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Civil Rights

Crackdown on Protests Could Spark More Scrutiny of Police

Photo by Gail Robinson
After the early morning eviction of protesters from Zuccotti Park last Tuesday, a heavy show of force by the police kept Occupy Wall Street from re-entering the plaza.

For a sense of how much things have changed in New York in the last 75 years or so, one only has to go to Jewish Museum. On display there, through March 2012, is a special exhibition, The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936-1951, featuring a group of photographers who eschewed the arty modernist trends of the time to go out in the streets to capture real people and urban realities. At the entrance, a documentary from the early 1930s shows 100,000 protestors gathered in Union Square demanding economic justice.

Such a gathering literally could not take place today, not just because the city seems to do everything in its power to constrict protest, but because what was once a sacrosanct public space -- Union Square -- has become a shopping mall with a farmer's market and a village of holiday shops choking its paths.

The contrast between the Union Square of the 1930s and that of today symbolizes how New York has gone from being a city protective and proud of its dissenters to a virtual police state where protestors are treated like criminals simply for expressing their First Amendment Rights. This goes beyond the abuse of the Occupy Wall Street participants, though when demonstrators are beaten, pepper-sprayed and arrested for peaceful protest and journalists with valid press credentials are kept blocks away so as not to be able to witness your tax dollars in action, there ought to be cause for alarm.

But the use of everything from anti-terror police to pepper spraying to the literal trashing of books at the Occupy Wall Street encampment and at its demonstrations may mark a turning point in how the public view the police. Any change would be partly the work of a press corps whose own members were arrested and kept from covering the police actions at Zuccotti Park. Whether this shift will extend to New York's leading politicians, though, remains to be seen.

Dissenting in Bloomberg's New York

Mayor Michael Bloomberg continually repeats that he is protecting civil liberties. One New York Times reporter even called him the "freedom mayor." And for most of the last decade, politicians have competed to like Goneril and Regan in King Lear to see who could praise "New York's finest" and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly the most.

At the same time, Bloomberg, his police commissioner and the police themselves have regularly violated the rights of journalists and protestors. I will never forget participating in a totally peaceful and relatively small picketing by tenants, mostly older women, a few years ago near Bloomberg's townhouse at 17 E. 79th St., and watching the police videotape and photograph every participant as if we were criminals or terrorists when all we were doing was speaking out for stronger rent laws and less onerous increases from the Rent Guidelines Board. But that’s bomb-throwing Bolshevism in today’s New York City.

At the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York demonstrators were arbitrarily rounded up and kept in custody in an unhealthful garage until the convention ended.

Bloomberg had written a personal check for $7 million to the Republicans for that convention and was not going to have it sullied by dissenters. His actions cost the city millions of dollars in settlements with illegally arrested and abused demonstrators, with some cases yet to be resolved.

Most New Yorkers have remained silent about overly aggressive and even illegal police tactics -- perhaps because they don't want to do anything that might contribute to a rise in crime. After all, the city has enjoyed a declining crime rate and has managed to avoid any successful terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001.

Tom Allon, a newspaper publisher now running for mayor, remembers being "mugged in 1972 in broad daylight at Broadway and 79th Street when I was 10 years old. I have three kids now, and I feel confident that they'll be safe when they’re out on the street. The city is a much different place, and Bill Bratton and Ray Kelly can take a lot of credit." Allon also credited Dinkins' Safe Streets, Safe City program, a tax surcharge won in Albany that allowed for the hiring of many more police officers and funded programs that hit at the roots of crime.

A Change in Attitudes

For years, few reporters, other than those at the Village Voice, took on the police department or Kelly. One who did -- veteran police reporter Len Levitt -- wrote earlier this month, "Other than Ray Kelly, what police commissioner on God's green earth could keep his job after the avalanche of police scandals in New York City?"

Levitt cited indictments of gun smuggling cops, the conviction of an office who planted drugs on suspects, the ticket-fixing scandal and more. "No mayor in recent history has abdicated his responsibilities in supervising the police department and his police commissioner as Bloomberg has," Levitt wrote.

This month, New York magazine took the grumbling mainstream with a story on Kelly titled, The Force Isn’t with Him.

On Nov. 16, gay activist Brendan Fay resigned from the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advisory council to the police department and called on other members to do the same. "I no longer wish to associate myself with a police agency that evicts in the dark of night, attacks young men and women with pepper spray and batons, destroys personal property. This is not democracy. This is not community policing," Fay wrote in a letter to the group. "The actions of the NYPD under the leadership [of] commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg are clearly contrary to the commitments, expectations and principals of this advisory body."

It is hard to say how the Occupy Wall Street raid will change attitudes, mayoral politics and the future of policing in New York.

Kelly has enjoyed broad popularity and led an Oct. 19 Quinnipiac poll for mayor in 2013 as the choice of 25 percent of those surveyed. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was second with 17 percent.

Quinn has already declared that she wants to keep Kelly as commissioner. Allon, who is campaigning for mayor as a maverick, said in an interview before the raid that he would be proud to have Kelly or former Commissioner Bill Bratton in his administration. "By and large they have kept the peace," he said.

Allon said that the current stop-and-frisk practices of the police "needs to be looked at carefully." He also said, "I have a problem with too many petty arrests that lead to criminal convictions. I would be actively involved in setting parameters -- keeping major crime rates down and keeping the city safe while ensuring civil liberties are respected."

Politicians and the Police

The leading candidates for mayor in 2013 all criticized the police raid on Occupy Wall Street to varying degrees. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio came out the strongest, calling the raid "needlessly provocative and legally questionable." City Comptroller John Liu said, "There seems to be no compelling reason for this action at this time."

And they all, including Quinn, former comptroller -- and 2009 mayoral candidate -- William Thompson and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, expressed dismay about the treatment of journalists and reports of excessive force by police, particularly against Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, who was arrested and held for 20 hours.

Neither Quinn, Liu, de Blasio, Stringer or Thompson responded to a Gotham Gazette e-mail asking if Kelly should stay as police commissioner, how they believe policing should be done differently in New York and how they have tried to make that happen. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz wrote in an e-mail, "I have complete faith in Commissioner Kelly."

Perhaps this is not surprising. "Politicians are afraid of the police," Ann Northrop, a veteran of ACT UP and my co-host on the Gay USA Gay USA cable news program, said. "They think they need the police to exercise military control to protect them from anarchy and that without the police, they are naked and vulnerable. But they also think the police have the power to overpower them, to take control of the state, like a military coup in a Third World country. So they continually support everything the police do, whether or not it's legal or smart."

Occupy Wall Street
Photo by Andy Humm
A protester displayed this banner n Zuccotti Park last month.

Some politicians have criticized the police, though somewhat cautiously.

At the Nov. 17 Occupy Wall Street mass rally in Foley Square, Councilmember Robert Jackson, said he was particularly dismayed by video on NY-1 of the Nov. 15 raid showing a sergeant assaulting a demonstrator. "He had no right to grab him and throw him to the ground. People have a right to demonstrate," Jackson said. He said he was not defending illegal activities by demonstrators who allegedly threw batteries and vinegar at some cops, but he added, "Police need to show restraint in dealing with people."

Planning for 2013

Now a grassroots group has emerged to make what they see as abusive and overly aggressive police tactics an issue in the 2013 city elections. Members of the Police Reform Organizing Project fanned out across the city on Nov. 19 and collected 1,000 signatures signatures on a petition calling for an end to "wasteful, ineffective, illegal, unjust, homophobic and racially biased NYPD policies and practices" They want an end to "abusive policing" and "quotas for arrests and summonses," an independent agency to monitor the police with the power to punish corruption, and the promotion of "measures that address economic and social inequities and strengthen communities while reducing crime."

Robert Gangi, who was executive director of the Correctional Association for almost 30 years where he was a leader in the fight for Rockefeller Drug Law reform, is the senior policy advocate at the Urban Justice Center and founder of the new project. He accuses the police department of engaging in "bullying."

"They do it because they can," he said. "There is not enough political pushback to make them pay a price for their harsh, aggressive tactics."

While Gangi said "Kelly should definitely go," he is focused on an entire police culture that, he said, has "refined and honed and applied the kind of tactics developed under Giuliani and Bratton."

Gangi acknowledges that the group’s task is "an enormous lift." Still, he is "determined," with groups like Make the Road and the New York Civil Liberties Union, to make police reform a factor in the 2013 elections. His non-partisan group will survey all candidates for city offices.

A Show of Force

One issue candidates might have to confront is how to hold police accountable for any misconduct. Whatever offenses the police may have been guilty of during Occupy Wall Street, few hold out much hope that they will be punished for it.

"There is a major problem with police accountability," Bill Dobbs, the civil libertarian who has helped with media at Occupy Wall Street, said before the Nov. 15 raid. "The major way things come out is through lawsuits, but the money [paid to plaintiffs] comes out of taxpayer funds, not the police budget and very rarely from police officers. It is extremely rare for an officer to be found guilty of police misconduct or excessive force."

One officer, Anthony Bologna, who misused pepper spray at an early Occupy Wall Street, was punished swiftly -- docked 10 vacation days --when caught dead to rights by cell phone cameras.

There have been numerous exposés on police misconduct in recent years from Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson's indictments of ticket-fixing cops to Graham Rayman's 2010 Village Voice series on how Officer Adrian Schoolcraft, who blew the whistle on the accuracy of police statistics, had his career destroyed. "They put the guy in a mental hospital," Dobbs said.

Dobbs said that there won’t be any serious reform around police misconduct until "there is a permanent special prosecutor devoted” to that one issue. But that would require a political change. “There is so much reflexive, knee-jerk support for police” that it is very hard to get justice in cases of police misconduct," he said.

The Crackdown on OWS

That the raid on Occupy Wall Street was in the dead of night and involved riot police, anti-terror cops, and throwing thousands of books into a garbage dumpster gave it more than a whiff of fascism, a word I am loathe to use but which fits in this case whether or not those books can be recovered at a Department of Sanitation depot later.

Ray Lewis, a retired police captain from Philadelphia who joined Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park in uniform, said after the Nov. 15 raid, "You should, by law, only use force to protect someone's life or to protect them from being bodily injured. … And the number one thing that they always have in their favor that they seldom use is negotiation -- continue to talk, and talk and talk to people. You have nothing to lose by that."

