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For Some, Teaching Cuts Are Bad News – but No Surprise

For Some, Teaching Cuts Are Bad News – but No Surprise

By Alice Speri

End of semester examinations and summer vacation aren’t the only things on teachers’ and parents’ minds at P.S. 86 Kingsbridge Heights School in the Northwest Bronx. Prompted by cuts to the state budget leaving the city $5 billion short, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today plans to further trim the public school system budget.

While schools are not the only institutions affected by the cuts, they are among those that will be hit the hardest, as some 6,700 educators’ jobs will be lost when the measures come into force in September. This number includes 300 teacher’s aides.

On Thursday, teachers and parents enjoying ice cream outside school were just learning about the latest cuts, but the news hardly surprised them.

“The first thing they do is cut services for children and the elderly, it’s very archaic the way they always attack the weakest members of society,” said T. Pannell, who teaches kindergarten through third grade and whose daughter is also in kindergarten at the school. Pannell added she is not worried about her own job and praised the principal of Kingsbridge Heights for his management of the school’s budget, but she said she is more concerned about the broader implications of the trend.

Kingsbridge Heights School is one of the largest public schools in the nation. (Speri/BronxInk)

Kingsbridge Heights School is one of the largest public schools in the nation. (Speri/BronxInk)

“It’s not a matter of making cuts but of being more efficient,” she said. “They are all in a ‘this has to go’ mentality, rather than ‘this has to be tightened,’ whether it’s with schools or with public housing.”

Pannell added that concern will grow even further when teachers and parents realize the scale of the cuts.

“Are we going to feel this? For sure,” she said. “But to see how much we are going to feel it we’ll have to wait until September.”

While some cuts seem inevitable, many agree there should be other ways to get around the problem.

“Personally I’d never get into the ‘the sky is falling and we’ll have to have layoffs’ mode,” Dee Alpert, publisher of The Special Education Muckraker, wrote in an e-mail. The website is devoted to special- education issues. Alpert suggested instead that little is being done to ensure greater efficiency. “I’d scream like mad about the well-documented fraud, waste and corruption and demand to know exactly what’s being done to end it.”

Being on the receiving end of the bureaucratic knife is not new to New York City’s public schools, and while many acknowledge that times are hard for everyone, they express concern and frustration that children always seem to be the first to pay the price.

“We don’t need any more school cuts, we have too many kids cramped in these classrooms,” said L. Delacruz, a sixth-grade teacher at Bronx Middle School 206, whose son is a third-grader at Kingsbridge Heights. Delacruz said that teachers and staffers alike are already overwhelmed as it is with one teacher often having as many as 30 students in each classroom. “That’s a lot of kids,she added.You can’t get them to learn anything.

Class size has been an increasingly pressing issue in the city’s overcrowded schools.

“Class sizes are growing at an accelerating pace. Now we face the prospect of losing 6,000 teachers, as the student population grows,” said Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, a non-profit dedicated to reducing the number of students per classroom. “Together that is going to mean increases in class sizes to their largest in 20 years.”

Haimson added that the city’s money is wasted on bureaucracy and contradictory measures.

“The Department of Education is spending $5 million on recruiting and training new teachers,” she said. “And at the same time they want to lay off 6,000 teachers.”

Marcus Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, agreed.

“These cuts are particularly problematic in the city, which has spent the last three, four years really hiring new high quality teachers,” he said.

Others turn to those city agencies that were saved from the cuts to try to understand why schools are suffering so badly.

While Bloomberg had originally planned to cut 892 officer positions from the already downsized police department, he decided to leave the police untouched.

“Now the police is not getting cut because of all these terrorist threats,” said Delacruz, who admitted she wouldn’t know where to suggest cuts that would minimize damage to New Yorkers. “We shouldn’t see any cuts at all,” she said.

But the decision to cut teachers over police officers may have less to do with terrorism and more to do with financial interest, some suggest.

“This is a fiscal decision, police starting salaries are just much lower than ours,” said Mary Paranac, a fifth-grade teacher who has been working at Kingsbridge Heights for three years.

Mary Paranac with some of her students at Kingsbridge Heights School in the Bronx. (Speri/BronxInk)

Mary Paranac with some of her students at Kingsbridge Heights School in the Bronx. (Speri/BronxInk)

Paranac added that she is especially worried about the criteria for these cuts, a concern raised by many. Some have suggested using test scores to determine layoffs, while others recommend the decision is based on seniority, though both methods leave teachers fearing for their jobs.

