Tag Archive | "South Bronx"

From Street Vendor to Shop Owner

A green photo album rests on her open hands. Inside, there’s a collection of carefully photographed flower arrangements.

“I love plants, sometimes I feel like they’re talking to me,” said Carolina Bernal, 54, a Mexican immigrant who has been running her own flower shop in the southeast Bronx for two years. Surrounding herself with flowers has become a safe haven for her, having left everything she ever cherished behind.

Bernal is one of millions of Mexican immigrants who have risked their lives by crossing the border to the United States, trading their homes and families for an uncertain but promising future. Despite paying taxes and contributing to the U.S. economy, this group of undocumented immigrants lives in fear of deportation in an era of Donald Trump.

Flowers in the fridge

 

Life in the barrio

Bernal’s story as a hard worker starts when her life as a student came to an abrupt and unexpected end almost 40 years ago. Born and raised in Santa Cruz Meyehualco — a poor neighborhood in eastern Mexico City — she was the second daughter in a family of nine children.

Her mother kept pigs, geese, turkeys, and chickens to feed the family. Her stepfather provided for everything else.

When Bernal turned 17, her stepfather died, taking her childhood with him. He died of a liver disease. “He passed away from getting so terribly mad,” she said, holding her hands together, shifting her gaze to the floor.

As one of the oldest children, Bernal had to help her stay-at-home mother; she started looking for a job as an accountant’s assistant. The first man she interviewed with tried to sexually abuse her, so instead she took a low-paying shift in a plastic factory situated in the industrial belt that surrounds Mexico City.

Her life as a working high school student did not last; Bernal had to drop out of school to work both night and day shifts. She promised herself she’d only quit school for one year while things got back on track. But she ended up working for the company, Plásticos y Reparaciones de Monterrey, for the next 15 years.

Bernal began as a floor employee in a plastic injection plant. She had to work three shifts a day to buy one pair of shoes. It was 1982, she was barely 19, and Mexico was experiencing one of its most notorious economic crises.

As time went by, between one shift and the other, injecting plastic day in and day out, she slowly began to exercise leadership among the employees.

Ten years later, Bernal had worked her way up to quality control manager. She was in charge of making sure their main client, the rum manufacturer Bacardi, was happy with the product.

“At that time, I was negotiating millions of pesos. My signature carried weight,” said Bernal, as she sat on a plastic chair in the corner of her shop filled with flowers. “You know, engineers and businessmen would look at me and say ‘now, this woman is a motherfucker’ because I knew my business and delivered impeccable results”.

By this time, Bernal was 30 years old, and a single mother to a 5-year-old son. That’s when she married, had a daughter, and her life took a dark turn.

“A smart woman can go as far as she wants, until she falls in love,” said Bernal holding her now 23-year-old daughter’s hand behind the shop counter.

Her husband, she said, was jealous and possessive. She had a miscarriage and quit her job. Just like that, 15 years of her life came to another abrupt end.

Her daughter Gaby was born when she was still battling postpartum depression from her previous pregnancy. Soon after, she got a divorce. Bernal went back to work for Bacardi, but her responsibilities as a single mother of two children were overwhelming.

When she discovered the public school her children attended in Mexico City was illegally charging her a fee and putting her children to work mopping and scrubbing floors, she placed her kids in a private Catholic school.

In order to pay for the exorbitant tuition, Bernal moved in with her mother, went back to school, and started a business making school uniforms.

Five years later, her business collapsed when she lost her car in a crash and could no longer deliver the uniforms. With piling debts and no better options, she decided to cross the border into the U.S., making her way to 116th Street in Harlem. After sleeping in a church for a few nights, she moved to the Bronx.

That’s how, nine years ago, a 43-year-old Carolina Bernal crossed the Mexico-U.S. border through the dessert under a blazing sun. She was the oldest immigrant and only woman in the group of young men she was traveling with. Exhausted, one day she decided she couldn’t keep going, and asked to be left behind while lying on a hot black rock.Mexican flags

The boys wouldn’t have it. “Vámonos Doña Carolina”, said Bernal quoting her travel companions when they lifted her up from the rock. “That’s when people started calling me Doña”, she explained in Spanish, making it clear that her nickname was a sign of respect, due to her age.

