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Police Say Girl Who Died in Bronx Lobby Was Strangled

The 15-year-old girl found unconscious inside of a lobby in the Hunts Point area of the Bronx yesterday was strangled, the New York Times reports.

Police officers found Destiny Sanchez inside the lobby of 640 Barretto Street shortly after 8:00 a.m. on Friday. The Office of the New York City Medical Examiner has determined the teen was strangled, police said.

Officials have said her death will be classified as a homicide. Investigation into Sanchez’s death is ongoing.

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Bronx Teen Found Dead in Building Lobby

A 15-year-old girl was found dead in the lobby of a building on Barretto Street near Spofford Avenue at around 8:05 a.m. this morning, the New York Post reports.

Police said the cause of her death is not clear. The body is awaiting an autopsy by the city’s medical examiner.

The teen did not live in the building, authorities said. They believe she was visiting relatives.


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Post-Storm Cleanup Continues at Bronx Parks

Bronx parks that suffered damage during Superstorm Sandy and the nor’easter are facing a several month-long clean up efforts, DNAinfo reports.

Fifty Bronx sites are currently closed, mostly due to fallen trees. Devoe, Hackett, Harding, Henry Hudson, Joseph Rodman Drake, Poe, Pugsley Creek, Seton Falls, Soundview and Walton Slope are among the closed sites.

Volunteers are organizing cleanup days this weekend at Orchard Beach and Crotona Park.

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Three Bronx Polling Locations Changed Due to Sandy

Three polling locations in the Bronx have changed due to Superstorm Sandy, the Board of Elections in the City of New York announced. Residents originally stationed to vote at Locust Point Civic Hall, 4400 Locust Point Drive, will now go to the MTA Throggs Neck Parking Lot, 4260 Throggs Neck Expressway. Voters headed to PS 69 Journey Prep School, 560 Thieriot Avenue, will now go to the Archimedes Academy of Math, 456 White Plains Road. And residents for the Manhattan College Draddy Hall location, at 4513 Manhattan Coll Parkway, will now vote at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, located at 3700 Henry Hudson Parkway.

The red balloons on the map represent the new polling locations. The blue ballons signify the former sites.

To find out your polling location, check the Board of Elections’ poll site locator.


View Three Bronx Polling Locations Changed Due to Sandy in a larger map

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Newswire, Politics0 Comments

Before, During and After: Bronxites React to Hurricane Sandy

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Housing, Multimedia, Transportation0 Comments

Bronx Muslim Leaders Aim to End “Destructive Talk”

The president of the Parkchester mosque on White Plains Road spoke gently and firmly one September morning from his office behind the spacious third-floor prayer room. “Now people are trying to explain it a different way,” said Mohammed Mayeez Uddin, referring to the incendiary, anti-Islam movie trailer that had rocked YouTube two weeks earlier.

“We are not a modern Muslim. We are just Muslim,” said Uddin, of his fellow worshipers in the James Masjid. Next to his office stood a row of blue-tiled fountains where members cleanse their hands before prayer.

The clumsy video called “Innocence of Muslims” had mocked the Prophet Muhammed as a fool and a womanizer. Media attention to the universally condemned film coincided with an attack in Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador. The riotous protests in response to the film and U.S. foreign policy were still making headlines at the time.

Muslim leaders in the Bronx like Uddin felt compelled to emphasize the vast gap between peaceful followers of Islam in the Bronx, and the violent extremists elsewhere. It is not easy to quantify precisely how many Muslims live in the Bronx because of incomplete national and local data on religion.  But in a borough that added 16 Islamic congregations and 26,342 adherents between 2000 and 2010 and has its own online news site devoted to covering issues relevant to Muslims in New York City, Islam is its fastest-growing religion.

Most Islamic leaders there responded to the recent violent eruptions overseas with a mixture of dismay, embarrassment, and deep concern over the world’s lack of understanding of their religion. “Forcefully, we cannot do everything,” Uddin said, shaking his head at the violent protests. He spoke haltingly, but deliberately. “You have to be peaceful.”

