Tag Archive | "South Bronx"

‘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.”

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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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Morrisania Mourns Robbery Victim Shot by Police

Clergy works to calm activists as anti-NYPD feelings rage

Rain began falling Saturday night just as Rev. Ruben Austria led a passionate prayer for justice and healing in the aftermath of a botched robbery that left a 20-year-old bodega worker dead from police gunfire.

Huddled in a tight circle at 169th Street and Franklin Avenue, roughly 50 mourners — family members, friends and community activists — turned out Saturday night in honor of Reynaldo Cuevas, the young father from the Dominican Republic accidentally shot by police during a robbery scuffle early Friday morning.

“We want to stand in solidarity with the family and pray that our outrage doesn’t lead to in-rage. That it doesn’t cause us to consume ourselves and tear one each other down,” Austria told the group, with he and fellow clergy starting a chorus of “Hallelujah.”

Rally participants gathered around a makeshift memorial draped with flowers, rosaries and hand-scribbled notes across from Aneurys Daily Grocery in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. Cuevas worked six nights a week at the store, often staying for 16-hour shifts.

Community activists joined cousins of Reynaldo Cuevas in a prayer vigil Saturday night. “We want to stand in solidarity with the family and pray that our outrage doesn’t lead to in-rage,” Rev. Ruben Austria said. (ADAM PEREZ / The Bronx Ink)

The memorial included a few dollar bills, some cigarette butts and a lottery ticket — the type of loot the armed robbers tried to make off with in a backpack before police arrived.

Around 1:50 a.m. Friday, Cuevas, in an “understandable panic to get away from the gunman as fast as possible,” ran outside the bodega to escape the masked robbers and collided with a police officer, according to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and the officer accidentally fired his weapon, striking Cuevas in his left shoulder. He died at St. Barnabas Hospital.

“I want to extend my condolences to the Cuevas family for their loss,” Kelly said in a statement Friday. Kelly emphasized the events had transpired in “split seconds.”

Some came to the Saturday night rally simply to mourn the loss of Cuevas, described by relatives as a kind-hearted young man who’d been saving to send money to his 3-year-old daughter, Jamie, in the Dominican Republic.

“He was hard-working and humorous and caring,” said Ashley Rodriguez, 14, a cousin of Cuevas. She said she last saw Cuevas two days before his death, when he helped her get through some issues she was facing with high school. Cuevas was a good listener, she said, and he urged her to stay focused on her studies.

Reynaldo Cuevas, 20, worked nights at the bodega, saving money for his 3-year-old daughter, Jamie, in the Dominican Republic.

“How many parents got to bury their kids? When is this really going to stop?” said Juanita Young, an activist with Families of Stolen Lives and Parents Against Police Brutality. “I am so angry at what just happened here — that young man just trying to make a life for him and his family … When is enough enough?”

The candlelit vigil, announced via a cardboard sign at the memorial site and on a Facebook page for Cuevas created Saturday, also drew activists from the New York Civil Liberties Union and Stop “Stop and Frisk” Freedom Fighters, who oppose the NYPD’s controversial tactic of searching people on the streets over concerns police disproportionately target people of color.

“People are out here not just for this incident, but because I think what everybody feels and knows and understands is there’s been years of police harassing and targeting young black and Latino men,” Austria said.

Ashley Rodriguez said she’s not sure her cousin’s death represents a bigger problem; she just wants to see an investigation into the officer who shot him. For now, she wants that officer suspended.

“It’s uplifting to know that even people that didn’t know him are supporting us because they know this wasn’t right,” said Mary Rodriguez, 24, another cousin of Cuevas who was wearing an anti-“Stop and Frisk” button.

A downpour dispersed the crowd on Saturday, with some activists announcing plans to reschedule a march for Wednesday, and to attend a funeral for Cuevas on Monday.