Doña Carolina then became one of the 11.3 millions of immigrants without proper paperwork in the U.S. as of 2015, according to the PEW Research Center. Even if Mexican immigration has been decreasing since 2007, 49% of all undocumented immigrants are still Mexican; the majority of them work in service sector jobs, like flower design.

 

An unassuming entrepreneur

At age 43, and still without a high school degree, Doña Carolina found herself working as a nanny, a private cook, and a kitchen aid in several Mexican restaurants.

It was in 2007 after one of her long night shifts at the Pancho Villa restaurant that she took a cab home because she was too tired to navigate the subway. A drunk driver hit the taxi, and Doña Carolina was badly injured. She sued and was given a small settlement of $5,000, which she used to open Carolina Flower Shop.

Unable to work long shifts in the kitchen because of her new disabling column lesion, she looked for something that didn’t require as much physical work. Selling flowers was her solution.

Before owning her store, Doña Carolina sold flowers out of a bucket on the sidewalk. She stationed her mobile business in front of a small shop on Westchester Ave., in the shadow of the No. 6 line. But her life as a hawker only lasted a couple of months. Just when the flowers started freezing in the winter cold, the tenant of the shop moved out. Doña Carolina took the opportunity and used her savings as a down payment for the rent.

Doña Carolina had managed to secure a commercial space and open her own small business, but she didn’t know the first thing about actually arranging flowers. She taught herself quickly, using YouTube videos and practicing with fresh stems. Her customer service experience in Mexico prepared her for serving the clients.

Today, Carolina Flower Shop, a couple of blocks north of the St Lawrence Ave. subway station, brims with bamboo bunches in different-sized pots and multicolored alstroemerias resting in buckets of water inside the fridge. She has good-luck pink mini cactuses sitting sturdily next to elegant orchids.

The green plants with leaves reaching up next to the wall are believed to bring prosperity to new businesses. Inside the fridge, carnations look like pompons shoved against each other and gerberas explode in a rainbow of colors. In the corner, white lily buds are about to bloom.

Flower trade

Illustration by Alejandra Ibarra

Back in early 2014, when Doña Carolina’s enterprise was on the pavement, she used to get her flowers from warehouses like Select Roses in Hunts Point. Those big depots have container-sized refrigerators where the flowers are stacked in boxes. The warehouse owners import a bunch of 25 roses for $2.

Nowadays, Doña Carolina gets her flowers from a Korean deliveryman who goes directly to the airport customs office and delivers boxes of flowers twice a week to the doorstep of Carolina Flower Shop. The Korean middleman sells the same 25-rose bouquet for $17 to the florists.

Doña Carolina buys each rose at 60 cents more than its original value. She compensates for the cost of shipment and delivery by producing creative merchandise like flower arrangements and bouquets.

Each bouquet has about 12 roses, adorned with cheaper flowers used as filling, and various green leaves of different shades and shapes. She sells the bouquets — perkily poised in their cellophane wrapping — starting at $70.

Creating value is not the only challenge faced by Mexican shop owners like Doña Carolina. She’s also had to learn how to revive a flower that has been kept in refrigeration for months.

Withered flowers are easily identified; their twigs don’t snap when broken, their leaves are pale and opaque, and their buds are often stuck in the opening phase, like a teenager in arrested development. In order to bring them back to life, Carolina slices their stems diagonally, making it easier for the plant to absorb water.

According to the Department of Labor, there were 2,980 floral designers in New York in 2015, the second most in any state after California. Florists like Bernal earn an average hourly wage of $14.49 and an approximately $30,140 a year. Floral designers in New York are not among the best paid in the industry. In nearby Connecticut, florists make more than $36,000 a year, on average.

Soon after her business opened, Doña Carolina’s daughter joined the family in the Bronx. With a college degree and her mother’s earnings, Gaby came to New York City, and now helps her mom run the flower shop. Gaby is in charge of finances, social media accounts, English speaking costumers and theme party paraphernalia. Doña Carolina manages everything else.

“In spite of all the problems she had, my mom is an independent woman who never needed a man to succeed,” said her daughter, Gaby.

When her daughter finally made it to the U.S., she hadn’t seen her mother in seven years. “When she saw me here, she found a grown woman instead of the little her she had left behind.” The two make a good team, they say. Sometimes they fight, sometimes they laugh, but they always support each other.

“I have to rinse her tears and tell her that she’s wrong, just as she does with me,” Gaby said.

