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Citizens Union

The Seven Year Suit; Also, Lynne Stewart's Conviction


A Manhattan jury finally heard the case of “Mark A. Taylor against New York University Medical Center and Peter L. Ferrara,” a civil rights case that had taken more than seven years to go to trial. The jury deliberated for just thirty minutes, and decided in Taylor's favor.

While there is no typical civil rights case, Taylor’s shows what a plaintiff sometimes has to go through to get his or her day in court and to prevail.

Taylor was working at New York University Medical Center as director of External Affairs in 1994 when his problem began. A biography of the late Leonard Bernstein was published describing Taylor as the maestro’s “last love.” It was passed around the office with the pages on Taylor marked.

That is when Peter Ferrara, a colleague, publicly called him a pansy and started making gay jokes, according to Taylor. (Ferrara, who is now director of public affairs for Yeshiva University, has denied Taylor's charges). "Every gay man has been called a faggot or a pansy," Taylor says. "I tried to make a joke about it to defuse a potentially volatile situation. I worked hard and kept to myself." But three years later, Ferrara was promoted to be Taylor's boss. Taylor was fired within months.

That’s when Taylor decided to go to court, charging job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which has been illegal in New York City since 1986.

“Ninety-five percent of the cases are settled out of court,” said Michael O’Neill, Taylor's attorney. “If you have smart lawyers on both sides, they will be able to evaluate the case. In cases that don’t get settled, it is because one side is being unreasonable.”

New York University Medical Center strongly contested Taylor’s charges from the start, Taylor says, filing motion after motion. "They tried to beat me into a stump," he says. New York University spokesman John Beckman has said that Taylor’s claim was “baseless.” When the case finally came to court, the jury obviously disagreed. It awarded Taylor two million dollars in back pay, and for "mental anguish."

These seven years have not been easy for Taylor. After he filed his lawsuit, he says, "I started getting harassing phone calls at home. I don't know if it was anyone from NYU."

He also had trouble getting another job. "One of the consultants I hired for the court said that when you’re fired, you’re ‘damaged goods,’” he said. Filing a lawsuit against a previous employer can make potential employers wary of you.

“I had thousands of good working relationships after 15 years at NYU,” he said. After he filed the suit, “I found out about five of those relationships were real.” For a while, he worked for friends and took freelance assignments. “The theory is that it takes five years to get back on your feet. In five years, I went bankrupt." Today, he has "a very good job," he says, but "there is no describing the damage that you incur being in litigation when you’re out on the job market.”

Would Taylor go through this litigation again, knowing what he does now after seven years? “I don’t think so,” he replies. Taylor helped Bernstein through the last disease-ridden year of his life, saying that it included “the greatest highs and lows, but I would do it again in a minute. But this case? I’d have to think long and hard.”

Taylor doesn’t think New York University would today tolerate the kind of treatment to which he was subjected and had complained about. “They have to take legitimate complaints seriously,” he said.

But the case is not necessarily over; a spokesman for New York University says it plans to appeal.

O’Neill said, "I’m confident that we will prevail in the end. It is important for people who have had their civil rights violated to do right by themselves. Some people, however, walk away for good reasons. Suing a big institution is never easy. They have so much more in resources. It is ludicrous to say the plaintiff has the upper hand in these cases. People go through an awful lot.”

Lawyer for Terrorist Convicted of Aiding Terrorism

In one of the most closely watched cases in the city this past year, civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart was found guilty of “aiding Islamic terrorism by smuggling messages out of jail from a terrorist client,” the New York Times reported.

Stewart, who has represented many unpopular clients over the years, had been the lawyer for Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman who was convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. She is vowing to appeal and has set up a Web sitearguing her case and seeking support.

Andrew Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, argued on the op-ed page of the Timesthat Stewart’s conviction was perverse, in part because it was based on a regulation issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft rather than a law passed by Congress. He sees it as a fundamental undermining of the principle of attorney-client privilege. The regulations give the government the right to eavesdrop on conversations between terrorist suspects and their lawyers.

New York Post columnist John Podhoretz titled his column after the verdict, “Lockin’ Up Lynne: Justice for an Evil-Doer.”

David Cole in The Nation magazineargued that while she violated an “administrative agreement,” Stewart committed no crime. “I think Stewart crossed the line from zealous advocacy to wrongful conduct. But she is no terrorist. At most she deserves a disciplinary proceeding before the bar.”

Stewart is free awaiting sentencing on July 15, which could put her away for 30 years.

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

Immigrants and Driver's Licenses


A 60-year old licensed asbestos remover who shuttled back and forth to the site of the World Trade Center as part of the cleanup effort, the father of an American born daughter who needs to be driven to the hospital because of her frequent seizures, a Barbadian immigrant who drives a delivery truck for a living -- these are examples of people whose driver licenses were suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

For many undocumented immigrants, obtaining a driver’s license has become an almost impossible task ever since the department began a crackdown on giving driver's licenses to non-citizens who cannot provide satisfactory immigration documents. The policy was so controversial that it sparked ongoing litigation between New York State and immigrant groups.

“This is just one of the perils of living and working in this country,” said a Barbadian immigrant. “You never know when you are going to get hit by the authorities, and you are never quite sure where relief is going to come from.”

It all begin last Marchwhen the Department of Motor Vehicles began crosschecking drivers’ social security numbers with information at the Social Security Administration and found that some numbers were used more than 50 times. The department then sent out letters to 112,000 New Yorkers asking them to come in and explain why their social security numbers did not match. If they didn't report within 15 days, they risked having their licenses suspended.

Under a 1995 federal law, a Social Security number has been required to obtain a driver's license in New York City but up until last year applicants in New York would have to provide only proof of birth and several forms of identification or utility bills.

The crackdown has resulted in the suspension of the licenses of 7,000 immigrants but advocates said the number of immigrants affected could reach 300,000.

State Motor Vehicles Commissioner Raymond Martinez insisted that the policy is not targeting immigrants but added that the people who used fake immigration documents are subject to arrest and the immigration agency will be notified.

“As a home-owner and a mother of a four year-old child, driving is essential. I am not a terrorist, a deadbeat dad or a criminal,” Allie P told the New York Immigration Coalition. “If this measure was not intended for people like me, then why am I the target?”

Since last year immigrant advocacy groups have tried to raise awareness of the issue by organizing press conferences and protests. They also filed lawsuits against New York State.

One class action lawsuit was filed last summer by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. In February the case reached the New York State Supreme Court where Justice Karen S. Smith issued an injunction to halt the department’s crackdown.

