. “The city will no longer discriminate against immigrants in the licensing process.”

In the past, the Department of Consumer Affairs required that applicants had to have proper work authorization or permanent resident cards (green cards) in order to apply for licenses.

When Mayor Bloomberg issued Executive Order 41 in 2003 prohibiting city agencies from inquiring or disclosing immigration status of New Yorkers who come into contact with city government, street vending was the last permit that still used immigration status as a criterion for certification.

The new law will help bring the vending law inline with the executive order, Bloomberg said.

The bill, sponsored by Councilmember Charles Barron was passed in the city council in June with little but vocal opposition.

“It’s a continuation of the city moving in the wrong direction,” Republican Councilmember James Oddo told the New York Sun. “This is the Last permit that allowed the city to ask the immigration status. Instead of removing it, I think we should be asking the status when we hand out all of our permits.”

Some argued that allowing more people to apply for vending licenses would put small stores in jeopardy. “We have people selling fruit on the street in front of a fruit stand that cost less because they have lower overhead cost,” said Richard Lipsky from The Neighborhood Retail Alliance, an umbrella group advocating the rights of small businesses “That’s not acceptable”

However, there are a limited number of street vending licenses. “The general merchandise vending licenses have been kept at 853 ever since 1970s,” said Dena Improta, of the Department of Consumer Affairs. Two other types of licenses are for pushcart food vending permit, capped at 3,000, and seasonal food permit at 1,000.

Still small business are concerned about their future. “What happened here is that they used the over inflated sympathy for undocumented immigrants to help the campaign to increase the number of street vending licenses in the future,” said Lipsky.

Indeed, a bill to increase the number of licenses for street vending is about to get a hearing in the city council.

An immigrant from Bangkok, Thailand, Chaleampon Ritthichai is the editor of The Citizen. 

Howard Beach Is Not Alone


When Nicholas “Fat Nick” Minucci, 19, a white man, fractured the skull of Glen Moore, 22, an African American, with a baseball bat while yelling racial epithets in Queens on June 29, it became an international news story and sparked scores of articles about how far we have or have not come in dealing with racism in our society. Anthony Ench, 21, has also been arrested in the attack.

The racial attack on Moore was only one of several bias crimes in New York over the past month, including an assault on an unidentified 22-year old Asian woman in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn on July 1 and an attack on Dwan Prince, a gay man in Brownsville, Brooklyn on June 8. But these other incidents did not occur in Howard Beach.

Howard Beach has been notorious since December, 1986, when a black man, Michael Griffith, whose car had broken down in the neighborhood, was set upon by a mob of white people from the neighborhood, and, fleeing, was hit and killed by a car on the highway. Howard Beach is a brand name when it comes to bias violence.

Three young white men were convicted of second degree manslaughter and first degree assault in the 1986 incident. But residents of the predominately white Howard Beach neighborhood were quick to say that racism had nothing to do with the attacks. Howard Beach residents said "they were unhappy with the convictions and many viewed the beatings as a simple scuffle--one in which race was not involved, and the severity of which did not warrant the punishment,” according to the Queens Tribune.

The 2005 Howard Beach incident has elicited a similar defensive tone among residents of the enclave. Since it was widely reported that Moore and the other black men he was with the night he was beaten were out to steal a car, according to police, white residents of the area do not want to see this crime attributed to their incurable hatred for black people.

"They got what they deserved," Tim Peterson told the New York Times. "And I'm not justifying it either."

There are similarities in official reaction as well. Mayor Ed Koch vociferously condemned the 1986 attacks. But by that time he was perceived as so racially divisive that he never recovered politically. A couple of more high-profile racial killings followed and Koch was rejected in favor of the city’s first African American mayor, David Dinkins, in 1989.

Dinkins ran afoul of his handling of the 1991 Crown Heights riots, when an African American mob, inflamed by the killing of a 7-year old black child by a Hasidic driver running a light, attacked and killed Yankel Rosenbaum, 29, a rabbinical student visiting from Australia.

Mindful of the potential racial and political minefield, Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke out right after the June 29 attack, as soon as the police classified it as a hate crime. "I cannot stress it enough: we are going to live together, and nobody, nobody, should ever feel that they will be attacked because of their ethnicity, their orientation, their religion, where they live, their documented status, or anything else. Period. End of story,” he said.