To that end, Uddin does not allow what he calls “destructive talk” about politics and protests in the name of faith at the Parkchester mosque where nearly all 5,000 members are originally from Bangladesh. He said he has occasionally thrown out members who have brought up the subjects. The most recent time was after the “Innocence” video gained attention. One of the mosque’s members tried to organize other parishioners in a protest.

“I just told him, ‘please leave,’” Uddin said.

Vincent Rada, a paralegal and Muslim living in Parkchester, said local reactions and conversations did not gain enough media focus.

Of the dozen Muslims interviewed in the three weeks following the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — which is around the time “Innocence of Muslims” gained notoriety — most expressed a similar dismay at the offensive video.

It’s an image of their religion, most said, that has nothing to do with their own lives and their personal experience with Islam. Because of that, Pakistan-born Mohammed Jan, president of Mabni Masjid in Morris Park, was more upset than angry when the video emerged.

“Our religion, Islam, teaches us strongly peace, love, prosperity — and respect,” Jan said. “I mean, in the other world, there are so many demonstrations going on,” he said, referring to and distancing himself and his fellow community members from their native countries. “At some point, it’s embarrassing for us.”

Mohammed Jan, president of Mabni Masjid in Morris Park in the Bronx, says it’s too easy to generalize “Muslim reactions” toward their faith. (SONIA PAUL/ The Bronx Ink)

Mohammed Jan, President of Mabni Masjid in Morris Park in the Bronx, expressed his frustration with the anti-Islam New York City subway ads, which gained attention following the viral YouTube video.

Many Muslims in the Bronx were hesitant to discuss their views openly or have their pictures taken. Instead, they preferred to have their imams, or religious leaders, speak on their behalf. The imams, in turn, suggested mosque presidents as speakers for the community.

Discussions aside, statistics reveal the population is growing.  Figures from the 2010 U.S. Religion Census estimate the Bronx is home to 38,506 Muslims. Before 2000, the religion census didn’t distinguish Islam as a major religion in the Bronx.

The Muslim community includes people from countries as diverse as Albania, Mali and the Unites States itself, as well as South Asian nations. The number of residents from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, three of the top four countries with the most number of Muslims (the fourth is Indonesia), has risen from 17,992 in 2000 to 25,587 in 2010. The Bangladeshi population alone grew by 333 percent.

The population of Africans in the Bronx has also grown considerably: The most recent U.S. census estimates that from 1990 to 2010, the number of sub-Saharan Africans grew from 12,063 to around 70,000. Residents estimate about 75 percent of Africans in the Bronx are Muslim.

Mabni Masjid’s mixed community of devotees embodies this influx of new residents in a community where people have also lived their whole lives. It serves a large Pakistani population, as well as patrons from countries like Bangladesh, Egypt and Morocco. Several African Americans and people from African countries come as well, Jan said.

Like Parkchester James Masjid, Mabni Masjid has strict rules regarding what people say in the mosque. People come there to pray. This separation between religion and politics means that discussions of current events occur outside the mosque, in quieter conversations rather than in public demonstrations.

Mamadou Sy, who is originally from Mali, wishes the media would show a more comprehensive range of Muslim reactions instead of just the extremist ones.

It provides strong contrast from the violent eruptions abroad that confused foreign policy and politics with actual faith.

“Unfortunately, I think media has been the unwitting amplifier of what could have been a very small issue,” wrote Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, in an email. “Compared to the mass protests of the Arab Spring, demonstrations against the film were minuscule, and even fewer of those who showed up carried out violence.”

The role of free speech in perpetuating the insulting portrayal of the Prophet Muhammed was one of the more pressing concerns in the Bronx. Valencia Johnson, 39, an African-American nurse and Bronx native, received text messages from friends asking her to boycott YouTube and Google in protest, since Google, which owns YouTube, hasn’t taken down the video in the U.S.

“We’re more quiet here,” Johnson said in an interview in September. “We’re not going so far and burning flags and doing stuff like that,” she said, referring to the looting, rioting and burning of American flags and effigies of President Barack Obama in several countries.

