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Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union

Civil Liberties since 9/11


Most New Yorkers probably think that government learned a great deal from September 11 about protecting the city, its symbols, landmarks, and people. The attack's immediate aftermath saw a barrage of reassuring official actions that were military-like in their precision -- securing vital areas, shutting down ground access to the city, and patrolling New York's perimeter from the skies and seas. In the months since, the official presence has withdrawn from the skies and the streets, but most New Yorkers assume hopefully that this retreat masks ongoing work behind the scenes. Citizens have no way of knowing for sure, since all anti-terror operations are secret. For those who agree with the former city official who told Richard Cohen of the Daily News that the September 11 attack meant that "the government let us down," the secrecy is yet another barrier to evaluating government actions.

Most New Yorkers -- 72 percent -- believe another terrorist attack is very or somewhat likely, according to a poll conducted by Blum & Weprin for the Daily News. A plurality of 28 percent speculate that it will probably involve smaller-scale car bombs or suicide-bombers, while 20 percent anticipate the use of biological weapons and 16 percent expect chemical weapons. Still, 72 percent say they feel safer or as safe in the city as anywhere else in the country. Are they right?

THE NYPD PROJECTS COMPETENCE

September 11 badly damaged public confidence in the federal security agencies -- the FBI and the CIA -- but enhanced confidence in the NYPD, which immediately went onto Omega Alert, its highest state of readiness. Through what Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly calls "target hardening" it has since been able to reduce the number of officers assigned to Omega posts Ă‘not an insignificant matter since some violent crime, including rape, seems to be heading back up.

Nonetheless the New York Police Department has been refocusing the problem-solving strategy that helped reduce violent crime from local crime to terrorism. The strategy's specific elements, according to policing expert George Kelling, are accurate and timely intelligence, rapid deployment, effective tactics, and relentless follow-up and assessment. The media have contained many accounts of both historic and recent federal stone-walling of the NYPD on intelligence, the greatest federal failing, of course, on September 11. All parties now insist publicly that this is a problem of the past.

Perhaps it is. The NYPD is led by a police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, who has far stronger federal security credentials than any previous commissioner. His federal experience helps him in the many instances in which the NYPD tangles with the FBI and the federal Department of Justice over jurisdiction. As Cooper Union historian Fred Siegel says, "In a time in which the distinction between war and crime has narrowed, Kelly has already worked in positions in which he had to deal with this reality. Given that we're a target in New York, it's a huge asset that he's in a good position to make a difference."

Kelly has been aggressive, assigning NYPD personnel to areas that were once exclusively federal -- training some cops abroad, sending brass to the Naval War College, expanding the intelligence office to include foreign terrorism, and setting up a medical office to coordinate with federal agencies and the city's Department of Health on biological weaponry.

He has brought in high-level people with federal experience. He hired Ret. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Frank Libutti as Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism to head a new division on counterterrorism and to direct the department's work with the FBI/NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force. The idea is to ensure cooperation and flow of information between the agencies Ă‘not a strength in the past. Libutti oversees the new Terrorism Security and Analysis Section, which conducts comprehensive security assessments of terrorist threats in the city. An Incident Response Team has been set up to respond to requests for assistance at suspected terrorist events. Kelly also hired a former top CIA operative, David Cohen, as the new Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence. Both deputies report directly to Kelly, who also established a new position of medical adviser to coordinate with the Department of Health.

How effective are these measures? We're unlikely to know unless -- probably until -- there is another attack. Over the last decade, the city has been the target of at least three other known terrorist plots: the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center; the 1993 plot to bomb the United Nations and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels; and the 1997 plan to bomb the subways. New York remains the symbol of capitalism and Western culture, and a target.

SECURITY MEASURES AGAINST THE THUG AND THE TERRORIST

Even before September 11 New Yorkers had become accustomed to security measures deterring the common thug: metal detectors, photo IDs, bag searches, checks of electronic equipment. The devices are often primitive and the training of the personnel poor, but routine security checks have prevented at least some crime and perhaps some terrorism. The future, however, lies with high-tech solutions that are independent of human judgment, such as new sensing machines that can detect biologic agents, explosives, suspicious voids in truck cargo, or weapons hidden on someone a distance away. Private companies tend to be way ahead of government in spending the millions of dollars these machines cost.

The other set of measures are what the security trade calls Israeli tactics -- traffic-stopping checkpoints, street closings, intrusive questioning, random identification checks, intimate searches, and racial profiling. These are ostensibly meant to deter crime, but they are also meant to remind the public often and aggressively of the presence of terrorists and to get the public to accept the authority of the police and military. The inconvenience that accompanies these tactics is deliberate.

Giuliani's NYPD actually introduced a few of these ideas, such as the traffic-stopping checkpoints that were ostensibly for drunk-driving or seat-belt use. His 1998 pedestrian-controlling concrete barriers are another Israeli tactic, a re-engineering to encourage people to go only where they are directed and to accustom the public to accepting restrictions on their movements.

Street closings, immensely disruptive to the city's business and psyche, are increasingly being insisted on by powerful interests, including the federal government. The main federal building in Lower Manhattan, 26 Federal Plaza, has always had security problems. It houses the FBI field office that has investigated many terror plots. It houses the Immigration and Nationalization Service. Lines of anxious immigrants with federal applications snake around the building during peak periods. In late 2000, the General Service Administration installed barriers and posts and hired additional guards. Some federal officials are now urging the closing-off of Broadway(the main artery downtown), Centre Street (which leads to the Brooklyn Bridge), and Worth Street.

The public has very limited access now to most government buildings in New York. The new federal courthouse, for example, is blocked by a huge hydraulic truck barrier. Police headquarters, never really accessible since it was built during the Lindsay administration, has a 24-hour guard out front. Visitors must go through three checkpoints, carrying a government-issued photo I.D.

One bright spot on this glum governmental scene, however, is City Hall, which Mayor Bloomberg has re-opened to political events. press conferences and peaceful gatherings . They are again allowed on the steps of City Hall, as they had been from the early 19th century until the Giuliani administration.

And it's not just public buildings that have internal checkpoints and external barriers. Ugly concrete bolsters are being installed in front of otherwise handsome new buildings, like the Jewish Community Center on the West Side. The elegant glass, iron, and greystone building would be a beauty, if its exterior were not marred by white and yellow blocks of junky concrete, looking as if a sloppy contractor forgot to take them home.

NEW YORK IS NOT AN ISLAND

Much as it will seek to protect itself, New York will only be safe insofar as others protect it as well. The plane that flew into the World Trade Center took off from Logan Airport in Boston, an airport that the Federal Aviation Administration has repeatedly cited for safety violations. Everyone wants whatever went wrong at Logan Airport in Boston fixed. But what was it that failed? And will the FAA's new proposals and restrictions on passengers work? Are tactics like the FAA's ban on steak knives in first class or the abolition of curbside checking effective? Certainly neither would have prevented the hijackings.

Mary Schiavo, former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation, argues that aviation security is a law enforcement function, and belongs with a law enforcement agency, not the FAA. Law enforcement officials would be far less ready to listen to concerns about the weight of new cockpit doors (additional weight would affect the cost of every flight), or the extra costs of sky marshals or deputized pilots.

New York has an acute interest in these issues, and in all matters having to do with its air space. In May the FAA announced that its ban on flights by small planes and helicopters over key American cities had been lifted. Planes could return to flying under visual flight rules without asking permission to enter a city's airspace, or identifying themselves to FAA regional or local controllers.

Even before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, local officials had often been at odds with the FAA, which maintains that all small aircraft should be able to fly low, with no restrictions, over major cities and national monuments. This is in part because the FAA's role is to promote the aviation industry Ă‘not police or regulate it beyond preventing collisions. They argue that flying freely anywhere in the country is a basic American right and expectation. As an FAA representative said at a community meeting in Manhattan, the same rules that apply over Kansas wheat fields apply to flying over New York City.

There is little doubt but that Al Qaeda intends to use small planes to attack more targets. Plans to pack a corporate jet with explosives were found in a German apartment rented by suspected Al Qaeda terrorists. Cell members in the U.S. trained at flight schools, obtained small-plane pilot licenses, and sought to rent crop dusters. The FBI renewed its warning about air attacks in early July.

Even the FAA concedes that some landmarks may be vulnerable. Deferring to its sister federal agency, the National Park Service, the FAA in late June banned flights near the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, and the St. Louis Gateway Arch during the July 4 holidays. The Statue of Liberty ban will continue through September 30, and forbids any plane from flying below 1,500 feet within a 6,000-foot radius of the statue.

These bans may be comforting to some, but they are not significant security measures because the FAA has no air police to stop a plane violating its rules. It can only suspend the pilot's license and levy a fine. The NYPD, though it has an aviation unit and some older helicopters, has no official enforcement role or authority in the air over the city.