With no previous experience in the flower business, Doña Carolina’s biggest asset is customer service. She figures out ways to accommodate her clients, like when the employees of a deli off Grand Concourse needed a bouquet delivered on Sept. 29. Doña Carolina charged $15 for delivery and then paid for her daughter to take a cab to the deli, tucked behind Bronx Criminal Court. The flowers were for a woman who was forced to retire after nine years because of health problems. Holding the bouquet with her arthritic fingers, the woman said she loved the red and white arrangement.

In late September, Feliciana Danielle popped into Carolina Flower Shop with her husband. They were looking for a centerpiece for a black and gold themed party. Doña Carolina quickly sprayed a couple of green branches with gold and black spray paint and gave Danielle time to think.

After the $90 order was placed, Danielle said she was a returning customer. “I had been here years ago, when I bought the flower arrangements for my wedding.” She came back, knowing Bernal would know how to put together an arrangement that met all her needs.

Doña Carolina opens her shop every day at 8 a.m. After all her ordeals, she won’t stop working until she achieves her final dreams. Her next challenges are obtaining legal residency, getting a car to expand her business, and buying a small house in which she can spend her last days.

“I’ve been run over once and again,” Doña Carolina said. “But no matter what comes my way, I keep getting up.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Money, Politics, Southern BronxComments (0)

Naloxone: A Life Saver in a Neglected World

Organizers passed out purple candles at St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction in the South Bronx Aug. 30 in memory of those who have died of heroin overdose.

Community members lit candles Aug. 30 in memory of those who have died of heroin overdose in the Bronx.

MOTT HAVEN–Walking through the streets of the South Bronx one afternoon in July, Tino Fuentes, 53, said he sensed trouble across the street.

“You get this little gut feeling like something’s not right,” Fuentes said.

He found a man on the ground, unresponsive, drawing faint, shallow breaths. Bystanders said the man had been unconscious for several minutes, and his breathing was getting weaker as time passed. Amidst the chaos, a woman leaned over and whispered, “He did a bag.”

Fuentes, who knew she meant the man was likely overdosing on heroin, said he sprung into well-rehearsed action. An ambulance had already been called, but in the case of an overdose, every second matters. An injection of the drug Naloxone can reverse the effect of opioid overdose, but the success rate depends on rapid response.

Fuentes had a Naloxone kit across the street. After retrieving it, he removed the orange top of the vile, filled the syringe with its contents, and plunged the two-inch needle into the sinewy part of the man’s shoulder. Fuentes said he was rolling the man over to begin rescue breathing when he came to — brought back by the medication Fuentes injected.

“It’s such a selfish feeling, but I feel great. I just saved someone’s life,” Fuentes recalled.

Fuentes claims to have saved more than 75 lives with Naloxone since 2006, though he said he has lost count. He is not an EMT or doctor. He just makes sure he always has a kit on him when he is walking around New York.

“I do this because I came from these streets,” Fuentes said. “I gotta find a way to give back, you know?”

Fuentes serves as the co-director of the Syringe Exchange Program at St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction in the South Bronx, where he also trains other people to administer Naloxone. Under New York State law, anyone can carry the medication after undergoing the twenty-minute training and earning a blanket-prescription.

“There is really no reason not to get trained,” Fuentes said. “We’re reaching out to try to train everybody.”

Between 2014 and 2015, Mott Haven and Hunts Point had the highest rate of heroin overdose in New York City by a significant margin. The death rates have steadily increased in recent years. Joyce Rivera, founder and executive director at St. Ann’s, said socioeconomic status and race cause people to ignore this public health crisis in the Bronx.

“The only people who really pay the price for using drugs are poor, working class people,” Rivera said to a crowd on National Overdose Awareness Day at the end of August. But she said harm reduction programs and Naloxone are saving lives in marginalized communities. “Every life matters. Who’s life is expendable?”

Across the country, heroin is becoming increasingly deadly. New reports confirm that heroin is now commonly cut with prescription Fentanyl, a drug 100 times stronger than morphine, causing users to underestimate the potency of what they inject.

“[Dealers] put whatever they put in heroin to stretch it out, to make more money,” Fuentes said. “Not too many people know what’s being put in there.”