“We’re just trying to do what we can through our community here,” said Johnson, whose shimmery lime-green and pink eye shadow matched the colors of her hijab. “Don’t go to this website.”

Bronx native Valencia Johnson recounts how people expected her to react to the YouTube video because of her Muslim faith.

Other interviews in the Bronx hint that immigration, the economy and the increased scrutiny on Muslims after 9/11 influenced decisions to even react to the video.

Palestinian immigrant Musab Ahmed, who came to New York five years ago, said he could understand why some people were so angry. But he did not feel inclined to do much in response, nor did anyone else seem to expect anything from him.

“Right now, the economy’s really bad,” Ahmed said as he prepared hot falafels in the Hunts Point food cart he now owns. His dark hair was concealed underneath a black, stocking-like cap. “People have their own problems to think about.”

He said no one’s ever been rude or suspicious of him because of  his faith.

Ahmed’s experience reflects a growing trend among first generation Muslim Americans. A 2011 Pew opinion poll reported that life has become more difficult for them since 9/11, but they haven’t experienced any increased hostility in the immediate wake of the terrorist attacks. What they are concerned about, however, is extremism within Islam.

It is a loaded topic in the Bronx, where three Muslim men were convicted last year for a 2009 plot to blow up synagogues in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. The men had planted fake bombs at two different locations. They had received the fake bombs from an FBI informant.

Ibrahim Ramey, who works for the Highbridge-based Muslim Women’s Institute for Research and Development, said people are concerned with extremism, particularly how it affects impressionable young people. But that in itself is not the most pressing issue.

Indeed, all the Muslims interviewed distanced themselves from extreme views, both regarding their religion and the reactions to the “Innocence of Muslims.” But most of them agreed people still did not understand the faith.

“I think we need to have a more nuanced view of how Islam is,” Ramey said.


A select timeline of local and global reactions to the “Innocence of Muslims” video:

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Culture, Multimedia0 Comments

Drive-by Wi-Fi Coming to a Project Near You

A black van marked “Going Digital” in bold orange letters parked conspicuously  in front of the James Monroe housing project in Soundview one October morning.

The rare passerby who dared to knock on the door discovered a computer lab on wheels inside, with eight new laptops, broadband access, printers, and instructors at the ready to teach digital literacy.

This van and one other like it are part of a pilot project launched by the Housing Authority in February to help bring digital access to low-income New Yorkers.   The truck drivers travel to different neighborhoods in New York, including nine housing projects in the Bronx, offering free Wi-Fi and computer use from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The federal Broadband Technology Opportunities grant funds one van, while the city’s Housing Authority supports the other one.

The service is meant to help close the digital divide that is felt hard in low-income neighborhoods. “Let’s say people need to fill out food stamps or fill out an application for social security or for a job,” said Carmen Medina, 27, a digital van instructor who visits Castle Hill and Soundview in the Bronx. “And let’s say they don’t have the Internet, they don’t have a computer. To eliminate that despair, we have provided them with this.”

So far, use of the vans is hit or miss. Some days as many as a dozen people make use of the service, while other days no one comes knocking.

The “kind-of slow” days may be due to lack of publicity, said Anthony Gonzalez, assistant instructor and digital van driver.

Officials in the Housing Authority believe another factor might be at play. “If people believed in the value of the Internet, they would be on it already,” said Atti Riazi, chief technology advisor for the New York City Housing Authority. “So we are salespeople as well, teaching them the value of the Internet.”



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A laptop inside New York City Housing Authority's digital van, Sept. 10, 2012. The digital vans are part of a pilot project to help get more low-income people online. (Sonia Paul/ The Bronx Ink).

A 2011 U.S. Department of Commerce report shows a significant income gap between those who are connected with broadband at home, and those who are not. About 43 percent of people who earn between $15,000 and $25,000 have Internet connections at home. The figure is 75 percent for those who earn between $50,000 and $75,000.

The average family income in New York public housing is $22,824. Around 60 percent of homes in public housing developments are connected, Riazi said. Although people often access Internet through mobile devices, it’s no substitute for the kind of productive work the Housing Authority hopes to help people do.

