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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New Blog: Crown Heights Community Mediation Center

The staff at the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center have been blogging for a few months. Their site is chock full of news, goings-on, and resources. If you have an interest in the diverse communities of Central Brooklyn, community mediation, or a day in the life of a neighborhood storefront resource center, be sure to check it out. Click here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Community Service Stories

For a while now, Bronx Community Solutions has been bringing a few of our clients to the Bryant Community Garden in Hunts Point each week to work with the gardener there, Ms. Lucy Hernandez, as their community service sentence. Recently, Ms. Hernandez shared a little bit of her story with our Coordinator of Community Service, Moises Reyes, and gave us permission to share it here:

Before moving into the Hunts Point area of the Bronx, I had lived on Theriot Ave, in the Tremont section, for 23 years. Then I became a gypsy for approximately a year, staying from house to house and I also lived in a shelter for a short time.

Then I had a breakthrough and I found a basement garden apartment approximately six years ago. The back yard was such a mess so I started cleaning and taking out weeds. I felt the feeling of achievement that I could create such a beautiful flower and vegetable garden that it brought me so much joy and happiness. I found that I could have so much tranquility just sitting and looking at the garden. The beauty just amazed me.

But after just four years, the owner decided to sell the house and I had just six weeks to find a new apartment and just by grace of God, and mind you I am not religious, I found a apartment in the Hunts Point area of the Bronx. I became a member of Bryant Hill Community Garden in March of 2007 and its been a roller-coaster ride ever since.

Recently I started looking into exactly which tribe lived in the area of Hunts Point, but I had some difficulties finding the information. I thought that they were the Lenapi natives. At last just this week, I was able to get in contact with a well known writer/historian Mr. Evan Pritchard, he told me that the native tribe that lived in the Hunts Point Area were the Siwanoy. "The Siwanoy are closer to the Wappingers and were probably more Mohican than Lenapi, but all are "Delawarian Culture".

What is most interesting was that I had heard that Taino's , which I am a descendant of, once came to this land and traded with the natives of this land. Mr. Pritchard just confirmed this and he states "The Wappingers in general show strong Taino traits in their "Classon Point" physical culture after 1300".

I am elated with this information, because as a Taino native from Boriken I have been following my culture by representing myself at Native American Pow Wow and learning the Taino culture (of course a lot of our culture was taken from us). I have been getting into the arts by painting, making Tainos feather headdress, Taino clothing and just about any thing Taino.

I've been connecting myself not just physically but also spiritually with this beautiful Garden. I have had a lot of help from Bronx Community Solutions and the great people you have sent me to help to repair and maintain the structures and the garden's integrity and I thank you very much for all your help.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Those Orange Vests

Participants with Bronx Community Solutions own service program, "Crew 1" usually wear orange safety vests. We find that they're useful for safety, supervision, and most importantly for making community justice visible - so people can see that offenders are "paying back" in their own neighborhood.

Apparently jurisdictions in Great Britain are introducing the practice (starting today) and it has both vocal supporters and detractors. UPI has now picked the story up:


"Brits get bibs for community service"

LONDON, Nov. 28 (UPI) -- The British Ministry of Justice said criminals sentenced to perform community service will be required to wear identifying orange bibs starting Monday.

Officials said the high visibility bibs, which will be required for convicts performing physical labor, will bear the words "community payback" on the front and back to make clear to the public that they are performing court-ordered service hours, The Times of London reported Friday.

"We will be launching the jackets on Monday. We agree with the public, who strongly believe that justice must be done, but also seen to be done," the Ministry of Justice said in a statement.

The new community payback uniforms were recommended by Louise Casey, the former head of the British government's Respect Task Force, as part of a plan to boost public confidence in the British justice system.

However, the move was sharply criticized by the National Association of Probation Officers, which said the identifying bibs would leave the convicts open to vigilante attacks.

"NAPO believes that making the individuals more prominent will increase the risk of violent attacks and provocation," the association said in a statement. "In addition, negative reaction by individuals forced to wear the labeled clothing may lead to either aggressive responses to the requirement or refusal to work."

Here's coverage on the BBC.

Here's an editorial in the Gaurdian.

And an article in the Herald & Post.

I asked a few folks with experience supervising offenders performing community service what they thought. Have a look at their opinions in the comments section of this post.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Testing the Broken Windows Theory


A report in this week's Economist explains that researchers in the Netherlands deliberately created controled settings as a series of field experiments designed to discover if signs of vandalism, litter and low-level lawbreaking could change the way people behave.
They found that they could, by a lot: doubling the number who are prepared to litter, trespass, or steal.
According to the Economist, the message for policymakers and police officers is that clearing up graffiti or littering promptly could help fight the spread of crime. Read more here. A full report on the experiment's findings is published in the current issue of the journal Science (subscription req'd).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reclaiming Futures Everyday

This new blog just launched a few weeks ago: Reclaiming Futures Everyday.

The Reclaiming Futures campaign is a leader in the field of juvenile justice reform and teen drug treatment. This blog already has a wealth of useful information, and since it's drawing on the combined expertise of more than a dozen Reclaiming Futures sites and a great editorial team, I'm sure there's more good stuff to come.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Next Crisis For Cities? Part II

The current issue of Geography and Public Safety examines the relationship between the foreclosure crisis and crime trends. Very good reading. Thanks to Julius Lang for the link.

"In this issue, Michael Bess of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department describes a study his department conducted to examine foreclosures and their consequences in the Charlotte area. Erin Dalton, of the Department of Human Services in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, discusses how geographic information systems can be used to advise policy decisions related to the foreclosure crisis.

Several news stories in this issue provide an overview of how the foreclosure crisis has brought on problems in many cities across the nation. These stories highlight the difficulties that city governments have faced rebuilding neighborhoods in the wake of financial crises and describe the negative results of predatory lending.

The issue also uses the broken windows theory to demonstrate that cities experiencing blight and disorder as a result of foreclosures should react quickly, before the problem escalates. An article by Louis Tuthill of the National Institute of Justice describes the basics of what this theory entails, and a technical piece by Phil Mielke of the Redlands (California) Police Department demonstrates how to use geographic information systems to invigorate efforts to remove blight and graffiti in a city. Finally, Kurt Smith of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department provides a practitioners’ review of a new book that examines the theories of broken windows and collective efficacy from the vantage point of hardcore criminals."

Click Here for a PDF of the full issue.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What now?

Worsening conditions across the international economy, the US economy, the local economy, and individual and household finances: economic stress seems to be on people's minds everywhere you look. Here are some resources that people can use in their own lives.

NEDAP, the Neighborhood Economic Development and Advocacy Project.