Saturday’s event was the second emotional vigil honoring Cuevas this weekend. On Friday night, after the news vans and most reporters had left, the crowd erupted into angry shouting at the police, who stood quietly across the street. Austria was there, too, working to calm the small crowd for several hours and prevent the scene from escalating into a violent confrontation with the officers.

“The police have to be held accountable when they use excessive force, but we have to hold ourselves accountable. The community’s got to hold each other accountable because the violence between us is unacceptable just as well,” Austria said. “Nobody gets a pass for doing wrong.”

Staff writers Sadef Kully, Adam Perez and Jan Hendrik Hinzel contributed to this report.

The makeshift memorial included a few dollars, cigarette butts and used lottery tickets–booty found on the suspects after their arrest, said police. (ADAM PEREZ / The Bronx Ink)

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Not in my borough: two neighborhoods tackle waste

In the Upper East Side on a chilly Sunday morning, every inch of the Asphalt Green Park is bustling with little soccer players wearing colorful knee socks and jerseys. Parents hold steaming cups of coffee and watch from the sidelines. Next door the basketball courts and playground are filled with children playing in the fresh air. But if the mayor’s waste management plan is carried out, up to 500 trucks transporting residential waste will pass directly through the park daily, disrupting this much- needed recreational space.

A 15-minute subway ride away, Barretto Point Park is a peaceful green oasis at the edge of industrial Hunts Point in the Bronx. It sits practically vacant except for a couple of kids skateboarding on the manicured paths and one man exercising on the basketball courts. In contrast to the Upper East Side, at least 15,000 trucks pass by Barretto Point Park every day, and when the air is still, the smell of sewage can become overwhelming.

Hunts Point in the South Bronx has been overburdened by waste for decades. The community has continually fought for green spaces, parks, and safe streets under the constant threat of industrial zoning and prolific waste management sites. The Upper East Side once housed a waste-processing center that eventually became obsolete. Residents there now face the threat of a new station, set to be one of the biggest in New York City.

While neither community wants the waste in their backyard, the city’s waste must go somewhere. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg says it is time for every borough to take on its fair share.

Every day, 33,000 tons of commercial and residential waste is generated in New York City.  That waste is treated and transferred though 63 waste transfer stations and 15 of those stations are in the South Bronx, which handles over 31 percent of the city’s waste. Manhattan handles none.

The New York City Solid Waste Management Plan, presented by the mayor in 2006, aimed to distribute New York’s waste more fairly by introducing two new marine transfer stations in Manhattan.

One station is proposed at East 91st Street and the East River. The station will sit just a block from luxury housing, within 300 feet of a public housing complex, and next to the Asphalt Green in the Yorkville neighborhood of the Upper East Side, part of a congressional district with an annual per capita income of $85,081.

This marine transfer station would take up two acres, jutting 200 feet into the East River, and would handle all of the residential waste generated from 14th Street to 138th Street on the eastern half of Manhattan. Diesel trucks would transfer trash to the station on the river where it would be processed and shipped by barge to disposal sites outside of the city. While the station would help to distribute trash burden in New York City, it is hard to ignore how close this station would be to a very vibrant park.

While the city’s plan was a major victory for environmental justice groups and residents of the South Bronx, people living near the waste transfer site on East 91st Street in Manhattan are strongly opposed to what they see as a major encroachment on their residential neighborhood.

Residents for Sane Trash Solutions is a 12-member group fighting to stop the construction of the marine transfer station. The group says that spending $125 million to build a waste station near a park and public housing makes no sense. “There has to be a better solution,” said Jennifer Ratner, a group member and pediatrician who lives eight blocks from the site. “Our children are playing just an arm’s length away from what would become major truck traffic.”

The Department of Sanitation says that the new facility will be state of the art. Waste will be processed and shipped in new containers and the surrounding community will not be burdened with smell.  But Ratner is skeptical. “Sure the facility might be state of the art,” she said. “But the diesel trucks carrying the waste through our neighborhoods will not be.”