Anyone with a license can rent a plane at many of the approximately 2000 general aviation airfields within a short flight of New York. Few of these have more than the most minimal security. Pilot licenses, which are easily forged and carry no photos, are seldom verified. Planes, which can fly into these fields from almost anywhere in the US, are not inspected before departure. Helicopters do not even need an airport for departureÑand in any case can stop anywhere to pick up anything.

So long as New York's skies are open, the city is undefended. An attacker boarding an airplane at LaGuardia faces far more government inspection than one flying a plane at 700 feet across 42nd Street.

Julia Vitullo-Martin, a long-time editor and writer on urban affairs, is the former director of the Citizens Jury Project at the Vera Institute of Justice. She is now writing a book entitled The Conscience of the American Jury.

Feminist Summit


Rape was in the news recently in a couple of horrendous stories from Pakistan. But the crime should be making some headlines here as well. That, clearly, was the view of the people who attended a Women's Leadership Summit, convened last month by the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women, which is the largest NOW chapter in the nation. The summit was intended to determine what specific issues are of urgent concern to women, and several at the top were connected to rape.

According to Matthea Marquart, NOW's NYC chapter president, some recent court decisions have resulted in victims not being permitted to sue for pain and suffering when they were raped in the workplace (including one at Macys); they could only apply for workers compensation.

There is also a tremendous backlog of DNA evidence in rape cases, in the thousands. Former state chapter chair Noreen Connell said that there was a backlog of 16,000 evidence samples that had not been analyzed and that the New York Police Department now says that number is down to 6,000. "Some hospitals are not collecting the evidence correctly," she said, "and when the police get to it a year later, it's not usable." NOW is among the groups pushing for the Debbie Smith Act in Congress, named for a rape survivor whose perpetrator was eventually found to be in jail for a subsequent offense. It would provide training, funding, and uniform standards for sexual assault cases and rape kits. Senator Charles Schumer is sponsor of the alternate Sexual Assault Justice Act that would fund the processing of DNA samples from rape kits.

Connell also cited the way women who call the police about being battered often get their children taken away and put into foster care because they allowed their children to witness the abuse. "She is the victim and she is doubly victimized," Connell said. "These women are placed in homeless shelters for singles and are not able to get their kids out of foster care. They can't get housing for families because they have open 'abuse' cases," a Catch 22 if there ever was one. In the federal Nicholson v. Williams case, New York Judge Jack Weinstein ruled in March that the city had to stop prosecuting battered mothers for child abuse. The women's group is focusing on how to get the city to follow through on the ruling.

Harriet Lessel, president of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, talked to the group about the need for emergency contraception at city hospitals. State law only requires the hospitals to make sure that victims can get the timely drug within a certain amount of time, but does not require the hospitals to distribute it themselves. The state Department of Health could issue such a guideline under the Sexual Assault Reform Act of 2001. But legislation is being pushed by the New York chapter of National Abortion Rights Action League to mandate such treatment.

Finally, the summit took up the continued backlog of cases at the city and state human rights commissions. The state chapter of the National Organization for Women has had a lawsuit against the State Division for Human Rights for more than a decade now to get them to clear up its backlog. The lead attorney in that case, David Raff, has authored a bill for the state legislature to commit necessary resources to the division, but given the millions of dollars it would require, no hope is given for its passage in this economic downturn.

Just as alarming as the backlog, said Connell, is the fact that more and more businesses are forcing their employees to sign statements pledging not to invoke civil rights laws as a condition of employment. The courts have upheld these contracts, wherein the employee promises to abide by arbitration rather than suing. "About 40 percent of large law firms now have them," she said. "It makes the human rights laws unenforceable." There is a Civil Rights Protection Act in Congress to ban these contracts, but "it won't see the light of day in the Republican House," said Connell. Marquart is working with the City Council's Select Committee on Civil Rights to see if something can be passed on the local level to counteract this trend.

Missing Commissioners

Mayor Bloomberg has yet to make a single appointment to the City Commission on Human Rights other than its paid chair, Patricia Gatling. That leaves twelve of fifteen unpaid commissionerships vacant and just three available-the minimum number required to make final decisions on cases.

Cliff Mulqueen, the Deputy Commissioner of the Law Enforcement Bureau, said, "The commissioners only become involved if a case goes to trial and the administrative judge makes a decision and orders a penalty. That hasn't happened in a while. They weren't doing a lot of work on these cases during the Giuliani administration." He said that there were about three cases that made it all the way up the line in the last three years and twenty since 1994, according to General Counsel Randy Wills who also served under the previous mayor.

Avery Mehlman, also a deputy for law enforcement, said that thousands of complaints have been resolved by settlement or by a finding of no probable cause. Gatling's original goal was to get the backlog of 4,500 complaints resolved by May, but so far 2,000 have been reviewed. Some are being referred for trial. And many of those that have been denied probable cause are appealing back to Commissioner Gatling. If she turns the complainants down, they can appeal to the courts.

The mayor's press office did not return calls for comment on why Bloomberg has failed to appoint new commissioners. The administration, after budgeting for a few new staff to work on the backlog, is now asking for cuts (along with every other agency).

The Convoluted State Human Rights Law

I made an error in my July column, leaving the category of "disability" out of the list of criteria in which discrimination is illegal in the state of New York. Thanks to disability activists, I found my mistake.

The state law posted in the Division of Human Rights web site leaves out disability and some other protected categories in its first listing of them. "The opportunity to obtain employment without discrimination because of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sex or marital status is hereby recognized as and declared to be a civil right," it says. You have to scroll well down the page to find that the disabled are also covered in employment. Age is also treated that way. (No matter how far down you scroll, you won't find the category of "sexual orientation." The State Senate ended its session once again without passing the state gay and lesbian rights bill that has passed the Democrat-dominated Assembly overwhelmingly for the past decade, despite the fact that Governor George Pataki said he would do "all in his power" to pass the bill this year.)

The City Commission on Human Rights does not have the same problem as the state commission. When the city's law is amended, the entire law is rewritten to include new categories (such as "gender identity" passed this year). The city web site also includes a plain language version of the law that is user-friendly for potential complainants.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly Gay USA on Channel 35 on Thursdays at 11 PM.

The State and Human Rights


City officials complain constantly that they cannot do what they need to do because of constraints imposed by Albany or due to a lack of legislation that only the state legislature can pass. But in the area of civil rights, New York City has gone far beyond what Albany has been willing to do -- and Albany is being pushed to go further. Funding for the state Division of Human Rights is shaping up to be an issue in this yearês gubernatorial campaign.

The New York State Human Rights Law forbids discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodations on the bases of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sex or marital status. The city law is much broader. It covers actual or perceived race, creed, color, age, national origin, alienage or citizenship status, gender (including sexual harassment), sexual orientation (including gender identity or expression), disability (including HIV/AIDS), status as victim of domestic violence, arrest or conviction record, and marital status. When cities around the state enact their own human rights laws, they must cover at least as much as the state covers but they may go further, as New York City has.

There have been many attempts to expand the coverage of the state human rights law, including an Assembly bill to forbid discrimination on the bases of height or weight (something the city does not cover but other jurisdictions do). Even a Children's Bill of Rights has been proposed for the state constitution. But these efforts have gone nowhere.

Given all the coverage that already exists in the state and city human rights laws, many civil rights groups and political leaders are focused on enforcement and implementation. In the city, Patricia Gatling, the new Human Rights Commissioner, has zeroed in on reducing the backlog of cases. Her initial goal of addressing all back cases by May has been extended to September, but she says that 1,750 complaints have been reviewed and 1,200 closed since she came on board this year. After losing 75 percent of its staff during the Giuliani years, the commission is slowly coming back.

The backlog of cases at the state level has emerged as an issue in this year's race for governor. The National Organization for Women's state chapter has had a lawsuit against the governor and the State Division of Human Rights since Mario Cuomo was governor over the inadequate funding for the division and the backlog of more than 10,000 cases. Complainants often wait seven to ten years before their cases are heard, if they are heard at all. The slow pace of the lawsuit led the women's group to support legislation to overhaul the division, but it was one of the many bills that died in Albany.

Comptroller H. Carl McCall served as State Commissioner for Human Rights under Governor Cuomo. Now that he is running for governor, he is making an issue of the breakdown of the state human rights agency, as is his Democratic rival, Andrew Cuomo. Both called for tripling the funding for the agency last January (from $12.7 million to $37 million), though Pataki's increase was about $35,000

For more than 30 years, legislators from the city have fought a losing battle to add sexual orientation to the state law. Led by out lesbian Assembly Member Deborah Glick (D-Greenwich Village), that bill has passed the Assembly by increasingly lopsided margins for more than ten years. But the Republican-controlled Senate has refused even to vote on it. Governor George Pataki pledged last year to "do all in my power" to pass the state gay and lesbian rights bill. His failure to produce is being made an issue by the Democratic candidates for governor, who are also pushing for a Vermont-style civil union bill that Pataki does not support.