Bloomberg has not, however, called a press conference to address the attack on Dwan Prince, but leaders of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project did call one to chastise the political establishment for not dealing with the case. “I reached out to every elected official at the state and local level in Brownsville,” Clarence Patton, director of the project, told me for a story in Gay City News “They acted as if they didn’t understand what I wanted them to do.”

One thing that has defused intergroup tensions in New York is the relatively quick response of the criminal justice system in 2005 versus 1986.

Nineteen years ago, African Americans had so little confidence in the Police Department and the Queens District Attorney’s office that Charles Hynes--now the Brooklyn District Attorney--was brought in as a special prosecutor to bring the Howard Beach suspects to justice.

Today, suspects are in custody in both the Howard Beach and Brownsville cases, a credit to more sensitive and effective police work and the willingness of witnesses in both neighborhoods to come forward.

While the Rev. Al Sharpton is back on the Howard Beach scene all these years later, there has been little call on the part of the political establishment for getting at the roots of the kind of bigotry that leads to these attacks.

The Department of Education has been in the process of increasing somewhat anti-bullying and intergroup relations programs in the schools, but Bloomberg is refusing to implement a school anti-bullying law passed by the City Council, calling it an “illegal” measure.

There seems to be a great desire--especially on the part of politicians--to treat bias incidents as aberrations and police matters, not reflective of some deep-seated problem among the good and unprejudiced people of New York. The gay community, however, has seen reports of anti-gay violence to the police go up 32 percent in the last year, an increase attributed by gay groups to the rise in gay visibility and the very public debate over issues like same-sex marriage.

Norman Siegel, the former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union who is making a second run for public advocate, does not think combating hate crime is simple. He and civil rights activist Galen Kirkland spent years going to schools in Bensonhurt, Brooklyn to conduct classes designed to combat stereotyping. Siegel said if Mayor Bloomberg “wants to end hate crime, he should call a summit of civil rights groups” to address the problem--a route that the mayor is unlikely to go in an election year unless under extreme public pressure (as Mayor Giuliani was after the police shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999).

The press coverage of the Howard Beach incident is not likely to apply that pressure:

A Different New York,” said Bob Herbert of the New York Times.

Howard Beach is not the same place,” wrote Ellis Hennican in Newsday.

Thug-on-Thug Violence,” concluded the New York Post editorial page.

The columns were all about how Howard Beach in 2005 is not the same as Howard Beach in 1986. None of them explored what's happening in 2005 in other neighborhoods.

Andy Humm, a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights, has been in charge of the civil rights topic page since its inception in 2001. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.  

Immigration Reform


Teddy Lim, an immigrant from China, is about to enter a limbo. After graduating from business school last year, he was given a practical training card – a piece of identification that allows international students to work in the United States for a year. But his time is running out.

The card will soon expire leaving him with three choices: one, he will have to leave the country, two, find a sponsor to support him to work here, or, three stay here illegally.

“I’d rather be here waiting tables and make more money than going home,” he said.

Stories of students turned undocumented immigrants are common. Soon Lim will be one of the estimated 500,000 undocumented immigrants in the city and more than 10 million across the country.

But that may change because the federal government now has two pending bills to reform immigration policy and another one will be introduced later in July.

Last year President George W. Bush proposed a “temporary worker" programthat would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a three-year work permit, and enjoy other rights, such as minimum wage and union benefits.

Immigrant advocates were initially delighted but argued that the President’s plan didn’t go far enough because it didn’t give a path to a permanent residency, commonly known as a green card.

“President Bush’s proposal is a dead-end, not an opportunity,” said Moises Perez, executive director of Allianza Dominicana, the largest organization serving New York’s Dominican community.

In May 2005, U.S. Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy and US Representatives Jeff Flake, Luis Guitierrez and Jim Kolbe introduced legislation that is similar to that of the president but provides current undocumented workers with a path toward green cards. Under The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, illegal immigrants would have to register, pay a $2,000 fine, clear a background check, pass an English exam and possibly also pay back taxes.