Asphalt Green, which would be cut in half by a commercial truck ramp, is not a typical public park. In fact, 70 percent of park time is available only for those who pay a monthly $99 dollar membership fee, which also includes use of the indoor gym. In a lawsuit filed last summer against the city, residents attempted to halt construction of the waste transfer station by invoking the public trust doctrine that protects parklands.

The court favored New York City, finding that Asphalt Green was not a park and that the construction of the waste transfer would not significantly intrude upon the green space.

But while Asphalt Green is a fee-based non-profit organization, it does allow certain groups, like schools from East Harlem, to use the park daily for free.

And from the looks of it, by most people’s standards, Asphalt Green is a park. “You can bring a 4-year-old here and ask them what they are seeing,” said Ratner. “ I guarantee you, that child will say they are looking at a park.”

With lawyers, lobbying efforts and community-based actions, the group continues its work to halt the mayor’s plan.

It’s also not clear whether the transfer station at East 91st Street would actually provide some relief to the South Bronx, a community with an annual per capita income of $13,959, making it the poorest congressional district in the United States.

“If the efforts of groups on the Upper East Side are successful it would mean, at the very least, the commercial waste that’s generated on the Upper East Side will continue to be trucked to the Bronx,” said Eddie Bautista of the Environmental Justice Alliance.

Sandra Christie, a resident of Yorkville and member of Sane Trash, disagreed. She claimed that that the proposed waste transfer station in the Upper East Side will in no way affect the South Bronx. “Not a speck of the trash that will be processed at the proposed station currently goes to the South Bronx,” she said. “I feel for the people living there, but this station will not solve their problems.”

But mixed messages may be coming from within Residents for Sane Trash Solutions.  A recent article in the Daily News quotes the president of the group, Jed Garfield, suggesting the city “put the facility near the Hunts Point in the South Bronx where it would not actually touch any neighborhoods except the Hunts Point Market.”

The problem is, people actually do live in Hunts Point, and many residents currently live near waste transfer stations.

People that have grown up in Hunts Point consider the smell of sewage and trash a fact of life. Wanda Salaman, of the non-profit organization Mothers on the Move, has been fighting the smell for 10 years.

She knew things had really become unbearable when a reporter covering her fight against trash told her that on the subway back into Manhattan from the South Bronx, people on that train began to hold their noses. “It was then the woman realized,” Salaman said. “The smell was coming from her.”

Mothers on the Move’s first fight against sewage in Hunts Point targeted the New York Organic Fertilizer Company, a company that converted human waste into fertilizer pellets. The smell was so bad that families living near the plant at Barretto Point Park had to keep their windows closed during the summer.

After a decade of fighting, they succeeded when the city cut its contracts with the sewage treatment plant, and the company was shut down. But the Hunts Point Sewage Treatment Facility, another sewage processing company, still remains.

“The smell has gotten better in the last few years,” said Jahira Rodriguez, who grew up in Hunts Point. “But in the summer, it is still really bad.” Rodriquez thinks it is unfair that the Upper East Side is refusing to process their fair share of garbage.

In addition to the thick smell of sewage in the South Bronx, waste transfer through the neighborhood also contributes to high asthma rates. According to the Department of Public Health, Hunts Point has one of the city’s highest asthma rates for youth ages 0-14 at 11.5 percent while The Upper East Side has on of the lowest at 1.2 percent.

In 2006, researchers from the New York University Graduate School of Public Service found that high asthma rates in the South Bronx are directly related to the multitude of trucks that pass through the neighborhood daily. Many of those trucks are carrying commercial waste from other boroughs to the waste transfer stations in the Bronx. The mayor’s plan aims to alleviate truck traffic allowing the majority of waste to be transported by barge.

Truck ramp next to the Asphalt Green in the Upper East Side where trucks will carry waste to the proposed marine transfer station. (JANET UPADHYE/Bronk Ink)

Mouloukou Diakite, 48, exercises at Barretto Point Park, the closest green space to his apartment in Longwood. His daily routine includes running laps around the basketball court, breathing through push-ups against a steel fence and jogging backward in the grass. Unfortunately his son Mory, 13, is unable to exercise with the same intensity because he has asthma.