The city has taken steps to extend rights to domestic partners in ways that the state has yet to. New York City established a domestic partners registry under Mayor David Dinkins in 1993 and since then 17,140 partners have signed up at the City Clerk's office, 31 percent of them in same-sex couples. City workers get domestic partner health benefits. No such registry exists at the state level, but some state employees do get domestic partner benefits.

The state does have jurisdiction over the domestic relations law and the State Health Department has interpreted the gender-neutral law nevertheless to limit marriage to one man and one woman. There was a lawsuit filed in New Jersey to obtain marriage licenses for gay couples, but there is no such active legal case in New York. City Council Member Alan Gerson is preparing a resolution for the City Council to call upon the state to recognize same-sex marriages. State Senator Tom Duane has had a gay marriage bill in the Senate since last year and Assembly Member Dick Gottfried announced June 30 that he will introduce a companion bill to Duane's in the Assembly.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly Gay USA on Channel 35 on Thursdays at 11 PM.

The Rights Of Same-Sex Partners


Larry Courtney lost his partner, Eugene Clark, in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center - and then was forced to move out of the apartment in Manhattan they had shared for 14 years. Courtney could not afford to stay there on a single salary, and few of the agencies that are supposed to help in just such a situation, such as Social Security, recognized the relationship. He has sued the Workers Compensation Board for the $20,000 a year to which a spouse is entitled under such circumstances. "Not having a marriage license was not our fault," he said. Only the State Crime Victims Board offered aid, and then only under an emergency executive order issued by the governor in the wake of the attack.

"After September 11, many domestic partners were shocked and angry to learn that we were without any real protection under the law," Fire Captain Brenda Berkman testified at a recent City Council hearing on the issue. "In fact, we found that the state and city, along with private unions and charities, were denying benefits to the domestic partners of the city's emergency service workers killed trying to save others at the World Trade Center, as if our relationships meant nothing.

"Although I have been paying my pension contributions and risking my life as a firefighter for twenty years, my partner has no entitlement to my line-of-duty benefits."

Like AIDS before it, the tragedy of September 11 has brought renewed attention to the issue of the rights of unmarried "domestic partners."

"People lost their apartments, were unable to pay their bills, lost control of their partnerĂŤs estates, or simply had insult added to their grief," writes Councilmember Christine Quinn (See "Hard Lessons Learned").

Many city businesses already give domestic partner benefits to their employees, but are resistant to government mandates to provide them. Some unions neither offer them nor fight for them. And powerful religious groups in New York oppose any attempt to expand these benefits and thus to redefine what constitutes a legal couple. But the aftermath of the attacks has revived interest in the debate, and made many elected officials in New York City express more sympathy, even if it is not clear what the city government collectively can or is willing to do.

The History of Domestic Partner Benefits

New York City started recognizing domestic partners, gay and straight, at the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1989, when Mayor Ed Koch issued an executive order granting them hospital visitation rights and death leave. Rudy Giuliani, running for mayor, opposed Koch's move, saying it would cost the city too much. Koch called Giuliani's position "heartless" -- and David Dinkins won the election.

Early in his term, Dinkins set up a domestic partners registry at the City Clerk's office, allowing same-sex couples who lived together and could demonstrate some interdependence, to sign up for a certificate at the City Clerk's office. It did not carry much weight within government at first, but has proved useful for the many corporations in the city, from Merrill Lynch to Disney, that have since begun providing domestic partner benefits to their employees.

But Dinkins, in the midst of one of the city's many budget crises, resisted fulfilling a campaign promise to settle a suit by gay teachers demanding health benefits for their partners. It took him until shortly before Election Day in 1993 to settle that suit, making the domestic partners of all city employees eligible for health benefits. Dinkins, however, lost his re-election bid a few days later, and the winner Giuliani had no commitment to furthering domestic partner rights.

When Giuliani ran for re-election in 1997, he got the Empire State Pride Agenda, the lesbian and gay lobby group, to remain neutral in his race with Democratic candidate Ruth Messinger, a veteran supporter of gay causes, by promising to support a domestic partners bill in the City Council. The 1998 bill that was passed codified the terms of the 1993 court settlement into law, and went through the City Code adding the term "domestic partner" wherever "spouse" appeared. But to Thomas K. Duane, then on the Council and now a State Senator, the changes did not go far enough. He suggested, and would still like to see, the city commit to providing domestic partner benefits to its city employees that are equal to those for employees in marriages - by providing those benefits that the state and federal governments give to married couples but not to gay couples.

On the Table Again

Lambda Legal Defense is representing Larry Courtney and Bill Valentine, who lost his partner Joseph Lopes in the American Airlines crash in Belle Harbor on November 12, before the state Workers Compensation Board. Lambda attorney Adam Aronson said that the governor could do an executive order to open up workers compensation to domestic partners as he did for the Crime Victims Board. Another group called Marriage Equality is working to get New York State to recognize same-sex marriages through litigation or a new law if necessary--something opposed by both Governor George Pataki and his Democratic rivals, Comptroller Carl McCall and Andrew Cuomo. The two Democrats, unlike Pataki, support a Vermont-like civil union law for New York, reflecting an official position of the state Democratic Party.

But what is New York City's role in an area that many believe only the state can resolve?

The City Clerk's office holds that it cannot issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples without the state's permission. That thesis has never been tested, and there is some evidence the city government is relieved to pass the buck to the state: While mayors like Willie Brown of San Francisco and Ken Livingstone of London have conducted union ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples, no New York mayor has ever done so.

Lambda's Aronson believes there is a case to be made for Duane's proposal that the city cover marriage benefits for gay couples that the state and federal governments will not. "We have a non-discrimination law in the city on the basis of sexual orientation that is expansive and inclusive," Lambda's Aronson said. "It says it will cover instances of discrimination where a disparate impact can be demonstrated. A policy that discriminates on the basis of marriage can have a disparate impact." This was shown in Lambda's case against Yeshiva University that denied married housing to domestic partners. The Court of Appeals ruled for Lambda's client in Levin v. Yeshiva because she had no opportunity to marry her same-sex partner and was thus deprived of a service.

The City Council sounds poised to do whatever it can make expand domestic partner rights. "It is unacceptable," said Alan Gerson at the recent hearing "to have the city's post-9/11 unity torn asunder by bureaucratic rulings against domestic partners. We are determined that all domestic partnerships, same-sex or heterosexual, be treated fairly, equally and equitably."

Councilmember Christine Quinn, Duane's successor, concurs. "The Speaker [Gifford Miller] and lawyers to the council now want the most comprehensive domestic partners legislation we can have," which is a shift from the time when Peter Vallone was Speaker of the City Council On the other hand, the other open lesbian on the council, Margarita Lopez, has apologized in public hearings to domestic partner survivors of 9/11 who have been denied benefits, but she is not sure how much the city can do. The council's legal staff, she said, has convinced her that some benefits could only be resolved in collective bargaining. "I've learned that our capacity to affect issues is very limited in the Council unless the Assembly and Senate give us permission," she said. But she is hopeful that the council can fashion some solutions.

The Opposition

The council hearings on domestic partner issues post-9/11 have not attracted the anti-gay opponents who used to come out en masse in the 1970s and 1980s to fight the lesbian and gay rights bill, which finally passed in 1986. The city transgender rights bill, adding "gender identity and expression" to the human rights law, passed in a veritable lovefest, with no one testifying against it and only a handful of council members voting no on it.

But Councilmember Quinn plans next month to introduce a bill that would require businesses and non-profit agencies that have contracts with the city to provide domestic partner benefits. This is sure to be controversial.

Alair Townsend, publisher of Crain's New York Business, has not yet taken an official editorial position on the contractor's bill, but did say that measure's like this were "more about making council members feeling good," than enacting sound public policy.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already said he is not in favor of Quinn's bill. The mayor wants an exception for religious groups. Indeed, opposition is almost sure to come from some religious groups, which have opposed such measures in the past, as an attack on the traditional family and an effort to weaken marriage.

If those groups that are contractors with the city are required to provide domestic partner benefits, some may comply, others will lose their contracts, and some may choose to sue. The San Francisco domestic partners contractors' law has stood up to court challenges from an airline association. The Catholic Archdiocese there found a way to comply. But the Salvation Army stopped taking city money, forced to by the national office, though the local Salvation Army had offered to comply with the law.

Unions

The city unions have not pushed domestic partners issues. Joseph Mancini of the Police Benevolent Association said that domestic partner survivors are not included in help provided by the union under its Widows and Children Fund.