“I’m concerned about how this is going to happen,” Paranac said, adding that she thinks the cuts are likely to affect new teachers in the Teach for America program or other young teachers who have been on the job for only one or two years. Like other teachers, Paranac praised the Kinsgbridge Heights principal for his devotion to his staff, but said many Bronx schools are not as fortunate. “I have many friends who are scared about the safety of their jobs,” she said.

Laying off teachers based on seniority may affect the quality of the teaching, some fear.

“I think the research suggests that there is no systematic relationship between experience and effectiveness in the classroom,” said Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, who opposed cuts by seniority and also suggested that the correlation between class size and quality of learning is not as strong as many believe. “The problem is that we are going to have a reduction in teachers’ quality,” he said.

While some laid-off teachers may be able to find employment elsewhere, many end up leaving education altogether.

“My sister-in-law was a teacher in the East Bronx but she was laid off with the last cuts,” said Esly Griffin, a young mother of two, at Kingsbridge Heights on her way to pick up her 8-year old son. “Now she works in a hotel. But that’s not her job. She went to college to be a teacher.”

Additional reporting by Sunil Joshi and Shreeya Sinha.


Posted in Education, Northwest Bronx, Politics0 Comments

One Man, One Beat: Michael Horowitz’s Lifetime As Co-op City’s Journalist

One Man, One Beat: Michael Horowitz’s Lifetime As Co-op City’s Journalist

Michael Horowitz makes no secret of his opinions. Talking animatedly from behind the piles of yellowing newspapers that hide him behind his desk and spill into mountains of printed words over the floor, he shares his thoughts on politics, journalism and Co-op City – the Bronx community he has been covering since 1974.

Journalist Michael Horowitz has been covering Co-op City since 1974. (Speri/BronxInk)

Journalist Michael Horowitz has been covering Co-op City since 1974. (Speri/BronxInk)

City News, the community paper he almost single-handedly authors every week, goes to print on Wednesday nights. On Thursday mornings, the 64-year-old Manhattan-raised Riverdale resident has plenty of time to discuss his passionate dislike for President Obama, health care reform and the “left-wing ideologue idiots” opposing calls for the privatization of Co-op City, the world’s largest cooperative housing development.

“Co-op City can use the capitalist system to its own advantage,” said Horowitz, who describes himself as a former leftist grown realistic. “Now that I’m in my 60s I have questions about everything.”

Horowitz arrived at Co-op City when he was 28, a naïve journalist responding to an ad in the paper, he said. His first story – about teargas guns sold in the mail to Co-op City residents – was followed by thousands more, an average of 15 stories he untiringly pounds out every week.

With the exception of a break from 1987 to 1998, during which he covered a different community in Brooklyn, Horowitz has been Co-op City’s one-man journalist, chasing one management scandal after another and writing about everything from rent strikes to charter schools, to the recurring problem of mold in many of the cooperative’s 15,372 housing units.

“Journalists spend too much time covering the seediest part of life, things we can’t do anything about,” said Horowitz, who makes it a point to use his journalism as a tool to instill action.

Horowitz passionately endorses calls for the privatization of Co-op City, despises the management’s bureaucracy, and thinks Obama’s “socialism” is going to the destroy the country. And when it comes to these or any of the many issues he feels strongly about, Horowitz admittedly blurs the line between reportage and commentary. Though he pens both news pieces and op-ed columns in his paper, the two often read similarly and his feisty voice and wholehearted dedication to Co-op City seep through all copy.

“Community journalism is kind of a cross between being objective and doing advocacy,” Horowitz said. “However we are less phony about it than The New York Times is.”

His readers have learned to tell the difference.

“Sometimes he’s objective and sometimes he editorializes,” said Al Shapiro, a Co-op City board member who has known Horowitz for more than 20 years.

“Sometimes I agree with him and sometimes I disagree,” Shapiro said, referring to the question of privatization of the co-op as an example. “I interact with him on a professional level but I consider him a friend.”

Horowitz turns to advocacy, he says, to attempt to reverse the general indifference that over the years has taken over Co-op City. The cooperative was founded in 1951 by the United Housing Foundation, a trust of politically involved soft-good unions who believed that workers needed more than just jobs but also a place to live. A largely Jewish community well into the ’80s, Co-op City is home today to a black majority, a large Hispanic population and an aging white one, a lower- to middle-income working community of 50,000.

While most residents work outside the 35-building compound, Co-op City remains somewhat of an insulated community from the rest of the Bronx and while faltering, Co-op City pride is not dead, Horowitz said.