Smith argued that the Department of Motor Vehicles is not authorized to enforce immigration law or to make rules without public notice.

“The judge’s order is temporary,” said El Diario editorial. “But we urge the state to abandon this flawed policy permanently.”

Less than a week later, New York State filed an appeal to the court’s order.

Joe Picchi, a spokesman for the department, has said that the appeal automatically cancels the restraining order and that the state will reinstate the requirement.

“It’s very frustrating,” Cesar A. Perales, the president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, told the New York Times. “ I think it’s clear that they’re trying to avoid complying with the court decision.”

To make the matter more complicated, in February the U.S. House of Representatives passed a billto stop states from giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. The bill will now go to the Senate and if passed, will be signed by President George W. Bush, who has said that he supports the bill.

Meanwhile, some immigrants, delighted by the short-lived court order, have gone to get their licenses renewed but many were turned down.

“This policy will make the roads less safe, just as license restrictions have done in other states throughout the country,” said Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. “Immigrants who need to drive to work will now face an impossible choice between breaking the law and make a living.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legalizing Gay Marriage In NYC


Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan ordered Victor Robles, the Clerk of the City of New York, on February 4th to stop discriminating against people on the basis of sex in licensing marriages. The next day, Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed to appeal the court order, while for the first time announcing that he supports the right of gay couples to marry. That night, Bloomberg addressed two major gay rights dinners and while his recent conversion to support for gay marriage in principle was applauded, he was bitterly heckled and booed when he said he would appeal the judge’s order.

By February 6, all of Bloomberg’s major potential Democratic opponents for mayor--Council Speaker Gifford Miller, former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, and Congressman Anthony Weiner--condemned his refusal to comply with the court order and the issue of same-sex marriage moved to the center of the 2005 mayor’s race.

Justice Ling-Cohan ruled in a lawsuit brought on behalf of five lesbian and gay couples by the Lambda Legal Defense, a gay and lesbian legal advocacy group, last March. In her ruling, she compared the denial of marriage to gay people to the miscegenation laws that forbade interracial marriage in many states until the United States Supreme Court struck them down in 1967. Indeed, she noted that one of the plaintiffs, Curtis Woolbright, had a white mother who had to move to California from Texas in order to be able to marry a black man in the early 1960s.

Addressing due process and constitutional issues raised by the plaintiffs, Ling-Cohan ruled that “the words ‘husband,’ ‘wife,’ ‘groom’ and ‘bride,’ as they appear in the Domestic Relations Law shall be construed to mean ‘spouse,’ and all personal pronouns, as they appear in the relevant sections of the Domestic Relations Law, are and shall be construed to apply equally to either men or women.”

Professor Arthur Leonard of New York Law School, in an extensive legal analysis of the decision, said that the while the city's attorneys agreed with the plaintiffs that gay couples form families and need support, the city argued there was nevertheless a state interest in “maintaining the traditional form of marriage as a union of one man and one woman” and “in avoiding conflict with the laws of other jurisdictions, including the federal government, that would not recognize same-sex marriages performed in New York.” Ling-Cohan rejected those arguments.

Justice Ling-Cohan stayed her own order for 30 days to give the city the chance to appeal; Bloomberg announced that this was his intention the day after she issued it. Assemblymember Dick Gottfried, sponsor of a Right to Marry Bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Albany, said that if the mayor truly supported same-sex marriage now, he could take the side of the plaintiffs in bringing the case to the Court of Appeals.

“The mayor is a coward,” said State Senator Tom Duane, an out gay sponsor of the Right to Marry Bill in the Senate. “He should stand up with us in this most important civil rights battle of our lifetimes.”

Bloomberg said, “I do not want to see happen here what happened in California,” where gay marriages were authorized by Mayor Gavin Newsom last winter and overturned by the state court. But in the New York case, it is a court that is ordering the city to issue the licenses.

Hunter College political science professor Kenneth Sherill saw electoral politics behind the mayor's decision to appeal: “Bloomberg says that [issuing licenses to gay couples] will cause chaos -- tens of thousands of people coming to the city! But the Republican Convention and the Olympics are okay. Somebody's worried about the Republican primary.”

Bloomberg is facing a Republican primary from conservative former Councilmember Tom Ognibene and may indeed be concerned about not taking positions too at variance with the Republican base nor the core Giuliani constituency that elected him in 2001.

There are other pending same-sex marriage lawsuits around New York State, one brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and another led by civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel. These cases did not get positive lower court rulings and are on appeal.

If the issue is to be resolved judicially, it will be the decision of the Court of Appeals which now is made up of three appointees by former governor Mario Cuomo, a Democrat, and four by the Republican incumbent, George Pataki. While it is still one of the more liberal high courts in the country, having struck down the state’s death penalty law last year, it is more difficult to predict how it will rule on same-sex marriage. Only the Massachusetts high court has opened marriage to gay couples, and that led to a movement backed by President Bush for a federal amendment to ban same-sex marriage and passage of thirteen state amendments against it with more on the way.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick, an out lesbian, said, “There is no support for a Defense of Marriage Act in the Assembly.”

One prominent Democrat said that polling by the Assembly leadership found that while a majority of New Yorkers do not support same-sex marriage, a majority also doesn’t like politicians taking anti-gay positions. The source said that this is why though the Senate rarely takes pro-gay actions, they hesitate passing anti-gay bills even on marriage.

While Republican Governor Pataki opposes same-sex marriage, he has taken incremental steps to support lesbian and gay rights, including protecting gay relationships, in recent years.

A conservative who welcomed Ling-Cohan’s decision was William Donahue, director of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights who said that he believed it would inspire a backlash against “activist judges” and will help build support for the amendment to the United States Constitution banning same-sex marriage. That amendment is given little hope, even from Bush, of gaining the necessary two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress. It fell far short last year. But all bets would be off if a court were to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act that bans federal recognition of same-sex marriage and allows states to deny such recognition to legal same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

New York is already grappling with the reality of legally married same-sex couples, mostly New York couples who married in Canada. State

Comptroller Alan Hevesi last year said that they would be recognized by the state pension system and Mayor Bloomberg followed suit with the city pension system. But the state Department of Taxation and Finance will not let these couples file as married with New York State, even though Attorney General Eliot Spitzer issued an opinion in 2003 that New York should honor these marriages even if it does not yet perform them.

In neighboring jurisdictions, Massachusetts has allowed gay couples to marry since last March, but has closed the door to out-of-state http://massequality.org/news_bg_4_19.php gay couples marrying there--an issue being litigated. A state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and mandate civil unions passed a joint session of the Massachusetts legislature last year, but it must pass again this year before it can go to the voters in 2006, a less likely prospect now that the state has had a year to get used to gay married couples.

