Bronx Community Solutions staff picnic 2014

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Financial Literacy

"Have you ever had a credit card?"

A little while ago I had a chance to talk to folks from NEDAP about what kind of trainings and service referrals we could offer our clients. They suggested I begin by asking one or two simple questions during our intake process about our clients' histories and experiences using credit and financial products. Read More...

Nedap (Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project) is a great resource and advocacy organization that works to enhance financial justice in low-income communities and communities of color. They partner extensively with neighborhood associations and groups to provide in-depth training on financial literacy and develop coalitions to advocate against predatory financial practices. Check out their website for more information about the reports and trainings they have available as well as links to other New York and national organizations.

Don't miss this article from the New York Times a few weeks ago: Cash to Get By Is Still Pawnshop’s Stock in Trade. It's a long and mostly sympathetic profile of pawnshops as a neighborhood financial institution. This map (click here to enlarge) from the article shows that the largest concentration of pawnshops in New York City are in the South Bronx and Upper Manhattan. Notice the large clump around the Fordham Road area in the Bronx - the busiest retail commercial hub in the Borough.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Update: Judicial Elections

In a previous post about The Process is the Punishment, I noted that author Malcolm Feeley placed great emphasis on the role of political patronage in organization and decision-making process of courts and wondered how much of a role that factor still played. This month we had a Surrogates Court race in Brooklyn (a position historically assocated with patronage). Recent scandals in Brooklyn have resulted in resignations and the imprisonments of at least one judge as well as the County Democratic Party leader. Many of the scandals focused on accusations that judicial candidates were forced to "buy" their seats from political leaders. Read More to find out what was the outcome of the race.

Well, the "reform" candidate beat the "party" candidate in the September 18 Democratic primary. A closer read of the candidates histories indicates that both have ties to the local political establishment. Nonetheless Shawndya Simpson promoted a more reform minded agenda and was endorsed by more independent good government and reform groups. Here is a good explanation of the race on Gotham Gazette (and some other judicial elections around the city).

The New York Times quoted one Democratic political consultant as saying: "The Brooklyn Democratic Party, though it’s the largest [county organization in the state], hasn’t been a strong unified machine since the days of Meade Esposito,” who led the Brooklyn Democratic Party for a quarter century until he retired in 1983.

New Update (10/05/2007): The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today in a case challenging the process for selecting judicial candidates as being to tightly controlled by political parties. Although two lower courts found that the current process is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court appears unlikely to overturn the current system.

From the New York Times: "The lead plaintiff is Margarita López Torres, now the Brooklyn Surrogate Court judge, who as an elected Civil Court judge tried unsuccessfully to get the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s backing to run for State Supreme Court. She had angered party leaders by refusing to make patronage appointments." Full Article, and background.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Update: Sen. Craig Case Goes to Court Today

As reported by the Associated Press (in the New York Times), Senator Craig's lawyers are appearing in court today to challenge his guilty plea. You can read a complete transcript of his motion here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Paradise Theater

The Paradise Theater was known for being extravagant and grandiose back in 1929 when it originally opened. It's one of the largest and most famous theaters from the era of ornate movie palaces, one of the five original "Loew's Wonder Theaters" in the New York City area - and it's a symbol of the Bronx's glory days. It was closed for over a decade, but now it's been meticuliously restored and it reopened in 2005. Recently Bronx Community Solutions got to play its own role in rehabilitating this landmark. Read More....

Bronx Borough President, Carrion felt the theater needed a little "face lift" on the outside. From years of the theater just sitting there, parts of the building became covered with a lot of grafitti. Carrion was driving by the historic theater one day and thought, "this is terrible!" so he asked Bronx Community Solutions to adopt the project. Our crew painted over a half block of graffiti covered walls, and while our crew was working, a representative from State Senator Jose Serrano Jr.'s office stopped by to have a look (as well as the local NYPD Community Affairs team).

Located right in the bustling Fordham Road shopping district, the Paradise is a highly visible symbol that the "Bronx is rising" as a social, cultural and economic center.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Larry Craig and Due Process

It's reported that Idaho Senator Larry Craig has hired a high powered legal team to try to overturn his guilty plea for soliciting an undercover officer in a Minneapolis airport bathroom, though his chances of succeeding are apparently slim. It appears he'll challenge his arrest, but I wonder if he'll also challenge the circumstances of his plea.

In some states, people can resolve criminal cases without showing up in court at all (which is what Sen. Craig did). Sometimes this is a way to avoid the embarrassment of a public court appearance. The practice raises some interesting questions about due process. Read More.

Sen. Craig entered a guilty plea by mail, without an appearance before a judge or the benefit of counsel, to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct and a sentence of a fine and one year unsupervised probation. You can view a copy of the two-page plea agreement that he signed, courtesy of the Associated Press. To my knowledge, no comparable arrangement exists in New York City - it's not possible to enter such a plea without appearing in person before a judge and usually being represented by counsel. I wonder which process Sen. Craig would have preferred?

Of course, the senator is far from a "typical" defendant in a minor criminal case. I wonder what kind of court process most people would prefer? Some of our clients are frustrated and confused by by their experience in court, unsure about what they've pled guilty to, and angry about the circumstances of their arrest. They're usually very vocal, and we take the time to listen to them and answer their questions. The emerging theory of procedural justice states that transparency, explanations of how decisions are made, and the chance for defendants to express "their side of the story" all increase perceived legitimacy of the process and the likelihood that defendants will comply.