“But there is a tremendous amount of apathy,” he added.

Reflective of national trends, the paper’s readership has declined over the years and though the front page still carries the 35-cent price for which the weekly originally sold, 16,000 copies of the City News have been distributed free of charge for more than 20 years and are paid for by ads.

“I think they read it, but there’s a problem with people reading things in general,” said Horowitz, who also teaches writing classes at Mercy College in the Bronx.

“I think our country is going down, the culture has been dumbed down,” he added.

Horowitz keeps years of old issues of City News stacked in his office. (Speri/BronxInk)

Horowitz keeps years of old issues of City News stacked in his office. (Speri/BronxInk)

Horowitz, who is married to Housing Court Judge Arlene Hahn, has two sons, one studying Chinese acupuncture in Arizona and the other a molecular biology professor in Indiana. When the latter recently won a prestigious fellowship, Horowitz turned from reporter to proud father and ran two stories about his son in City News.

His relationship with Co-op City, too, resembles that of a father and Horowitz, who criticizes current residents and administrators alike, also talks of the community with the affection of someone who has spent most of his life writing about this 320-acre corner of America.

“I have a love/hate relationship with this place,” Horowitz said, adding that he is not interested in living here but would consider investing in an apartment for his sons if the cooperative ever privatizes. His smile, however, shows only love.

Life in the co-op frustrates him daily, he says, from the close-mindedness of those suspicious of any proposed change to the endless fights with management “who think that if we put enough roadblocks on the way to solving them, all problems will simply go away.”

Horowitz has plenty of unpleasant stories to share. Not long ago he walked to his office, a slightly rundown space in the underground level of a local mall, to find feces in front of the glass door.

“That doesn’t happen when people care about a place,” Horowitz said, denying that the incident was intended as an attack but noting instead that when the community center closes at 10 p.m. so do the public restrooms.

“People in this country need ownership in order to care,” he drew as a lesson from the episode, reinforcing once again his call for privatization and his attack on the president. “If Obama thinks he’s going to change this, he’s mistaken.”

But like a loving father, Horowitz also speaks proudly of Co-op City’s achievements, like the power plant the cooperative’s residents have dreamed about for years, which is slated to open in weeks and will generate enough electricity to provide for the community as well as to export.

“One of the big customers of Co-op City is going to be Con-Edison, which is kind of ironic,” Horowitz said. “The savings in income will be probably between two and three million dollars a month.”
To Horowitz, Co-op City is both unique and a cross-section of humanity. His stories are populated with many of the housing development’s characters, the louder their dissent and the more eccentric their stories, the more space Horowitz dedicates to them in his writing.

One of them is Frank Belcher, who has been a “pain” for Co-op City’s management and a protagonist of Horowitz’s stories for many of the personal battles he fought, against everything from sex-offenders living in the development when they are usually excluded from public housing to the mold and humidity in his apartment.

“Michael is doing the people a service,” said Belcher, who regularly sends Horowitz letters to publish in the paper. “People call him about problems, they seek his help, everyone knows him.”

Belcher said there is a second newspaper in the community, run by the management, but praises City News for its fairness.

“Michael’s paper is the only voice people in the community really have. Management have their own paper, but they won’t print complaints, they won’t print anything negative, Michael Horowitz will” he said. “I wish we had a couple more people like Michael Horowitz here in Co-op City.”

Belcher also praised Horowitz’s for staying on top of issues in the community in a way management does not.

“In 2007 we had 19 registered sex offenders living here illegally,” Belcher said about one of his favorite issues. “Since Michael has been writing about this subject the number went down to four.”

Belcher and Horowitz are equally passionate people and the sympathy is reciprocal.

“He’s been in the paper for the past three weeks,” Horowitz said of Belcher, the way an author would talk of a favorite character in a book.

And for Horowitz, a book on Co-op City may just be the next step.

“I know more about this than anything else,” he said. “This is a fascinating place.”

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Bronx Tales, North Central Bronx1 Comment

Tenants Speak Out on Canceled Section 8 Vouchers

Tenants Speak Out on Canceled Section 8 Vouchers

Lachonnz Morton said she has lived in the same apartment, on McClennan Street in the South Bronx, for 33 years. She moved there from Virginia when she was 22 and raised her daughter and three nieces and nephews there. Morton, who suffers from diabetes and can’t work, lives on Social Security. She says she could be evicted any day.