According to Fuentes, the man he saved in July was a frequent user, injecting up to five bags a day. The day he nearly died, he was only on his first bag, which he had sniffed rather than injected. Since those are not the conditions that generally lead to overdose, Fuentes said he suspects Fentanyl was present in the mixture. Naloxone is still effective against Fentanyl-laced heroin though experts say in those cases it might take more than one dose to revive the person.

Since the Naloxone program began at St. Ann’s in 2006, awareness around heroin overdose has increased dramatically in New York. Now, all police officers in Mott Haven carry Naloxone. Overdose response trainings are being held in local prisons. Laws around prescription to carry have changed to give easier access to the life-saving medication.

Organizers at St. Ann’s say the shift in awareness and action was influenced by the changing demographics of heroin use and abuse throughout New York State. In 2013, more white New Yorkers than black or Hispanic New Yorkers died of overdose statewide.

“The progress we have made, the general tipping point we have passed, has to do with all of the white people who have overdosed,” said Bill Matthews, clinical director at St. Ann’s.

For Fuentes, it’s frustrating to believe nobody cares about the Bronx. But he said the most important thing is that progress is finally being made, and it’s helping people and saving lives.

“This is hurting everybody,” Fuentes said.

Posted in Health, Southern Bronx, The Bronx BeatComments (0)

Bronx Street Art Speaks Many Languages

 

John “SinXero” Beltran learned quickly that street artists from all corners of the earth know about the Bronx.

The 46-year-old Bronx native began inviting artists to paint legal street murals in the Bronx in 2012, and in 2014 founded a non-profit called TAG Public Arts Project. Since then, dozens of artists have painted for Beltran, a number of them foreign.

One, an Italian artist named Barlo, came to Beltran with a proposal to paint a giant, gold-outlined bird whose wings would be composed of images of feathers from species specific to the Bronx. Beltran had never heard of many of the birds, but the proposal confirmed his belief that artists from across the globe would be eager not only to paint in the Bronx, but also to delve into its history, culture, and even wildlife. The mural now stands on a wall on Ferris Place, in Westchester Square.

"Feathers of NY," a mural by Italian artist Barlo. Photo by John "SinXero" Beltran

“Feathers of NY,” a mural by Italian artist Barlo. Photo by John “SinXero” Beltran

The borough’s tradition of creating iconic graffiti on building walls and subway cars in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and its role in the rise of hip hop have made it a desirable destination for street artists from around the world. Beltran, an abstract artist himself, has welcomed them with open arms. “When we do feature international artists,” Beltran said, “they feel proud being given the opportunity to be part of the history of the Bronx.”

Beltran’s latest mural project brought the French-born and London-based female street artist, Zabou, to a wall in a parking lot behind a Port Morris McDonald’s. Zabou painted a mural of the legendary Bronx-born emcee Grandmaster Flash holding a boombox and peering defiantly over his shoulder.

Zabou was recommended to Beltran through a mutual friend, but she still went through TAG’s selection process, in which artists submit a specific proposal to fill the space Beltran has acquired.

“When I saw the location of this spot,” Zabou said, “I kind of thought okay I need to look what’s happening here in this district, and if there’s any special features anything that would talk to the people directly.”

A self-described “huge hip hop fan,” Zabou knew immediately that she wanted to pay homage to the Bronx’s role in the rise of the genre. She settled on depicting the figure whom many consider its pioneer. Flash has also been gaining prominence in the past month among her friends in London, Zabou said, for his role in “The Get Down,” the Netflix series dramatizing the birth of hip hop in the Bronx.

Zabou's finished mural of Grandmaster Flash. Photo by Mike Elsen-Rooney

Zabou’s finished mural of Grandmaster Flash. Photo by Mike Elsen-Rooney

Beltran said that both fellow artists and the Bronx community have given the mural “rave reviews.”

Chris Landy, 32, and his brother Raliekh, 27, who grew up in the area and frequent the McDonald’s near the painting, found the mural moving, and felt it fit in well with the surrounding area.

The elder Landy, a music producer, immediately recognized Flash, calling him “an integral part of the hip hop community.” The mural, he said, has the potential to impact people in different ways depending on their background and perspective. As a member of the music industry himself, Landy reasoned that if Flash “can make it, I know I can.”

Raliekh Landy was surprised to learn that the artist was French, and said that Zabou “must know about the culture” in the Bronx.