Lewis dismissed the city's concern about unsanitary conditions in the park. "Here they are worrying about dirty parks when people are starving to death, where people are freezing, where people are sleeping in subways," he said, adding. "That's obnoxious, it's arrogant, it's ignorant, it's disgusting."

Lewis's sign read, "NYPD: Don't Be Wall St. Mercenaries." He himself was arrested at the Occupy Wall Street Action on Thursday but said that would not deter him. "They'll have to arrest me again," he said.

"We have to bring to light the fact that we are in a police state," said Jordan Amos, 25, of Philadelphia at Foley Square, holding a sign that read, "A Police State is a Terrorist State." He was at Zuccotti Park for the Nov.15 raid. "We did not try to harm them or disrespect them," he said. "Up until that point, we showed the police a lot of love and peace."

The city blacked out news coverage on the Nov. 15 wee hours raid -- keeping reporters blocks away "to protect members of the press" in the mayor’s words and arresting those who stayed and tried to do their jobs with valid police-issued credentials. PEN American Center and PEN International, the world’s oldest international literary and human rights organization, condemned the city action.

"Whatever the arguments for clearing and cleaning the park, denying the rest of us the opportunity to witness the police action through the independent reporting of a free media simply reinforces the suspicion that the city government is seeking to hide from democratic scrutiny," said Kwame Anthony Appiah, president of PEN American Center. He added, "It is also wrong to deny media access because it runs entirely against the spirit of the First Amendment guarantees that are at the heart of PEN's mission.”

Gabe Pressman, dean of New York TV reporters and president of NY Press Club Foundation and Glenn Schuck, the president of the Club itself, also condemned the treatment of press at the Occupy eviction. In a letter to Bloomberg, they wrote, "The actions of some police officers were not consistent with the long-established relationship between the NYPD and the press. The brash manner in which officers ordered reporters off the streets and then made them back off until the actions of the police were almost invisible is outrageous. We want the department to investigate the incidents involved in this crackdown on Zuccotti Park and we want assurances it won't happen again."

Occupy Wall Street
Photo by Andy Humm
Frances Mercanti-Anthony worked i the People's Library in Zuccotti Park that was dismantled surig the police rad last week.

Then there is the trashing of books. Frances Mercanti-Anthony helps run the People's Library that had amassed thousands of books in Zuccotti Park. She said that after the city threw them all into a dumpster during the raid on Nov. 15, "only 10 percent were recovered. Laptops were smashed." She said 100 more books were confiscated from the library in Zuccotti Park on Nov. 16 after Occupy was let back in. "It's an attempt to erect a police state that to exist has to exert power over everyone," Mercanti-Anthony said.

She had several dozen books laid out on a bench in Foley Square at the massive action on Nov.17 that anyone could borrow or take, "It's OK for the police to take them, but only if they're going to read them," Mercanti-Anthony said said. She held up a copy of the Constitution that she hopes Bloomberg will read.

The Legal Issues

Responding to criticism, the administration has claimed repeatedly that the courts are on its side. Even if that is the case, according to Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, that does not mean the city has to evict the protesters. Writing in the wake of a judge's ruling that upheld the city's refusal to allow protestors back in Zuccotti Park with their gear, she said, "Today's court ruling upholding the eviction was disappointing, but it is important to remember that the First Amendment sets a floor -- not a ceiling -- for determining whether government should accommodate free expression. There is no reason why the Bloomberg administration cannot embrace a more expansive understanding of free speech and allow the protesters and their tents back into Zuccotti Park in a way consistent with public safety and health. It should do so immediately.”

If the Nov. 15 ruling is appealed, Judge Kimba Wood's 2000 decision on sleeping on the sidewalks is likely to come into play. In that case, the Civil Liberties Union sued the city on behalf of tenant activists (I was not among them this time) seeking to sleep in Carl Schurz next to Gracie Mansion before the Rent Guidelines Board meeting on rent increases. They hoped to dramatize how excessive rent hikes lead to homelessness.

In ruling for the protestors, Wood wrote, "The city contends that if it cannot stop sleeping at this vigil, then it cannot under any circumstances, regulate the use of city sidewalks in a manner it deems necessary and appropriate to promote the free flow of pedestrian traffic. ... The city has offered no evidence that those who sleep on the sidewalks while intoxicated and/or homeless (the instances cited by the city) will implicate the First Amendment at all."

In an article on the decision, Judge Emily Jane Goodman wrote, "Given the right case, sleep can be considered speech and is thus protected by the First Amendment."

She continued, "The court agreed that this was no mere nighttime nap, but was political expression."

It remains to be seen if Occupy Wall Street can prevail on the same claims, but whatever the courts rule, the police actions against the protests have raised the discussion on police tactics and misconduct to a whole new level. On Nov. 20, State Sen. Eric Adams and civil rights attorney Norman Siegel called for City Council hearings into the eviction raid and “said city officials violated a court order by cleaning out Zuccotti Park and should be penalized,” according to NY1.

City Councilmember Rosie Mendez has sponsored a First Amendment Assembly Act that she concedes has been going nowhere since we wrote about it in 2008, but she hopes current events will bring attention to this bill that would compel the police to be more accommodating of protests.

Reacting to the raid at Zuccotti Park, Dobbs said, "Bloomberg and the NYPD were itching to do this like authoritarians everywhere – squash a protest desperately hoping that the issues would be stopped. But Occupy's issues are going around the world."

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

The Day at Zuccotti Park -- and Beyond

Photo by Gail Robinson
As protesters awaiting a court ruling, a heavy police presence kept anyone out of Zuccotti Park for much of the day Tuesday.

Following the early morning police raid that cleared protester from Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, events and reaction came quickly . In the hours that followed, maneuvering continued on both side. Demonstrators sought to return to the park as the city held fast to keeping them out.

Our digest of the day's events includes a timeline and links to key coverage and resources. On a separate page, we round up some of the response to the eviction of Occupy Wall Street protesters. To read that, go here.


This was complied from news reports.

1 a.m.: Raid at Zuccotti Park begins.

2:10 a.m.: Press barred from Zuccotti Park.

2:55 a.m.: City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez arrested.

4 a.m.: The park is cleared. Police later report approximately 200 arrests in the park and surrounding streets.

6 a.m.: State Supreme Court Judge Lucy Billings issues a temporary restraining order stopping the police from evicting protesters who are not breaking the law and barring people from entering the park with tents. (According to the Daily News, court administrators later took steps to insure that Billings, who spend 25 years as a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, would not be the one deciding on the restraining officer at an afternoon hearing.)

6:45 a.m.: Mayor Michael Bloomberg issues statement on the clearing of the park, saying he and the plaza's owner, Brookfield Properties, had become increasingly concerned about health and safety hazards at the plaza.

7 a.m.: Protesters mass in Foley Square to ponder next steps. They eventually plan to march to a lot on Sixth Avenue and Canal Street.

8 a.m.: Bloomberg holds news conference on the police and sanitation department action clearing Zuccotti Park.

11a.m. Protester cut the lock on a lot at Sixth Avenue and Canal Street owned by Trinity Church and prepare to occupy the space.

12:20 p.m.: Police clear out Duarte Square, the plot on Canal Street that protesters had hoped to occupy. Many of the demonstrators head about a mile south -- to Zuccotti Park.

1:45 p.m.: Hundreds of protesters have returned to the area around Zuccotti Park but are not allowed to enter the plaza itself.

4:46 p.m.: State Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman rejects extension of temporary restraining order that would have allowed protesters to return to Zuccotti Park.

5:45: p.m.: Bloomberg announces that Zuccotti Park is reopen to the public, saying the court's ruling " vindicates our position that First Amendment rights do not include the right to endanger the public or infringe on the rights of others by taking over a public space with tents and tarps."

7 p.m.: Occupy Wall Street General Assembly begins as an estimated 500 protesters -- without tents or sleeping bags -- re-enter the park.

8 p.m.: Police release City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, who was arrested during the clearing of Zuccotti Park, after he spent about 20 hours in police custody.

Links in the News: The Police Action

For several hours yesterday Zuccotti Park was empty of protesters -- and anyone else.

After an Earlier Misstep, a Minutely Planned Raid

The operation came after weeks of planning. Police officials watched how the occupations in other cities played out, often with much less tolerance by officers for the social movement -- and with greater degrees of aggressive force. Police commanders in New York held conference calls with colleagues in other cities. They increased so-called disorder training -- counterterrorism measures that involve moving large numbers of police officers quickly -- to focus on Lower Manhattan….

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, squinting in the glare of his department's bright lights, was at the center of the operation, his presence underscoring how the operation was fraught with challenges for the Police Department. There could be no repeat of episodes in recent weeks, like the pepper-spraying of protesters, that violated department rules and created a firestorm of public sympathy for the squatters. (Al Baker and Joseph Goldstein, New York Times)

Last Night at the Zuccotti Barricades

I witnessed several egregious examples of police misconduct. … Two women were arrested while they were marching on the sidewalk a few feet in front of the rest of the march, seemingly unprovoked. There were several instances of police rushing through marchers like deranged rugby players, possibly in an attempt to arrest a specific person on the other side of the group.

This morning showed that Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly are not trying to win a P.R. war or demonstrate restraint. I’ve for the most part defended the NYPD over the past two months. This morning, though, they had a collective viciousness that I haven’t found to be present on a large scale before. (John Knefel, Salon)

First They Came for the Free Press – and the Books

As they cleared the park, New York City police reportedly arrested at least four journalists and dumped more than 5,000 books -- the contents of the Occupy Wall Street Library -- in the dumpster. [The Bloomberg administration said the sanitation department had the books and they had not been destroyed.] (Attytood, Philadelphia Daily News)

Reporters Say Police Denied Access to Protest Site

As New York City police cleared the Occupy Wall Street campsite in Zuccotti Park early Tuesday morning, many journalists were blocked from observing and interviewing protesters. Some called it a "media blackout" and said in interviews that they believed that the police efforts were a deliberate attempt to tamp down coverage of the operation. …

At a news conference after the park was cleared Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg defended the police behavior, saying that the media was kept away "to prevent a situation from getting worse and to protect members of the press." (Brian Stelter, Media Decoder, New York Times)

City Reopens Park After Protesters Are Evicted

"New York City on Tuesday reopened the park in Lower Manhattan where the Occupy Wall Street movement was born not long after a judge upheld the city’s move to clear the park and bar the protesters from bringing back their tents or staying overnight.