Seven of ten Canadian provinces or territories permit gays to marry and the parliament just got a bill legalizing it for the entire country with a close vote expected in June. New Jersey has a same-sex marriage case that is at the appellate level. And Connecticut is considering same-sex marriage and civil union legislation, with the state gay lobby group on the issue saying they will settle for nothing less than full marriage rights.

Ossie Davis 1917-2005

Ossie Davis was hailed at his deathon February 4 as a consummate artist for his work in theater, movies, and television, but equally honored as one of the major civil rights figures of the 20th century. He worked not just to improve the status of African Americans in the entertainment industry, but for the advancement of all people in the larger society.

Davis, often with his wife Ruby Dee, worked closely with such seminal figures in the civil rights movement as Paul Robeson, WEB DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fanny Lou Hamer, and Malcolm X. He was the chief eulogist at the funeral of Malcolm X in 1965.

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

 

Immigrant City


New York has always been a city of immigrants. Even the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 and the economic downturn that followed did not deter immigrants from moving to the city.

New York saw a net gain of 339,000 immigrants from April 2000 to July 2003. The foreign born population in New York City is now at all time high at 3.2 million out of the city’s population of 8 million, according to a new study by the Department of City Planning.

The report attempts to examine the countries of origin of the foreign-born, their paths of entry, residential distribution, and demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. But the reason immigrants are drawn to New York remains the same.

“Immigrants keep coming here,” co-author of the report Joseph Salvo told the Daily Times. “The reason they keep coming here is opportunity.”

Countries of Origin: The Emergence of Mexican Immigrants

In earlier decades, the overwhelming majority of the foreign-born population in New York City was from various part of Europe. But in the 2000 census European immigrants comprised only 19 percent.

The Dominican Republic sent the most immigrants to New York City, numbering 369,220 or 13 percent of the total, followed by China (262,600), Jamaica (178,900), Guyana (130,600) and Mexico (122,600).

Even though Mexico has long been the origin of most immigrants in the United States, in the past Mexican immigrant preferred other cities to New York City as their destination. According to the 1990 census, Mexican ranked 17th with 32,689 of population in the city. City demographers expected the actual growth of Mexican immigrants at 200,000.

Rounding up the top ten are Ecuador, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia and Russia.

Generally, immigrants from non Hispanic Caribbean countries are moving disproportionately to New York. While they account for five percent of the nation’s foreign-born population, they comprised of more than one-fifth of the city’s foreign born.

 
 
Foreign-born Population by Country of Birth, New York City, 1990 and 2000
2000
1990
Growth, 1990-200
Rank
Number
Rank
Number
Number
Percent
Total/Foreign Born
-
2,871,032
-
2,082,931
788,101
37.8
Dominican Republic
1
369,186
1
225,017
144,169
64.1
China
2
261,551
2
160,399
101,152
63.1
Jamaica
3
178,922
3
116,128
62,794
54.1
Guyana
4
130,647
6
76,150
54,497
71.6
Mexico
5
122,550
17
32,689
89,861
274.9
Ecuador
6
114,944
10
60,451
54,493
90.1
Haiti
7
95,580
7
71,892
23,688
32.9
Trinidad & Tobago
8
88,794
12
56,478
32,316
57.2
Colombia
9
84,404
8
65,731
18,673
28.4
Russia
10
81,408
*
*
*
*

* The USSR was ranked 5th in the 1990 with 80,815 residents. It if were a single entity in 2000, it would have ranked 4th with approximately 164,000 persons.

 

Legal Pathway of Entry

Traditionally, immigrants were admitted to the country mainly under family reunification or refugee and asylum clauses. But the 1990 Immigration Act allowed immigrants to enter the country through working visas and diversity visa (visa lottery).

In the 1990s, only 37 percent of immigrants coming to the city entered under the family preference, down from 61 percent in the 1980s. Ten percent of immigrant, mostly Filipino, Korean and Chinese immigrants, used employment visas to stay in the country.

While accounting for only 8 percent of immigrants entering the country, visa lottery program helped increase the numbers of immigrants from Poland, Ireland, Bangladesh, Ghana and Nigeria.

The number of refugees in the city tripled in the 1990s due to the massive influx of refugees from the former Soviet Union countries.

The report did not offer numbers of undocumented immigrants.

Residential Settlement Pattern

Over one million immigrants, around 36 percent of the total, settled in Queens, while 33 percent live in Brooklyn, 16 percent in Manhattan, 13 percent in the Bronx and 3 percent in Staten Island.

Washington Heights has the most immigrants (90,300) followed by Flushing (86,900), Astoria (84,700), Bay Ridge-Benson hurst (78,600) and Elmhurst (74,600). Other neighborhood in the top ten included Graves-Homecrest, Flatland-Canarsie, Jackson Heights, Corona and Sunset Park Industry City.

Some immigrants chose to settle outside of the New York City. In 2000, there were 5.2 million immigrants in the New York Metropolitan Region, which includes the city’s five counties, an inner ring of 12 counties closest to the city and outer ring of 14 counties. While the inner counties accounted for one-third of immigrants, the outer counties accounted for less than one-tenth.

But counties close to the city have a disproportionately higher immigrant population. For example, 39 percent of population in Hudson County, New Jersey are foreign born.

Socioeconomic Attainment of the Foreign-born

Regardless of their income or educational background, immigrant families usually have more than one worker, making their household income close to the city median ($37,770).

 
 
Household Income and Poverty Status by Country of Birth,
New York City, 2000
Household Income
Poverty
Public Assistance*
Median
Ratio: Subgroup to Total
Avg. workers per household
Persons for whom poverty status has been determined
Percent in Poverty
Total Households
Percent with PA income
Total/New York City
$37,700
1.00
1.1
7,853,336
21.1
3,020,980
7.5
Native-born
$39,900
1.06
1.0
4,994,540
21.5
1,816,243
7.8
Foreign
$35,000
0.93
1.2
2,858,796
20.4
1,204,737
7.0
Dominican Republic
$25,300
0.67
1.1
369,002
30.9
142,042
18.6
China
$33,320
0.88
1.5
261,002
21.7
95,086
4.5
Jamaica
$38,500
1.02
1.3
173,195
14.6
80,990
6.0
Guyana
$41,960
1.11
1.5
128,992
13.4
48,054
5.5
Mexico
$32,000
0.85
1.8
123,265
32.0
32,201
12.5
Ecuador
$36,000
0.95
1.5
111,337
21.9
37,276
8.0
Haiti
$36,000
0.95
1.3
96,032
19.1
40,694
5.9
Trinidad & Tobago
$36,300
0.96
1.3
92,737
16.5
40,036
4.9
Colombia
$35,000
0.93
1.3
83,288
20.2
31,705
6.2
Russia
$28,000
0.74
1.0
83,941
22.2
37,624
8.3

* Households with at least one person receiving public assistance income

 

While just one third of Mexican immigrants had high school degree, their household has in come that is 85 percent of the city’s median because multiple family members are in the work force.