Audrey Connolly, a photographer who documents New York graffiti and street art, was excited not only by the presence of international artists in the Bronx, but also by the increasing international recognition Bronx street art is getting. “It’s about time that people in the rest of the world realized that the Bronx has heroes,” she said.

That realization, according to Beltran, is long overdue. He made clear that he, and the artists he invites, are not trying to make art in the Bronx more serious or legitimate. They are building on a long and proud history of artistic creation in the borough. “When people said, ‘we want to bring Fine Arts back to the Bronx,’” he said, they misunderstood that history. “There’s always been Fine Arts in the Bronx.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Culture, Featured, Morrisania, Southern BronxComments (0)

‘Violence Interrupters’ Answer SOS in South Bronx

The whiteboard at the SOS South Bronx office displays the number of days since the last shooting in the territory SOS covers. (LAUREN FOSTER/The Bronx Ink)

The whiteboard at the SOS South Bronx office displays the number of days since the last shooting in the territory SOS covers. (LAUREN FOSTER/The Bronx Ink)

It’s hard to hold your breath for 108 days.

At Save Our Streets South Bronx, which launched in January 2013, a whiteboard in their Mott Haven office read “107” on Oct. 13 and “108” on Oct. 14. They dread when that tally of days without a shooting in their 20-block territory must go back to zero.

Save Our Streets, or simply SOS, originated in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in 2009 and has since expanded to 15 sites across the city. The City Council along with the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, the largest U.S. charity devoted to public health, have pumped millions of dollars into this unconventional anti-violence initiative modeled after Chicago’s CeaseFire program. Now called Cure Violence, the program was celebrated in the award-winning 2011 documentary “The Interrupters.” Cure Violence has been emulated in roughly 50 cities worldwide since its inception 15 years ago.

The cornerstone of Cure Violence is the work of “violence interrupters,” “credible messengers” and “outreach workers” who patrol the streets and nurture relationships with at-risk individuals, typically young people, in an effort to undo a culture of violence of which they themselves were once byproducts. A job flier for SOS South Bronx (they’re hiring) describes such responsibilities for violence interrupters as identifying youth who are gang members or at-risk for joining, finding tips on potential conflicts, mediating with those parties involved to prevent retaliations and diffusing “hot spots” where shootings are likely to occur.

The credibility of these paid staffers is rooted in empathy.

“What I like about Save Our Streets is it’s composed of staff and volunteers who are former gang members or drug abusers themselves, or people who have been incarcerated,” said City Councilmember Vanessa Gibson, a Democrat who represents neighborhoods such as Morrisania and Melrose. “The best person you can get to really understand what a young person is going through is someone who has been in that situation before.”

Gibson allocated $5,000 of her discretionary funds for the 2015 fiscal year to SOS South Bronx. Democrat Robert Cornegy of Bedford-Stuyvesant and northern Crown Heights set aside $9,000. The Council voted earlier this year to expand SOS efforts from three neighborhoods to 15, including new posts in the 44th, 46th and 47th precincts in the South Bronx.

Jeffrey A. Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, echoed Gibson’s assertion that knowing the streets is key for SOS employees. “They have to have some connection to the community that doesn’t make them seem like an outside meddler or do-gooder,” explained Butts. Researchers at his school are currently evaluating the Cure Violence model and its implementation in Crown Heights and the South Bronx. “Some of the programs have successful employees who’ve never been arrested, but they might be the son of a well-known gang leader,” he said.

SOS is guarded about disclosing details on its organization. An SOS staffer said the program’s parent organization, the Center for Court Innovation, clamped down on news media access after The Mott Haven Herald published the criminal record of an SOS interrupter. Robert Wolf, director of communications for the Center for Court Innovation, denied that claim but said “everyone is tied up here” and would be unavailable for interviews indefinitely. SOS staffers have been instructed not to participate in interviews without approval from the Center’s Midtown Manhattan office.

Butts, whose center at John Jay received more than $1 million from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and $750,000 from the city council to study Save Our Streets through 2016 in conjunction with the Center for Court Innovation, explained the concern over public scrutiny.

“These programs do get very skittish. There have been lots of stories about some of the dominant political infrastructure forces running to the media to explode the situation when something goes wrong,” Butts said.