"The police opened the gates to Zuccotti Park just after darkness fell and let in a single-file line of people as a crowd surrounded the park. Some chanted, 'Let us in. Let us in.'

"'You have to walk through a gantlet of officers,' said Andy Nicholson, 54, of Manhattan, who entered the park, stopped and was told by the police to move along. 'It's all about control,' he said. " (James Barron and Colin Moynihan, New York Times)

Occupy Wall Street Movement Has No Right to Sleep in Parks "Long before a Manhattan Supreme Court judged ruled against the protesters, the Supreme Court settled the matter of protests camping indefinitely in public parks … with a majority opinion written by JFK-appointee Byron White. While the states have a great deal of latitude in determining their individual rules -- and Zuccotti Park’s odd status as a privately owned public space creates room for debate-- basic property rights are not suspended for protests, no matter how heartfelt." (John Avlon)

Occupy Wall Street Eviction Highlights Manhattan’s Public Spaces

Zuccotti Park is a privately owned public space, which could make it more difficult for protesters to argue they have a constitutional right to occupy it. (Katie Spencer and David M. Levitt, Bloomberg Businessweek)

Links in the News: The Next Steps

Occupy Wall Street Innovator Says Movement Should Start Up in Spring

"Just hours before the raid on Zuccotti Park, the original godfather of Occupy Wall Street - a Canadian anti-capitalist group - advised the protesters it might be time to wind things down for the winter. Adbusters, which first proposed an occupation modeled after Egypt’s Tahrir Square uprising, suggested Monday that the time was coming for the protesters to “declare victory” and scale back." (Helen Kennedy, Daily News)

Occupy Wall Street's Eviction Was a Lucky Break

"The protesters were lucky to be kicked out of Zuccotti last night for two reasons -- the logistical reason and the macro reason. Logistically, these people weren't going to live on the concrete through February, anyway. Eventually, they were going to leave. Last night's raid gives them a banner headline in newspapers across the country and lets this particular occupation with a bang instead of the whimper of a three-month trickle-out. Just as nationwide enthusiasm was starting to wane, the raid reminds the nation where the movement started.

"But the geography of Occupy Wall Street can't become more important than its message. Whether there are tents in Zuccotti Park is secondary to the question of how do you turn a movement veering into a drug-and-violence protest into an inclusive campaign that non-marching liberals can feel a part of?" (Derek Thompson, The Atlantic)

Occupy Wall Street Debates Next Steps

"With or without the park, most Occupy supporters do not appear ready to back down from the momentum the movement has gained through laborious organization, ongoing outreach and visible public actions. 'No one piece of this movement is indispensable, except people -- not even the park,' said [Alejandro Varela, who is active in various OWS working groups and lives in Brooklyn]. 'We need people most of all. Without the park, we’ll just have to be more creative.'" (Rachel Signer, The Nation

After Zuccotti: What Now for Occupy Wall Street?

"If the mayor and the editorial page of the New York Post think the protests will simply fade away, they are deluded. In its short life, Occupy Wall Street has gone from a local sideshow to a national movement, with offshoots in hundreds of towns and cities. Whatever happens next, it has already changed the terms of the political debate, putting rising inequality front and center, which is where it should have been for years. (John Cassidy, The New Yorker)

Occupy Wall Street Protesters Evicted, Grapple with Future of Movement

"Occupy Wall Street activists grappled with the future of their movement after a police raid and a day of legal drama ended their hold on a Manhattan park that had become the symbolic center of the world-wide protest….

"It wasn't clear whether the eviction in New York will end the protest or push it into a new phase that could be harder for police to control. As unruly as the encampment often was, it was easy for police to monitor since it was in a fixed site. (Andrew Grossman, Alison Fox and Sean Gardner, Wall Street Journal)

Clearing a Park and Reviving a Movement

"Give Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg credit -- he cleared a park and probably revived an occupy movement all at once, and without the tear gas, nightsticks and rubber bullets that seem de rigueur in Oakland.

"Anger bubbled around the mayor since he massed his police in the darkness of early Tuesday and descended on the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park. … But Mayor Bloomberg -- the personification for many of Mr. 1 Percent -- shrugged off such talk." (Michael Powell, New York Times)

Links in the News: Other Protests, Other Cities

Occupy Movement: City-by-City Police Crackdowns So Far

The roundup from six U.S. cities.

Could Legal Ploy Scuttle Albany Protest?

"Gov. Andrew Cuomo has urged State Police to enforce a curfew against Occupy Albany protesters in a state-owned park, leading to 39 trespass arrests this weekend, but Albany County District Attorney David Soares is dismissing the charges.

"So what's next? Legally, the governor could appoint Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as a special prosecutor to supersede Soares. (Jimmy Vielkind, Times Union)

Occupy Los Angeles Marches in Solidarity for evicted Protesters

Stirred by live video of the Zuccotti Park eviction, about a hundred protestors from Occupy Los Angeles staged a midnight march through downtown streets early Tuesday. (Nancy Dillon, Daily News)

Council Members See No Reason to Break Up Occupy DC Camps

Multiple D.C. Council members said Tuesday the National Park Service should continue to monitor the Occupy DC encampments in the city, but as of now they see no reason to follow other cities; lead in breaking up the camps. Since early October, Occupy DC protesters have been camping in McPherson Square while an affiliate group, Stop the Machine, have erected tents in Freedom Plaza to protest what they perceive as corporate greed. Both camps are on National Park Service property. (Tim Craig, the Washington Post)

Occupying the First Amendment

"The question of whether Occupy Wall Street has worn out its welcome with municipal leaders seems to have been answered in the affirmative tonight. Two weeks ago, Oakland police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades to disband the Occupy camp outside city hall, on orders from Mayor Jean Quan. Police in Atlanta; Albany, N.Y.; Cincinnati; Nashville, Tenn.; Salt Lake City, Portland, Ore. and other cities have also moved to evict Occupy demonstrators from public spaces in recent weeks." (Ray Vasvari, Slate)

London Protesters Warily Watch New York

"In the sprawling pup tents that constitute the base camp for Occupy London, anti-capitalist protesters who kept vigil through the night learned from their smartphones and laptops that the police had begun dismantling the camp in New York’s Zuccotti Park known as Occupy Wall Street. The New York camp was the template for the London protest and scores like it around the world. (John Burns, New York Times)

Key Documents

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Statement on Clearing Zuccotti Park

"No right is absolute and with every right comes responsibilities. The First Amendment gives every New Yorker the right to speak out -- but it does not give anyone the right to sleep in a park or otherwise take it over to the exclusion of others –-- nor does it permit anyone in our society to live outside the law. … The First Amendment protects speech – it does not protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space. Protestors have had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags. Now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments. (To read the full text, go here.

The Protesters' Perspective

Throughout the day, Occupy Wall Street provided statement on the developments and a chronology of events. It begins with police bringing in bulldozers at 1:20 a.m. Tuesday. (To read the chronology and comments, go here.)

Temporary Restraining Order to Stop the Evictions

Early Tuesday morning, State Supreme Court Justice Lucy Billings issued a temporary restraining order allowing the protesters back into the park until a hearing could be held later I the morning. The order had little effect since everyone already had been ousted form the park, and police continued to block anyone from re-entering the plaza until a later ruling in the city's favor. (To read the full test of the order, go here.

Court Ruling Against Occupy Wall Street

State Supreme Court Judge Michael Stallman rejected an extension or the earlier temporary restraining order that would have allowed the protesters to return – with sleeping bags – to Zuccotti Park. In his decision Stallman said the protesters "have not demonstrated that they have a First Amendment right to remain in Zuccotti Park, along with their tents, structures, generators, and other installations to the exclusion of the owner’s reasonable rights and duties to maintain Zuccotti Park, or to the rights to public access of others who might wish to use the space safely." (To read the full ruling, go here.)

After Police Clear the Park, A Range of Reactions

Photo by the office of Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly held a press conference Tuesday to explain why and how they cleared Zuccotti Park. But many officials questioned their actions.

Let Them Back

We must balance the protesters' First Amendment rights with the rights of the residents, workers, and businesses of Lower Manhattan. We must protect the protestors' right to peaceful assembly and the local community's right to a safe and secure neighborhood.

Today's actions include reports of excessive force by the NYPD, and reports of infringement of the rights of the press. If these reports are true, these actions are unacceptable. The council will seek answers to questions surrounding these reports and clarifying information regarding the arrest and treatment of Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez.

In a spirit of cooperation, we must work to ensure that the protesters are allowed back into Zuccotti Park as soon as possible and are allowed to exercise their right to protest while not impeding on the rights of others."
--Christine Quinn, speaker, New York City Council

'Provocative and Questionable"

"Protecting public safety and quality of life for downtown residents, and guaranteeing free expression are not exclusive of one another. Mayor Bloomberg made a needlessly provocative and legally questionable decision to clear Zuccotti Park in the dead of night. That some media and observers were prevented from monitoring the action is deeply troubling.

"I know of no one -- protesters included -- who desires a permanent occupation of lower Manhattan. But provocations under cover of darkness only escalate tensions in a situation that calls for mediation and dialogue. I call on the mayor to find a sustainable resolution -- as other cities have done -- that allows for the exercise of free speech and assembly, with respect for the rights of all New Yorkers to peaceful enjoyment of our great city."
--Bill de Blasio, public advocate

'The Wrong Message'

"Going in and forcibly removing the protestors in the dead of night sends the wrong message. City Hall should have continued to talk with the protestors in the light of day if it wanted them removed, instead of evicting them in the middle of the night. There seems to be no compelling reason for this action at this time. The protestors have a right to be heard."
--John Liu, city comptroller

Freedom and Safety

"I am greatly troubled by reports of unnecessary force against protestors and members of the media, including the use of “chokeholds” and pepper spray. I am also troubled by reports of media being forcibly kept away at a distance from these events. American foreign correspondents routinely put themselves in harm's way to do their jobs, in some of the most brutal dictatorships in the world. And their NYC colleagues deserve the freedom to make the same choice. Zuccotti Park is not Tiananmen Square. I call for a full explanation of police behavior in this evacuation.