Generally, Latin Americans had low level of social economic attainment. Only one in ten Dominicans and Hondurans had completed high schools, and both males and females had low labor force participation. On the other hand, Jamaican, Trinidad, Haitian, Guyanese households, headed mostly by females, have one of the city’s highest female labor force participation.

Some groups, such as Korean immigrants, have advanced education but 70 percent were not proficient in English. As a result, many chose to start their own business. Self-employment is also popular among some European immigrants such as Italians and Greeks, many of whom do not have high school education.

Impact of Immigration of New York City

The report concluded that immigration help to stabilize population growth and comprised for 40 percent of all city resident in labor force. Many industries such as manufacturing, construction and service industries rely heavily on immigrant laborers. Finally, immigrants also help maintain the city’s housing stock, 48 percent of recently occupied housing units are immigrant households.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death Penalty


Support for the death penalty was credited with electing Ed Koch mayor of New York City in 1977 and George Pataki governor in 1994, each in races with Mario Cuomo, a lifelong opponent of capital punishment. Pataki brought the death penalty back to New York State in 1995 and while there have six convictions under it since then, there have been no executions. Last June, the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, declared the law unconstitutional.

Pataki continues to support the death penalty, touting it in his State of the State address January 5 among the reasons crime has gone down dramatically during his tenure.

But the political landscape may have changed around him. Opponents of the death penalty, who see it as a major civil rights issue, have reason to feel encouraged that it will not be reinstated in New York.

Yes, State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the almost certain Democratic nominee for governor next year, has said he is in favor of capital punishment for “premeditated acts of terrorism.” But he told Joyce Purnick of the New York Times, “I would be surprised if it’s an issue that is paramount in the public debate.”

Yes, the New York State Senate has passed a new death penalty bill that is supposed to address the concerns of the high court. But opponents call the Senate bill itself, which was passed without hearings, constitutionally flawed. The court struck down the 1995 law in June because it said that if a jury could not agree unanimously on giving a defendant either death or life without parole, the convicted person would get 25 years to life with parole. The court felt that this coerced the jury to be unanimous for a more severe penalty. Under the new Senate bill, if a jury deadlocks on a sentence, the defendant automatically gets life without parole.

Whether or not the senate bill could pass constitutional muster, the Democratic-controlled New York State Assembly seems to be opposed to it, and may not bring it to the floor for a vote. At its first hearing on the issue in December, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau spoke out strongly against it: "The death penalty exacts a terrible price in dollars, lives and human decency. Rather than tamping down the flames of violence, it fuels them."

Additional hearings are planned for January 21st at 10 AM at the Bar Association of the City of New York at 42 W. 44th Street and January 25th in Albany. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a supporter of the death penalty in the past, has given no indication of when or if he will take up the State Senate’s bill to reinstate it.

The death penalty will play a more nuanced role in the mayor’s race this year, with incumbent Republican Mike Bloomberg opposed to it and his Democratic rivals split on the issue. Former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, the only Democrat who leads Bloomberg in recent polls, opposed the death penalty until 1997 when he came out in favor of it for cop killers. When he ran again in 2001, he supported a moratorium on the death penalty, a position that many have embraced in the wake of DNA evidence exonerating scores of death row inmates. U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner of Brooklyn is a death penalty supporter who also now supports a moratorium.

The rest of the Democratic field--City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, and Councilmember Charles Barron--oppose the death penalty. With crime--especially murders--down, it is possible that this issue will play much less of a role in the mayoral election than it has in the past, though Ferrer may be attacked by some of his opponents for his evolution on it.

The New York City Council passed a resolution in 2002 by a 38-13 vote calling on the state to halt all executions "until the application of capital punishment in New York is investigated and issues of fairness, justice, equality, due process and cost are addressed."

All of this encourages death penalty opponents in the state. New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, founded in 1990, is a coalition that has grown to encompass more than 300 supporting groups , ranging from the New York Bar Association to the New York State Council of Churches. “Too frequently, the death penalty is imposed not on people who commit the worst crimes, but who have the worst attorneys, limited resources, and the wrong skin color," said David Kaczynski, the coalition's executive director (brother of Ted, the "Unabomber"). "You could call it a negative lottery where on the names of the poor are ever entered.”

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, “There is clear evidence that it does not deter crime and that whether or not someone faces it depends more on race, geography, and politics than the gravity of the events or the misdeeds of the perpetrator.” But she added, “even if our society could insure that capital punishment could be administered with unfailing accuracy, fairness, and justice, we would still be opposed to it because it is immoral for a society to kill people.”

Lieberman noted that has proven cheaper to incarcerate convicted murderers for life than for the government to go through the process of trying to execute them. New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty estimates that, even though nobody has been executed, the state spent more than $175 million on that process since reinstating capital punishment.

Ban On Subway Photography

The on-again, off-again plan by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to ban people from taking photographs, films, or videos on public transit or in subway stations (unless they have a permit) is on again, the New York Times reported. Artists are complaining that they will lose the chance to work in one of their favorite environments. Tourists won’t be able to record their presence in our famous hole in the ground.

Tom Kelly, speaking for the autority, told the Times, “Nobody is looking to violate anybody’s civil rights or deny anybody’s constitutional rights. But when you check with law enforcement agencies, they have uncovered photographs of subway and rail systems from various terrorist organizations. And I don’t believe they were going in somebody’s scrapbook.”

Critics of the ban say that the folks at the MTA are kidding themselves about stopping terrorist surveillance of the transit system, which can be done by tiny hidden cameras.

The ban will go into effect as soon as the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has the chance to vote on it.

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

 

Immigrants' Reaction To Tsunami Disaster


When the phone rang at four in the morning in his apartment in Elmhurst Queens, Pichet Rasmee feared the worst. He had just learned from the news about the tsunami that hit across South Asia, including Phuket, Thailand, where his two aunts were on vacation at their family resort.