“Cure violence does not conform with the dominant political culture surrounding public safety,” he added. “So when you’re talking about crime and violence in a public policy arena, people immediately think of policing, prosecution and punishment. This program does not fit that model, so you start off with immediate opposition from the people who think conventionally about public safety.”

In the South Bronx, SOS outreach workers are unarmed and identifiable by their red T-shirts. Although sanctioned by the city, they operate in communities where cooperating with police work is a serious taboo. Despite often being privy to criminal activity, SOS explicitly refuses to have contact with police.

“You have a disconnect with a lot of young people who don’t trust the police and don’t think police are there to serve the public and to protect them,” Councilmember Gibson said.

This wall of separation between law enforcement and social workers is not unusual.

“I was visiting some police departments in Washington, D.C., and they said they keep in touch with outreach workers at these types of programs, but only at the highest level,” Butts said. “They might hear, ‘Things are really heating up in this neighborhood’ or ‘We’re getting rumors that something is about to go down between this crew and that crew,’ but no individual names, no tip-offs and certainly no post-incident information to help the investigation find a perpetrator. As soon as you do that, word gets out and the whole program is dead.”

SOS South Bronx employs three interrupters and three outreach workers, all middle-aged, to engage a territory composed of four public housing complexes and about 20,000 residents. They work full-time Tuesday through Saturday, with shifts running as late as 2 a.m.

In Crown Heights, interrupters underwent 40 hours of training in direct consultation with Cure Violence experts in Chicago, according to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. SOS South Bronx is also in frequent contact with Chicago, allowing for a uniform implementation of the model.

Crown Heights had a homicide rate for those aged 15 to 24 nearly four times the city average in 2011, at 41.9 homicides for every 100,000 people in that age bracket, according to a report by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. (The department is now an advisor to SOS.) Fordham / Bronx Park and High Bridge / Morrisania in the South Bronx were also in the top-five neighborhoods most plagued by youth gun violence. Whereas SOS Crown Heights developed a successful “Youth SOS” program driven by student volunteers, efforts to duplicate that youth engagement in the South Bronx have foundered.

“The youth are disempowered and basically have no opportunity. One of biggest frustrations from a social work perspective is when you’re not addressing the core causes behind these issues,” said Markus Redding, a professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work who has worked extensively in non-violent conflict resolution. “It’s going to be very similar to what we do in the court system, which is reacting to what’s there but not getting at root causes like better education.”

The Crown Heights program reported recruiting 96 community members between January 2010 and May 2012 to participate in the SOS mission. All but one of these recruits was male, 94 were black and two were Hispanic. An SOS South Bronx official said his team has fostered about 25 such relationships.

Researchers led by Butts have interviewed roughly 200 people about gun violence in neighborhoods with and without SOS programs, and they are analyzing shooting data in these test and control areas. Butts would not give any tentative findings — their work began in February 2014 and will conclude around August 2016 — but he did outline basic variables that impact Cure Violence:

“To what extent are public institutions well-coordinated? Do social services people talk to the schools? Do law enforcement know their own community? How do neighborhood residents feel about their access to necessary support? Are police seen as an outside occupying force?”

The SOS South Bronx office displays posters advocating to end gun violence. (LAUREN FOSTER/The Bronx Ink)

The SOS South Bronx office displays posters advocating ending gun violence. (LAUREN FOSTER/The Bronx Ink)

SOS South Bronx has struggled to form alliances with institutions in the area. An exception is the Bronx Christian Fellowship, a church in Mott Haven where Rev. Que English has collaborated closely with SOS efforts. English reiterated the need to solve violence through means outside law enforcement.

“There’s an idea in these communities that if a cop kills us they’ll get away with it,” she said. “It’s circulated throughout generations. I once heard a 5-year-old say, “I don’t like cops.’”

Religious figures are a core component of the SOS strategy, according to literature distributed at the program’s Mott Haven office. One form reads, “Faith-based leaders are encouraged to preach against gun violence from their pulpits.”

What would it take for programs such as SOS to thrive in the pastor’s community?

“My first thought is a miracle,” English responded. “If we had a wish list, it would be ongoing community awareness and a lot of media coverage because we need to get the word out on violence to turn the tide.

“It’s going to take a while, and there’s no quick answer,” she added.