Bethex, designed as an alternative to pawnshops and check cashing stores, they operate a Main Branch in Mt. Hope, and a Mott Haven Branch in the Bronx Empowerment Zone.

Workforce 1, the city's main resource for job seekers.

Access NYC (Back-up link), this easy-to-use website helps you determine which government benefits you might be eligible for.

New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, Office of Financial Empowerment, a wealth of resources for managing and getting control over your personal finances.

And, here are some tips for getting organized.

As a city, we'll have to choose even more carefully how we use our limited resources. Here are a few documents for understanding the New York City Budget.

The short version: Understanding New York City's Budget. For more about the City and State budget, Read More.

My favorite thing about that document is a chart that compares the cost of different budget priorities. Here's how far $10 million goes towards a variety of different services - that amount would allow you to choose from one of any of the following:

Child Care: 1,300 subsidized day care slots (about 61,000 children enrolled in Administration for Children’s Services programs)

Education: 95 teachers (the city employs about 73,000 teachers)

Employment: 8,700 summer jobs for youth (about 20 percent of all jobs)

Fire: 23 new fire engines (there are a total of 205 fire engines)

Health: 200 school nurses (the city employs about 1,000 school nurses)

Homeless Services: 302 homeless family shelter units for a year (about 3 percent of the cost of sheltering families annually)

Libraries: 193 librarians (total of 1,292 librarians employed throughout system)

Parks: 250 city park workers (about 70 percent of full-time park maintenance workers)

Police: 125 police officers per year (the city employs about 36,000 police officers)

Prisons/Corrections: Incarcerating the average daily population of roughly 14,000 inmates in city jails for about 3 days

Public Assistance: The city portion of the annual Family Assistance grant for 4,800 families of three (there are about 87,000 families receiving Family Assistance)

Sanitation: 11 days of disposable of residential garbage

Seniors: 1.4 million lunches at senior centers (about 20 percent of center lunches served annually)

Street Resurfacing: 112 lane-miles of city streets (about 15 percent of total lane-miles resurfaced each year)

Tax Relief: Personal Income Tax savings of $4.80 per NYC taxpayer (on average)

And here is a separate guide to the capital budget: A Guide to the Capital Budget. Here is a breakdown of how far $10 million goes in the capital budget:

Housing: 100 units of housing for the homeless mentally ill

Transit: 6 high technology subway cars/25 hybrid diesel-electric buses

Sanitation: 54 dual-bin recycling trucks

Fire: 11 ladder trucks

Education: 7 classrooms

Transportation: Resurfacing 100 lane-miles of city streets

Environment: 8,000 feet of water mains (new construction)

Here is an interesting tool on the Gov. David Paterson has made available on the web. He wants to encourage the public to participate in a conversation on the choices that are required to reduce State spending. To that end, he has set up a Budget Calculator. It lets you play around with the numbers, adjusting each budget category and then submit your proposal for eliminating the State's budget gap. I've heard that some advocates don't like it because it only lets you make suggestions for spending reductions, and doesnt allow recommendations for increases in revenue. But I think the way the calculator is set up reflects Paterson's view that New York State, must reduce spending.

Finally, here is the detailed version of the City budget: the City's Budget Function Analysis document, and associated Mayor's Management Reports.

It's almost 500 pages, not counting the Management Reports, but once you start to figure out your way around the document, you can find out stated purpose and activity of each of the city's thousands of separate divisions, commands, bureaus and offices and exactly how many budgeted personnel and costs are assigned to each activity.

For example, the city budgeted $5.9 million and 130 positions for Parks Department activities across the city related to its PlanNYC initiative, and proposed to increase those allocations to $10.6 million and 140 positions for the upcoming fiscal year. In comparison, it budgeted $47.4 million and 59 positions for the Parks Opportunity Program, which provides employment opportunities in maintenance, security, and repair across the city for those entering the workforce, and will hold spending on the program virtually flat in the upcoming year.

For basic operations in the Bronx, Maintenance and Operations, "responsible for the maintenance, security and repair of all parks properties, vehicles and facilities in the Bronx, including municipal parkland," is budgeted at $25.2 million and 327 positions, and spending is planned to be reduced substantially, while keeping the head count the same, but making slight reductions to personnel costs, and substantially reducing other than personnel costs, bringing overall spending down to $19.2 million. For administration in the Bronx, the city budgets $2.7 million and 40 positions, which it will keep essentially unchanged in the budget for the upcoming year.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The next crisis for cities?

I'm wondering what effect the foreclosure crisis will have on public safety in New York and other cities...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

165.15

It's the code for the criminal charge of fare evasion, and it's a charge we see a lot of at Bronx Community Solutions. We frequently speak to clients who were arrested for entering the subway system without paying, and who often also had an open warrant for some other minor charge.

Yesterday two undercover officers where shot with their own service weapons during a scuffle in a Long Island City subway station while they were arresting an individual for fare evasion. A similar incident occured a few months ago here in the Bronx, near the 4 Train station at Jerome and 167th Street.

According to the New York Times, Officers Seeking Fare Evaders Often Find Worse Crimes. The article from today's New York Times provides a detailed statistical breakdown and description of NYPD operations to address fare beating and other misconduct in the subway system. According to an NYPD spokesperson, “We have had tremendous success in identifying arrested individuals wanted for other crimes by suppressing fare evasion.”

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bronx Times: "The Positive Side of Crime"

From the Bronx Times, Serving Throggs Neck and neighboring communities (to view the article directly, go here):

by Amanda Marinaccio
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The courts are finding a new way to give back to the community, turning punishment into production.

On Tuesday, September 30, a group of young adults, charged with non-violent offenses, were assigned to clean up graffiti at several locations along E. Tremont Avenue, as part of the Bronx Community Solutions program.

This is an organization geared towards finding alternative solutions to non-violent offenses, rather than jail sentencing. The goal is to turn punishments into beneficial learning experiences and provide helpful services to the Bronx community.

“They go to all the precincts in the borough and set up a schedule every month,” said officer Pasquale Pappalardi of the 45th Precinct, “or if something comes up and I can’t get assistance from another office I will request they come in to help.”

The locations painted were areas chosen by Pappalardi, whose specializes in crime prevention. There are buildings and areas picked out by the police themselves or that may have had complaints submitted against them through community members.

The photos taken to report the graffiti are the most important key to resolving the graffiti problem according to Pappalardi, who is able to keep track of ‘tags’ through the photographs to further investigate and prevent these crimes.

“The purpose of graffiti is territorial, who owns the turf first. The whole idea is to represent your crew, in other words what team you are on,” explains Pappalardi.

The group had mixed feelings regarding the service they were providing for the community; some feeling that graffiti cleanup should extend throughout the entire Bronx.