“I dreaded picking up the phone,” Rasmee said in Thai. “Because I knew bad news was coming.” And it was. His brother was calling to tell him that the tidal wave had completely destroyed their family property in Phuket. Both of his aunts had drowned.

Unable to afford the trip for the funeral in Thailand, Rasmee gathered the day after New Year’s day with hundreds of Thais at the Thavorn Vanaram Buddhist Temple in Queens for a mass ceremony dedicated to tsunami victims.

“There’s not much I could do,” he said, “except donate money.”

Rasmee is not alone. After the news of the disaster reached New York the day after Christmas, immigrants around the city desperately tried to contact their loved ones and started to give donations to help out their homelands.

“The donation box was so stuffed with dollar bills,” Rasmee said, “I had to push my money in.”

According to Choltid Kempetch, a Thai Consulate staff member, the money collected at the Buddhist temple and other fundraising events will be managed by the Thai consulate and will be sent to Thailand’s hardest hit areas. The death toll in Thailand is now at 5,288.

Three other countries with the highest casualties are Indonesia (where the toll is at 94,200), Sri Lanka (30,240) and India (9,675), all of which have a sizeable population of their citizens living in New York. There are 68,300 legal immigrants from India in the city, 5,000 from Sri Lanka, 4,200 from Thailand and 2,800 from Indonesia, according to official figure.

Taniya Gunasekara, a native of Colombo, Sri Lanka, who lives in Spanish Harlem, was anxious when she could not reach her family.

“My sister was on vacation to see my mother in Colombo,” said Gunasekara. “The line was busy. It took me about two and a half hours to reach them.”

Gunasekara’s mother and sister were safe but some of her relatives are among the causalities in Sri Lanka. Like many New Yorkers, she decided to help out by donating her money through a Buddhist temple.

At the Buddhist Vihara Temple on Staten Island, where a large number of Sri Lankan immigrants live, monks are collecting foods, clothes and donations and will ship them to the area most affected.

“People from around the community have come over since the morning, and they drop off goods,” temple member Radha Hettiarachchy told Voice of America. “ I think it brought this community closer together.”

In Queens , New York City’s commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Guillermo Linares, along with other city officials, met on January 6 with representatives of the Jackson Heights Merchants Association, a group of 220 South Asian merchants, to show their support and to express the city's ongoing commitment to helping tsunami-devastated nations.

“This is a tragedy and everyone wants to help,” said the association’s president Shiv Dass. The group has placed more than 200 donation boxes in their members’stores and will ask the city to donate some money to the tsunami relief fund.

Even though most Indians in Jackson Heights are from North India – which was less affected by the disaster-- Dass expected the community to give support to the victims.

“We are going to raise about $40,000 and the money will go directly to the families,” he said. The association will send representative to deliver payments to relief agencies in South Asia.

Some are concerned that the relief fund will not reach the people who need it, especially in Aceh, Indonesia, where a conflict between Indonesian military and separatist rebels have been dragging on for decades. After the tsunami, both sides have agreed to a ceasefire.

“It is important that the international community not only send aid to Ache but to help monitor how things are distributed,” said Robert Jerski, a coordinator of the Indonesian Civil Society Coalition for the Victims of Earthquake and Tsunami. “There is a report that the government has only recently allowed aid to enter”

The coalition also organized a demonstration by Achenese in front of the United Nations in early January to call attention on how relief funds are being distributed.

“I would recommend sending money to local NGOs [non-governmental organization] instead of sending it to major organizations,” said Aceh native Munawar Zanal who lost 20 of his extended family members. “It will get there faster than by going through government bureaucracy.”

 

How To Help:

• Action Against Hunger
• American Friends Service Committee
• American Red Cross
• CARE
• International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent
• International Medical Corps
• International Rescue Committee
• Mercy Corps
• Network for Good
• Operation USA
• Oxfam America
• Save the Children
• Unicef
• World Food Programme

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2004: Shorter Lines, Just As Much Frustration


Many immigrants will look back at 2004 as the year when the long lines in front of the immigration office disappeared. That is because appointments can now be made online.

But when the year began, immigrants and their advocates had far higher hopes than just shorter lines. Many thought that there would be an amnesty for undocumented immigrants similar to the one created by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. That did not happen. Here is what did:

Bush’s Guest Worker Program

President George W. Bush unveiled in February his guest worker program that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a three-year work permit if they were sponsored by their employers. They would enjoy other rights as well, such as a guaranteed minimum wage and union benefits.

But immigrant advocates only half-heartedly supported the program. They argued that while the proposal benefits low-skilled workers who are unable to get a work permit through regular channels, it does not offer a path to permanent residency (getting the “green card”) or to citizenship, without which the guest workers will have to leave the country eventually.

”Under the guise of immigration reform, the president has proposed a temporary worker program which does not lead to permanent residency and citizenship and essentially says to the immigrant community ‘work hard, pay taxes, and then get lost,’” said Margie McHugh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

Ironically, the program also failed to gain support in Congress, because many representatives viewed it as too lenient – a kind of amnesty for undocumented immigrants. The issue faded as the campaign season heated up. Less than three weeks after his re-election, President Bush said he was committed to the program and will "find supporters on the Hill and move it."

Drivers License

The New York Department of Motors Vehicles began crosschecking drivers’ social security numbers with information at the Social Security Administration. In March the agency sent out letters to 112,000 New Yorkers asking them to come in and explain why their social security numbers did not match. Anybody who does not report within 15 days of receiving such a letter risks having his license suspended.

Many believe the new policy is another crackdown on undocumented immigrants, many of whom use fake social security numbers to apply for driver licenses, according to New York Immigration Coalition.

The Department of Motors Vehicles estimated that 300,000 immigrants are likely to lose their licenses. Immigrant rights advocates fear that some immigrants will go on driving without a license or insurance.

"I need my van to bring food here every day,” a Honduran immigrant who has a mobile lunch station in Corona, Queens told Akhon Samoy, a Bengali newspaper. “I have no choice but to drive. This is my living. I don’t care if I have an ID or not.”

Facing the prospect that many immigrants will go on driving without a driver license, the Department of Motors Vehicles in September said it will review a proposal for a limited "One -Year Immigrant Driver Permit" that could allow hundreds of thousands of drivers now facing license suspension to stay on the road legally.

Regulating Immigration Consultants

Governor George Pataki signed in September a new law that would regulate immigration-consulting businesses.

 

Under the new law, immigration service providers can transcribe responses to government agencies; translate instructions and questions from forms, assist in getting documentation. However, they are prohibited from giving legal advice to clients.