Anti-violence initiatives are not new in New York City. In 1979, Curtis Sliwa founded the Guardian Angels, whose red berets and jackets became trademarks of the amateur pseudo-police force that patrolled the subway amid a rash of violence. That operation was controversial for its vigilante approach, instructing volunteers to make citizens arrests and even providing them training in martial arts. The Guardian Angels do not accept volunteers with gang affiliations or serious criminal records.

But Redding and Gibson support the inclusion of ex-convicts in SOS South Bronx.

“With the prison industrial complex — we have more people incarcerated in the United States than any other country in the history of the world — there’s such labeling and the stereotyping of anyone who has committed a crime,” Redding said. “That lack of a second chance is very frustrating.”

In areas of Chicago where Cure Violence has been implemented, shootings are down 75 percent, according to cureviolenge.org. Crown Heights saw a 6 percent drop in shootings from January 2011 to May 2012 — the first year and a half of SOS activity — while comparable Brooklyn neighborhoods saw increases of 18 to 28 percent in that period. Experts say it is premature to conclude a cause-and-effect relationship between SOS efforts and diminished shooting rates, but they point to these data as cause for optimism about the efficacy of Cure Violence.

Still, Chicago is far from eradicating its gun epidemic or the culture behind it. The city has suffered 329 homicides in 2014, the Chicago Tribune reported, following 440 in 2013.

Lil Bibby, a 19-year-old at the forefront of the hardcore rap movement in a city nicknamed “Chiraq,” spoke in January on New York’s HOT 97 hip-hop radio station about gun violence in his hometown.

“In the last couple of years everybody got guns now, man. There ain’t no more fist fighting or arguing anymore, just guns,” Lil Bibby said. “Guns come out right away. There are kids, 13 or 14, playing with guns, and there ain’t no big homies telling them, ‘Stop this.’”

Several months later, HOT 97 debuted “Hot N—-” by the then-19-year-old from East Flatbush, Brooklyn, named Bobby Shmurda. The song is now ubiquitous on New York street corners, and it was blaring on repeat from a stereo across the street from the SOS South Bronx office on the day the whiteboard showed No. 95.

“Hot Boy,” as it’s called on the radio, reflects a pervasive gun culture that SOS staffers are fighting desperately to reform. Seven of the song’s first 10 lines, and most thereafter, draw on boastful anecdotes dealing with guns.

Although experts such as Redding note the peril of discounting underlying political causes behind crime, Save Our Streets is premised on changing a cultural mentality — as Butts put it, “accepting violence as normal behavior.”

“It’s not an easy thing or a quick thing, but I think it’s the only way you fix this problem,” he said. “If we continue to see community-level violence through the lens of a war on crime, it will just be a war on crime forever. It takes someone bold enough to say maybe there’s a new way to think about this problem.”

To keep urban shooting tallies like the one on the Mott Haven whiteboard low, must interrupters patrol violent street corners indefinitely?

“The foundational idea behind this model is that you implement it for three years or 10 years  — some period of time  — and you slowly shift away the social norms in support of violence, then you’re done,” Butts said. “There’s no need for people to be constantly funding programs to stop cigarette smoking: that cultural shift has already happened in this country. It’s the same thing with violence.”

Posted in Bronx Life, Crime, Culture, Southern BronxComments (0)

Sandy Batters Eastern Coast of the Bronx

Throgs Neck, Pelham Bay and City Island neighborhoods along the eastern coast of the Bronx suffered the most damage when Hurricane Sandy hit Monday night. But residents in other areas of the Bronx also felt the effects of the storm, including Clason Point and Soundview. Among the most widely reported problems: fallen trees, power outages and property damage due to flooding.

An estimated 49,387 customers, or 11.6 percent of Bronx customers served by ConEdison, were without power as of 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, ConEdison reported on its storm center database. Citywide, 661,592 customers had no electricity, including nearly 40 percent of ConEd customers in Manhattan.

New York City public schools will remain closed for the third straight day on Wednesday. Subway service is expected to remain down for an unknown number of days, while the Metropolitan Transportation Agency tries to run as close to a full weekday bus service as possible on a fare-free basis Wednesday. For the latest transportation information, visit www.mta.info.

To report downed power lines, outages or check service restoration status, visit  www.ConEd.com or 1-800-752-6633. To report fallen trees, dial 311. View a list of emergency resources compiled by News 12 The Bronx here.