Morton is one of thousands of New Yorkers who are at risk of losing their homes since the city announced, late in 2009, that it would terminate its Section 8 voucher program, a federal assistance program for low-income families that subsidizes housing in the private market. On Thursday, she was one of a handful of women with similar stories, taking their plight to a public hearing with New York Senators Daniel Squadron, Pedro Espada and Tom Duane. Thursday was the third hearing since the vouchers termination was announced, but the first to involve state officials.

“My rent is $900 a month and my social security is $873,” Morton said, barely holding her tears.

Had the vouchers program not been canceled, she would have had to pay $241 and the rest would have been subsidized by the state. Though Medicaid and food stamps cover many of her other expenses, Morton said she can’t make ends meet. She went to the hearing wearing an “I Love The Bronx” T-shirt, accompanied by her elderly mother and Legal Aid lawyer.

Lachonnz Morton does not want to leave the South Bronx, her home for the past 33 years. (Speri/Bronx Ink)

Lachonnz Morton does not want to leave the South Bronx, her home for the past 33 years. (Speri/Bronx Ink)

“My rent is more than my check, what am I supposed to do?” Morton told the legislators.

Morton said she was forced to quit her job in a nursing home for health reasons. She spent years waiting for her Section 8 applications to be approved then years fighting a legal battle against her landlord, who she said refused to take the vouchers even though the law mandates it.

Already $7,000 in debt on her rent, Morton had finally won her battle with her landlord when on December 30, 2009, she received a letter from the New York City Housing Authority notifying her that money had run out and the vouchers she held in her hands were no longer valid. If the program were to start again, she could reapply, she was told.

Morton accumulated debt in the years she spent applying for the vouchers and then trying to convince her landlord to take them. She says her landlord wants her out because he could earn much more from the rent-controlled apartment if she moved out.

“I’m not denying that I owe, I just don’t have it,” she said, adding that all her savings won’t amount to more than $1,500. The vouchers would have helped turn things around, she said.  Morton is still trying to grasp the bitter irony of her situation having lost a hard-fought battle at the end.

“Do you know how long it took me?” she said.

Some 2,589 families who already held vouchers were immediately affected and many of them are at risk of joining the lines of New Yorkers without a home, speakers said.

“I know a girl in the Bronx who had just moved into an apartment and immediately had to move out,” Morton added.

More than  8,000 more families who would have been eligible for the vouchers could also lose out, as the New York City Housing Authority announced it is not processing any new applications. The vouchers were especially aimed at  helping the elderly and the disabled, and they were often the only opportunity for women victims of domestic violence to move out of abusive homes.

The state senators were sympathetic to the tenants, calling the termination of the vouchers an unacceptable shortcoming by government officials.

“The fiscal crisis is not a reason to fail people,” said Bronx-raised Senator Espada.

New York Senator Pedro Espada listen to testimonies and called for creative solutions to the housing crisis. (Speri/Bronx Ink)

New York Senator Pedro Espada (right) listened to testimony and called for "creative solutions" to the housing crisis. (Speri/Bronx Ink)

The senators questioned representatives of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) and  criticized them for what they said was a slow and inefficient response to the fiscal crisis. However, OTDA officials pointed to the city as holding the  ultimate responsibility for the outcome.

Every time we lose a housing program it’s a struggle for all of us,” OTDA Deputy Commissioner Russell Sykes said, admitting to some shortcomings on the part of his office but generally eluding questions.

“I have no idea if you care or not, all I know is what you haven’t done,” Squadron responded, calling the OTDA “evasive” in its responses and stressing that the hearing was not meant to be a stage for finger pointing between agencies but to try and work together to find a solution.

“Your government has made a promise to you and then it has taken it away,” Squadron then told the women who had shared their stories. “We will do all we can to make good on that promise.”

The program is currently $46 million short, though some suggest that resources could be more efficiently reallocated from other housing programs.

“This is not acceptable in the richest state, in the richest country in the world,” said Judith Goldiner of the Legal Aid Society, who spoke at the hearing and advised on a number of possible solutions.

Goldiner also criticized the New York City Housing Authority for its failure to intervene in the issue and invited the present elected officials to exercise their leverage at the city level.

Morton says that without Legal Aid and her family’s support, she would have been homeless. She remains skeptical as no specific promises came from the meeting.

“They are talking a good game, but I need answers,” Morton said. “They are saying they are sorry but that’s not solving my problem.”

Morton said she lives  in fear of being evicted. Though she said her family is supportive, she doesn’t want to impose on her daughter, who is married with a child.