But there is sharp disagreement over the role of immigrant assistance service providers, some questioning whether the new laws won't legitimize an occupation that shouldn't really exist at all.

According to a federal law, only attorneys and accredited individuals or non-profit organizations can represent immigrants.

Proponents of the bills argue that regulating, instead of outlawing, immigration service providers, allows some room for legitimate businesses to exist. But lawyers said it is difficult for immigrant assistance service providers to avoid giving legal advice. They are considering constitutional challenges on the ground that these bills go against federal law.

INFOPASS

Following Miami, Dallas and Los Angeles, the immigration agency in New York City implemented Infopass in late July to help curb the waiting line for walk-in cases.

Infopass is an online appointment system that will allow immigrants to make an appointment without going to Federal Plaza themselves.

Because the agency can only take up to about 150 walk-in cases a day, people started to line up earlier and earlier, and the line got longer and longer. According to the agency, 1,400 people visit the New York office on a daily basis.

Within weeks of its implementation, the long line in front of the building disappeared. But critics said Infopass will only change the way people have to wait.

”Instead of waiting three or four hours outside to be told that their case is pending,” said Dan Smulian of the New York Immigration Coalition, “now they will get an appointment online and go in to the building to be told that their case is still pending.”

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

Looking On The Hopeful Side For 2005


To many New Yorkers who are engaged in the struggle for civil liberties, the signs lately are not so good. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, for example, sits on a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee that used to be called the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights and Civil Liberties. Now it’s just called the Constitution Subcommittee. “They dropped civil liberties,” he said.

“Today our most fundamental rights are in jeopardy,” Anthony Romero, director of the New York-based American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in a recent direct mail appeal.

But some also insist that, as they set their agendas for 2005, they see reason for hope. “At least on the local level, there is no attack that is not being met with resistance,” said New York City Councilmember Bill Perkins, who cites as an example the continued battle by demonstrators arrested at the Republican National Conventionthis summer to recover damages and preserve the right to protest.

Margaret Fung, director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, sees hope locally as well: “The entire nation will be looking to us for our leadership and example.”

Some other reasons they see for hope:

Housing Discrimination

The City Commission on Human Rightsmoves into 2005 with its backlog of cases removed and a more aggressive posture towards new cases, actively sending testers out to uncover human rights abuses, particularly in the real estate market. They recently collected fines in excess of $50,000 in two such housing cases, the first time fines have ever been collected by the agency.

Immigrant Rights

Bryan Pu-Folkes, a City Human Rights Commissioner and director of New Immigrant Coalition Empowerment, thinks it is hopeful “that many communities are responding favorably to immigrants in local elections,” and that local public officials are active in immigrants rights.

Perkins will be introducing a bill into the City Council in 2005 to give resident non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections, the way they were able to in school board elections if they had children in the schools. “It’s another part of that historic movement toward all people participating in democracy and getting a say in how their tax dollars are being spent,” Perkins said.

At the top of Pu-Folkes’s agenda for next year is protecting the rights of immigrants in New York’s “underground economy,” particularly winning them access to health care and enforcing safety regulations on their jobs.

Gay Rights

While most states now ban same-sex marriage, Alan Van Capelle, director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, the state gay and lesbian lobby, said, “One of the most hopeful things is that New York remains one of only a handful of states without a Defense of Marriage Act. That allows our conversation about our relationships and the rights connected to them to continue in New York. While other states are regressing, we’re moving forward slowly.” State Senator David Paterson is even talking about pushing a same-sex marriage bill in the state legislature.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is legally battling City Council legislation to expand domestic partner benefits to those who work for contractors, broke his string of rebukes to gay activists when he followed the lead of State Comptroller Alan Hevesi and called on the city pension boards to recognize employees in the system who marry same-sex partnersin Canada or elsewhere as married.

Abortion Rights

Many anticipate the end of Roe v. Wade, which gave women the right to choose abortion, as President George W. Bush gets to replace United States Supreme Court Justices expected to retire.

But Mary Alice Carr, director of advocacy programs for the New York chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League/Pro-Choice America, prefers to look for hopeful signs locally: “We’re lucky we have a city and state which regardless of party supports a woman’s right to choose.” She said that in 2005, “we’ll be working with the city to increase access to emergency contraception.”

Death Penalty

Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, “The good news is that the state legislature has reason to get the message that people are fed up with the lack of democratic process in Albany and the three-men-in-a-room system of governance.” She noted that the assembly has not “jumped to reinstate the death penalty and may refuse to jump on that issue given the massive evidence of discrimination and fallibility in the death penalty nationwide.”

On the other hand, there is just so far these civil libertarians go in looking at the silver lining that is New York. In 2005, Lieberman said, her top priority will have to be “fighting the Bush administration’s assault on fundamental rights that we thought we could take for granted.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Equal Benefits Law; Hearing Into Police Activity During Convention; New Sexual Harassment Charges in the City Council


City Not Preparing Contractors for Compliance with Equal Benefits Law

The Mayor's Office of Contracts has yet to receive instructions on how to explain and enforce a major new law for those doing business with the city even though it goes into effect before the month is out. Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office refuses to say whether it will enforce the law.

As of October 26, 2004, the 2,600 businesses and non-profit organizations that do more than $100,000 worth of contracts with the City of New York must certify that they provide the same health and leave benefits to the domestic partners of their employees that they do to the spouses of their workers. If a contactor can't purchase domestic partner insurance from its carrier, it must compensate the employee who has a domestic partner.

I called the Office of Contracts in late September and the person answering the phone said, "We've been getting a lot of calls on this, but we haven't been given any direction on it." There is no information on the contract office's Web site. She suggested I call the City Council, "which passed the bill."

Councilmember Christine Quinn, the chief sponsor of the Equal Benefits Bill, said, "That is a completely ridiculous response. The law is clear. The executive has to implement it. But the mayor is opposed to it. We cannot take legal action until the date of implementation has passed. If that date comes and they have not done what they are legally bound to do, the Council has retained outside lawyers to take them to court. Sadly, I'm not surprised, though I am disappointed."

The Equal Benefits Lawwas passed by the City Council in May by a vote of 43 to 5 and vetoed by Mayor Bloomberg. The Council then overrode the mayor's veto overwhelmingly by a 41 to three vote (with four abstentions) in June, but Bloomberg said he would "probably" take legal action to block its implementation.