“This bill has win-win provisions that allow employers to get the workers they legitimately need,” said Margie McHugh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “At the same time, it gives immigrants a chance to gain permanent residency and eventually citizenship.”

The legislation is expected to face tough opposition in Congress. “Even if the bill is passed into law,” wrote Cyrus Mehta in the India Post, “ it is likely to look very different from the current proposal.”

Meanwhile, two Republican senators, John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona, are scheduled to introduce another immigration reform that will allow undocumented immigrants to temporarily fill jobs shunned by U.S. workers but require them to return home at the end of three years.

The plan is dubbed by supporters as "work and return," as opposed to called "work and stay."

Despite all differences, both supporters and critics believed that immigration reform is much needed and that all the pending legislation means that some kind of reform is imminent.

“The decisions that Congress makes this year will affect every meaningful aspect of life in America for generations to come,“ said Dan Stein, president of FAIR, a group favoring immigration control.

For Lim, it doesn’t matter which bills will pass eventually. “ I just want to be able to work and stay here legally,” he said.

An immigrant from Bangkok, Thailand, Chaleampon Ritthichai is the editor of The Citizen. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Immigrant Drivers Win A Victory


Should people who are not in this country legally have the legal right to drive an automobile? Is a driver’s license anything more than a way to assure public safety on public roads? Should it be used officially for identification?

These are issues being debated across the nation and in Congress. In New York, a crackdown by the Department of Motor Vehicles reportedly resulted in the suspension of thousands of immigrants’ driver's licenses. Immigrant advocacy groups organized press conferences and protests -– and a lawsuit.

Now, a Manhattan judge has ruled in that lawsuit that New York residents cannot be denied driver’s licenses based on their immigration status.

Acting Justice Karen Smith of New York State Supreme Court has barred the Department of Motor Vehicles from revoking the licenses of people who lack valid Social Security numbers, and prohibited the DMV from considering immigration status when evaluating applications for driving permits, licenses or renewals, as well as for non-driver photo ID's. Justice Smith has stricken the department’s requirement of proof that a license applicant is lawfully in the United States.

Until 2002, the Department of Motor Vehicles accepted foreign birth certificates and passports among the documents it could use to verify a would-be driver’s identity, age and fitness to operate a motor vehicle. But seven months after September 11th, the department began requiring proof that applicants were authorized to be in this country. Foreign documents were no longer acceptable.

In Cubas v. Martinez, Justice Smith found that the DMV had exceeded its authority in promulgating rules that were never passed by the legislature. The Court agreed with the plaintiffs that the Department of Motor Vehicles was seeking a way to prevent illegal or undocumented immigrants from obtaining licenses and that the motive was the prevention of terrorism, a role that exceeds the powers of the DMV.

"The DMV cannot be an enforcer for security," wrote Justice Smith. "It simply lacks expertise and, more importantly, it has not been empowered by the state legislature to carry out that function." The required documents must come from the Department of Homeland Security which has incorporated the formerly named Immigration and Naturalization Service.

"Those plaintiffs who face suspension of their licenses are living with a sword of Damocles over their heads," Justice Smith wrote. "Many live in areas where there is no easy access to public transportation, are dependent on driving their cars to carry out the daily tasks of living. According to the complaint, as a result of the inability to drive, plaintiffs face the inability to either partially or fully perform their job duties. A vast reduction of income or a complete loss of income further threatening the family's ability to pay for medication or for the parochial school in which their child is enrolled. As a result of these denials, at least one of the plaintiffs has been unable to take a sick child for ongoing medical treatments for her epilepsy or carry on all of the other daily tasks of living such as shopping for food, taking children to school, etc."

In addition, the court expressed a concern that the wholesale denial of motor vehicle licenses to persons who are unable to comply with the immigration status requirements of the Department of Motor Vehicle immigration will lead to much more serious consequences, such as people driving without valid licenses, and hence without insurance, and an even greater inability to track the whereabouts of hundreds of thousands of New York residents.

"We must move forward recognizing that the world has changed, and do everything we can to prevent [terrorism] from recurring," the judge said. But the Department of Motor Vehicles "cannot be an enforcer for the Department of Homeland Security," and it cannot decide on its own to play a part in this; doing so would "usurp the function of the legislature...