“I’m scared to go anywhere else, this is all I know,” she says of the place she has called home for two thirds of her life. “I’m just waiting for that knock on my door.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Housing, Money, Politics, Southern Bronx4 Comments

VIDEO – A Bronx Church Helps Displaced Haitians Get Legal Status

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Multimedia, North Central Bronx, Politics1 Comment

Open Vacant Buildings to Low-Income Families, Housing Advocates Urge

By ALICE SPERI

Within a span of fewer than 10 blocks, three buildings on Courtlandt Avenue tell the South Bronx’s version of New York City’s housing crisis.

On the corner with 161st Street, construction workers complete the last floor of a new, nine-story building. Between 152nd and 153rd, a set of elegant, newly built condos lays vacant, but boarded up to avoid squatters. A block away, a crumbling building is covered in notices to vacate due to perilous conditions, but some windows are open and the premises seem occupied nonetheless.

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Eviction notices posted on this vacant Courtlandt Avenue building say the place is perilous. Photo by Alice Speri

Much like other stretches of New York City, this section of Melrose has recently turned into a construction site. Within a few blocks, longtime residents can no longer afford to pay rent, high-rise buildings wait for the cash necessary to complete construction, and brand new condos remain unoccupied, waiting for tenants turned away by the economic downturn.

In the South Bronx alone, 93 buildings are empty, according to the group Right to the City, which is slated to release in the spring the full findings from a survey it did of unoccupied and incomplete developments throughout the city.

With the housing market nearly frozen by the recession and growing numbers of Bronx residents without a home, some city officials and community organizers are considering converting these empty constructions into affordable housing, that is, if they can agree on what affordable means.

The Housing Asset Renewal Program (HARP), a $20 million pilot initiative launched last August by the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, offers financial support to developers to complete or convert their buildings on the condition that some of the units are put on the market at lower prices.

Experts, however, say the incentive to developers may not be enough to generate interest. Community activists, on the other hand, fear the program won’t benefit those most in need.

The program calls for rents that are affordable to households with incomes at or below $99,800 for a family of four, or $69,900 for an individual. The average household income in the Bronx is less than $34,000.

“HARP won’t benefit folks of low income,” said Nova Strachan, the housing justice director for the Hunts Point-based group Mothers on the Move. The group is one of 15 community organizations that joined Right to the City in conducting its survey of vacant properties. Strachan compared the initiative to the construction of the new Yankee Stadium. “They spent over $300 million to build this stadium, they put a Hard Rock Café right next to a McDonald’s, ” she said. “That’s beautiful, but for the folks that live here and struggle every day, how does that benefit us?”

In the six neighborhoods Right to the City surveyed, it found 601 vacant buildings, a stark difference from the approximately 400 the Department of Buildings estimates for the entire city.

Right to the City’s member organizations are calling for the conversion of the vacant buildings into housing for families with lower incomes than what the HARP guidelines call for.

housing2_post

On Courtlandt Avenue, between 152nd and 153rd Streets, new apartments lay vacant and boarded up to discourage squatters. Photo by Alice Speri

In short, the city’s definition of what is affordable needs to be rescaled.

“It’s outrageous, $20 million directed at the middle class and upper-middle class is not really an ideal use of funds,” said John Tyus, a Bronx native and spokesman for the group Families United for Racial and Economic Equality. Tyus added that the money appears to be a bailout of irresponsible developers.

To be eligible for financing through the Housing Asset Renewal Program, a project must be a completed or partly constructed, unoccupied, residential building where the owner is unable to either complete construction or sell or rent a sufficient number of units. The money available is intended to convert market-rate units to affordable units and enable the owner to complete construction. A minimum of 50 percent of the dwelling units must be put on the market at affordable rates for at least 30 years.

“This program holds out the promise of addressing the unintended blight caused by vacant sites, while transforming what would have been market-rate buildings into affordable housing for working class New Yorkers,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said when he launched the program.

As many as 400 units could be converted as part of the pilot program, Department of Housing representatives said. Preference will be given to projects in neighborhoods that have been hit particularly hard by the downturn in the housing market and projects that need less subsidy to be completed.

Though the initial deadline for applications was set for the end of December, no contracts have been announced yet, and the deadline was extended to April 1, leaving many in the community believing that the program was unsuccessful.

In Riverdale, a Bronx neighborhood where vacant luxury condos are a common sight, not one developer had signed up for the program, Bronx Borough Director Mike Lugo said at a Community Board 8 meeting last November. Several people at the meeting said they had never heard of the program.