“I would rather do this than be locked up in jail,” said Eddie Hogan, 18, who was serving one day of community service for his offense. “I don’t know why we are doing this area though, this is a nice area, and there are a lot of other places that need to be taken care of.”

Other participants felt that this was a positive alternative and appreciated the outreach programs gears to assist them further in attaining a job or continuing to help their communities.

“If you don’t ask and apply yourself, they are not going to help you,” explains Litza Velazquez, who felt her community service had a positive impact. “A lot of people just complain, they don’t realize people just don’t hand things to you. This group will help you with whatever you need, you just have to apply yourself.”

According to a representative from Councilman James Vacca’s office, there are many options out there to help with community cleanup, for anyone wishing to volunteer, including the ‘adopt a mailbox’ program from the U.S. Post Office. The ultimate goal of all these programs is to have the community unite to ensure a cleaner environment for all.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Great Press for Problem-Solving

Problem-solving justice got some great press this week. Here's an A1 article in the New York Times on the continued growth of Drug Courts.

And yesterday, the Center For Court Innovation's own Sharon Ife Charles and the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center were profiled in the Daily News in their "Big Town Big Dreams: Stories about immigrant New Yorkers who make this town the great place it is" series. Here's the article: "We are not going to sing Kumbaya"

Monday, October 13, 2008

Exploring

I took this picture of the old Penn Central Railroad property in the Bronx on Thursday. Penn Central went bankrupt in 1970. It was actually the first company to receive a big federal bailout.


Some of the railyards stretching from 149th the 161st are still active. But in the area where I took this picture a huge housing development (Concourse Village) and a shopping center have been built on concrete platforms over the old yard. Another housing complex that's been built over the railyards is this one.

We met with the owner and a site foreman who are planning to remove the dumping and graffiti that's been done over the years and renovate the space to provide parking and warehouse space. It was a fascinating to explore this cavernous, eerie urban jungle. It would have made a perfect scene for a Batman movie, a surreal urban dystopia.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Mural Arts Program

The Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month. The program, which began as an anti-graffiti project in 1984, has produced more than 2,800 murals throughout the city, many covering whole walls of row houses in low-income neighborhoods, and it has won praise for building civic pride and helping to heal racial divisions. Read full coverage in the New York Times the here.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Word on the street

A New York Times reporter interviewed people in the South Bronx, in one of America's poorest congressional districts, about their opinions on the proposed bailout of the financial industry. You can watch the video here. Jose Serrano, who represents the South Bronx in the House of Representatives was the only New York City congressman to vote against the bill.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

More Criminal Justice Blogs

Yesterday I had the chance to chat for a little while with a guy named Benjamin Chambers, who is preparing to launch a blog for the Reclaiming Futures campaign at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. We talked about blogging on public policy and the field of criminal justice innovation (in this case, juvenile justice innovation in particular). He suggested a few great blogs he's come across that I hadn't found yet, so I thought I would post links to them here.

Prevention Action is focused on research.

Public Criminology is well written and well visited. Not to be missed: this post really hit a nerve. Almost a hundred people shared their views and their stories about the challenge of seeking employment for ex-offenders.

Juvienation is a comprehensive source for news, discussion and resources on the topic of the juvenile justice system (sadly, after one year and 388 posts, it's now on hiatus, but the archives are still a wonderful resource).

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Major developments on homelessness

Monumental shifts in government policy on the issue of homelessness were announced this week at both the federal and New York City level.

"For more than 20 years, federal housing law has counted as homeless only people living on the streets or in shelters. But now the House and the Senate are considering an expansion of the definition to include people precariously housed: those doubled up with friends or relatives or living day to day in motels, with money and options running out." Click here for the full report in the New York Times.

"New York City agreed on Wednesday to codify standards for how homeless families seeking shelter should be treated in exchange for freedom from long-running judicial oversight that has led to millions of dollars in fines and has dictated much of the daily functioning of the city’s shelters." Click here for the full report.

View a timeline of the twenty-five year legal battle (click to enlarge):



This article from the New York Times captures the story of people on the edge of homelessness... to read more.

José Luis Silvera, 41, was happy to be putting New York behind him. He was down to his last $10 and had no clue where he would be sleeping next.

But at least he had his ticket and was heading to South Florida, the place where he had scored his life’s signature victory: On April 26, 1994, after leaving Cuba on a makeshift raft and floating for 17 days across the Florida Straits, Mr. Silvera was plucked by a ship from the ocean near Miami Beach and delivered to the American government, which allowed him to stay, opening the American chapter of his life.

“It was too beautiful, man,” he recalled. “The sea noise, the water. Very, very beautiful, man.”

Mr. Silvera, a wiry man who was one of the first passengers off the bus at every stop, fresh cigarette in hand, said that even though he was a legal United States resident, all of his official identification was either lost or expired. He produced a bundle of documents wrapped in a black plastic bag, including a photocopy of his Social Security card and an expired New York State commercial driver’s license — he was once a truck driver, one of his many jobs in recent years.

He spoke vaguely about past drug and alcohol abuse, and about serving some prison time for an assault conviction. He knew a couple of people in Miami Beach, and planned to call on them, though he admitted that they had no idea he was coming.

“In my way, I’m too free,” he said, and grinned.

Dawn broke near the Georgia-Florida border and the passengers stopped for breakfast outside Jacksonville. Then the bus began to drop off riders: Orlando, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale.

Mr. Silvera, down to his last 50 cents, worried aloud about how he was going to get to Miami Beach from La Cubana’s office in central Miami. When the drivers said they would take him, Mr. Silvera was ecstatic. “I made the ride with $10!” he exclaimed, pumping the air with his fist. “I’m very lucky!”

The towering oceanfront condominiums of Miami-Dade County hove into view and the traffic thickened. The passengers gathered their belongings and, in silence, marshaled themselves for the challenges that lay beyond the bus’s door.


For decades, New York and Miami have been the capitals of Latino life on the East Coast, linked by culture, business, extended families and a superhighway, I-95. People have flowed easily between the two hubs, and for 30 years, the Omnibus La Cubana bus line has been the transportation of choice for many.


La Cubana's passengers pay a minimum of $159 for a one-way fare. An airplane ticket can often be had for less. But if La Cubana's riders are any measure, the bus is a good deal for those who fear flying, can't find affordable train fares or don't have the government identification to pass airport security -- a problem for illegal immigrants and some legal ones.

For the full article in the NYT, click here

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bronx News

According to the Daily News, a power struggle for control of the Bronx County Democratic organization is looming after a rebel faction trounced the party establishment in several primary victories this past Tuesday. According to the News, "Rivera's grip on the party is under challenge from a group of Assembly members and state senators who charge that his nepotism and a general exclusion of all but Puerto Ricans from party largesse forced them to rebel." Here's the full article with details.