New York City has a duty to protect public safety, and it also has a duty to protect people’s freedom to voice concerns about economic justice that have struck a deep chord with millions of Americans. Surely our city can do both."
--Scott Stringer, Manhattan borough president

The Need for a 'Reasonable Solution'

Community Board 1 has been clear that we oppose the use of force in this situation and oppose a forcible clearing of the park. We believe that there is a solution that allows the protection of OWS's First Amendment rights and also respects the quality of life for residents and small businesses. As we have consistently said, these two are not mutually exclusive and we urge the city to meet with OWS and work toward a reasonable solution. We are also concerned that the media was apparently prevented from being in the park during the eviction and cleaning. CB 1 staunchly supports the First Amendment right of the press to cover news events without interference from government.
--Julie Menin, chairperson, Community Board 1

Two Months of Inaction

"Although this action should have been taken weeks ago, we thank Mayor Michael Bloomberg for taking this difficult step to protect the public health and safety of our community. As a community group, we continue to consider all of our options, including litigation, if the mayor or the owner of the park, Brookfield Properties, ever again fail to enforce the clear rules of the park and the laws of the city, which are designed to protect the health and safety of our neighborhood."
--Linda Gerstman, spokesperson, Downtown Community Coalition, a group of downtown residents formed in response to the protests

The Right Move

Mayor Bloomberg’s forced cleansing of Zuccotti Park nearly two months into an unsanitary and sometimes dangerous encampment was just what the doctor had been ordering.

The amorphous agglomeration known as Occupy Wall Street had transformed a space intended for open community access into a round-the-clock shantytown — and they claimed that the First Amendment guaranteed their right to do as they pleased. This is not constitutional wisdom. This is self-important, self-indulgent bilge.
--Editorial, Daily News (For full text, go here.)

A Show of Force

The demonstrators were roused from their sleep, had their personal belongings, including tents, computers and other equipment trashed, and were kicked out of the park. The media were deliberately kept at arm's length and prohibited from being on scene or filming the eviction from helicopters above, a chilling violation of freedom of the press. These moves are reminiscent of the actions of petty dictatorships, and contrary to America's proud tradition of unfettered First Amendment rights, free of interference and censorship. This Administration has shown that it cares more about exercising power than protecting citizens and the freedoms we cherish.
--Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, Democrat of Manhattan

'No One Can Evict an Idea'

In two short months, Occupy Wall Street has focused the world's attention on the deep frustration felt by working people about an economy that no longer works for the middle class. The 99 percent have seen good jobs disappear while the rich get richer and the big banks make billions with impunity. Mayor Bloomberg may have cleared the park for now, but Occupy Wall Street's message cannot be silenced. No one can evict an idea whose time has come.

"Now more than ever, CWA members will join the massive day of action on Thursday, Nov. 17. … The 99 percent are standing up against corporate greed and against a government that more and more puts the interests of the 1 percent ahead of the middle class."
--Chris Shelton, vice president, District 1, Communications Workers of America

An Important Movement

"Occupy Wall Street isn’t a place - it's an idea, a movement that has brought national and international focus to the danger to our economy and our nation that we face because of growing income inequality. The UFT is happy to continue providing logistical support for the Occupy Wall Street in our building, and we will be joining the OWS protestors in their continuing efforts around New York City to bring economic fairness and opportunity."
Michael Mulgrew, president, United Federation of Teachers

Immigrants Want Redistricting to Reflect the Changing City

Photo by Gail Robinson
At a redistricting hearing in Manhattan earlier this fall. Asians called for the new boundaries to reflect their growing presence in the city.

Ten years ago, there was not a single elected official of Asian descent in the entire state of New York. But since then, Asian Americans, more than 1 million of whom now reside in the state, have made great strides in New York politics. They currently occupy one seat in the State Assembly, two seats in New York City Council and the office of New York City comptroller.

Much of this happened thanks to the rapidly growing Asian American population and their greater participation in voting. But there is another important factor: redistricting.

John Liu, the first Asian American elected to the City Council and who now holds the comptroller's office, owed his success partly to the redistricting efforts in 2001, when his district in Queens was redrawn to include downtown Flushing, Murray Hill and Queensboro Hill. The redistricting left out Corona, Bayside and Douglaston, where the percentage of Asian voters is lower.

Ten years later, with another redistricting process underway, immigrant communities throughout the city are weighing in on the process, hoping the new boundaries reflect the true face of New York.

Looking at Lines

Redistricting is a political process that occurs every 10 years. The electoral districts get redrawn based on the population change in the latest census. This affects elections at all levels, from school board, city council, state assembly, to the U.S. House of Representatives. The federal Voting Rights Act requires that the new boundaries be drawn in a manner that provides minority communities with opportunities to elect representatives of their choice.

Based on the 2010 U.S. census results, the 435 congressional seats will be re-apportioned according to population shifts among the states. New York will lose two seats, from 29 down to 27. Texas will gain four seats, while Midwestern states like Michigan, Iowa, Illinois and Ohio will each lose one seat.

At the state and city levels, boundaries will be redrawn to reflect changing demographics. Currently the redistricting effort is led by the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, which is comprised of four legislators and two non-legislators. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a number of good government groups want the process to be more independent of the legislature. So far, though, they have not succeeded in changing the existing system. At the same time, though, several civic groups are calling for keeping communities of shared interests and backgrounds in the same districts so they can elect candidates who best represent them.

However they are drawn, the proposed districts must be approved by the state legislature and the governor. Meanwhile, the districts in three counties of New York City -- the Bronx, Kings and New York -- are subject to additional review and approval by the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

Some other rules also apply. Districts must be compact and no more than twice as long as they are wide. A district has to be contiguous, meaning that all of its parts much touch or be connected by a bridge or tunnel. If a district covers two boroughs, no other district may cover the same two boroughs.

Work in Progress

The current redistricting effort is focused on congressional, State Assembly and State Senate elections in 2012. According to the New York State Constitution, the number of state assembly districts will remain 150. Last time around to avoid losing a GOP seat, the state added one seat to the Senate, bringing it to 62 members. Reports have surfaced that Republicans might try to add another seat – the 63rd – in this redistricting. The redistricting for the 2013 city council elections will start later this year.

Whatever the exact boundaries of the new districts, Asian American activists want them to reflect the growing Asian presence in the city and the state.

Rachana Shah, the redistricting campaign director at Taking Our Seat, a South Asian civic group, said the significant increase in the South Asian population in the city is the driving force behind her organization.

"We did the data work ourselves," said Shah. "There are 351,000 South Asian Americans in New York City, which is a 51 percent increase. And 60 percent of them live in Queens."

"There are areas where the communities have common interests and needs that need to be served, and currently they are not," said Shah. "A lot of it is the funding for organizations that serve the communities. It is often how the elected officials are able to help the organizations that help the communities." Shah was referring to funding opportunities like Community Development Block Grants, which can be directed to community groups based on local elected officials' discretion, and direct funding from the City Council and other government agencies.

Noting that there is no elected official of South Asian descent in New York state, Shah said that her organization is focusing on four areas with large South Asian communities in Queens: Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park, Briarwood and Jamaica Hill, Jackson and Elmhurst, and Bellerose and Floral Park. Currently these neighborhoods are cut up in pieces and divided among several districts.

"Redistricting is not just for immigrant communities, but for communities all over New York City and the state," said Shah. "It's about finding where those natural boundaries and keeping those people with similar interests together. … When a community is larger within the electoral district, they are going to get more attention."

A Joint Effort

Shah's organization is part of an umbrella group called the Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy, also known as ACCORD. It includes 14 organizations, such as the Asian American Bar Association of New York, Asian Americans for Equality, and the Korean Community Service Center for Metropolitan New York.

James Hong, a spokesperson for ACCORD, said that redistricting has to ensure that voices in the Asian American communities are heard.

"It is a chicken-and-egg thing," said Hong. "If the district is drawn well, then you see candidates that reflect the interests of the community. But before you get there, you need to have the district redrawn. … The place to begin is redistricting."

When it comes to the State Assembly districts, Hong said that while downtown Flushing has been kept as a whole, Bayside, home to increasing Korean and Chinese American populations, is split into several districts.

In Brooklyn, Chinese Americans are concentrated in Bensonhurst, Sunset Park and Bay Ridge, which are close to one another but split into several electoral districts. The borough has experienced a rapid boom in Asian populations, with a 70 percent growth in Sunset Park and 40 percent overall.

In Manhattan, ACCORD proposed that that Chinatown should be separated from Tribeca and Battery Park City since the residents have different socioeconomic backgrounds. Instead, Chinatown should join the Lower East Side because the two communities share similar economic characteristics if not ethnic backgrounds.

Unity Map

Meanwhile, other civic groups have proposed a map for the 2012 state legislative elections. Calling it a "unity map," the groups say their plan would ensure that new districts reflect the demographic changes of their communities.

The Center for Law and Social Justice, based at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York in Brooklyn, developed the maps with LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Institute for Latino Politics.

"What we are trying to do here is shared power. There is enough for everyone," said Esmeralda Simmons, executive director of the center. "People know that Flatbush, East Flatbush and now even Canarsie have huge Caribbean immigrant communities. Our task is to go where the people are and see where the populations have commonalities and make sure those commonalities are protected."

Even though the black population in New York City is decreasing, Simmons said there are increasing influxes of black immigrants from Jamaica, Trinidad, Senegal and Haiti in Brooklyn, and other parts of the city. She said transportation is among the biggest community-wide concerns.

"Not so long ago, there was a proposal to eliminate the Franklin Avenue shuttle," she said Simmons, referring to the subway that connects between the A, 2, 3, 4, 5, B and Q lines, providing important links between several heavily Caribbean neighborhoods. "And everybody -- the African immigrants going to the mosque on Bedford Avenue, the African Americans in Prospect Heights and Crown Heights, the Caribbean immigrants all along Franklin Avenue -- all gathered together and made sure that that didn't happen."