Instead, faced with a stall in sales, the developers of the Solaria luxury high-rise in Riverdale opted to auction off the 54 condos in the complex, for prices as low as 56 percent of the original listings.

Many think the city’ s program does not offer enough of a financial draw for developers, who have made huge investments into these properties.

“Many of the bigger developers are financially stable and can warehouse their properties until things get better,” said Tyus, of Families United for Racial and Economic Equality.

But Tyus added this was an opportunity policy makers should take advantage of.

“The city is in an excellent position to negotiate with the developers and the banks,” said Tyus. “To have them all take a little bit less and provide a great deal more.”

Posted in Housing, Money, Southern Bronx3 Comments

McKinley Houses Reflect on Murder Conviction

The Rev. Wallace Diamond has lived at the McKinley Houses, a public housing project on East 161st Street, for 47 years. During that time, he has presided over the funerals of five young victims of gang violence. In August 2006, he buried the last two, 25-year-old Leonard Crocket and 20-year-old Jason Semidey, who were killed in a gang-related shooting in the complex’s basketball courts.

The basketball court where Leonard Crocket and Jason Semiday were shot to death, in August 2006. Photo by Alice Speri

On Tuesday, Gavin Murray, a Bloods gang member with a history of violence, was convicted of both murders.

Murray, who was 18 at the time of the incident, was arrested in June 2009 at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. He was charged with murder, attempted murder and criminal possession of a weapon and is also awaiting trial in relation to two earlier shootings. He faces up to life in prison.

For Diamond, who is also the president of the tenants association at McKinley Houses, the 2006 shooting marked a turning point in the community.

“The night that this happened I just got tired,” Diamond said. The next day, he summoned local authorities and community members, and led a demonstration to the site of the shooting.

“We took back our project,” he said. “Before, you couldn’t go in there because drug dealers had taken it, the kids couldn’t play there.”

“It’s quiet now, very quiet, no more drug dealers, nothing like that,” Diamond said, adding that more police have been patrolling the area. “The children are allowed to play out there.”

At the McKinley Houses, in Morrisania not everyone remembers the August 2006 shooting.

At the McKinley Houses, in Morrisania, not everyone remembers the August 2006 shooting. Photo by Alice Speri

Since then, Diamond has been mentoring local young people.

“They call us the OGs, the old guys,” he said of himself and other older residents who have been working to improve communication with the younger generation. “I earned their respect; they talk to me.”

Diamond has also helped Angela Griffin, the aunt of one of the victims, set up a foundation in his memory. The Jason Semidey Foundation, located at the nearby Forest Houses on Trinity Avenue, offers GED classes and assistance with resumes and job interviews.

“I knew Jason very well, he grew up with my kids, I used to encourage him to get a job,” said Diamond, adding that just two days before being shot, Semidey had started a job as a maintenance worker.

Diamond said that Semidey’s death has encouraged his friends to get jobs. “Something good came out of it,” he said. “He’s never gonna be forgotten.”

Some in the neighborhood, however, have forgotten the incident or moved on.

“I hate to be so nonchalant about this stuff,” said Daisy Hassel, a 30-year-old resident of the Forest Homes. “But I don’t remember that happening.”

There were 113 murders in the Bronx in 2009 alone, nearly a quarter of the total for the entire city. The number, however, shows a 14 percent decrease over the last four years.

“It’s not anything different from what happens in this area,” said Earl Childs, the program director at the McKinley Homes Community Center. “People get shot, life goes on.”

“Bloomberg says things are getting better,” Childs said. “But if you ask people around here, things are not getting better.” Childs also disagreed with Diamond about the increase in police presence.

“I don’t remember when is the last time I saw a cop around here,” Childs said.

Like Diamond, however, Childs refuses to give up and continues to mentor young people at the housing project, as he did before Crocket and Semidey were killed.

“The way we address this is to provide these kids with something else to do,” he said.

“We are talking about kids that live a life of hopelessness, there’s no way out; they think, I need to pick up a gun.” In a sense, Murray was a victim of this, too, Childs added.

To keep the memory of the victims alive, Diamond organizes a memorial event every Aug. 16 – the anniversary of the shooting – with candlelight vigils and a basketball tournament on the very court where Semidey fell to the ground.

But Childs says more has to be done.

“All programs are gonna have to work together,” he said. “All branches of the government, all youth services, the board of education.”

Diamond agreed.

“There’s gotta be more than a candlelight vigil,” he said.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Southern Bronx3 Comments