Tom Ryan, president of Fire Fighters Lesbian and Gay/Emergency Medical Services ( known as "Fire-Flag/EMS") said he has been asking the firefighter's union "to put a bill forward to the state that would include everybody," including domestic partners. "I'm not worried about terrorism," the out gay firefighter said, "I'm worried about my loved ones not being taken care of if I die."

A Change?

Why is there so much talk and movement around these issues now? "After September 11," said Lambda's Aronson, "Americans started thinking of issues as Americans, no longer as black, white, gay, lesbian. For the first time, many heterosexual people understood in a profound way how the law discriminates against gay people and couples." Most of these injustices, he said, could be solved if the state recognized the marriages of same-sex couples.

Richard Haymes of the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project told a recent state hearing on these issues at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center, "In the aftermath of September 11th, the inequities were compounded and highly magnified. And perhaps because there had never before been such a huge critical mass of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered individuals affected at one time, we at the Anti-Violence Project were heightened in our resolve to ensure the victims of the terrorist attack from our community would not fall through the cracks." Though Haymes's group and the gay lobby Empire State Pride Agenda got some government action and set up a private fund to pay some of what officialdom would not, "in many regards, our efforts were in vain," he said.

The next battles in the conflict over how many rights same-sex couples should have will be played out in City Hall several times before this year is out.

 

The Disabled


There are about 1.8 million people with disabilities in New York City, according to the 2000 census. While things have changed since the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990, some of these disabled New Yorkers believe that too much remains inaccessible to them, and they are organizing in unprecedented ways. Their focus is on campaigns to improve transportation in a town that is notoriously unfriendly to those with disabilities. They are also trying to secure housing and workplaces that are more easily accessible, and to make the health care system more responsive to their special needs.

TAXIS FOR ALL CAMPAIGN

Some 40 American cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston, have accessible taxis. All of London's cabs can accommodate wheelchairs. By contrast, New York City's 12,000 cabs include only five that are accessible to wheelchairs. The "Taxis for All" Campaign is an effort to convince the city to make new yellow cabs and livery car services able to accommodate passengers in wheelchairs. Terry Moakley, associate director of the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association and chair of the campaign, said that the Taxi and Limousine Commission was resistant, wanting to wait until major auto manufacturers built accessible vans. But Moakley says that it can be done right now at a cost of about $6,000 a cab. And Dan Wilson, spokesperson for Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, who has been gathering signatures on a petition as part of the Taxis for All Campaign, said that this could be paid for with some of the money from the sale of new taxi medallions.

The city came up with regulations to begin accommodating the disabled, but September 11th delayed their enforcement, according to Matthew Daus, the chair of the Taxi and Limousine Commission. "Our plan is to enforce these rules by the end of this year," he says. He called the for-hire vehicle industry with its radio dispatch system "the logical starting point." Under the proposal, a livery service wouldn't have to make every vehicle accessible, but would have to be able to secure an accessible car for anyone who needs one. Some of this could be done through subcontracting. The campaign emphasizes that they are talking about new vehicles. "We're not trying to burden someone with an existing vehicle," says Moakley

ACCESS-A-RIDE

While disability rights activists credit the city for making all of its city buses accessible (though not all private ones), the subway system is almost totally inaccessible. Many of the disabled, and not just those in wheelchairs, depend upon the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Access-a-Ride system, where for $1.50 a van will pick the qualified user up and transport them.

The City Council Transportation Committee has held hearings both on the need for accessible taxis and on the Access-a-Ride. Those dependent on the Access-a-Ride service testified to tremendous difficulty in arranging for rides, long waits for pick-ups, and unsafe and uncomfortable vans. "The MTA should be embarrassed," said William Danielson, a businessman who uses crutches to get around. Frustrated users (those not in wheelchairs) often end up having to call a cab to get to their destinations at great personal expense.

"We will be more efficient," promised Howard Ende, Vice-President of the Metropolitan Transit Authority for Paratransit, who said they will be aided with a new computerized scheduling system. "I know there are a lot of people who are dissatisfied, but I also know of satisfied customers."

Getting around New York is the biggest issue for the disabled, "because if you don't have transportation you can't access services or go to your job," said Lisa Geeson, of the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association.

Freida Zames of Disabled in Action is concerned about the new ferries that are planned. "The ones now are not accessible," she said, "and it could be a wonderful way for disabled people to travel to the different boroughs, Jersey, and Connecticut."

OTHER CAMPAIGNS

There are other issues besides transportation. Geeson cited the need for the Board of Elections to make voting booths accessible to the visually impaired, and for the Department of Buildings to enforce the accessible buildings code; Zames said that there "is not enough affordable, accessible housing, nor is it integrated. They keep wanting to put us in ghettoes."

Zames also said her group is focusing on the rebuilding of downtown and the preparations for the potential 2012 Olympics in the city to "see that it is all done in compliance with state, federal, and local disability laws."

Alexander Wood, executive director of the Disabilities Network of New York City, and Nancy Miller from Visions Services for the Blind, called on the Department of Employment to involve more youth with disabilities in the summer employment program.

A new coalition is working to make sure that the efforts to incorporate people with disabilities into their communities become a reality - in other words, that the programs get funded. The New York City Disability Budget and Policy Coalition was formed this year to "achieve fiscal equity for disability-related programs and issues in the New York City budget."

How responsive will city government be to the various campaigns? Several members of the City Council are sponsoring some of them from their offices. As for the Bloomberg administration, Wood and Miller were delighted to have had a meeting with Employment Commissioner Betty Wu. "She was wonderful," Wood said "This is the first time [in 30 years] I had a commissioner meet with me on disability issues."

Zames is less sanguine about the new administration. "We're having a hard time reaching Bloomberg," she said. "But his manner is better than Giuliani's. We were never able to deal with Giuliani."

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly Gay USA on Channel 35 on Thursdays at 11 PM.

The New Human Rights Commissioner


Patricia Gatling, the new chair of the City Commission on Human Rights, made her first appearance before the City Council's General Welfare Committee, outlining her vision for an agency that now enjoys charter status but that has seen its resources trimmed by more than three-quarters over the last ten years.

"The mayor is committed to the vigorous enforcement of the Human Rights Law," Gatling told the committee, but her agency has only been given the money to hire seven new lawyers, which would bring the total to 22. While other agencies are reeling from cuts, there may not be much clamor for restoring Human Rights to its pre-Giuliani staffing levels--especially since it is getting a modest increase this year.

"Seven more attorneys is the right direction," said Craig Gurian, author of a scathing report from the Bar Association of the City of New York documenting the chaos at the commission and offering a blueprint for its rebuilding. "But if they're going to litigate cases, they need substantial new funding." He puts the minimum necessary at $20 million annually, up from the present $3.1 million, calling it "what the Police Department spends every nine hours" and reminding us that human rights is a law enforcement function. Some of the funds necessary could come from the commission assessing penalties of up to $100,000 on discriminators, something the previous commissioner was loathe to do. "There will be a price to pay for discrimination," Gatling said. "The commission will not shy away from imposing and publicizing these penalties to maximize their deterrent value." But she told the council that she could not "give a bottom line of how we will be revenue producing."

"After I read the Bar Association report, I was really scared," Commissioner Gatling told Gotham Gazette, in particular about the backlog of 4,500 cases. But those 4,500 are not really all "cases," she said; most of the backlog consists of old "complaints" that have not yet become cases, and may not turn out to be. She is working with the staff to resolve the backlog quickly, having disposed of a thousand in her first few weeks on the job--even as new complaints continue to come in to an agency that has not had a high profile in recent years. "Our goal is to have a maximum one-year limit between the initiation of a complaint and its just resolution," she testified.

New Yorkers with unresolved complaints at the agency are getting detailed letters from the commission. She said that many are grateful to get any kind of acknowledgement. But it will take time to determine if those who believed they were victims of illegal discrimination feel that they have gotten justice under the law. Gatling noted that those who do not agree with the dismissal of their complaints can appeal them to the commission.

Gatling testified that "the commission is a law enforcement agency and as a former prosecutor, I understand this." Two of her chief deputies, Avery Mehlman, for Law Enforcement, and Cliff Mulqueen, for Investigations, came with her from the D.A.'s office. Gurian noted, "They don't have civil rights backgrounds, but they are interested and serious about investigating and prosecuting these cases."

The commissioner also acknowledged their responsibility to educate the public about the agency and to "improve relations among the city's diverse populations." The ability of the commission to do that job can best be assessed when there is another flare-up in inter-group relations, as the city has witnessed in such incidents as the Crown Heights riots of the early 1990s and the attacks on Arab- and Muslim-Americans in the wake of September 11th. She also committed herself to "initiating investigations," the kind of work that looks at systemic discrimination in a particular sector.