Also, the Bronx District Attorney's Office announced the arrests and indictment of nineteen reputed members of the King of Castle Organization on multiple counts of conspiracy to sell narcotics, commit murder, attempted murder, robberies and other acts of violence in connection with a one million dollar ($1,000,000) a year heroin and crack cocaine ring which operated primarily in and around the Castle Hill Housing Development. Some of the defendants also belong to “Sex, Money, Murder”, a group affiliated with the “Bloods.” Two of the accused are rap singers who were recently featured in the August 26th issue of Billboard Magazine.

To read the full press release, click here.

September 10, 2008

GRAND JURY FILES CONSPIRACY, MURDER, DRUG TRAFFICKING AND
OTHER CHARGES IN CONNECTION WITH GANG RELATED ACTIVITY AT THE
CASTLE HILL HOUSING AUTHORITY DEVELOPMENT

Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson announced today the arrests and indictment of nineteen reputed members of the King of Castle Organization on charges ranging from conspiracy to sell narcotics to murder and other offenses. Some of the defendants also belong to “Sex, Money, Murder”, a group affiliated with the “Bloods.” Two of the accused are rap singers who were recently featured in the August 26th issue of Billboard Magazine.

The grand jury returned a 100 count indictment charging all but two of the defendants with multiple counts of conspiracy to sell narcotics, commit murder, attempted murder, robberies and other acts of violence in connection with a one million dollar ($1,000,000) a year heroin and crack cocaine ring which operated primarily in and around the Castle Hill Housing Development. The two defendants who were not implicated in the ongoing conspiracy were charged with the possession and sale of narcotics on one occasion on August 28, 2008.

Mr. Johnson said: “This indictment is the result of a 16-month long investigation that relied heavily on information obtained through intensive surveillance, court approved wiretaps on 23 separate telephone lines, and other investigative techniques. During the course of the investigation we seized eleven semi-automatic handguns and revolvers, over a kilo of cocaine in both crack and powder form, 130 bags of heroin, marijuana and more than $63,000 in cash. We also obtained information from the wiretaps that resulted in arrests in several unsolved shootings including a homicide.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, authorities began executing arrest warrants for defendants named in the indictment. Most were taken into custody without incident and additional arrests are expected. Eighteen of the nineteen defendants were arraigned on Wednesday before Acting State Supreme Court Justice Steven Barrett in Part M-60 and ordered held without bail. One defendant, a rap artist who was arrested late Wednesday afternoon, is to be arraigned tomorrow, September 11, 2008 in Part M60.

Excluding the two individuals not charged in the conspiracy, all of the other defendants are facing a maximum sentence of up to life imprisonment if convicted of Conspiracy in the 1st degree, a Class A-1 felony offense. It is alleged that these gang members, “acting-in-concert”, conspired to use children under the age of 16 to sell illegal narcotics and make deliveries to customers. Lesser counts of Conspiracy in the 2nd and 4th degrees, Class B and E felony offenses, have also been filed. Conspiracy in the 2nd degree is punishable by a maximum sentence of up to 25 years imprisonment.

The indictment also charges various defendants with specific counts of Murder in the 2nd degree, Manslaughter in the 1st degree, Attempted Murder in the 2nd degree, Assault in the 1st and 2nd degrees, Robbery in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd degrees, Attempted Robbery in the 1st and 2nd degrees, Burglary in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd degrees, Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the 2nd degree, Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th degrees, Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the 3rd degree, and Reckless Endangerment in the 1st degree. The most serious of these felony offenses are punishable by maximum sentences of 25 years to life imprisonment for murder, 25 years imprisonment for Manslaughter in the 1st degree, Attempted Murder, Assault in the 1st degree, Robbery in the 1st degree, Burglary in the 1st degree, and related offenses.

Khalil Harris (aka Dolla), 26, is alleged to be the head of the King of Castle Organization. Harris, of 280 East 161st Street, the Bronx, has been charged with multiple counts of Conspiracy in the 1st and 2nd degrees in connection with criminal activities that occurred during the ongoing conspiracy from September 5, 2003 through September 4, 2008.

Harris’ two younger brothers have also been indicted. The grand jury charged Hassan Harris (aka Hocus), 25, with Assault in the 1st and 2nd degrees and related gun possession offenses in connection with a shooting incident on August 29, 2007. Four people, including three innocent bystanders, were wounded when Harris allegedly opened fire on a man who was involved in a turf dispute with the King of Castle Organization. The shooting occurred on the street near Park Avenue and 182nd Street. Shariff Harris (aka S-One), 23, has been charged with multiple counts of Robbery and Burglary in the 1st and 2nd degrees in connection with crimes tied to the alleged conspiracy by the drug gang.

Khalieh McMorris (aka 2-5), 20, has been charged with Murder in the 2nd degree in the shooting death of Russell Allen on February 23, 2008 and Attempted Murder in the 2nd degree in shootings that left two men, Erin Hall and Scott Torres, seriously wounded on February 1, 2006. All three shootings involved turf disputes with alleged rival drug dealers who were not affiliated with the Kings of Castle Organization. Allen was shot to death in a 4th floor hallway at 575 Castle Hill Avenue while Hall and Torres were shot multiple times as they sat in a car parked in front of 575 Castle Hill Avenue.

The investigation was conducted by the Bronx DA’s Gang Prosecution / Major Case Bureau with assistance from the New York City Police Department, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. District Attorney Johnson thanked members of all of the participating agencies for their cooperation and hard work that resulted in this indictment.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorneys Veronica Guariglia and Adam Oustatcher of the Gang Prosecution / Major Case Bureau.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mapping Resources

Last year, the city began an aggressive program to offer free breakfast and lunch in housing projects, libraries, day camps and church groups. Only about one-fifth of the children who get free school meals during the academic year nationwide also get access to the summer meals.

This map, created by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger allows anyone to find the closest location to them, in any of the five Boroughs.

You can read more about it here.

Changing Community Service

Last Friday was a little bit different than most Fridays on "Crew 1" - Bronx Community Solutions' own community service crew. On any typical day, we work with 10-20 clients. Our Coordinator of Community service manages multiple projects (along with two Crew Supervisors and the use of a passenger van and clean-up supplies): painting over graffiti in partnership with the NYPD, Community Boards, Business Improvement Districts, and local residents; cleaning up around the 161st Street area near the Criminal Court; sorting donated supplies at Worldvision's Bronx Storehouse; or working closely with the Department of Sanitation to address high priority conditions like step streets.