"Redistricting means change. Things have to move," said Simmons. "Human instinct to change is to resist. Change happens. You have to go with the population."

Simmons said the proposed map will be revised based on additional comments from community members and elected officials. Meanwhile, LATFOR will come up with its own version later this year and hold another round of public hearings before finalizing its plan.

Larry Tung is a Brooklyn-based journalist and media artist.

Bill Curtails City Role in Deportations

gate foundation
Photo by William Alatriste, New York City Council
Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, shown here at a recent hearing on city cooperation with deportations, supported the council bill.

With states such as Arizona and Alabama passing immigration laws that go far beyond those of the federal government, the New York City Council weighed in on the issue yesterday and took a decidedly different stand.

By an overwhelming majority, the council passed a bill sponsored by Melissa Mark-Viverito of Manhattan that would end the Department of Correction's policy of cooperating with federal efforts to deport undocumented immigrants. The bill, said by supporters to be the first of its kind in the country, will end two decades of cooperation between the city jail system and federal immigration authorities, now called Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

This bill, Intro 656, Mark-Viverito said shortly before its passage, "sends a strong message we will no longer be complicit in this country's broken immigration system."

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn cited another message as well. "When signed by the mayor," she said, "the entire government of New York will send a message the city of New York is supportive of, friendly to and welcoming to immigrants."

(At the meeting the council also passed two measures relating to space on city streets, one on bike lanes and one on parking. For more on those, go here.)

Detained and Deported

Under the current system, the city gives names of people arrested -- whether or not they are convicted of any crime and regardless of the severity of that crime -- to the federal agency, which then can check whether the person is here legally. If the person is undocumented, ICE can then request that he or she be detained for additional time so ICE can arrange to transfer the immigrant to a federal facility to await deportation proceedings.

Of the people detained under this system in 2010, Quinn said, almost half -- 49.5 percent -- had no prior criminal record. She estimated that some 1,000 to 1,500 people deported in 2010 would not have been detained if the measure passed yesterday had been in effect.

Overall, according to council, 13,295 people born outside the United States spent time in city jails in fiscal year 2010. ICE took custody of 2,522 of those people for possible deportation.

In passing the bill, council member cited what they saw as various abuses of the immigration and deportation system, including detention of people in facilities far from New York and deportation of people who came to the United States with their parents as small children.

The bill singles nine categories of people, including possible terrorists, whose names would still be turned over to ICE. In Quinn's eyes, this removes any public safety concerns.

The Administration's Shift

The bill now goes on to the mayor, who in a reversal of previous policy, is expected to sign it.

In response to criticism of the cooperation earlier this year, the mayor's office maintained helping ICE improved public safety. John Feinblatt, the mayor’s chief policy advisor and criminal justice coordinator, went so far as to write a letter to the Times raising the specter of terrorism. "As our country has learned tragically, when government agencies fail to cooperate and share information, not only is public safety compromised, so is national security," he said.

With more than 30 City Council members, including Quinn, supporting a change in the policy, the issue seemed sure to incite a rare public clash between the Bloomberg administration and the council. But in October, the mayor changed his position, indicating he would support a bill limiting the cooperation with ICE. Feinblatt then told the Times that the council bill "strikes the right balance."

The Bloomberg administration "truly came around in offering their support," Mark-Viverito said.

The Opposition

Some council members, though, have doubts. Four members voted against the bill though only one – Peter Vallone of Queens, who has emerged as a frequent opponent of Quinn's policies in recent months, spoke out against it.

"This will make us less safe," Vallone said, faulting the measure for not making a distinction between violent crime on one hand and less serious offenses, including misdemeanors on the other. Under it, he said, a man recently arrested for assaulting a woman would have been released. "With this law," Vallone complained. "this groper would be out on the street groping our women."

As the vote drew to a close, Councilmember Lew Fidler weighed what he saw as pros and cons. "The immigrations system in this country is badly broken," he said and so, "in an effort to be compassionate and fair, … we will be endangering public safety."

Having said that., Fidler said, he would abstain in protest of federal immigration laws.

Organized Occupiers Frustrate Mayor and Landlords

rapid response
Photo by Shankbone
Protesters gather to demonstrate on Wall Street.

In the damp, pre-dawn darkness over Zuccotti Park, three thousand people were ready for a confrontation. Police vans interspersed with news vehicles surrounded the block. Volunteers with brooms hastily swept up the last of the debris in advance of the coming order to evacuate.

But the order didn’t come. At 6:30 a.m., the crowd broke into wild cheers at the announcement that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the landlord company of the park, Brookfield Office Properties, delayed a planned cleaning session. This would have driven out Occupy Wall Street members and subsequently made it harder for them to return and assemble. Despite some scuffles and fifteen arrests at the subsequent victory march down Broadway, a big showdown was averted.The protests grew over the weekend and lead to even more arrests.

The delay, which occupiers claimed as a victory, showcased the high level of social organization and political capital the movement has amassed. The cleanup was announced on Wednesday but most protesters didn’t learn of it until Thursday, giving them 24 hours to rally the opposition.

A massive cleaning campaign by park volunteers, a call summoning thousands of supporters to the park at 6 a.m., an emergency press conference convened by City Council members and a public relations bombardment of Brookfield Office Properties all occurred in a single day, causing the company to withdraw its request and agree to negotiate with the protesters over park sanitation.

“This shows that [Occupy Wall Street] can mobilize lots of people in a short amount of time,” said Daphne Carr, a demonstration supporter.

The following day, movement supporters rallied across the United States and the world to show solidarity. Close to ten thousand people arrived in Times Square and had a tense standoff with mounted police. About 70 people were arrested throughout Saturday, including 24 people who gathered at a Citibank. Bank employees said that the protesters were disruptive but the Occupy Wall Street website says that the arrested were trying to withdraw money and close their accounts.

Bloomberg expressed displeasure with the political pressure exerted by elected officials on his weekly radio show, Friday morning. “If those elected officials had spent half as much time trying to promote the city to get jobs to come here we would a lot more ways towards answering the concerns of the protestors," he said.

A Showdown Looms

Brookfield Office Properties owns Zuccotti Park but the space is open for public use as a result of a zoning agreement that the company has with the city. In exchange for making the space available, the city granted Brookfield leeway in how tall adjacent buildings can be built.

The company sent a letter to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, saying that the “manner in which the protesters are occupying the Park violates the law, violates the rules of the Park, deprives the community of its rights of quiet enjoyment to the Park and creates health and public safety issues that need to be addressed immediately.” The letter also said that conditions in the park have deteriorated to unsanitary and unsafe levels and tenants in nearby buildings have filed many complaints. The letter went on to ask the police to help clear the park in order to undertake “cleaning, inspection, damage assessment and repairs.”

On Wednesday, Bloomberg announced that cleanup of the park would begin at 7 a.m. on Friday. Flyers were distributed throughout the park on Wednesday and Thursday. In addition, the mayor’s office, Brookfield and the New York Police Department issued a new set of rules prohibiting laying down and bringing tarps, mattresses and sleeping bags to the park, all necessary parts of the occupation’s infrastructure.

Many protesters said that the concern about sanitation and safety was a ruse and that the mayor’s and Brookfield Office Properties’s real desire was to shut down the demonstration. “It’s farce,” said Fox James, one of the ten members of Occupy Wall Street’s own cleanup crew. “He wants us out of here.”

Bloomberg’s girlfriend, Diana Taylor, sits on Brookfield’s board of directors, prompting suspicions among demonstrators and the media that there was collusion between the company leadership and the mayor. The mayor’s office did not return calls requesting comment about this issue.

The Response

Occupy Wall Street and its supporters issued a massive call for action in response to the upcoming cleanup and eviction. Online, the group told as many people as possible to arrive at 6 a.m. and form a human barricade around the park, to prevent the police from clearing everyone out.

Attorneys from the National Lawyers’ Guild who have donated legal expertise to the protesters, sent Brookfield Office Properties a letter saying that the upcoming action “raises serious First Amendment and other legal concerns” and that “there is no basis in law for [the company’s] request, nor has [the company] cited any. Such police action without a prior court order would be unconstitutional and unlawful.” The working group asked the company to sit down and negotiate with the protesters regarding the maintenance of the park.

Council members who support the occupation who received the news on Thursday, held an emergency press conference across the street from Zuccotti Park, organized by the Working Families Party.

As WFP’s Bill Linton tried to start the press conference, a white shirt police officer stood between him and the cameras, requested his driver license and asked that Linton follow him. Linton began the press conference in spite of the request. The officer eventually stepped out of the frame. At the end, he gave Linton back his ID, saying that this could have been averted if the organizers notified DCPI in advance.

Politicians who showed up to speak included Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, Sen. Jose Serrano, former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky and council members Leticia James, Linda Rosenthal, James Sanders, Ydanis Rodriguez, Charles Barron, Jumaane Williams, Daniel Dromm and Margaret Chin whose constituents include Zuccotti Park’s neighbors in District 1.

“My constituents wrote to me and said they support the protesters,” said Chin. “We call on the mayor to do everything he can to let this peaceful demonstration continue.”

A few of the council members struck a skeptical tone. “All of a sudden, the most important thing in the city is cleaning up Zuccotti Park,” said Williams. Brodsky added: “That Park has never been cleaner. If the cops are sent there, it will be to crush a movement.”

Occupy Wall Street mobilized dozens of volunteers to sweep trash, scrub and squeegee the pavement, throw out garbage and rearrange the piles of furniture and personal belongings. The volunteers worked through the night. In the morning, debris such as cigarette butts and small trash was cleared out of the space even though personal belongings still formed large, tarp-covered piles in the park. Some protesters took their things to nearby storage lockers donated by the United Federation of Teachers.

Cleanup Averted

By 6 a.m., the crowd had assembled and was ready for arrests. At 6:20 a.m., the deputy mayor released a statement saying that the cleaning is postponed due to Brookfield Office Properties withdrawing its request to the city. The statement reached the demonstrators about ten minutes later, prompting a massive cheer and temporarily breaking down the crowd-powered announcement system.