Mory had trouble breathing at a very young age but was lucky to have never been hospitalized because of his asthma. He was also lucky to spend some time in his father’s home country of Mauritania where his asthma cleared up enough for him to now play basketball on his school’s team and sometimes join his father at Barretto Point Park. In order to get to the park from their Longwood apartment, the Diakites must pass through streets zoned for industry.

The city’s zoning policies are another example of the burden placed on Hunts Point.   A large portion of the neighborhood, 41.3 percent, is zoned for industry and commercial use while only 3.1 percent of the Upper East Side has been zoned for the same use. The proposed waste transfer station will be built on that land. In a small geographic area where there is a high concentration of residents, such as New York City, people are forced to live and play near industrial zones.

The Tri-State Transfer Station in Hunts Point, which handles 84,836 tons of material annually, sits just three blocks from a tree-lined street of single-family homes and a Head Start program. Two blocks from the station is the first of several six-story apartment buildings, each with a minimum of 60 apartments. One block from the plant is Dancers Dreamzzz dance studio where local youth can take salsa, hip-hop or ballet classes. As kids break from class, they step outside to breathe fresh air and can see a waste transfer station.

Sharon De La Cruz, 25, grew up in Hunts Point. She is used to the smell, air pollution, and high asthma rates that accompany heavy industry and waste processing. For her, it is a normal way of life, but that doesn’t make it fair.

“I am sorry that a waste transfer station is proposed near a park in the Upper East Side,” she said. “But in my neighborhood, we have the opposite problem. We have to propose parks in the middle of several waste transfer stations because that is the only land we have.”

De La Cruz loves Barretto Point Park but says that it is difficult to walk past waste treatment plants and a line of diesel trucks to get there. She thinks that the trucks and the odor keep people out of the park.  “Don’t we deserve accessible green spaces too?” she asked.

Bautista believes that they do. Industrial or not, people live their lives in Hunts Point. “Residents for Sane Trash Solutions justify suggesting the Bronx and our other communities of color because they’re industrial,” said Bautista. “They ignore the fact that we have a few hundred thousand residents living in these communities as well.”

While the Upper East Side fights the mayor’s plan, residents of the South Bronx wait and wonder when the burdens of air pollution and smell will lessen in their small community. “We don’t want to be the community that takes on everyone else’s trash anymore,” said De La Cruz. “It makes us feel like we are trash.”

 

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The Bronx’s own project runway

Runway students listen to coach Tyra A. Ross at the Bronx Community Pride Center.

“Learning how to strut down a runway gives young people confidence that translates into other areas of their lives,” said Tyra Ross, as she stood before her runway class at the Bronx Community Pride Center.

For the last three years,  Ross has taught these professional modeling skills to gay, lesbian and transgender youth in the only class of its kind in New York City.

“Here they can learn with someone who truly understands where they are coming from,” said Ross, who has trained up to 50 Bronx teens in the art of runway since her first class at the center in 2008.

Ross was born and raised in Tobago, in a family and a culture that did not support her emerging transgender identity. After surviving sexual assault by an elder in her community, Ross began dreaming of making a life for herself, far away from her birthplace. As soon as she was old enough to travel, she emigrated to New York City, where members of her extended family lived.

In the Bronx, as a 18-year-old aspiring model, Ross found a supportive community and success in the fashion industry. She walked the runways for designers Darius Wobil and B Michael couture in Brooklyn and in the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Pictures from her modeling days show her slender 6-foot-2-inch frame draped with elegance in designer dresses. She hopes to teach that elegance to her students, some of who dream of being professional models one day.

Ross is a fashion inspiration. “She is a role model,” said one of her students, 26-year-old Thai. “She has lived life and that shows through her teaching.”

 

 

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