This day we would be helping out Catholic Charities with a major renovation of their Bronx Thriftstore. We were partnering with Rebuilding Together NYC to do a big volunteer day at their temporary location. Rebuilding Together is helping Catholic Charities completely renovate their permanent location in an important commercial area in the Bronx known as "The Hub." When the construction is completed, store designers from Macy's will lay out the retail space, and there will be conference and office space for community meetings, job training, and case managers. When Matt Lang, from Rebuilding Together, describes the project he says: "The new store will be really nice. Just because you don't have a lot of money, doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to shop in a nice environment."

During our intake process, we picked about 20-30 clients, after explaining what the project would be and giving them the option to sign up for a special project instead of our regular community service options. Our highly experienced intake staff made sure to pick clients with a good attitude who wanted to do something positive for their community service, and who were functional, domiciled and not facing serious health, substance abuse, mental health or anger management issues.

Even though our client's were performing mandatory community service, they were treated like regular volunteers, Bronx residents and community members. We started the day by explaining the goals of the project, signing in, and handing out tee-shirts. Once we began, everyone got involved and worked hard.

We were sorting and moving boxes, taking them out to the street and loading them into trucks. Everyone pitched in - many people helped organize and working together in groups got a lot done quickly and efficiently. I was especially happy to observe that one young man I thought might give us an attitude problem positioned himself right in the middle of the job in an organizing everything that was being loaded onto the truck. After we all shared pizza and soda for lunch, we finished up the work (and made one more visit the next day to finish up). Some of our clients requested information about other ways to get involved volunteering with Rebuilding Together or Catholic Charities.

I was happy to deliver lots of valuable labor to a community-based organization that's doing valuable work in the Bronx, and I was also happy to deliver a great, meaningful day of community service to our clients.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Working Together

From Deputy Director Maria Almonte

Yesterday I went to the NYPD Police Academy where I spent most of the day at a bi-annual taskforce on human trafficking. I attended with Angela Tolosa and Danielle Stockweather from our sister project, the Midtown Community Court.

The meeting was hosted by the bureau chief of the Vice Enforcement Division and in attendance were reps from Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx District Attorney's offices, the FBI, the New York State Attorney General and several community-based organizations like NYANA, Safe Horizon and GEMS.

There were updates on several cases, some of which were high profile cases involving under-age victims. It was also helpful to make contact with officers from the Bronx Vice squad. We've already worked closely with officers from the 41st and 48th precints, which are responsible for a large share of the prostitution arrests in the Bronx. Now, I hope we'll be able to coordinate with the Vice squad as well, who are also responsible for a large share of arrests, as we continue Bronx Community Solutions' initiative to address the issue of prostitution from all sides.

"Hustling"


I'll always remember the first time it happened. I was interviewing a Bronx Community Solutions client, when I asked him whether he was employed, he said, "yes." "What is your job?" I asked. "Hustling," he replied. I asked him to elaborate, but he didn't want to volunteer any details. The idea has a definite air of illegality, and also implies a marginal, ad-hoc, or gray area quality.

A lot of Bronx Community Solutions clients are arrested for engaging in street-level sales and services: drugs, bootleg cigarettes and DVDs, or prostitution. All of this activity seems to fall on a spectrum. While some of it is obviously a serious crime and a serious social problem, other things seem simply scruffy, entrepenurial, and unlicensed.

As noted previously in this space, the issue presents a dilemma for government. Whenever the authorities seek to regulate and control informal urban behavior (including things like subway harassment), the risk exists that legal (even beneficial) behavior - the vending and services that are valuable part of the fabric of urban life - can also be restricted. I covered some recent developments in New York City regarding vending, greenmarkets, and other related issues here.

This article from the Norwood News, "Street Vendors Seek Legitimacy" by Stephen Baron, details the issues faced by street vendors in the Bronx, both licensed and unlicensed. And this story in the New York Times, "On Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, Hustling for a Living" by James Angelos, profiles the daily lives of men on "Gasoline Alley" in words, and in photos.



THEY can be seen all along Atlantic Avenue — urban foragers of a sort, often bedraggled and always in search of a dollar. Many of them pump gas, but that is not the only hustle along the strip.

As one regular walks on sections of Atlantic, a traffic-clogged 10-mile road that runs from the Brooklyn waterfront to the Van Wyck Expressway in western Queens, he holds a bottle of glass cleaner and offers to wash car windows. Outside an auto parts store, street mechanics replace brake pads and tune transmissions, using tools hauled around in shopping carts....

Whatever the hustle, as the road travels east and the neighborhoods along it get poorer, the number of self-styled entrepreneurs only grows. At three stops along the way, they can be seen making a living, or at least a few extra dollars, off the endless rumble of cars and trucks that pummel the avenue’s rutted surface.
Click here to Read More.

The Hess Station

Beneath the peeling roof of a Hess station at Ralph Avenue in Stuyvesant Heights, framed on the north by the Brevoort housing project and on the south by Kingsborough Houses, are eight self-service pumps — and often just as many hustlers who come and go as their economic needs dictate. The competition can be fierce; one hustler, called DMX by other gas pumpers, described it as a battle between lions and tigers.

“Coming in! White truck!” DMX yelled one afternoon as he sought to claim an S.U.V. even before it turned into the station.

DMX, who was a station regular earlier this summer, is tall and wears a white headband. On his cheek is a three-inch scar, which he said was carved into his face during a fight in a prison upstate.

Like several other people interviewed for this article, many of whom lead cryptic lives, he declined to give his full name. But like nearly all the hustlers in the neighborhood, he has a nickname; he earned his because he can make his voice sound as raspy as that of the rapper of the same name.

Street etiquette dictates that once a hustler claims a car, he has exclusive rights to approach it. But sometimes this arrangement breaks down, as it did recently.

“Yo, why you step in front of me like that?” a gas pumper yelled to another as passengers in a sedan that had pulled up to a pump looked out the windows with stunned expressions.

Amid such competition, the gas pumpers sometimes turn to intimidation.

“I’m going to get every car that gets in here,” DMX announced loudly at one point. “I got to eat.

“If they get in my way, I’m going to cut somebody.”

Such hostility is in sharp contrast to the fawning attentiveness that DMX showers on customers. Smiling broadly, he refers to them as “my sister” or “my dude.” For babies in the back seats, it’s “Hey, cutie!”

“Once you get them smiling,” he said, “you don’t know what may come out of their pockets.”

When a woman in a cream-colored PT Cruiser pulled up to Pump No. 2, DMX gazed into her eyes. “You all right?” he asked. “You look good.” After pumping her gas, he received a dollar.