Jordan Barowitz, a spokesperson for the mayor, says "the city is still reviewing its options" with respect to enforcing the contract requirement. There has been speculation that either Bloomberg or a city contractor such as Catholic Charities would sue to stop the law from taking effect, although Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, the director of Catholic Charities who testified against the bill, did not return a call for comment on their plans on whether or not to comply with the law.

The benefits that contractors must equalize include health insurance, pension, retirement, disability and life insurance, leave policies, tuition reimbursement, legal assistance, dependent care insurance, moving expenses, membership discounts, and travel benefits. Any of those offered to the spouse of an employee must be offered to the domestic partner of an employee.

Bruce Millman, a labor and employment lawyer who advises many clients who are contractors, sent out an advisory(in pdf format) to his clients of the compliance date. While he said he was not "challenging" the law, his release stated that "these costs may be particularly difficult for small businesses" and that "the law will likely encourage couples who are living together to register as domestic partners because they will have a real economic incentive to do so."

Cynthia Goldstein, a San Francisco official who administers that city's 1997 lawthat served as a model for New York's, disputed speculation that the law burdened contractors. She said that it did not drive up contracting costs and that virtually all contractors complied, including the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco.

There is a clause in the New York law specifically for religious contractors that may have moral objections to co-habiting employees. It says that instead of covering a domestic partner specifically, the employee can name one other person of unspecified relation on his or her benefits policies. While that clause led to Agudath Israel, an orthodox Jewish organization with many city contracts, to drop its opposition to the legislation, it did not assuage Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, another big contractor, who has yet to announce whether it will comply with the law.

Council Hearings on Police Misconduct at Anti-Republican Demonstrations

The streets may be cleared of barricades and masses of police, but the controversy over whether the New York Police Department violated the rights of protesters and bystandersat demonstrations during the Republican National Convention will continue for a long time to come in the courts and in City Council hearings.

On September 15, the Council Committee on Government Operations, chaired by Councilmember Bill Perkins, held a hearing on police conductduring the demonstrations. No one from the Police Department or the mayor's office showed up to testify and Perkins indicated that he would consider using subpoena power to compel their testimony, though he hoped that it would not come to that.

The big bones of contention remain whether protesters were processed in a timely fashion and the conditions at the holding pen where thousands were jailed at Pier 57.

The law requires that an arrestee be arraigned within 24 hours. Many of those detained after these demonstrations spent two to three days at the pier, which many testified was filthy and hazardous to health.

Chris Dunn, a lawyer with the New York Civil Liberties Union, testified that his organization had met with the police as early as January 2003 to prepare for these demonstrations, but was troubled that when the actions came, "some of the most basic things for processing people were not in place" at the detention center such as fingerprinting equipment. He called Pier 57 "grossly inappropriate."

Also much discussed was a demonstration by the War Resisters League conducted without a permit starting from Ground Zero. At first, police said that the marchers would be able to proceed if they went two-by-two, stayed on the sidewalk, and did not impede pedestrian traffic. Despite video evidence that the march was proceeding lawfully, police subsequently announced that everyone was under arrest. Councilmember Perkins himself was a witness to the demonstration and arrests.

Michele Weinstein, a city worker who just happened to be passing by when the Ground Zero protest was taking place, testified that it was "a quiet demonstration" until "red-faced police suddenly surrounded the demonstrators and started shouting, 'You're blocking the sidewalk," even though she could see pedestrians freely proceeding. When she offered a peace sign of support to the protesters, police told her that if she did not have press credentials, she would have to leave. When she told the officer that it was her "First Amendment right" to stand on a public sidewalk, he threatened to arrest her.

"I wanted to be arrested," she said, "but I'm a mother of twin toddlers and my children needed me. I was distressed at having my constitutional rights deprived. I did oppose the Bush agenda and the Iraq war and I had to say it."

Michael Shiller, a filmmaker with press credentials, was ensnared in a police net used to capture demonstrators at the downtown action. He said he was detained for 16 hours in handcuffs, his hands turning "numb." He was not allowed a phone call until 24 hours had passed. And he and the intern with whom he was working were not released until 48 hours had passed. He called the city's conduct an attack "upon our entire democratic process."

Several witnesses testified that arrestees were held more than 24 hours in order to prevent them from going back in the streets and demonstrating again against the Republicans.

At a press conference on September 20, Mayor Bloomberg said there is not "one shred of evidence" that protesters arrested were locked up for long periodsto keep them from joining other demonstrations, the Daily News reported. "They broke the law. We will prosecute them. They might as well just plead guilty and go on."

Charges Of Sexual Harassment in the City Council

Just as the City Council was conducting its closed-door investigation into charges that City Councilmember Allan Jennings sexually harassed five female staffers, a story broke that Councilmember Vincent Gentile had been accused of sexually harassing his chief of staff, John Martin.

"When the councilman became aware that I was looking for a new place to live, he on no less than four occasions invited me to move in with him," Martin said in an affidavit. "I thought these invitations that I cohabitate with him were entirely inappropriate."

Gentile denied the charges and said that he is not gay. But the Gay City News reported that civil rights attorney Tom Shanahan now claims he had an affair with Gentile in 1994; he has made this public now, he says, "as a matter of principle." As a State Senator, Gentile voted against the Sexual Orientation Non-discrimination Act, the state lesbian and gay rights bill, in 2002, but as a Council member has supported gay rights initiatives.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Post-Convention State of Dissent in New York


Although New York was the scene of the largest demonstrationprotesting a political convention in United States history on August 29, most civil libertarians saw convention week not as a triumph for dissent, but as another indication of the erosion of the right to protest in the city.

While Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had promised respect for the First Amendment, and the right to protest peacefully, serious charges have been raised by protesters, civil liberties attorneys, public officials, and at least one judge that the city overstepped its legal authority in arresting and detaining more than 1800 (some of whom turned out to be bystanders and working journalists).

The City Council plans a hearingon the arrests on September 15 at 10 AM in the Government Operations Committee.

OMINOUS SIGNS BEFORE THE CONVENTION

In an address at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on August 17, just prior to the Republican National Convention, Mayor Bloomberg referredto the First Amendment as a privilege rather than a right, and added, "...if we start to abuse our privileges, then we lose them, and nobody wants that."

Bloomberg's focus was on projecting an image of a city in control, in hopes among other things of convincing the Olympics to come to New York in 2012. The original security budget of $25 million for convention week mushroomed to $70 million, the mayor said, with $50 million of that to be paid by the federal government.