A group of protesters staged an impromptu victory march down Broadway, many of them walking off the sidewalk. This prompted multiple scuffles with police who tried to control the crowd on foot and on scooters. About a dozen people were arrested in the vicinity of Bowling Green.

Brookfield’s statement said “At the request of a number of local political leaders, Brookfield Properties has deferred the cleaning of Zuccotti Park for a short period of time while an attempt is made to reach a resolution regarding the manner in which Zuccotti Park is being used by the protesters.” The company’s spokeswoman declined to elaborate further on how these resolutions would be reached.

The mayor’s office did not say whether police would enforce new regulations against laying down and using tarps and mattresses in the park but the mayor suggested in his radio program that the decision will, for now, be Brookfield’s. A police officer on the scene, who did not wish to be named, predicted that the immediate future of the protest would be business as usual. “That’s what I like,” she added.

As the morning crowds began to disperse a little, Jordan McCarthy, a member of Occupy Wall Street’s cleanup crew, leaned triumphantly on her broom. “We better get a lot of respect for this,” she said. “Revolutions begin with cleanliness.”

Unions Find Room Under Occupy Wall Street's Umbrella

occupy wall street
Photos by Gail Robinson
The union members and others who have joined the Occupy Wall Street protests bring their own grievances to the movement, including cuts in education and mass transit.

In the early days of the Occupy Wall Street sit-in at Zuccotti Park, one protester's sign asked "Where the f--- are the unions?"

He didn't have to wait long. On Wednesday, union representatives secured a permit for a demonstration in Foley Square followed by a march back down to the Occupy Wall Street staging ground. The groups joined forces, swelling to about 15,000 to 20,000, the movement's largest show of force to date. But more than the numbers, Wednesday's demonstration showcased the growing institutional support for the protest, spurred by individual union members who took the movement’s message to their respective leaders.

Because Occupy Wall Street's message is so diffuse, many unions found room for their specific grievances under the broader umbrella of discontent. The presence of organized labor as well as the support of local and national politicians may make it easier for the protest to gain visibility, credibility and permits for their actions.

Organizations that showed up included 1199 SEIU, SEIU Local 32BJ, Transit Workers Union Local 100, United Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers, >Communications Workers of America, United Auto Workers, the New York Central Labor Council and the Writers Guild, among others. Many union members came from Philadelphia and New Jersey.

"The students got it right," said John Duffy, national vice president of the Utility Workers Union. "The only way to get media attention is to occupy a public space for a long time."

From Individuals to Unions

Unions, whose members tend to be older and more settled in than the many 20-somethings occupying Zuccotti Park, are less likely to turn to long-term sit-ins to garner support for their cause. "Union heads tend to be conservative and fear radicalism," said Kelly Wolcott, a chapter leader with the United Federation of Teachers who teaches eighth grade English in Brooklyn.

But that mentality is changing due to inspiration from the youth. Much of the union support for Occupy Wall Street started with union members coming to the park as individuals, getting inspired and taking the message back to their colleagues, according to Wolcott.

The powerful SEIU 1199 hospital workers union said in a statement: "After the 1199 executive council heard a report on the Wall Street occupation by two of its young activists, President George Gresham offered the motion to support the action." Meanwhile, bus drivers joined the march after being angered when the police commandeered city buses to deliver arrested protesters to precincts.

"The drivers … don't support the police actions," said Willie Rivera, the division chair of the Brooklyn Bus Operators. "They put us on the spot."

Labor-affiliated members of Occupy Wall Street launched a subgroup for union outreach after the march on Wednesday, setting up their own table near under the iconic red girder sculpture in Zuccotti Park. There, members of both the protest movement and organized labor groups brainstorm about how to expand the demonstrations and attract new levels of support.

Common Grievances

The protests target wealthy individuals, corporate leadership and politicians who, the demonstrators believe, all too often do the bidding of private interest lobbyists. But the demonstrations' audience is everyone else -- the 99 percent of us, as they like to say. The movement's main objective right now is reaching more individuals and groups across New York and the United States -- including the many million who remain indifferent and uncertain.

occupy wall Street
An optimistic demonstrator marched in Foley Square last week.

"This [demonstration] is for the people who would rather watch Monday Night football while the economy is crumbling," said Duffy.

The lack of specific demands, once cited as a liability in the press, may turn out to be an asset. This vagueness enabled the unions to find fertile ground to push for their own issues within the protests. These unions' involvement then gave more legitimacy to the movement drawing.

Members of the CUNY faculty and their union, the Professional Staff Congress, came out to protest of "crummy pay" among professors and adjunct instructors, said Arthur Cain, professor of French at Borough of Manhattan Community College. The United Federation of Teachers is alarmed about the "extreme budget cuts" at city schools and the persistent threat of layoffs, according to Wolcott, who considers this "part of a broader attack on the 99 percent."

Many school programs aimed at poorer students have gone on the chopping block federally and locally. Citing one example, Wolcott said the threshold has gone up for schools to receive funding under the federal free and reduced price lunch program. Wolcott's school narrowly missed qualifying

Budgets are also on the mind of the Transit Workers’ Union, which is concerned about the deep and repeated cuts in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority operating budget over the past two years, according to Alan Saly, the union's director of publications. He charges the transit authority has thrown its money into massive capital expansion projects and debt service, at the expense of its customers and employees, 1,000 of whom were laid off last year.

"Revenues decreased … so they have to cut the budget and they disproportionately cut operating funds,” said Saly. He added that close to 20 percent of the MTA budget goes to debt service to the MTA's bondholders. The union thinks that instead of borrowing for capital projects, the authority should concentrate on paying its workers and performing maintenance on existing train and bus lines.

Like the other Occupy Wall Street protesters, many of the union members believe the draconian cuts in transit, education and other program could be avoided if the wealthiest paid more taxes.

Power in Numbers

The rising union support for Occupy Wall Street may provide the protests with resources and political capital. Many of the larger unions have more political connection than unaffiliated demonstrators and may find it easier to secure political support and protest permits.

On Wednesday, the police department granted marching permits to the union groups but not to Occupy Wall Street. (Despite the lack of the permit, the police allowed Occupy Wall Street to march to Foley Square to join up with the unions.) The unions also were granted the use of loudspeakers, something that is not allowed for the Zuccotti Park occupiers. Protesters compensate by repeating individual announcements as a crowd to make sure that everyone hears.

Unions have also joined many local businesses in donating food and other goods to the occupiers. The SEIU has sent nurses to train protesters who staff the first aid center at the park. The National Lawyers Guild has provided legal support to the movement on two fronts: aiding arrested demonstrator and keeping the movement abreast of civic regulations that govern protests.

"They are behind [Occupy Wall Street] as a message. They agree," said Pat Walsh, a nurse from Colorado who staffs the movement’s outreach desk. "We are trying to be the voice of America."

The movement also has started to draw support from politicians, such as U.S. Demcratic Reps. Charles Rangel and Louise Slaughter of New York. "The wealthiest few should pay their fair share instead of enjoying the record profits on the backs of the middle class. The American people have had enough. They're mad as hell, and I agree," Rangel said in a statement.

Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House of Representatives also spoke well of the movement.

But Occupy Wall Street continues to avoid appealing directly to politicians and while many members of it lean left, they declined to be affiliated with any party. Multiple signs castigate billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, depicting him in the clothes of a king. (Bloomberg has returned the favor, accusing the protesters of trying to "take the jobs away from people working in this city," although he said yesterday that the demonstrators could remain in Zuccotti Park.)

But President Barack Obama wasn't spared either. One protester carried a sign that read, "Barry O's 'A Nightmare on Wall Street.'"

A Decade after 9/11, Little Pakistan Bounces Back

Little Pakistan
Photo by Larry Tung
Pakistani businesses line several blocks of Coney Island Avenue in the Midwood section of Brooklyn.

It was Mohammad Nadeem's stomach that led him to what would be his home away from home.

"I landed in JFK and asked a cab driver to take me to a Pakistani neighborhood," said Nadeem, a native of Pakistan who did not know anyone in New York. "I was hungry after a long flight. I wanted some Pakistani food."

The cab driver happened to be a fellow Pakistani. So he took Nadeem to this Brooklyn neighborhood on Coney Island Avenue between Avenues C and H where halal restaurants, grocery stores and pharmacies line the streets.

"It was completely by accident," said Nadeem of encountering a Pakistani cab driver. "Ten years later, he is still my friend."

"The neighborhood in the Midwood section that Nadeem eventually settled in is known as Little Pakistan. Its residents came under increased suspicion and scrutiny after 9/11, spurring many to leave New York and deterring other from moving here. After rough years, though, residents today see the prejudice waning and the community growing.

Creating Little Pakistan

This section of Brooklyn today is home to the largest Pakistani community in New York City. But before the barbershops and jewelry stores catering to South Asian customers dotted Coney Island Avenue, the neighborhood was primarily Jewish.

"Twenty or more years ago there was still a trace of earlier times: both commercially and populations," said Jerome Krase, a sociologist and professor emeritus at Brooklyn College. "There were antique stores and shops that catered to previous residents such as upper-middle and middle-class Jews and a smattering of other white ethnic homeowners, renters and store owners such as Italians and Irish."

But by the 1990s, a wave of Pakistani immigrants has moved into the area, although the surrounding streets still are home to many Jews. According to census numbers, the number of Pakistani immigrants in Brooklyn went up from 4,949 in 1990 to 9,903 in 2000. The population doubled in the last decade and went up to 18,296. But unofficial numbers are higher as many undocumented immigrants are not counted. In the last decade, Pakistani-owned businesses started sprawling on Coney Island Avenue.

Turning Point

Then came 9/11. The devastating event put Pakistanis and several other ethnic groups under the spotlight. Federal and local agencies came into many South Asian and Muslim communities looking for suspicious aliens and sparking fear among residents.

"Before 911, you used to see hundreds of people walking on the streets," said Nadeem, now a shopkeeper at a grocery store at the corner of Coney Island Avenue and Glenwood Road. "The FBI came knocking on people’s doors and asking questions. People were scared. Business dropped more than 50 percent."

Osama Kahlio, a medical technician and a native of Flatbush, had first-hand experience of discrimination even though he was not living in the United States on 9/11. His Pakistani-born parents had sent him to live in Pakistan so he could learn the language and culture.