"DMV cannot make current immigration documents, or any other documentary proof of one's immigration status, the only documents that are acceptable to verify an applicant's identity because such a policy creates a de facto fifth requirement [that the driver be legally allowed to be in this country] that is not currently part of the statute," the decision said.

Justice Smith has stayed enforcement of her order until it is decided by the appellate courts.

Emily Jane Goodman is a New York State Supreme Court Justice 

Civil Rights Restoration Act: Opposed by Mayor, Stalled in Council


A bill to strengthen the city’s human rights law is sponsored by a veto-proof majority of 38 members of the City Council, supported by a coalition of more than 30 civil rights groups, and passed through three public hearings, but it has yet to be voted on.

“We’re going to get that bill done after we fix some technicalities,” Council Speaker Gifford Miller told me (though he never provided clarification of what “technicalities” needed fixing). On the other hand, Mayor Michael Bloomberg strongly opposes the bill, Intro 22, the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act.

When I first wrote about this billin December 2003, its chief sponsor, Councilmember Gale Brewer, said, "The administration doesn't love our bill, but we're going to plow ahead. I'm working to expand the coalition and hope to pass it early next year." Now, Brewer says, “We’re trying to get a bill that we can get passed.” This time, she said it would be done by the end of this year.

Brewer was hopeful when Human Rights Commissioner Patricia Gatlingappeared at a budget hearing before the General Welfare Committee on March 14 and, in response to a question, expressed support for this civil rights bill. Brewer said the commissioner’s response marked “a big change” in the administration’s stance.

But at an April 14 hearing on the bill itself, Gatling cited two “areas of concern,” objecting to the heart of the bill.

One is a provision that requires the Commission to do “thorough” investigations into discrimination complaints, saying such a standard “would undermine every Commission decision, expose complainants, respondents, and the Commission to increased litigation, and divert resources from other important matters.”

Gatling also testified that the key section of the bill that “instructs us to interpret the [City] Human Rights Lawmore liberally than existing law without setting the actual standard will be difficult if not impossible for covered entities (including city agencies) and the entire legal community, including judges and the Commission itself, to follow.” But when pressed for specific language that the administration would accept, Gatling did not respond.

Bob Perry, legislative director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, disputed Gatling’s objections. “The provisions are quite reasonable,” he said. “Our City Council has a great history of protecting our civil rights as evidenced in the early 1990s,” when the last strengthening of the human rights law was enacted under Council Speaker Peter Vallone and Mayor David Dinkins. “But we’ve seen a continued curtailment of that legislative intent and all this bill is designed to do is to restore those rights as originally intended by the Council.”

Gatling's office said it was not able to provide a spokesperson for the City Commission on Human Rights to address these concerns.

What The Law Would Do

The Civil Rights Restoration Act would do six main things, according to Craig Gurian, a former chief counsel of the law enforcement division of the City Commission on Human Rights who worked on the last big revision in 1991 and who is now executive director of the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York.

First and foremost, it states that the “City’s Human Rights Law has been construed too narrowly to ensure protection of the civil rights of all persons covered by the law.” It says, “Interpretations of federal and New York State civil and human rights law shall not be used to limit or restrict the provisions of this title from being construed more liberally than those laws to accomplish the purposes of this title.”

Gurian said, “It protects the city law against cutbacks by an increasingly conservative judiciary. Concerns about this provision are misplaced. Judges simply need to consider what interpretation of the law best achieved its broad purposes, not treat city law as a mere carbon copy of federal. Requiring independent construction is an instruction that should not be difficult for judges to follow.”

Second, it provides stronger protection against retaliationwhen you file a discrimination case. Some judges, Gurian said, look for material harm before recognizing negative actions against a complaining employee as retaliation. Under the present law, something like getting transferred all the way across the city might not be held to be retaliation. “What’s best is to prevent retaliation,” he said.

Third, the bill allows for attorney’s fees even if a case is settled. “This is important when the case is not about damages, but changing policy,” Gurian said. Without such fees, attorneys are much less likely to take these cases in the first place. The provision in the bill allowing for them corrects a United States Supreme Court decision a few years ago that held that attorney fees are not available when a case is settled. “It gave defendants an incentive to resist, drive up costs, settle, and financially drain the plaintiffs,” he said.