General Welfare Chair Bill DiBlasio (D-Brooklyn) pressed Gatling on the backlog of cases. "I'm an experienced prosecutor," she said, invoking her work in narcotics at the Brooklyn District Attorney's office, "and I'm used to dealing with backlogs." She also told DiBlasio that she wanted to start "a more constant testing effort, so that anyone who thinks about discriminating knows that there will be an investigation."

Shortly after the hearing, the Bar Association's subcommittee on human rights met with Gatling and her deputies. Gurian, the chair, said that the commission is now committed to reviewing its backlog by the end of May. "If that does happen," he said, "it doesn't mean that they all will have gone away, but an important triage function will have been done. Meritorious cases or those that need investigation will see the light of day." He also said that Gatling intended to move toward having some non-enforcement staff members take on enforcement functions.

Gurian said that the present plan is for each lawyer to handle 50 complaints a year, some of which will turn into real cases. "That's unrealistic," he said. He believes that when the commission gets a new reputation for taking complaints seriously, the cases will become more complex and time-consuming. He said that plaintiff attorneys will start referring clients such as those with disabilities who were denied reasonable accommodation where the damages may not be that high, but an administrative process at the commission could resolve it.

"They said that they're eager for good cases," Gurian said. "They've started to do testing." The commission hasn't looked for discrimination in recent years. But when it does start finding bias, according to Gurian, "they can't think you can cap the amount of resources" devoted to securing justice. "They understand that they are coming into a situation where the reputation of the agency is sub-optimal. They will have to fight hard to be taken seriously."

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly Gay USA on Channel 35 on Thursdays at 11 PM.

Trying To Reverse the Decline Of The Human Rights Commission; Louima Convictions Overturned; The Death Of Sylvia Rivera


With a new commissioner under a new mayor, the New York City Commission on Human Rights may be on the verge of reversing the steep decline in resources over the last ten years that has left it unable to cope with a huge backlog of complaints, and rendered it almost invisible to the public.

In a story in the Village Voice ("Whatever Happened to Human Rights," Feb. 20), I wrote about how the commission suffered from the fiscal crisis of the Dinkins years and the neglect of the Giuliani administration. My story was prompted by the two-year study of this decline by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, "It's Time to Enforce the Law: A Report on Fulfilling the Promise of the New York City Human Rights Law", showing how the budget and staff have been cut more than 75 percent since 1992. The detailed report, which relied on many Freedom of Information requests to the commission, makes fifteen recommendations to the commission and several more to the city's Law Department regarding its role in enforcement.

On paper, the city has one of the strongest human rights laws in the country, but enforcement has been weak. Plaintiffs with some egregious cases of discrimination can use the law to go directly to court if they can interest private attorneys in their cases and some have recovered multi-million dollar settlements. But if the recoverable damages are likely to be small, as would be the case when someone is denied entrance, for example, to a restaurant -- most lawyers will pass on the case. That is when it is up to the commission to investigate, a process that can take years even if they find "probable cause," i.e., likelihood that the plaintiff will prevail in the long run.

The Bar Association investigation into the commission found that cases drag on for so long that in 2000, more than 100 of them were lost. The commission simply could not locate the complainant.

Some of the aggrieved give up before they file their complaints. Jackie Timo was in a taxi this past December when her woman friend rested her head on Timo's shoulder. "We went five feet and the driver told us to get out of the cab and that we were an 'abomination,'" she said. The Taxi and Limousine Commission referred her to the Commission on Human Rights. She tried several times to telephone them, and kept on being put on hold, until she was finally told that her complaint would not be taken over the telephone; she would have to schedule an appointment at their offices, which would take at least an hour. "I'm an activist, but I gave up," she said. "This is a completely inaccessible system."

In another case, discovered by the Bar Association, the complainant did file. A longtime tenant in a two-family house cared for his 90-year-old mother, who returned home from a hospital stay requiring home health care. The white landlord objected because the aides helping the woman were African American. Instead of doing an investigation, speaking to witnesses, and going to court to get injunctive relief and stop the harassment, the commission has yet to act on this case that was filed in the Spring of 2001.

Craig Gurian, the principal author of the Bar Association report, said, "I'm hopeful we'll be seeing active involvement from several civil rights groups soon" in terms of organizing a campaign to restore the commission to a functional level. Six civil rights groups have sent a joint letter to the mayor and leaders of the New York City Council urging implementation of the Bar Association report--including a substantial increase in the commission's budget and greater use of its power to impose civil penalties. The groups are the Eastern Parazlyzed Veterans Association, Lambda Legal Defense, Puerto Rican Legal Defense, and the city chapters of the National Employment Lawyers Association and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The initial response from almost anyone at City Hall to the idea of increasing the budget of an agency in this season of severe cuts is negative. The City Commission on Human Rights was down to $3 million and is in for a $300,000 increase in the mayor's preliminary budget, but these funds may not offset a drop in federal funding. While not being cut is the dream of some agencies, Gurian said that an adequate job cannot be done for less than $20 million a year-"the least expensive important problem in the city that can be solved."

When I asked Deputy Mayor for Operations Mark Shaw if the administration had considered restoring any area that the Giuliani administration had neglected, he said he didn't know. Council members, besieged by demands to restore local services such as parks, libraries, and senior centers, may be prone once again to letting the needs of discrimination victims slip through the cracks. But many new members come from civil rights backgrounds. Councilmember Alan Jennings (D-Queens) said that this issue "is on the radar. If the commission is not effective and has no teeth, why bother having it?"

City Council General Welfare Committee chair Bill Di Blasio (D-Brooklyn), who has oversight of the commission, was not familiar with the Bar Association report on the human rights commission, but committed to reviewing it.

Mayor Bloomberg has appointed Patricia Gatling, a former first assistant district attorney in the Brooklyn DA's office, as the new chair of the human rights commission. She is already doing the kind of outreach and consultation that her predecessor refused to do. But without new resources, she will not be able to clear up the backlog of more than 4,000 cases.

Civil rights leaders like Howie Katz, former director of the New York region of the Anti-Defamation League, are hoping that the commission will also resume a high profile during times of intergroup tension. "There was a rash of anti-Muslim incidents after September 11th," he said. "The first agency that should have been out there was the human rights commission to foster tolerance, build bridges between communities, and bring down the level of hostility directed at the Muslim community. But they were nowhere to be seen."

Whether commission will be able to do its job again may depend on the outcome of the next few months of budget negotiations.

Three Civil Rights Convictions Overturned in Louima Case

Three of the police officers convicted of violating Abner Louima's civil rights in 1997 when he was tortured and abused by Police Officer Justin Volpe had those convictions overturned on February 28 by the Second US Court of Appeals. Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network told the Associated Press that the ruling was "a shocking display of how the judicial system continues to fail to protect citizens from police abuse" and that the court "in effect says that Volpe acted alone when that is not only not the evidence, but physically impossible."

Officer Charles Schwarz was ruled to be entitled to a new trial. The court held that there was insufficient evidence to convict Officers Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder. Volpe continues to serve a 30-year sentence and does not deny his culpability.

Louima sued the city and the Police Benevolent Association and secured an $8.7 million settlement in the case. Eugene Nickerson, the federal judge in the original trials, died on New Year's Day.

Sylvia Rivera, Veteran Transgender Leader, Dead at 50

Sylvia Rivera fought police harassment at the Stonewall Rebellion, sparking the modern gay rights movement in 1969, and was fighting with more mainstream gay leaders this year over inclusion of "gender identity" in the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act pending in Albany. After a life of struggle, she died of liver cancer on February 19.

Born Rey Rivera Mendoza on the Lower East Side, at the age of ten in 1961 she was thrown out onto the streets where she survived through sex work. She was delighted by and participated in the militancy of gay people at Stonewall, but, as a drag queen, quickly found herself marginalized in the gay movement that emerged-as radical as it was. She founded Street Transvestites (now Transgender) Action Revolutionaries in the early 1970s.

While transgendered people were not explicitly included in the city gay rights law that was enacted in 1986, Mayor Giuliani insisted that they were already covered under an interpretation of the existing human rights law. Nevertheless, there is a Council bill that would add "gender identity and expression" to the categories in the city law. The amendment is supported by Mayor Bloomberg, has 26 council co-sponsors, and is expected to pass this year.

After a packed funeral service at the Metropolitan Community Church on Tuesday, February 26, some of Rivera's ashes were scattered at the Stonewall bar in Greenwich Village and another spoonful into the Hudson River, along which she often dwelled as a homeless person. In recent years, she lived at Transy House in Brooklyn, a residence for transgendered people, where she was known as "Ma."

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly Gay USA on Channel 35 on Thursdays at 11 PM.