"When I returned to New York for high school in 2005, I was constantly teased by my classmates because of my name," said Kahlio, who is 23 and will attend Brooklyn College. "There was a lot of peer pressure. It wasn't physical stress but a lot of mental stress.

Unfriendly Environment

In September 2002, the Department of Homeland Security launched a special registration system, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System or NSEER, requiring male citizens over 16 years of age from 25 countries -- mostly Muslim countries in Africa and Asian -- to register with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Although the system was terminatedin April 2011, many law-biding Pakistani immigrants fell victim to it.

"All of a sudden there was a sweep of almost 500 people in the community," said Mohammad Razvi, who started the Council of Peoples Organization or COPOUSA, a non-profit community organization that supports South Asian communities, in the wake of 9/11. "It was basically based on names. Persons with names like Mohammad or Amid. Many people were swept up under suspicion."

Razvi said many people faced deportation proceedings over minor immigration issues such as failure to report a change of address to immigration authorities.

"It's catch 22. You are damned if you go and you are damned if you don’t,: said Razvi.

Those affected included people waiting for a decision on their Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act, or LIFE petition, which helps some individuals who would not normally qualify for permanent residence to obtain a green card.

"Even though they filed the petition and were waiting for the judge’s decision," said Razvi. "they were still picked up and put into deportation proceeding because they don’t have permanent residency yet."

Leaving New York

During the height of the sweep, more than 20,000 people in Brooklyn’s South Asian communities left the United States, a COPO survey found. Many sought political asylum in Canada and Australia, and some returned to Pakistan and other countries. A number of them never returned.

"Some people did come back from Canada but very limited," noted Razvi. "But those who stayed in Canada are living the American dream there." He added that a neighbor who used to own a barbershop is now running a successful business in Toronto and has purchased a big house.

Nadeem, the shopkeeper, also tried his luck elsewhere. He moved to Pennsylvania and Massachusetts briefly in 2005 but eventually returned to Midwood.

"I love this city," said Nadeem. "This is where I can live a similar life like back home."

Building Bridges

Like many other ethnic enclaves in the city, the Pakistani community in Midwood had been insular and quiet. But 9/11 pushed residents to step outside of their comfort zone.

Razvi said one of COPO's missions is to promote understanding and help community members integrate into the mainstream society. Among the organization's many services, English as a second language has topped the list. Citizenship classes, healthcare education and legal services are also popular.

But despite such efforts, the community remains under the shadow of 9/11, said Razvi,

To try to address that his organization recently held a youth conference in the hopes of building a better relationship between community youth and federal and local law enforcement agencies.

"More than 500 kids came in," said Razvi. "The purpose was to build a bridge and remove the stigma that all the law enforcement agencies do is to knock on your door and arrest your parents and cousins. They are also here to protect you, and there are job opportunities for you as well."

Bouncing Back

Despite the lingering effects in the community, Little Pakistan is flourishing again with booming business. According to Nadeem, at least four restaurants in the area are open 24 hours a day. In addition, his employer just opened another grocery store a few blocks down the street to serve more customers. Some 50,000 Pakistanis now live in New York.

"People are coming back," said Nadeem. "And I see new Pakistani families shopping in our store every week."

And the new generation is optimistic.

"It's like everywhere. Look at Vietnam and Japan," said Kahlio, the medical technician, referring to the discrimination against Vietnamese and Japanese immigrants during and after the Vietnam War and World War II. "It will take time. Hopefully the prejudice will go away someday."

City Council Challenges Obama Administration on Deportations

Members of the New York City Council aren't waiting for the Obama administration to fix the immigration system.

New York has long been a sanctuary for immigrants and now, a majority of City Council members has moved to take on the Obama administration and current city policy in an effort to reduce the threat of deportation for some of New York's undocumented residents.

In a bill introduced on Wednesday Intro 656), City Council members propose to remove city funding that supports Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) efforts to detain immigrants who have been cleared of their crimes and have no previous criminal background.

Photo by Jane C. Timm
City Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, a leading sponsor of a bill to limit the city's cooperation with federal immigration officials, spoke at a rally before the measure was introduced on Wednesday.

"This is the right message to send to the administration," Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito of Manhattan, a lead sponsor of the bill, told Gotham Gazette. "We won't be complicit in ensnaring New York City residents in a broken immigration system."

On Thursday, the Obama administration announced that it would suspend deportation proceedings against many undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety.

Peter Markowitz, director of the Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo Law School, has doubt about what President Barack Obama's promise will really mean.

"We don’t know how this is going to be implemented," Markowitz said, noting the announcement's vague language. "We're past the point with the Obama administration where we take them at their word on immigration issues. Until we see some action, localities need to do what they need to do what they need to do to protect their communities."

Detained and Deported

ICE's Criminal Alien Program aims to "screen inmates and place detainers on criminal aliens to process them for removal before they are released to the general public," according to ICE. Under the program, the city gives names of people arrested -- whether or not they are convicted of any crime -- to the federal agency, which then can check whether the person is here legally. If not, ICE then requests that the person be detained after his or her scheduled release so ICE can arrange to transfer the immigrant to a federal facility, usually far from New York, to await deportation proceedings.

Opponent of the Criminal Alien Program say that far too often it sends innocent people and petty criminals into ICE's hands.

More than 50 percent of all prison inmates who are discharged to the ICE have no criminal record, the council bill states; for 20 percent of all the inmates who are discharged to ICE their highest offense is a misdemeanor. In New York, violations lower than a misdemeanor and certain crimes committed by youths are not considered criminal. The detentions of inmates for ICE cost tens of millions of dollars, according to Make the Road New York, a nonprofit that works with immigrants, and the federal government only subsidizes a portion of that.

The bill already has 35 cosponsors — enough to overrule a mayoral veto — and may find more after the hearings. Most notably, it also has backing from Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is one of the sponsors.

According to council sources, Mayor Michael Bloomberg – normally an outspoken supporter of immigrants' rights — does not support the bill. A spokesman for him noted that the mayor does not take public stances on legislation before its hearings and but added, "We are glad that the council has begun considering the public safety aspects of this issue, and we look forward to reviewing the draft legislation."

Earlier this year, in a letter to the New York Times, John Feinblatt, the mayor's chief policy adviser, linked the detention to the city's efforts to prevent terrorism. "As our country has learned tragically, when government agencies fail to cooperate and share information, not only is public safety compromised, so is national security," Feinblatt wrote.

Quinn, who regularly sides with the mayor, is standing against him on this; Mark-Viverito said it is because she sees it as "the right thing to do."

For many, the deportations occur a matter of timing and limited resources — not because of a crime.

Sarah Deri Oshiro, an attorney at Bronx Defenders, a nonprofit that provides legal services to Bronx residents charged with crimes, described a former client, Gustavo, a 32-year-old man who had been in New York City for almost a decade. After being arrested for a having fake green card in 2004, he never appeared for trial for fear of deportation.

When he was arrested a second time — accused of stealing a box of Snickers — a higher bail was set. "No one could run down to jail and post $1,000 that night, so he ends up having to spend the night in jail which is the end of your story, if you're an undocumented immigrant," Oshiro said.

Gutavo was later cleared of the candy bar charge, but it was too late -- ICE had already placed a detainer hold on Gustavo, and he was deported back to Mexico shortly after.

These kinds of cases are "much more common than people believe," Oshiro said.

Safety Issues

Their occurrence – and the city government's complicity in such strict federal immigration proceedings — erodes the trust between immigrants and law enforcement, bill supporters say.

"What it means on the ground is that immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence are afraid to call the police, immigrants may be afraid to report crimes, immigrants may be afraid to seek services they're eligible for," the co-executive director of Make the Road New York Andrew Friedman said.

But opponents of the bill aren’t convinced.

Cops aren't "out there arresting innocent witnesses to crimes for being illegal immigrants," Councilmember Peter Vallone of Queens said.

"This entire bill operates on the erroneous premise that the people who enter this country illegally are entitled to a trial on a separate criminal charge before we even share information with the federal government," he told Gotham Gazette.

Vallone wrote to the federal Department of Homeland Security expressing his opposition to the bill in December 2010 and said that a delegation of 10 people from the department visited him to discuss the issue and his support of their work. "They believe what they are doing in our jails is absolutely necessary to keep our cities safe," he said. The delegation also later met with Quinn to discuss the bill. "I think that proves how important this is," Vallone said.

Opponents of the bill say that if passed, it will threaten public safety.

"This is a political decision. They don't think our immigration should be enforced and they’ll do anything to thwart it," said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for stricter immigration policies.

The bill's introduction takes place amid a larger immigration and states right debate over the Obama administration's Secure Communities, a program that shares fingerprint information of all undocumented immigrants with ICE in order to speed ICE's deportation of felons. Gov. Andrew Cuomo made New York the second state – Illinois was the first — to withdraw from the program earlier this summer. "Based on evidence to date, it appears the program in New York is failing in this regard and is actually undermining law enforcement," the governor's office said in a press release in June.

In August, however, the Obama administration informed governors that they did not have the right to leave the program and that it would be implemented anyway. New York, Illinois and Massachusetts, which also has opted out, are fighting this decision.

"This bill will do what it proclaims to do with or without the Secure Communities program," said Markowitz, who was on a team commissioned by Make the Road to study New York's immigration policies. "The number of people affected by it would skyrocket, too, if Secure Communities is implemented. The import of this bill would increase."

If Secure Communities does go into effect here, the city would have to inform ICE of any immigrant it arrests. This would certainly increase the number of people ICE would seek to detain and perhaps deport, but the council bill would keep the city from complying with many of those requests. "Immigration admits that they cannot force us to hold people on detainers. To the contrary, they've said, 'We know we can't do that,'" Markowitz said.

Council Seeks to Limits Conflicts Between Pray and Pay

Photo by Emily Raw

New York City workers will find it easier to pray on the job – and to thank God for having one in this economy -- if a bill passed by City Council yesterday becomes law.

At its one meeting this month, the council also voted to prevent the sale of drugs past their expiration debt and introduced a measure on immigration that could set up a rare between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

In a meeting devoid of controversy even by New York City Council standards, all measures passed unanimously.