The idea is to help with job searches and research. But Medina said Facebook and games tend to dominate Internet use among the people who frequent the van.

Projects to bring “drive-by Wi-Fi” exist in some developing countries like India, but Diane Chehab, an information technology specialist who works for New York Housing Authority, said this mobile Wi-Fi program is the only one she knows of in the United States. The program is not expensive, she said, but funding is a concern — the grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities program lasts through 2013.

Chehab said around 700 people have frequented the mobile computer labs since the program’s inception in February. The first van is busier than the second one, which was added to the program in June. Officials expect more patrons with time.

Until then, the Housing Authority is considering putting flyers advertising the vans directly in residents’ rent invoices to increase their use.

On Sept. 17, a group of four children — a 10-year-old, two 11-year-olds and a 14-year- old — visited the van at its station in front of Castle Hill Houses. They spent an hour and a half playing games on Facebook and watching anime and parodies of the “Gangnam Style” Korean music video online.

But earlier in the morning, two adults visited the van.

“They were in their 40s, and they wanted to learn how to sign up for an email account,” Medina said. “So I helped them set up their first emails.”



Posted in Culture, Education, Featured, Housing0 Comments

City Seeks Bronx Residents’ Views on Greenways

Cyclists get ready to survey the Bronx. (Sonia Paul/ The Bronx Ink)

Groups of cyclists aren’t a common sight in the South Bronx, especially on a blistering, late-summer day.

But on Aug. 26, community advocates from the Bronx River Alliance, Transportation Alternatives, Bronx Health Reach and other local organizations gathered on the corner of Whitlock Avenue and Westchester Avenue with helmets on their heads and their bicycles by their sides.

Their mission was to document the conditions on the roads linking Hunts Point Riverside Park, Concrete Plant Park and the soon-to-be-opened Starlight Park. For years, these groups have been asking the city’s Departments of Transportation and City Planning to improve the greenways within the parks. Now, city officials finally seem to be paying attention — and in an ongoing series of meetings, they’ve been asking the community firsthand what they want for the greenways.

Concrete Plant Park has been open to the public since 2009, and Hunts Point Riverside Park since 2007, but the community groups say both parks need upgrading.

View Current Conditions on the Bronx River Greenways in a larger map

“A part of the issue is that the on-street connections haven’t been properly connected,” said Devona Sharpe, greenway coordinator for the Bronx River Alliance. “And the condition of the street itself, it’s not inviting to users.”

The most direct path connecting the three different parks follows a north-south route along the Bronx River, with a U-turn around the busy Bruckner Expressway. From Hunts Point Riverside Park to Starlight Park, pedestrians and cyclists have to navigate through difficult terrain simply to get from one street to the next, as well as from one park to the next. Tree roots pushing through cracked sidewalks, shards of glass on the road and nonexistent bike lanes are just some of the physical barriers on the roads.

Though greenways exist inside the parks, they don’t fit into the grander scheme of urban planning in the area, said Linda R. Cox, executive director and Bronx River administrator of the Bronx River Alliance, at a community meeting on Sept. 6, after the cyclists documented the conditions on the roads.

“The greenway isn’t just about the parks,” she said at the meeting. “It really is about what we do on the streets.”

Staffers from the city’s Department of Transportation were also present to show their plans for the greenway and take comments and suggestions. According to Scott Gastell, spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, city planners have been working on a greenway proposal for the past three years. Their priority is to make the greenway more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists, but they must consider the large number of vehicles that cross the area every day.

Figuring out how to negotiate access for pedestrians and cyclists is a growing issue in the Bronx, where vehicles dominate the roads. In 2010, 169,550 vehicles traveled daily in both directions on the Sheridan Expressway, according to traffic volume reports from the state Department of Transportation. The number of vehicles passing through Westchester Avenue the same year was 108,770. To get to Starlight Park, which is scheduled to open this fall, residents and visitors must navigate both roads.

At the Sept. 6 meeting, representatives from the Department of Transportation said they are planning to visit local community boards in the next couple of months to gather more opinions on their greenway proposal before they submit it for official city approval.

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Southern Bronx, Transportation0 Comments

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