St. Patrick's Day Parade


New York City has been the scene of a St. Patrick's Day parade or procession since 1762. Sometimes there have been as many as three on the same day due to splits within the Irish community.

The most prominent split in recent years began in 1991, when the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization first applied to march in the Fifth Avenue St. Patrick's Day Parade run by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. They were put on a waiting list, supposedly because the city limited the length of the parade. When Mayor David Dinkins offered to let the parade run longer to include all on the waiting list, the Hibernians refused the gay group's application. Their argument, eventually made in court, was that the parade is a Roman Catholic celebration and that homosexuality violates Catholic teaching. After some furious negotiations, the more liberal Division 7 of the Hibernians agreed to play host to the gay group within their contingent. Though the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization was not allowed to carry their banner, they were joined by the mayor, who usually marched at the front of the parade. They were cheered along the parade route but mostly jeered. A beer can was launched at Mr. Dinkins head and he wrote in a New York Times op-ed that it reminded him of marching through Birmingham, Alabama on a civil rights protest.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that parades are protected by the First Amendment and can include whomever they wish. In 1998, the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization lost a federal suit against Mayor Rudy Giuliani over the right to demonstrate up Fifth Avenue prior to the parade. The court said that the police department's contention that such a demonstration was a threat to public safety was not unreasonable. So the cops have to handle the arrest of scores of protestors trying to march instead.

The Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization is still excluded from the Manhattan St. Patrick's Day march. Parades in the Bronx, Staten Island, and Brooklyn also keep Irish gay groups out. But a St. Patrick's Parade and Irish Fair was started in Queens in 2000 that welcomes all comers. This year, it will be held on March 3.

At one time, a politician's place in a St. Patrick's Day parade was an indication of his or her status in the Irish community. Now, given the gay boycott of parades that exclude gay contingents, a politician is judged by whether or not he or she marches at all.

As mayor, David Dinkins stayed out of the parade after his 1991 experience. But in 1993, his police commissioner, Ray Kelly, ordered the arrest of over 230 demonstrators supporting the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization on St. Patrick's Day.

There was a time prior to his mayoralty that Rudy Giuliani himself stayed away from the Manhattan parade because of its anti-gay policy. But as mayor, he proudly marched up Fifth Avenue with the Hibernians, often going over the route several times.

Candidate Mike Bloomberg boycotted the Manhattan parade in 2001, but plans to march this year. His spokesman, Ed Skyler, told the Daily News that "the mayor believes the best way to change an organization is from within," which raises the question why Bloomberg resigned from discriminatory private clubs just before running for mayor.

Councilmember Christine Quinn, an out lesbian who has been arrested supporting the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, said, "If the mayor actually analyzed the history of the struggle, he would see that his decision is wrong. Many people have tried to work with the Ancient Order of Hibernians from within and it has been proven that it doesn't work. Well-respected Hibernians have tried and couldn't. No reason to believe this mayor can."

New York's US Senators are split. Chuck Schumer boycotts exclusionary parades. Candidate Hillary Clinton marched in both the inclusive and the exclusive St. Patrick's Day parades in 2000 and found a reason to be out of town last year on March 17.

Gov. George Pataki marches in the Fifth Avenue parade. State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, who wants Pataki's job, hasn't marched in a St. Patrick's Day parade up until now ("I haven't been invited," he told Gotham Gazette), but said, "I haven't made up my mind," about this year's parade.

Aine Duggan, a spokesperson for the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, said that hers is a "hopeful" group, but they do not even communicate with the Ancient Order of Hibernians. "We understand Bloomberg's interest in marching because we share it," she said. "But we will only march in it if it is inclusive. If they discriminate we would ask him not to march. We need to give them the motivation to work with us." Her group is asking sponsors to withdraw from the parade and is forming a coalition with Razem, a Polish gay group that is excluded from October's Pulaski Day Parade.

The Manhattan and Queens parades are both dedicated this year to the fallen heroes of September 11th. The Fifth Avenue parade, on Saturday March 16 this year, has as its grand marshal Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan, an opponent of civil rights protections for gay people. The Queens parade is highlighting the life of Father Mychal Judge, the fire chaplain who died at the Trade Center, who was a gay man who supported gay and AIDS causes. Brendan Fay, a lead organizer of the Queens event, said that a contingent of fire fighters from Drogheda outside of Dublin is coming over for his parade. While he is disappointed with Bloomberg's plans to march on Fifth Avenue, they welcome the Mayor's participation in the Queens event.

The Fifth Avenue parade has had its share of internal controversy this year. Its president, William Flynn, a former grand marshal, resigned in frustration in August over resistance to his attempts to bring order to the group's fiscal dealings. He also favored resolving the dispute with the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization. State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office is conducting an investigation of the parade committee.

Detention of Demonstrators Reversed

The Giuliani administration had a policy in recent years of detaining anyone arrested in a demonstration for at least 24 hours. A lawsuit from private civil rights attorney Jonathan Moore, joined by the New York Civil Liberties Union, led to the reversal of that policy. Moore says that those unreasonably detained within the last three years can sue and expect a settlement.

City Bar Association Report on City Human Rights Commission

The Bar Association of the City of New York issued a scathing report in December chronicling the decline of the City Commission on Human Rights over the last ten years and making recommendations on how to breath some life into it. The report can be read on the Bar Association's website.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly Gay USA on Channel 35 on Thursdays at 11 PM.

The Civil Rights Agendas in 2002


Civil rights advocates are hopeful about the changeover in city government. They see an outgoing mayor who became involved in lawsuits on everything from the content of museum exhibits to the right to hold press conferences on the steps of City Hall. They note an incoming mayor who has already indicated that he hopes the city will get involved in fewer such lawsuits during his tenure.

And they see a new City Council that is itself full of members with roots in civil rights movements. Robert Jackson of West Harlem's District 7, for example, was the plaintiff in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity's lawsuit against the state seeking more funding for City schools; Hiram Monseratte of Jackson Heights' District 21 who is a board member of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"We hope that the City Council and new administration will usher in a new era in government policy," says Donna Lieberman, who just officially became the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union . (She had been the acting director since Norman Siegel departed to run for Public Advocate). Lieberman has a full agenda for New York's new elected officials. "There are issues about policing, Civilian Complaint Review Board effectiveness, ending racial profiling, and openness in government," she said.

Esmeralda Simmons, longtime director of the Medgar Evers Center for Law and Social Justice, said that their priorities going into 2002 include fighting tuition vouchers, "participating in the freedom and security debate," criminal justice issues, and seeing to it that adequate funding is maintained for lawyers for indigent defendants. "We have our work cut out for us."

The Empire State Pride Agenda, the biggest gay and lesbian lobbying group in New York, will continue under new executive director Joe Grabarz (a former state senator from Connecticut) to pursue two immediate objectives -- a transgender rights bill and another to require contractors to provide domestic partner benefits."Bloomberg supports both bills, but he has spoken out for exemptions for religious groups "and possibly others" on the contractors issue.

Most of these issues will be tackled by Bloomberg's new deputy mayor for policy, Dennis Walcott, the longtime head of the New York Urban League, whose organization was in the thick of the civil rights movement under Whitney Young in the 1950s and '60s, but has become "more service oriented" in recent years, as Walcott explained on the day of his appointment. "We've always been involved in police-community issues," though, he added.

But the members of the City Council say they will pursue a civil rights agenda of their own as well - and not just the representative from the Upper West Side, though certainly her. Gale Brewer, from district 6, is pleased with Bloomberg's choice of police commissioner, Raymond Kelly. "I think there'll be a different relationship between the police and the community." Brewer, a veteran of the women's movement, also has concerns about gay issues, domestic violence, and the availability of safe abortion in City hospitals.

Simcha Felder is the new representative from Borough Park's District 44 in Brooklyn and said, "Despite being very much in favor of police, the Gideon Bush issue taught us that we have to resolve the way the police handle the emotionally disturbed." Bush, an orthodox Jew, was shot dead by police when he brandished a hammer as they tried to arrest him several years ago.

Michael McMahon of district 49 on the north shore of Staten Island, is proud of the community policing in his district, but did cite "complaints about real estate brokers refusing to show people of color houses in certain neighborhoods," a matter for investigation by the Human Rights Commission.

Other issues cited range from environmental racism to racial profiling to workers' rights.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly Gay USA on Channel 35 on Thursdays at 11 PM.

Immigrants Under Attack


 

Like so many people throughout the world, Attar Singh was deeply saddened by the attacks on the World Trade Center, so the evening of September 11th, he went to a temple in Richmond Hill, Queens and prayed for the victims. It was a temple for Sikhs, the followers of a religion wholly separate from Islam but whose members also wear turbans and long beards. Singh, 66, who is from New Delhi, was in New York visiting his sons and grandchildren. As he walked back to their home, four men jumped him, apparently thinking he was an Arab. They shot him with a BB gun and then beat him with a baseball bat.