In this respect, the gas pumpers are not like the squeegee men, who were ubiquitous in the city during the 1980s and were notorious for intimidating drivers stopped at red lights by demanding payment for unsolicited services like wiping dirty rags across windshields. The hustlers of Atlantic Avenue approach customers with careful hesitance and usually accept rejection politely, often with a guilt-inducing “God bless you.”

The station’s employees work in a little white hut equipped with bulletproof windows. They have become accustomed to the gas pumpers, and have even developed a rapport with the regulars. The station manager, who said his name was Tony, said that he had called 311 a few times to shoo the hustlers away, but that he no longer bothered.

Police officers come and hand out tickets. But once they leave, the hustlers return. “It’s unstoppable,” Tony said.

An eight-hour workday can land a gas pumper about $50, and for the more energetic ones, maybe more. DMX, who lives nearby, said he spent his earnings on food and clothing. Other gas pumpers, some of whom have sketchier housing situations, say that they spend much of their earnings on crack cocaine. Flip, a stocky 43-year-old who habitually toots a silver harmonica, says he sometimes sleeps on the A train, keeping company with a four-inch glass pipe.

As Flip talked about his past one recent morning over a cheeseburger at a McDonald’s next to the gas station, his eyes watered as he described what he called “all the positive things I was supposed to be.” As a child, he enjoyed acting, and he said he was an extra on “The Magnificent Major,” a 1977 children’s special on NBC about a little girl who didn’t like to read.

Mr. B, a skinny, 29-year-old regular at the station, also has a crack habit, though he says he is not addicted. “Psychology of the mind,” he says, keeps him from being dependent on the drug. His glassy eyes roll slightly upward, and he often looks as if he is trying to suppress a grin. He likes to mention his grandmother. “Today is my grandmother’s 90th birthday,” he told two customers, each on a different day. “I’m going to see her later.”

Both Flip and Mr. B take 30-minute breaks, drifting away from the station and returning dazed and sometimes a little paranoid. When Flip returned from one such break, he said, “I went to go see Oz.” In fact, he had made his way to Kingsborough Houses, where, he said, he took the elevator to the fifth floor of a building, puffed on his glass pipe and then rode back down.

The same afternoon, Mr. B left the station and began walking along Atlantic Avenue toward the sunset, passing the weeds that grow through the cracks in the sidewalk. “He won’t be back for a long time,” Flip said with a laugh.

But Mr. B returned about an hour later. He stood silently next to Pump No. 8, looking lost in a tangle of dismal thoughts. Asked where he had gone, Mr. B flashed his famous grin and replied, “Eat, eat, eat, eat.”

AutoZone

While the gas pumpers rely on a mixture of intimidation, charm and charity to make a living, other Atlantic Avenue hustlers sell their automotive skills.

Outside an AutoZone store near Washington Avenue in Clinton Hill, several street mechanics work under cars parked on the side of the road, installing parts purchased by the store’s customers.

On a hot spring day, a 36-year-old street mechanic named Matthew Joseph lay precariously on the baking asphalt of Atlantic Avenue, near three lanes of westbound traffic that whizzed by as he jacked up the left front side of a Hyundai sedan. Mr. Joseph wore a black do-rag and a white tank top that exposed his muscular arms. After a few years of working on the side of the road, he is used to the traffic being only a few feet away.

Pulling off the tire, Mr. Joseph released a cloud of dust that looked orange in the sunlight, and began replacing the car’s brake pads. Doing this sort of work, he usually earns about $150 a day, which helps him pay the $950 monthly rent for his one-bedroom apartment nearby. For this job, he charged the car’s owner $40, about half what a garage would charge, he said.

Mr. Joseph is enthusiastic about fixing cars, and he likes to explain automotive problems to his customers, though his explanations are sometimes dizzying in their complexity.

“You have to see if your injector has an injector control module,” he told a driver in a red minivan that afternoon. “If your injector has an injector control module, then you check to see if the control module for the injector maybe isn’t firing.”
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The Gasoline Hustle

“I feel you,” the driver replied, though he looked confused.

Later that day, Mr. Joseph sat in the passenger seat of a blue Jeep, the brakes of which he had just replaced. The driver sped up and down Atlantic Avenue, testing the work.

“The front brakes is good,” Mr. Joseph announced. “Beautiful. Beautiful delay. Hard and sturdy.”

Mr. Joseph offered his cellphone number to the car owner in case there were any problems. “You could call me, too, all right,” he said. “You’d be driving, even at nighttime, call me. I’m official.”

Walter Malone also works near the AutoZone. He is in the auto body repair business, which he conducts on the sidewalk outside an old muffler garage. In addition, he lives in the garage, sleeping on a makeshift bed of mats and cushions protected from leaks in the roof by tarps. Mr. Malone, who often wears a red hard hat and silver chains around his neck, is deaf and speaks only in grunts.

One afternoon, a man who identified himself as Broadway pulled up to the garage in a rusty green pickup. Mr. Malone examined the truck carefully.

He pointed to the dented hood, making a hammering motion with his large hands, indicating that he would pound the dent out. He walked around the truck, making a “bah” sound when he found a problem and pantomiming how he would fix it. After the inspection, Mr. Malone rubbed together his thumb and index finger to indicate that this job would be costly. Using pen and paper, the two men eventually agreed to a price of $300. Broadway promised to bring back the pickup the next morning.

As it turned out, Broadway did not return. But before driving off, he explained that he had bought the truck for $200, and he planned to use it for, among other things, picking up mattresses left on the street and delivering them to a refurbishing business that would pay him $15 for each one.

“Everybody’s got a hustle,” Broadway said. “You can make a dollar in this here New York City.”

Mobil

The gas pumping hustle at a Mobil station at Bedford Avenue, near the Bedford-Atlantic Armory and its homeless shelter, is a lot less cutthroat than the one at the Hess station a mile and half to the east. One day not long ago, a student from the nearby Science Skills Center High School named John Greene could be seen wandering among the station’s 16 pumps after school. John, who was wearing a Bob Marley T-shirt, was craving a snack of nachos, but first he needed to raise the money.

“Can I pump your gas for you?” he asked over and over.

A large man who calls himself Big Earl pulled up to Pump No. 13 in a minivan that blared R & B music. “It’s cool,” Big Earl said in response to the boy’s offer. John filled the tank with regular, and Big Earl handed him a fistful of change, nearly $2.

“Children are our resources,” Big Earl said. “If we don’t take care of our resources, we don’t take care of our future.”

Once John had collected $4, enough for two servings of nachos, he headed for the nachos machine in the station’s convenience store. “It’s my favorite,” he said as he pressed the buttons that released chili and cheese from the plastic tubes of the dispenser. Two days later, he said, he would be back for more.