Fourth, the bill would increase civil penaltiesavailable when cases are brought administratively, i.e., to the Human Rights Commission. The current cap is $50,000 where willfulness is not established, $100,000 when it is. The bill raises those figures to $125,000 and $250,000 respectively to give the penalties some impact, especially when courts are prone to use the cap as a penalty only for the largest and richest defendants.

Fifth is the requirement for “thorough investigations.”While the Commission objects to the word in the City bill, it is the standard under the federal Fair Housing Act which mandates city and state agencies “engage in timely, comprehensive, and thorough fair housing complaint investigations.” Gurian said, “’Thoroughness’ would mean interviewing fact witnesses in discrimination cases, not just taking the word of a defense attorney.”

Finally, the bill makes “partnership status” a protected categoryunder the Human Rights Law. The provision is a first step towards restoring protection for unmarried couples. The New York State Court of Appeals now holds that under the existing “marital status” category, only an individual’s status (a married, divorced, or single person) is covered rather than the status of a couple. Thus, a landlord who does not want to rent to a couple living together without benefit of marriage can legally discriminate against them. This contradicts a 1977 decision of the Human Rights Commission, but all that is added by this 2005 proposal is the new category of “partnership status,” which is defined as applying only to legally registered domestic partners. Live-in lovers are still at risk, but advocates hope that the bill's independent construction provision will cause courts to reexamine marital status coverage more broadly.

Commissioner Gatling supports the addition of “partnership status” but is opposing another pending human rights bill, Intro 57, requiring the posting of the Human Rights Law at all covered establishments. She testified that it would require the printing of “at least half a million” signs and would cost “3-5 million dollars, an amount that exceeds the Commission’s entire tax levy budget, which is currently below three million dollars.” She also said her agency “has no mechanism to issue and adjudicate notices of violation.”

New York State has a requirement that its human rights law be posted in covered workplaces and public accommodations, but the City law has more and different categories.

Tom Smith, a veteran gay activist and past president of the Stonewall Democratic Club who has been pushing the posting bill for a decade said, “Thousands of people don’t even know a human rights law exists and how they’re covered and that the city has set a higher standard that the federal and state governments. It is important for everybody to know their rights and for businesses to know what they cannot do in terms of discrimination.” He said Gatling’s estimate of costs were way out of line, noting he could get three-color signs retail for 59 cents at Kinko’s and that done in bulk, the signs could be produced for one or two cents apiece.

JUDGE BRUCE WRIGHT REMEMBERED

The life Bruce McMarion Wright, the attorney, judge, poet, and civil rights leader who died at age 86 on March 27, was celebrated at City College’s Aaron Davis Hall on June 4 before an overflow crowd of several thousand people. Among those offering remembrances were Harlem’s powerbrokers and Wright’s contemporaries--former Mayor David Dinkins, Congressman Charles B. Rangel, former New York Secretary of State Basil Paterson, and former Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton.

Sutton recalled that when he represented Malcolm X, Wright offered to help with the legal work. Sutton told Wright he didn’t want him to be out front. “He was my ‘Deep Throat,’” Sutton said.

Paterson said that as a young attorney, Wright was in a courtroom and heard the judge make a racist remark to a black woman. Wright forced the judge to publicly apologize, despite being urged by some colleagues to let it pass.

Wright’s son Keith, now a Harlem Assemblyman, said that as a child, he and his father and brother were refused entry onto a Manhattan bus by a racist driver. “Dad put us boys out in front blocking the bus until the driver relented,” Keith Wright said.

Bruce Wright’s longtime law clerk, Debbie Woll, said that working for the judge was an experience. Strangers who knew of his reputation for championing social justice would just show up to see him in chambers. “A court officer would call upstairs and say, ‘So-and-so is here to see Judge Wright.’ Bruce would say, ‘Never heard of him. Send him up!”

His son Patrick told a story of how a cop once stopped Bruce’s mother, who was white and walking with her little son. “Is this Negro boy bothering you, ma’am,” the cop said. His mother replied, “Officer, this boy has been bothering me for as long as I can remember.”