The next day, police stopped an Amtrak train bound for Penn Station and took ten passengers in for questioning. All but one were eventually released; the one was held on charges unrelated to the hijackings. Meera Kumar, who works for the Ford Motor Company, was among the passengers held. "We're in a terrible emergency," Kumar told a reporter later. "But I'm a full-fledged tax-paying United States citizen. I shouldn't have been subjected to this, nor should anybody else."

A new Middle Eastern restaurant just blocks from St. Vincent's Hospital, the closest trauma center to the site of the World Trade Center, began putting American flags in its window and displaying a blackboard calling its cuisine Israeli, after several ominous incidents; in one, a customer told a waitress that he had a gun.

Inocencio Tecalero, an 18-year-old deliveryman for Candy's, a restaurant in the financial district, has additional worries after the terrorist attacks. The restaurant may be closed for months, and he is the sole supporter of his seven brothers and sisters in Mexico.

The events of September 11 have had a sharp impact on many Americans. But for immigrants and members of some minority groups, including Arab Americans and Muslims, the effects have been extreme enough as to make them in some ways the other victims of the terrorist attacks. A few have been the targets of hate crimes, harassment, or racial profiling. Some face difficulties getting disaster relief because of their status, or are especially vulnerable financially. Many worry that changes in national immigration policy may negate the freedoms that brought them to the United States, and New York, in the first place.

HATE AND SUPPORT

No immigrant group has been more affected by the attacks than the estimated 200,000 Arab Americans who live in New York and New Jersey. Almost immediately after the attack, Arab Americans, other Muslims, and some who simply looked as though they might be, became victims of harassment.

In the week after the trade center tragedy, the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee reported some 200 violent incidents against Arab Americans, Muslims and South Asians across the nation. New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said there were 56 bias incidents in New York City against Arabs, most of them verbal harassment. (A Gotham Gazette reader posted a list of about 50 incidents on the our 9/11 message board).

"The bigoted acts of a small minority are creating an atmosphere of apprehension and fear in the American Muslim community," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Across the country, there have been some shocking incidents -- the killing of a Sikh owner of a gas station in Arizona; the murder of a Pakistani Muslim storeowner in Dallas.

Nothing compares to this in New York so far, but the city's immigrants have had their share of trouble. A Sikh man reported that three men pounced on him and yelled "terrorist" in Manhattan. In the days after the attacks, a group of teenagers vandalized Middle Eastern stores on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and police were called in to protect the store's owners. And Islamic students across the city expressed fear of going to school.

In response, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has established a hot line for people to report such crimes (800 552-6843 ). And the Council on Islamic Relations has a place on its web site for people to file similar reports.

While the Council on Islamic American Relations has called upon President George W. Bush and other elected officials to make more and stronger statements against anti-Muslim bias, many Arab groups have praised the support they have received.

In a newspaper column, James J. Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, wrote, "The president has spoken out against this [anti Arab] bigotry, as have almost all other public officials. The Department of Justice has been active in organizing a national outreach program to combat hate crimes against Arab American and American Muslims." He added that the emails his offices received have been "20-to-1 supportive of our community."

There have also been strong local demonstrations, both symbolic and practical, of support for Arab Americans and Muslims in the city in recent weeks. Programs have been set up to escort Arab students to school, political and religious leaders of many faiths have visited mosques and Muslim leaders, and rallies for inter-ethnic unity have been held across the city.

On October 6 in Flushing Meadows Park, a group of students from 50 schools will meet to speak out against hate and paint a large mural dedicated to unity between immigrant and non-immigrants in the city. "It's a way to give young people a creative outlet in response to the bias attacks," said Bryan Pu-Folks, president of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, one of the groups that helped organize the event.

Even local Middle Eastern restaurants like Zaytoons in Boruem Hill, Brooklyn have seen small signs of support from neighbors. When Zaytoons re-opened several days after the attack, the owner Ahmad Samhan found a stack of letters and notes from neighbors. "When you reopen, I will be the first one in line for chicken shwarma," one patron wrote. "You are an important part of this neighborhood."

RACIAL PROFILING

While few would publicly support incidents of harassment, there is a wider acceptance of a heightened suspicion from police, airline security, and immigration officials of people with dark complexions, Islamic clothing, or unfamiliar sounding names.

The week after the attack, according to the New York Times, observers reported that police at checkpoints on the bridges into Manhattan appeared to be singling out drivers who looked Arab or Muslim, a charge the officers denied. Others reported similar incidents by security at Kennedy Airport. "Anyone with dark skin or who spoke with an accent was taken aside and searched. And they went to any male with too much facial hair," a passenger told the Times.

Before one flight, several Arab American men were removed because other passengers refused to fly with them. Hearing of the incident, the Arab American Anti Discrimination Council asked the Federal Aviation Administration to issue guidelines saying that passengers cannot be excluded from a flight simply because of their ethnicity. "It is unacceptable that passengers are expelled from aircraft because someone, even the pilot, just doesn't like the way they look," said committee president Zaire Assail.

Groups fighting such profiling have an uphill struggle. According to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken shortly after the terrorist attacks, almost 60 percent of Americans now favor requiring people of Arab descent to undergo more intensive security checks than other passengers on U.S. airlines. Further the public is divided over whether Arabs living in the U.S. should have to carry special identification, although only a third said they would support putting Arabs in the U.S. under special surveillance.

Some 125 people of Arab extraction across the nation were detained by law enforcement between September 11 and September 24, the Los Angeles Times reported. Hundreds, if not thousands, have been questioned.

This practice is in stark contrast to the recent view of racial profiling of blacks and Latinos. By last year, 13 states and hundreds of local governments passed laws designed to study or reduce such profiling. And in the months prior to the events of September 11, the New York Police Department had been a subject of investigation for racial profiling. The U.S. attorney made the city turn over its stop-and-frisk data and a new stop-and-frisk form was initiated, requiring more detailed information on why police officers decided to stop a particular person on the street.

But while some elected officials like Representative John Conyers and Senator Russell Feingold have said they would press ahead with federal legislation to stop profiling, the tone of the debate has changed. Even some civil libertarians support singling out Arabs in an effort to combat terrorism. Floyd Abrams, a prominent New York First Amendment lawyer, said, "The difficulty we must now address is a situation in which all the hijackers are from abroad, all are from the Middle East, and all are Arabic speaking. In those circumstances, it seems entirely appropriate to look harder at such people."

"Would anyone think it unfair for airport security personnel to target a group of male, Arabic passengers traveling with little luggage who were seeking one way tickets?" asked Stephen J. Singer, former president of the Queens Bar Association, in a recent opinion piece in Newsday. "Clearly not ... The irony is that this practice has truly evolved into the exact form of racial profiling we were trying to suppress." Singer added, "How sad that this is among the peripheral results the Arab terrorists have achieved."

THE STRUGGLE FOR RELIEF

Incidents of harassment and racial profiling have been well publicized, but there are other lesser-known ways the attacks have affected immigrant communities in New York.

To date, relief organizations have raised more than $500 million, the Governor has proposed free tuition to State and City universities for the children of victims, and, there are plans to give tax breaks to businesses so they will not leave the city.

But some immigrants are having trouble getting disaster benefits, according to immigrant advocates. Margie McHugh of the New York Immigration Coalition said there are many police and Immigration Naturalization Service officers at relief centers, which intimidates both legal and illegal immigrants.

"There is also a randomness in terms of the information being given out right now," said McHugh. "Some are being told that citizenship status may be required to receive benefits in some programs, and there is confusion about eligibility and the rules."

In an effort to fight fraud as millions of dollars are donated to relief efforts, the State Attorney General has proposed creating a database to match up recipients and donations, an idea that relief agencies say will scare away some people, particularly new arrivals to the country, who need help. "People will not come to us if they think we are going to put their names in some big database," said Dr. Bernadine Healy, the Red Cross president.

And many non-profit groups who usually cater to the needs of new immigrants, particularly in Manhattan's Chinatown, have been hit hard by the attacks as well. Organizations that help residents get unemployment, deliver hot meals to the elderly, and provide translation and legal services are simply struggling to rebuild their organizations, get their phones up, and open their doors again.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Much of the nation's economic focus is on the airline industry, on Wall Street, and on the financial corporations that lost their offices in the World Trade Center. It is clear, though, that the terrorist attacks will also have a devastating economic effect on many immigrants, particularly those who work in low-paying jobs in the service industry.