But his comment turning rights into privileges further disturbed those who had criticized his refusal to allow the use of the Great Lawn in Central Park for a rally after the United for Peace and Justice march on August 29th. The group argued that it is the only large, public space in Manhattan appropriate for such a mass gathering. The city offered the West Side Highway instead. The protest organizers agreed at first, then said no; only the park would do. The city, especially the Parks Department and the Central Park Conservancy, argued that the Great Lawn had been rehabilitated at substantial cost and that protesters would damage it. A last minute court action seeking a Great Lawn permit was denied. The upshot was that there was no rally at all -- no chance to articulate why there was such a huge protest -- and the Great Lawn will probably be lost for some time to come as a gathering place for rallies.

Editorialists from the New York Times and Post to the Toronto Globe and Mail and USA Todayexpressed shock and dismay that so great a public space was being eliminated as a venue for First Amendment expression.

And they weren't the only ones. Bob Zuckerman of Brooklyn was so incensed that the protesters were forced into Union Square Park, "a thirtieth of the size," that he says he wants to run for City Council and do something about the restrictions on legal protest. Doug Muzzio, a political analyst and professor at the Baruch School of Public Affairs, said, "You have an increasing loss of public space. City Hall Park, for instance, doesn't allow for the free flow of people. The refusal of protest in Central Park signals the loss of _expression of voice. Bloomberg is not as bad as his predecessor. Rudy didn't like the First Amendment. Bloomberg just doesn't understand it."

"UNNECESSARY ARRESTS"

Veterans of protesting in New York such as Ann Northrop of ACT UP, the AIDS activist group, and the ad hoc Gays Against Bushthat formed just for the convention, cast a jaundiced eye on the police response to the week's protests. "It's the same old thing," she said. "We go out, the cops arrest some of us unnecessarily, beat us up in jail, and hold us for too long for no good reason. The police feel the need to control everything with forces way out of proportion to what's needed and I find that extremely depressing--and I'm depressed about the lack of rational conversation about this."

Northrop left the big march on Sunday for a few hours to lead a small gay contingent to Bryant Park on Sunday to protest against Mayor Mike Bloomberg's recent vetoes of gay bills as he was playing host to a "Big Tent" event for the gay Log Cabin Republicans. While what happened to her did not make much news and was not nearly as dramatic as some of the larger unpermitted street marches that sprang up during the week--and occasionally turned violent--it is illustrative of what has happened to the right to protest in New York City.

At first, Northrop's group of ten demonstrators was allowed to stand on the sidewalk at the West 40th Street entrance to the park, holding signs and passing out fliers to attendees. Then a polite police officer told them they would have to move thirty yards away from the entrance, where they could no longer engage the politicians going to the reception nor hand them leaflets. "We're not moving," Northrop said, "it is a public sidewalk." Then ten burly cops looking like linebackers got out of a van to make the protesters move.

Another woman told me that she was nearby when police arrested the anarchists in the big march who had burned the dragon. When she saw one police officer being rough on one of the people being arrested, she started shouting at the cop to stop. That led to her arrest, $100,000 bail (later reduced to $10,000), felony charges.

"ZERO TOLERANCE FOR PEACEFUL PROTEST"

After the big Sunday march, Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, was more upbeat than many of the veteran protesters with whom I spoke, saying that her group was "pleased" that it "went off with few incidents" and at "the level of cooperation from the New York Police Department who largely cooperated to resolve the logistical problems that are inevitable at any demonstration." She did complain about the arrests of cyclists in the march and of "harassment of legal monitors."

Two days later, however, on Tuesday, August 31, Lieberman felt the situation had degenerated with the mass arrest of protesters at the World Trade Center, which she labeled "a clear example of a 'bait and switch operation' by the NYPD. They misled marchers into believing they would be allowed to march on the sidewalk, and then arrested them indiscriminately after they began to march. This example of zero tolerance for peaceful protest is unacceptable. Such action by the NYPD effectively stifles political debate at a time when people most want their voices heard."

By Thursday, United for Peace and Justice was out protesting again, this time against what they called the "appalling" conditions at Pier 57, a former bus garage being used as a detention center for arrestees during the convention. "Most people have to sleep on the filthy and possibly toxic floor," the group said in a statement. "Arrestees have gone for many hours without access to food, water, phones, or lawyers." Gotham Gazette blogger Jon Winklemantalked about his harrowing experience in detention for 44 hours.

Inside the convention hall, some ACT UP protesters got in using credentials that they legally obtained. When they rose from their seats to voice their dissent, they were quickly subdued, pummeled and hustled out of the hall by security personnel and the Secret Service, while convention delegates chanted "Four more years!" to drown them out.

Republicans may not have wanted dissenters at their convention, but it is hard to say what crime the protesters committed. Nevertheless, the Manhattan District Attorney's office initially asked for felony charges of inciting a riot, assault, and trespass. It eventually offered to reduce the charges to minor "violations" and some of the protesters were offered Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal (basically a promise to dismiss the charges in exchange for good behavior), but they refused the offer, and are prepared to go to trial to achieve full acquittal.

By contrast, I recall that, as a Democratic delegate in 1984, I joined some other Jesse Jackson delegates in heckling Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young for speaking against an affirmative action plank. Former Rep. Bella Abzug, who was sitting in front of me, gave us a fierce tongue lashing for attacking a civil rights leader - but the Secret Service didn't tackle us!

REMEMBERING IN NOVEMBER?

The debate over the tactics the city used to contain protest during convention week will continue long past the president's acceptance speech and the November election - maybe to next year's mayoral election. Some of these issues are headed for the courts, since many of the arrested demonstrators will challenge the charges against them, and some are facing felony charges for arrests in incidents that involved injuries to police officers; more to the point, there likely will be a rash of civil suits charging the city with illegal detention.

It was in the courts that Mayor Rudy Giuliani had his sails trimmed several times he tried to limit protest, especially in front of and around City Hall. The only other counterweight to a mayor and police department determined to limit the right to protest is a City Council willing to write new laws that would rein in the executive and police. But while City Council members plan oversight hearings and hold numerous press conferences condemning police excesses, they have not passed their own "Right to Protest Bill" that would give some teeth to the right to protest in New York.

Not having such protection did make a difference. Exiting the massive march at 34th Street, Caroline Perez of Brooklyn said, "I know a lot of people who didn't come because they were scared-of police, chaos, or because they were immigrants. It says a lot."

Meanwhile, a large group of the protesters went to Central Park's Great Lawn anyway after the march, without incident (but also without a rally). One of these was Roger Donley of Houston, Texas. "When Bush was governor of Texas, people were told they couldn't protest outside the governor's mansion any more," he recalled. "If we don't have the freedom to express ourselves here in New York, we don't have it anywhere in the country."

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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