However, Malcolm Feeley presents a different view in The Process is the Punishment. He argues that for the average criminal defendant, the perceived costs of a criminal conviction don't seem as serious as the collateral costs of a court case: lost days of work and missed appointments, the cost of hiring a lawyer, childcare, and in some cases the possibility of pre-trial detention. Feeley proposes the possibility that most defendants facing minor criminal charges would prefer a traffic court-like process that sacrifices due process for efficiency. He suggests that even though some defendants may have plausible alibis or reasonable basis for challenging the evidence against them, they prefer a system that might permit more errors but minimizes their appearances in court and involvement with the system.

I wonder how defendants, judges and attorneys in the Bronx and elsewhere view this question. Is there a point where the collateral costs of too much due process outweigh the benefits for many defendants? Is there minimum amount of process without which essential rights are not protected and checks on the police to prevent false arrests are not in place? And where does Bronx Community Solutions fit in? We try to make our procedures simple and efficient for our clients. At the same time, we weigh the benefit of a more meaningful sentence to the defendant, the courts, and the community, and the importance of ensuring and verifying compliance with court mandates.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bronx Food Gems

One economic development strategy promoted by Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion is a campaign to get more Bronx restaurants listed in the Zagat guide. Editor Tim Zagat took a tour of the borough's food spots with Carrion, and the Borough President's office has been coordinating a campaign to encourage Bronx diners to participate in the voting process that determines listings in the guide. Click Here for a great discussion of Bronx food on the website Chowhound.

Recently, this lively discussion of hidden gems in the Bronx erupted on the foodie website Chowhound. From established eateries to food carts and hole-in-the-wall lunch counters readers have compiled an impressive guide to out-of-the-way and lesser known food choices in the Bronx (including a side discussion of Yankee Stadium/ Courthouse area options). It gives a great sense of the neighborhood and ethnic diversity in the Bronx. Thanks to West Bronx Blog for spotting the thread. Does anyone have a Bronx food gem to add to the list?

On a related note, according to economic development organizations like the New York Industrial Retention Network, specialty ethnic food production is a growth industry for New York that's moving into old manufacturing areas (like parts of the Bronx). New York's multitude of immigrant communities makes a great incubator for new ethnic food products.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

NYT: Change in approach to gang problem

According to this article from the New York Times today, policy makers and law enforcement leaders in jurisdictions such as Los Angelos and Texas that pioneered hard-hitting anti-gang tactics in the nineties (which included laws prohibiting two or more gang suspects from congregating in a public place, broad sweeps of suspects, and long jail sentences for gang-related crimes) think those tactics may have worsened the problems they were meant to solve by alienating poor communities from the police and hardening juvenile delinquents into serious criminals. Now, they're focusing their strategies and funding priorities on prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation. For an interesting example of what that means to the court system, and a question about the issue of culture read more.

The article cites an example of a young man, 16, who was arrested for possesing a knife at his local public school, and then arrested a second time for being high on marijuana at his alternative state school. It was only after these arrests that he decided to join a gang and commit an unarmed robbery along with several other young men. These types of charges are viewed as "minor" within the courts. While media attention and decision-making is driven by high profile killings, it is the response that the justice system makes to these low-level criminal offenses that might have the biggest impact on the gang problem.

The article also raises the issue of culture. Officials and community leaders are quoted wondering how police and communities should react when young people who are not necessarily gang affiliated wear gang style clothing and make gang gestures.

For more on the topic, the website of the National Gang Center (a joint project between between the Office of Justice Programs’ (OJP) Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is a good resource.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

This Sunday, Bronx Community Solutions experimented with a new kind of community service. We met our clients first thing in the morning and transported them onto Randalls Island to volunteer at the Farm Aid concert - an annual charity concert to benefit family farmers that's been running for over 20 years and was held here in New York City this year. Read more... After we arrived at the event and checked everybody in, our clients received a short training from John Johnson of the Council on the Environment of New York City on compostables, recyclables, and how to set up a recycling station, and then were given a Farm Aid t-shirt to wear while they were volunteering. CENYC was partnering with Farm Aid to make sure that all the trash generated at the event was composted or recycled. Then we went into the concert venue and spread out. Our clients worked in pairs to set up stations and then show people how to separate and properly dispose of their trash.

For our clients, volunteering at the event was a chance to improve their people skills and do something proactive - helping people to properly dispose of their trash instead of cleaning up a park or a street that's already been trashed. For us it was a chance to provide some manpower and help out a great organization that we'd like to partner with more. We've been helping CENYC put on recycling outreach events in the South Bronx (an area of the city that has some of the lowest recycling rates). CENYC also has extensive experience providing material support to community gardens and community greening groups, running the City's Green Market program, training students to improve conditions in their neighborhood that impact public safety and quality of life (by doing things like identifying leaking fire hydrants, clogged catch basins, noisy subways, exposed street lamp wiring and other hazardous conditions and reporting them to the appropriate agencies, then monitoring conditions to make sure they improve) and we'd love to benefit from their expertise.