A more familiar face at the Mobil station belongs to a skinny and mysterious man with a graying beard who has been pumping gas and acting as the convenience store’s de facto doorman for five years. Vishal Khosla, the station’s manager, calls the man “Green” — no relation to the student John Greene — and says he likes having him around because he keeps an eye out for thieves and troublemakers.

Most days, Green arrives at the station at 7 a.m. He earns more than enough to pay his $10 daily rent for a room nearby, he said. When the weather gets too hot, he quits early, and is happy to be able to come and go as he pleases.

“I be good here,” he said one afternoon, his linen polka-dot shirt rippling in the warm breeze. “I don’t try to get over on anybody. Everybody gets to like me because I do good.”

As he spoke, he opened the door for customers, receiving a dollar from one.

“If you do good,” he said, “you shall prosper.”

Friday, August 15, 2008

Becoming a Better Dad


One man’s pledge to end the cycle of distant parenting

"How are you going to nurture your child if you're not nurturing yourself?"

From the Midtown Community Court's Dads United for Parenting (D-UP) program...

“This is really serious, what’s happening with men who are fathers is a crisis,” comments Eddy James, a recent graduate of the D-UP program. “Dads are accepting their distant behavior as normal, but it must be examined and prevented because it trickles down to create other social ills.” Throughout the six-week program, Eddy worked with other adult non-custodial fathers four days a week engaging in fatherhood oriented services including job training, financial planning, parent skills training, and planned family activities. D-UP targets key parental behaviors and beliefs, and the structure and content helps fathers progress towards the goals of financially and emotionally supporting their children.

Click here to read more...


Eddy was 24- years-old when he found out that he and his girlfriend were going to have a baby. Despite difficulty with family and friends, they tried to stay together for their new daughter, Faith. But eventually the strain from his girlfriend’s disciplinary parents - a term he references from D-UP’s Nurturing Fathers curriculum - became overwhelming and around the time Faith was 3-years-old her parents found themselves in a torturous relationship and living in the shelter system.

Faith and her mother secured a supportive housing unit, but because of the increasingly tumultuous relationship between Eddy and Faith’s mother, he found himself displaced from their residence and a victim of the biased shelter system whose structure places the child with their mother.

By the time Eddy entered the single men’s shelter, he wore only 130 lbs. on his 6ft. frame and came to the striking realiztion that “I wasn’t seeing myself.” Amid this discovery, Eddy chose to “black out” on Faith and her mother to get a handle on his emotions. But he was still mired in the murky depths of his anger with Faith’s mother, until another resident at the men’s shelter made him realize that his misdirected focus was prohibiting him from doing what was important – rebuilding his life for his daughter.

Equipped with a newfound self-awareness, Eddy was forced to learn about public assistance as he himself navigated the daunting system and subsequently helped others through the process. “Through doing you receive,” he recalls. Meanwhile, Eddy began writing poetry as a catharsis and sought work in social services to help others. “I felt lighter,” he says.

Restored to health – physically and emotionally – Eddy was granted joint custody in family court. Through his Saturday visitation schedule, Eddy and Faith reuinted and maximized their time together by exploring facets of New York City. Eventually Eddy escaped the shelter system and obtained his own apartment. But even with his successes, Eddy reports that the imbalance with Faith’s mother persisted: She would sabatoge his scheduled visits with Faith while Eddy struggled to maintain a relationship with his daughter. After a long battle with Faith’s mother, Eddy’s situation culminated when he found himself entangled in the family court system, and the Administration for Children’s Services.

Eddy, now a 35-year-old producer and editor, was referred to D-UP by the court and naturally felt resistent to the idea of someone questioning his parenting skills. Upon being referred to the program Eddy recalls thinking, “I don’t need this, I’m a good dad.” But his resistence turned to curiosity, and Eddy’s recalcitrance eventually morphed into active participation and group leadership.

“This is how grown men get down,” Eddy says. “How are you going to nurture your child if you’re not nurturing yourself? There are so many external expectations
placed on us, but the program makes you reflect internally. And men don’t really talk in a sense of their feelings, but D-UP get’s you to be solid and to talk.” Because of the mutual trust and bond that was formed between the men during the six-weeks, Eddy felt that “It was okay to cry.”

Throughout the Nurturing Fathers curriculum, Eddy learned to reflect on his father’s parenting style, and identify similar traits in his own. “I began to recognize my distant style in my father’s, and decided that I didn’t want to be like that with my daughter,” Eddy says. “Before, maybe none of us thought we needed the program, and that being a non-emotional man is normal, but we can benefit from tweaking our fathering style and examining ourselves and the decisions we have made. And the planned family activities help dads realize other things they can do with their kids.”

In August 2008, Eddy graduated from D-UP with a proud supporter by his side – his daughter Faith. As a result of the program, Eddy admits that the communication has improved because he is listening better, explaining more and being patient with her. “I’m showing more of myself to her,” declares Eddy.

Still, Eddy wants to give back to his community and cease the cycle of distant parenting. After participating in D-UP, Eddy is more cognizant of absent young fathers in his neighborhood, and can predict the looming cycle that they are about to embark on. “It’s always the same story: new baby, mama drama and then, court case.” And Eddy knows, this will only result in more removed dads who perpetuate distant parenting. Eddy hopes to volunteer for a fathering program in his own neighborhood so he can help other dads like him, transcend the viscious cycle and become better dads.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Clean Streets...

This article in the Daily News covers the efforts of a new merchants association in the Westchester Square area to address quality of life conditions through the City's Clean Streets program, "a creation of the city Department of Small Business Services, aims to help revitalize areas by getting rid of the litter in underserved commercial corridors."

Also, this article in the Norwood News details issues facing street vendors in the Bronx (both licensed and unlicensed).

For a while now, Bronx Community Solutions has been deploying crews of community service participants on a weekly basis to address dumping, litter, and graffiti in and around the newly formed Southern Boulevard Business Improvement District.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Day in the Life of a Bronx Jury

I just came across this interesting story posted on the website of Inner City Press, in which the reporter describes his own experience. According him, those eligible for jury duty have it more often, and for more days, unless they can get selected for the jury in one of the new one-day trials. The report has lots of fine-grained observations about dynamics of a Bronx jury.

The word now in the jurors' waiting room in The Bronx is that things are getting worse: the duty more frequent and each time for more days. There are at least two reasons, those who work there say. First, more and more cases are filed in The Bronx, because the county perceived as having poor and angry residents who award big damages. So for example when McDonald's was sued for making people obese -- and there are obese people all over -- The Bronx was chosen as the venue. Second, you have to be citizen and speak English to serve on a jury. These two characteristics have become less prevalent in The Bronx, as a clerk diplomatically puts it, even as the population has grown in the last decade.