 

Hurricane Sandy Hits the Bronx

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Hurricane Sandy caused serious damage in Soundview. (YI DU/The Bronx Ink)

 

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Family Mourns Unsolved Murder of Bronx Woman

Pamela Graddick, a daycare worker, was last seen by a friend who shopped with her at the Gateway Center mall near Yankee Stadium. Relatives quickly took action two days after she vanished on August 11, posting flyers around Highbridge for clues of her status.

On September 4, Graddick, 26, was found stuffed in a trash bag near the Bronx River Parkway, the New York Daily News reports. Graddick was the youngest of four children. Family and friends mourn the loss of a woman who, according to her father, Bernard Graddick, was an excellent student and a star basketball player at Walton High School. She continued her academic and athletic career at Sullivan County Community College in upstate New York.

The NYPD and Yonkers detectives are investigating her death.

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Incumbent Arroyo Pummels Both Primary Challengers

Panels and campaign volunteers promoted Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo throughout the South Bronx. (VALENTINE PASQUESOONE / The Bronx Ink)

Longtime incumbent New York State Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo captured 53 percent of the  Democratic primary vote by late Thursday night., despite two spirited bids to unseat her.  Challengers Maximino Rivera, a community activist, and Charles Serrano, a former police officer, split the remaining votes 25 percent to 22 percent.

Arroyo, whose campaign volunteers were not available for comment last night while votes were being tallied, will likely continue representing the 84thdistrict that includes Highbridge, Longwood, Melrose, Mott Haven, Port Morris and Hunts Point neighborhoods after election day Nov. 6. There has yet to be a Republican challenger for the seat.

Her opponents criticized her lengthy tenure that has not been free from scandal.

“She’s been there too long,” Rivera said of Arroyo. “It’s time for her to go.”

Both opponents faced challenges staying afloat in the race against Arroyo, whose ties to party politics are well established. The Rivera and Serrano camps said the Arroyo campaign unsuccessfully challenged the signatures on their petitions, which slowed down their campaign timetables.

“It’s a real battle just to get on the machine,” said Jose Velez, who was raised in the South Bronx and ran for male district leader of the Serrano campaign.

After getting past that hurdle, Rivera and Serrano focused on presenting alternatives to Arroyo. Rivera, a former Post Office employee and community organizer, ran a lively campaign. Rivera’s sister Maria Chompre said the campaign had a 30-person core comprised of family and friends. Rivera campaigned for Arroyo during a previous race, and said he did so only because he favored Arroyo over her opponent.

Maximino Rivera believed it was time for longtime pol Carmen Arroyo to step down. (VALENTINE PASQUESOONE / The Bronx Ink)

Serrano, who was part of the New York City Police Department for 25 years, campaigned on the promise to push for term limits for all state-level representatives. He also focused on housing, senior citizen issues and crime, with an emphasis on gun violence.

Both challengers are Vietnam veterans. Both complained that Arroyo has become complacent after almost two decades in office.

“Carmen was a very good activist, but for the last eight to ten years she’s been missing in action,” Rivera said.

Arroyo disclosed $4028 in campaign contributions. Rivera and Serrano did not file financial reports.

Candidate Charles Serrano and district leader candidate Jose Velez said getting on the ballot was not easy. (VALENTINE PASQUESOONE / The Bronx Ink)

Low voter turnout did not help the challengers to Arroyo’s seat. Serrano said people’s focus lay elsewhere, even though the primary campaign was important because the results decided who would win this seat in the general election. “People want to vote, they don’t really know when they have to vote,” Serrano said, “They’re only thinking about  November 6.”

For those who did make it to a polls, change was an important factor. Evelyn V. Figueroa, a nurse from the Melrose section of the Bronx, said she wanted to see crime decrease and access to housing and healthcare increase. She said she had not seen any improvements in these categories in the 10 years she has been living in the area.

“This is like a lottery game,” Figueroa said. “We’ll see what happens. I definitely hope there will be some change.

 

 

 

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PHOTOS: Morrisania Mourns Robbery Victim Shot by Police

9 September, 2012- Bronx - Reverend Que English (left) holds prayer for Reynaldo Cuevas, the young father from the Dominican Republic accidentally shot by police during a robbery scuffle on Friday morning. (The Bronx Ink/Jika González)

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Further reading: Morrisania Mourns Robbery Victim Shot by Police

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