Turbans, Headscarves and Yarmulkes

The discrimination bill (Intro 632-A) introduced by Councilmember Mark Weprin essentially requires that public and private employers in New York City go to greater lengths to accommodate the religious practices of their employees. This cover such things as allowing workers to wear attire required by their religions, such as turbans for Sikhs, letting them pray at work and allowing them time off for religious practices.

Currently businesses, government and other employers can avoid allowing such religious practices if it would constitute a hardship. The intro raises the bar to require that the employer be able to prove that accommodating the employee would constitute "an undue hardship."

This, said City Councilmember Deborah Rose, chair of the civil rights committee, represents "a significant expansion of the definition."

"We have to make sure the standards we are instituting are the strongest in the nation," Weprin said, adding that the bill, if signed into law by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would give New Yorker tougher protections than those called for in federal law.

"For too long," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn, "workers in the New York City have been forced to chose between a job they love and need to support their family, and the full practice of their religion."

The city's Sikh community played a role in advocating for the protection, Quinn and Weprin said. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has ordered that its Sikh employees put an MTA logo on the turban that Sikh men must wear at all time. Several Sikh transit workers have filed suit against this requirement.

At a press conference, Quinn said the bill was not prompted by any specific incident, She also declined to say specifically whether the police department, for example, would have to allow police officer to wear turbans on the job.

On the council floor, Weprin said his Sikh constituents "have often felt there might be discrimination against people who wear a turban or a beard." In a possible reference to the question of turbaned or hijab-clad police officers, he added, "If someone want to put their life on the line and maybe protect my family, we should accommodate" their religious practices.

Employers found to violate the law would face a $125,000 civil penalty and have to pay compensatory damages and back pay, and reinstate any affected workers.

Second Hand Drugs

The other bill passed yesterday – Intro 541, sponsored by Ruben Wills -- will fine anyone found to be selling medication after its expiration date.

The city already bars retailers from selling the old drugs, but the past-their-prime medications apparently show up at such places as the Aqueduct Flea Market and yard sales. This bill, barring individual from selling such drugs, aims to stop that.

Violators face a fine of up to $250 for a first violation and $500 each for subsequent violations. A single sale constitutes a violation.

The intro also gives the police department and Department of Consumer Affairs authority to enforce the measure.


The measure that probably sparked the most attention at yesterday's meeting though will not come up for a vote for weeks, if not months. Intro 656 would limit the extent to which the city Department of Correction could cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

Under the U.S. Criminal Alien Program, the Department of Correction gives names of people arrested to ICE so it can check whether they are immigrants. The department also will detains for an additional 48 hours people who have been found innocent or served their sentences to give ICE time to transfer the one-time inmates to a federal facility where they remain pending deportation hearings. (For more, see Concerns Raised over City Role in Deporting Immigrants.)

The legislation introduced yesterday disputes the use of taxpayer dollars to aid deportations. "New York City -- home to millions of immigrants -- should not be a willing participant in a program that separates thousands of immigrant families each year without a concomitant benefit to public safety," the intro says.

To accomplish this, the bill sets limits on who the Department of Correction can keep for the additional time. It would, for example, prevent the city from detaining or sharing information on most people who were arrested but then acquitted of the charges against them.

The measure has 35 sponsors, including Quinn, which almost guarantees passage. It could, though, face opposition from the Bloomberg administration. Although the mayor has supported immigration and issued an executive order that prohibits city workers from inquiring about immigration status when the people seek city services or witnesses a crime, his administration has defended the cooperation with ICE.

U.S. Law Keeps Some Rights of Marriage from Same Sex Couples

gay marriage
Photo by Larry Tung
John and Eufemio Torres prior to their marriage on Sunday in Brooklyn. For more photos of their wedding day, go here.

John Torres has always struggled with what to refer to his same-sex partner of four years, Eufemio, without making people feel uncomfortable. His mother calls Eufemio his "friend" and his landlord called him his "little buddy."

"I'm not 16. It's weird to call him my boyfriend," said John, 46, who legally changed his last name to adopt Eufemio's. They were married last December in Vermont, one of the six states that recognize same-sex marriage.

But this time, they are making it official in their home borough.

Both dressed in dashing tuxes, the Torreses left their house in Williamsburg early Sunday morning for the downtown Brooklyn office of the Marriage Bureau to tie the knot again.

But as they checked in, a city employee outside the Brooklyn municipal building asked to see their identifications. When they showed the worker their respective American and Mexican passports, they were told that they could not get married because of Eufemio's foreign passport. The couple refused to leave. After a few phone calls to the mayor's and city clerk's offices, they were allowed to enter the building.

"It was a few minutes of horror," said John afterward. "But we are used to it."

Once inside the building, they were warmly greeted by city workers and other couples waiting to get married. By noon, a judge had married the Torreses in Borough Hall. A champagne-and-cake reception hosted by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz followed.

"Now I am going to refer to him as my husband," said John. "It might bother some people, but that's my prerogative."

Happily Ever After?

Now officially husband and husband, or spouse A and spouse B as in their marriage license application, the Torreses were happy and emotional.

"I feel vindicated. I feel that I'm on the right side of the law," said John. "There is only one kind of marriage. We are just as married as my parents."

gay marriage
Photo by Larry Tung
Despite the ceremony, the vows -– and the kiss -- the Torreses do not have all the rights of opposite-sex married couples.

Not quite. They do not have many federal benefits that straight couples do. One of the most important ones is immigration. Eufemio is Mexican and is out of status in the United States, meaning he is either undocumented or his visa has expired. Unlike a citizen married to an immigrant of the opposition sex, John cannot sponsor Eufemio for a green card because the federal government does not recognize their marriage.

Lots of other other bi-national same-sex couples remain in a similar legal limbo because their marriages are recognized by only their states. Many couples have to move overseas or be separated. In some cases, the foreign spouse continues to live here without the proper documents or tries to obtain a non-immigrant visa, such as a student visa.

So far only Iowa, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York and Washington D.C. allow same-sex marriage. Internationally, 10 countries recognize it -- including Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden -- while several European Union countries recognize same-sex partners for the purpose of immigration.

Legal Hurdle

In the United States, according to the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, passed in 1996, marriage is only between a man and a woman. Since the federal Department of Homeland Security handles immigration matters, including whether or not to issue a green card, no foreign national can obtain a green card through his or her American same-sex spouse.

"Marriage is a state issue. Same-sex marriage is not recognized at the federal level, and immigration is a federal issue," said Erwin de Leon, a columnist on gay and lesbian issues and immigrant advocate who has worked with Immigration Equality, a national organization advocating for immigrant rights. "Foreign same-sex spouse are at risks of deportation if their status expires."

De Leon said that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a law enforcement agency that is part of Homeland Security, is unlikely to go after these couples as long as they stay out of trouble. He noted that a recent memo issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief John Morton discussed who the agency views as its priority for removal from the country, including serious felons, people who pose a clear risk to national security and public safety, those with long criminal records and individuals involved in immigration fraud.

The memo also asked immigration officers and attorneys to consider a variety of conditions, such as health, education and age. The list mentioned the individual's ties and contribution to the community, including family relationships.

"Things are happening. I am hopeful that marriage equality will be more widespread and in time, DOMA will be repealed. But nothing is going to happen anytime soon," said de Leon. "The political reality is, with all the major problems in this country like the economy and wars, this is the last thing that politicians want to talk about."

Changing the Law

The act, though, has been challenged in a number of suits. Last year, a Massachusetts judge struck down the act. As the cases wind their way through the legal system -- probably to eventually reach the Supreme Court -- the Obama administration has stopped defending the act in court, and several weeks ago even argued strongly against it.

The effects of the Defense of Marriage Act go far beyond immigration. Same-sex couples, for example, cannot be treated as married under federal tax law. A 2004 Government Accounting Officereport found that same-sex couples are denied access to more than 1,000 federal benefits.

To address the immigration issue specifically, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York has sponsored the Uniting American Families Act. It would add three words "or permanent partner" wherever the word spouse appears in U.S. immigration law, opening the way for American citizens to petition for green cards for their foreign partners.

In a commentary on Politico after the bill was introduced, one of its authors, Rep. Mike Honda of California wrote: "We are a nation of immigrants, and our country deserves an immigration system that honors that legacy and supports key family values -- like keeping families intact. This act represents a giant step forward in that commitment. It provides a blueprint that respects families, strengthens our economy and fixes a badly broken system."

The legislation has been introduced in every session of Congress since 2000. This year, it has 119 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and 21 in the Senate, a record for the bill.

Confronting the Obstacles

Sean Yang is a native of Taiwan who came to New York to study for a master's degree in accounting four years ago. Now with his degree at hand and having passed all four required exams for the certified public accountant license, he found himself in one of the toughest job market in decades. It was especially hard for him because he needed a work permit to work legally in the United States. He was only able to find a less-than-satisfactory job at a bank. The salary is below New York's living standard.

"I understand that companies want to hire Americans first," said Yang, who lives with his boyfriend. "But if I were a woman, I could marry my boyfriend and get a green card, which would allow me to work anywhere."

Yang said he believes that the immigration rights will eventually be granted to same-sex bi-national couples. "Probably in 20 years or so, but it doesn’t help me now," he said. "I wouldn't necessarily use it. But I wish I had that option."

For the Torreses, their concerns are more pressing. Eufemio had an accident at work a few years ago and hurt his eyes. His then employers did not take him to the hospital. Now he needs eye surgery. Fortunately, John was able to add him to his health plan from work. But John worries about the worse-case scenario.

"If I die unexpectedly," said John, Eufemio would "not be able to get my social security benefits, which I work all my life to pay into. He would only be able to get what's in my 401K retirement account.

The Torreses hope that things will change but they also have contingency plans if nothing pans out.

"We are saving more money than average couples, putting money away should disaster strike," said John.

If all else fails, the Torres said they will retire to Mexico, where Eufemio owns a house and can get universal health coverage. But they said they prefer to stay in New York.

"Mexico is a great place to visit, but New York is a great place to live," said John. "But if Mexico is the only place for us to stay together, we will go to Mexico. Nobody is separating us."

Larry Tung is a Brooklyn-based journalist and media artist.

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