Keith Wright noted that his father, derided as “Turn ‘Em Loose Bruce” by the police union and some of the tabloids for his policy of not imposing punitive bail, “taught us to question authority.”

Rev. Herb Daughtry, himself a civil rights activist, invited Wright, described as a “devout atheist,” to give the Easter sermon at his Brooklyn church at the height of the controversy over his bail policies. When a reporter asked after the service what Wright thought of the Police Benevolent Association’s condemnation of him, he replied, “My father told me never to get in a pissing contest with a skunk.”

Wright was once questioned about why he went into his office at 5 AM. “Because the white man was there a half hour earlier,” he was said to reply. He was also said to want to be remembered more for his poetry than for being a judge. One of his poems was read by his two grandchildren, Jared and Jordan.

In a video interview by the celebration’s host, Gil Noble of WABC-TV’s “Like It Is,” Wright said, “I’ve never grown up and it ruined several of my marriages, but I hope I never will.”

An extended excerpt of Wright’s book “Black Robes, White Justice” is available at http://members.aol.com/Streetnews143/BWright.htm

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Education Equality Act


When Catalina Martinez, a Mexican immigrant, first received a notice from her son’s school, she did not think much about it because she didn’t understand what the letter said. But that soon changed after several notices arrived. She became anxious about her son and suspected that he might have a problem.

“I need to understand what is going on with my son, ”Martinez, a mother of four, spoke in Spanish through a translator. “But I don’t really understand English very well.”

Martinez eventually went to her son’s junior high school and found that those notices were sent to let her know that her son had not been attending classes.

“There are thousands of parents like me out there,” she said.

With foreign born residents at an all time high in the city, Martinez is one of more than 25 percent of New York City parents, according to New York Immigration Coalition, who are excluded from participating in their children education because of their language barrier.

But the government is trying to do something about it. Intro 464: The Education Equity Act was introduced in the City Council by council members Hiram Monserrate and David Yassky. The legislation requires the Department of Education to translate documents, such as report cards and notices, into the eight most widely spoken languages-- Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Italian, French, Yiddish, Korean and Polish -- and provide interpretation services for parents who don’t speak English.

With the hope to make their concerns heard, Martinez and other parents gathered recently at City Hall to demand passage of that bill.

“This is the least the city can do for immigrants,” said Andrew Friedman of the Make the Road By Walking, a non-profit group that organized the rally. The group also organized a campaign for children and parents to write postcards to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and education committee chair Eva Moscowitz to urge support of the bill.

Like many other parents, Nabia Duque believed the legislation would help her to be more involved with her kids.

“When I go to the PTA meeting, I don’t understand what happened half of the time,” she said in Spanish through a translator. “I felt so left out and after a while I just got up and left.”

Some parents said some schools tried to help non-English speaking parents but they lack funding and resources to give proper translation services.

“They are using [bilingual] children as translators,” said Vladimir Epststein of the Metropolitan Russian Parents Association. “Most of the time they make a lot of mistakes.”

This year the Department of Education created a new translation and interpretation unit and promised to spend additional $7 million on the program. Citing this new initiative, the department has expressed opposition to the legislation arguing that it is unnecessary and costly.

Friedman argued that the department plan is temporary. “They only promise to spend that $7 million in one year. Intro 464 is much more specific and comprehensive.”

An estimated cost of implementing The Education Equity Act is reportedly $20 million. “If you can find $200 million to fund tax rebate, you can definitely fund the translation,” he said.

Over half of the city council members supported Intro 464 but some Republican councilmembers have asked the mayor to come out publicly against it. So far Mayor Bloomberg has not expressed his position on the bill.

“The act diminishes motivation for parents to learn English and in turn prolongs their time to fully immerse into American society,” said Republican councilmember James Oddo. “There are more than 180 languages spoken in the public schools so the selection of eight to translate is not fair to other groups”

Some parents said that they have been studying English. “I am taking classes,” said a Brooklyn mother Irania Sanchez, “ But I don’t want to wait until my English is perfect to be involved in my daughter’s education.”

An immigrant from Bangkok, Thailand, Chaleampon Ritthichai is the editor of The Citizen. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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