There were 350 employees from two dozen countries who worked at the Windows of the World restaurant. There are also 1,820 janitors, elevator operators, security guards, window washers and tour guides displaced by the attack, represented by the Service Employees International Union. There are also employees who worked for hotels in and around ground zero, who will have trouble finding work elsewhere. About 600 members of Local 6 of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers were laid off before the attacks, and 1,200 more have been let go since, said John Turchiano, a union spokesman

While some efforts are being made to help employees in the hotel industry and get World Trade Center janitors hired elsewhere, some workers may not be even eligible for unemployment because they work as independent contractors or change jobs frequently.

It is estimated that 100,000 New Yorker in low-paying service positions will lose their jobs as a result of the attacks.

"The day they destroyed the World Trade Center, they destroyed our business," Steven Ellis, the sales director of a car service based in Park Slope, Brooklyn said.

In addition, some computer infrastructure for getting welfare, food stamps, and Medicaid was damaged in the attacks, leaving thousands without public assistance. And many illegal immigrants, who work as construction workers, landscapers, and migrant farm workers in the New York area and support families in their home countries, fear that if they try to return home they will face tighter security at border checkpoints and may not be able to return.

THE ROLE OF THE PRESS

Some newspapers have run stories and headlines that could be seen as fueling anti-Arab sentiment; the Village Voice cover the day after the attacks read simply, "The Bastards!" But much of the coverage is not stoking the fires, but simply reporting on them; some 120 articles posted on the South Asian Journalists Association web site are "backlash" stories. These are the numerous reports of hate crimes, bias crimes, and general outbreaks of prejudice.

To the ethnic press in New York, this is not good enough. "While the press has done a good job of covering the dangers posed to Arab Americans," said Jyoti Thottam, president of the South Asian Journalists Association, "there still is not enough awareness of the fact that South Asians are being lumped together with Arabs by the media and the general public."

Mohammad Farooqi, publisher of the Pakistani Post, a national paper run from Jamaica, Queens, said there is another way that coverage has been limited: "They're talking about people being arrested and detained, but I don't see anyone talking in the mainstream press about why this [incident] has happened."

Reza Delghari, editor of the Iranian Community Newspaper, a national paper based in Manhattan, agreed. "There is little focus on why it happened. Such a violent action reflects an extreme in those countries that is also a degree of desperation."

Despite his criticism of the mainstream press, Delghari said that his own newspaper has not been given over to September 11 coverage. "Like many Iranian publications, we're trying to stay away from focusing too much attention on this. The Iranian community is so divided and opinionated about issues that deal with the internal politics of the U.S. and at home [Iran]." But Delghari added that most of his Iranian readers "have no sympathy for those terrorists or the fundamentalists."

TURNING IMMIGRANTS AWAY

Increased security and suspicion in the nation could also bring about changes in immigration law that would have a profound effect on New York, a city where 40 percent of the population is foreign born. Some legislators want to decrease the number of visas given to millions who come to the U.S. each year to study, work, and visit. There is also a move to provide more government monitoring of foreigners once they arrive.

Another immediate effect is that the debate about whether to legalize the estimated eight million illegal immigrants currently in the country may be delayed for years to come. Just a week before the attacks, President Bush met with the President Vincente Fox of Mexico to discuss the issue.

The last major revision to immigration and refugee law came in the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996, a law inspired by the 1993 bombing in the World Trade Center and the Oklahoma City bombing. The law resulted in less mobility for those seeking asylum, who are now more likely to be held in Immigration and Naturalization Service detention centers while their cases are decided. It also made it easier to deport foreigners suspected of terrorism without trial and based on evidence that does not have to be disclosed.

"The 1996 bill had a lot of measures that beat up on immigrants without really going after terrorists," said Margie McHugh, director of the New York Immigration Coalition. "We are watching Washington closely to see what comes out of this event."

Last year nearly 4.2 million people were granted visas for tourism and business, another 284,000 received student visas. Many of those people came to New York City, and if it becomes more difficult for them to visit, it will undermine the tourism industry.

"We are still in the first few weeks of this," said McHugh. "The economic and political reverberations will be felt in a ripple effect across the city for a long time to come."

This story was reported and written by Mark Berkey-Gerard, Gail Robinson, and Alex Viado.

Under Assault And On The Ballot


At a time when human rights concerns are on the minds of many in the city, particularly Arab Americans, the main office of the New York City Commission on Human Rights at 40 Rector Street, three blocks from the Trade Center catastrophe, has been out of commission. The agency has been operating out of its field offices in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and upper Manhattan, plus a makeshift headquarters at 2 Lafayette Street, on the 14th floor (telephone 212-676-2031).

Randolph Wills, the Deputy Commissioner for Law Enforcement, said that no windows were knocked out of the Rector Street office, but that incoming calls were still not being received there. As a result, despite the increase in Anti-Arab bias incidents that have been widely reported, the human rights commission has not seen a great rush of complaints coming in, according to Wills.

The Community Relations Bureau of the commission has, through the field offices, been doing outreach to merchants and religious groups in Muslim communities, to tell them about their rights and how to file complaints, Wills said. They are working closely with Community Boards 13 and 15 in Brooklyn, as well as with the police precincts in these areas with a visible Muslim presence, on how to use the laws for protection against bias-related harassment.

Three weeks after the catastrophe, a walk down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, famous for its Middle Eastern restaurants, confirmed a heightened uniformed police presence -- and whatever protection multiple American flags in store windows can provide. These windows also sport signs from the Arab American Family Support Center offering volunteers to run errands for or accompany Muslims fearful of reprisal when going out. The center has set up a hotline at (718) 643-8000 for those who need help or can volunteer to provide it.

Emad Meagoub, a Syrian who is a partner in the Waterfalls CafĂš at 144 Atlantic Avenue, said that business is down about 60 percent. On a Saturday night in his restaurant that can seat 40, there were four people dining. The non-Middle Eastern restaurants were doing much better, but nowhere near normal business in a period that has caused many New Yorkers to cling more to home.

The Middle Eastern restaurants in Manhattan, however, have been doing well in recent weeks, with liberal types eager to show that our quarrel is with terrorists, not Muslims. The owner of Ariana Afghan Kebab House on 9th Avenue between 52nd and 53rd confessed that his place had taken a rock through a small back window in the wake of September 11, but that business had not suffered since.

Schools Chancellor Harold Levy has emphasized that anti-Arab incidents have been few in the schools, and none have been violent. Anti-harassment curricula to head off such problems were quickly disseminated in a school system that has often agonized in the past about how to address intergroup relations.

(The broader issue of Immigrants Under Attack was laid out last week in a Gotham Gazette.)

Charter Issues on Ballot in November

In this period of tremendous fears and concerns about bias, voters will decide at the polls on November 6 whether to grant charter status to two city bodies that address human rights and immigrant rights. Among the proposals from this years Charter Revision Commission is one to make the Commission on Human Rights a permanent agency, with its powers of enforcement spelled out in the charter. Another would elevate the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affiars to a mayoral agency under the charter.

When charter revision was last voted on in 1999, these proposals were part of a big package that voters rejected two to one. Now they are separated out along with three other items for consideration.

Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which fought the package of charter revisions two years ago, calls these changes innocuous, but his group has not taken a stand on them.

Harvey Robins, the former director of the Office of Operations under Mayor David Dinkins, once proposed getting rid of the city human rights commission and letting its functions be taken up by the state commission. He has since abandoned that position, convinced by arguments that the city law covers more categories (such as sexual orientation and immigrant status) than the state and is, in general, a stronger statute. But he warns that putting any agency into the charter gives the next mayor less flexibility in shaping government.

Matt Foreman, director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, a gay rights group, had not heard about the proposed charter reform, but the idea appeals to him. Human rights should be a charter agency, he said, adding that elevating it would mean no one can play politics with it. He said that even if state law did line up more with the city human rights law, we are better off dealing with an agency that is closer to home.

Art Eienberg, who deals with charter issues for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that they had not taken a formal position. It reduces executive authority, he said, "and I am not sure that is a bad thing. In a symbolic sense, it elevates the stature of the agency, but it may make reform more difficult." He said that administrative agencies require flexibility to address new issues. This may reinforce a structure that might work in 2001, but not in 2003.

On the matter of making the Mayors Office of Immigrant Affairs a mayoral agency through the charter vote, Margie McHugh of the New York Immigration Coalition said that her constituent groups are divided. Some are happy with what we have now, others would like to solidify the access that a mayoral agency can provide. But her real concern is that while this office is the one that voters will be asked to focus on in November, the most important issues for immigrants in the city, such as language access, are so complex that this office has not been able to address them.

Ready or not, voters must decide on these proposals on November 6. And nobody does seem ready. Despite the crises that face those concerned with these issues, few have gotten it together yet to take a stand.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly Gay USA on Channel 35 on Thursdays at 11 PM.



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