Click here to read the full article.


[July 21, 2008 A Bronx Juror's Eye View: Gypsy Cab Whip Lash Crash 9 Years Ago Gets 1-Day Trial, by Matthew R. Lee of Inner City Press]

Put these two together, and those eligible for it have jury duty more often, and for more days. Unless you luck out, and can get selected for the jury in one of the new one-day trials.

On a recent morning, this option was offered to early arrivals, and a long line quickly formed. Twenty two people were selected, and shuttled into a side room to fill out questionnaires. Have you ever sued anyone? Have you or a family member ever worked in a law office? Then the 22 took elevators upstairs to Justice Yvonne Gonzalez' courtroom on the fourth floor. They sat on one side of the courtroom, reading, lounging, complaining about the too-strong air conditioning even on this hot day. Ms. Gonzalez came in and smiled, went into the back. Five minutes later she re-emerged as a Justice, in black robe wearing glasses. "All rise!" the court officer said.

"You don't have too," Justice Gonzalez said. "We're going to pick 12 of you and ask you some questions. The rest of you can wait."

The first 12 were selected. Your witness was not, and cursed his luck. The questions got personal. What do you do, for work? What does your wife do? What exactly is a nutritional consultant? You choose patients' menus? Have the patients filed lawsuits? Do they talk to you about them?

Two of the twelve admit they want to go to law school. They will not be chosen. An Asian woman tells a long story about a customer in the nail salon where she works, who hurt her shoulder in a car accident and constantly complains about it. She too will be asked to leave, as this case is about a car crash, which injured a Ms. Filartiga -- not her real name.

Now the two lawyers are getting to ask the questions. Really, they are trying to put ideas in potential jurors' minds, things they couldn't say once the trial begins. If a person doesn't look injured, can you accept that they are still in a lot of pain? I guess so. Good, because that's Ms. Filartiga over there, and she's in pain. It's a sad looking old woman on the far side of the courtroom. "She's doesn't speak English," we're told. They why do we have to? Even if you speak Spanish, you have to focus on what the interpreter says. And in this one-day trial, to save money no court recorder is present. There will only be your memory, and that should be focused on the interpreter.

As jurors are stricken, your witness is called into the jury box. Questions are asked, to catch up with the others. Potential grounds for being stricken are disclosed. But the witness makes it, as Juror Number Seven, the alternate. The others are thanked for their service, and return to the jurors' waiting room for four more days of limbo. Those lucky seven of the 22 who remain are told to order lunch, to be paid for by the court system. The alternate may or may not get fed, therefore the dollar tip does not have to be paid at this time.

Triple decked roast beef and a diet Coke. Pickles? Why not. But how was the diner that gets all these court house orders selected? Was this to low bidder? The case begins, with opening statements. A taxi has been hit from behind, at University Avenue and McCombs Dam Road. The plaintiff was wearing a seat belt, but still be whipped back and forth. She has lost work since then, she has gone to many doctors. She will never be the same. She needs money.

That's the plaintiff's lawyer's story. The defense lawyer, for two New Jerseyites who are not here, tells a counter tale. The plaintiff knew the cab driver, that's why he hasn't been sued. The cabby stopped short and with no notice, causing the crash. The plaintiff's own doctors reports, which will be distributed at the end, will show that her injuries are not serious. Okay, let's get it on.

There is only one witness, Ms. Filartiga the plaintiff. It looks like she hasn't been prepared. She keeps interrupting her lawyer, staring off into space. Unprompted, she says she wasn't in fact wearing seat belt. Does that make her negligent? Let's at least quantify and get some damages, her lawyers seems to decide. When did she work, after the accident? There was the perfume factory... But only in the summers... She's not sure. But after March 1999, when did she work?

That's how it emerges, that this terrible important fender-bender took place more than nine years ago, and is only getting its one-day trial now. Why? How can it take nine years to hear this meager evidence? Did the defendants delay things hope Filartiga would die or move back to Santo Domingo? Did the plaintiffs' lawyer put the case to the back of the line as a small damages dog? The jury is never told. But no wonder no one can remember what happened that day, or afterwards.

The lunch has arrived, and the case is still not over. Juror Seven will have roast beef after all. The seven are led up a staircase to a room with peeling paint. "Don't talk about the case," they're told. "Sports or fashion is okay." Out the window is Yankee Stadium, where the All-Star Game's Home Run Derby is to be held that night. The youngest juror, now wildly thumbing his Sidekick, says even the tickets to Home Run Derby are expensive. The sandwich, though free, is not good. Perhaps they really were the low bidders. A Hispanic woman, maybe in her 50s, calls her boss and says she'll be back at work tomorrow, she lucked into the one-day trial. After that the silence is deafening. The one African-American on the jury, a large woman, gets up to go to the bathroom.

Juror Seven, to pass the time and drown out the sound of flushing, says Major League Baseball is screwing The Bronx by having the parade in Manhattan, and the memorabilia show too. There's no response. Oh really. He tries again, saying how in his jury pool, everyone one wanted to get on the jury. In most cases, people are trying to get off, saying, "I can't be fair" or "I hate the police." There are a few nods. Okay then, read the newspaper. In the corner of the room there's a stack of police accident reports, with drawings of automobiles and arrows for direction of impact. Could Filartiga's be in there?

Okay it must be time to go back down. No, says a large woman who used to be a school principal. "They come up and get us, I know this, I've done it before." She is white, and almost everyone else is Hispanic. She is ignored. Six of the seven creep down the stairs, where have metal mesh because criminal defendants are led this way too. They peer into the empty courtroom. Hey, the security officer says. "Go back upstairs." The principal was right, looks vindicated. Are they settling the case? Ten more minutes pass.

Finally they are led back into the courtroom, Juror Seven told to pick a spot in the second row. This is easy, this is fun. It will end today, they've said. The jury is told the Ms. Filartiga was 53 when the crash happened. She's 62 now and it is estimated that she will live to 84. "That's an average, of course," the plaintiff's lawyer said, adding the word "actuarial." She says, "You can decided how much each of her years will be worth." But can we? How?

The plaintiff's lawyer has forgotten to make photocopies of her exhibits. There will be only one copy in the deliberations room. The defense has copies, which are passed out to each juror including Number Seven. The exhibits are pretty damning. A doctor says the pain is fake. The police report on the accident says the taxi stopped too fast. Then again, that was only what the Jerseyites said. But only they spoke with the police. Why hasn't the cabby come to the trial to testify? Why didn't the plaintiff's lawyer try to address this hole in her case? Is the hope simply that six Bronx jurors, told a tale of a possible-hurt factory worker, will award millions of dollars?

Why didn't someone -- say for example, the Jerseyites' insurance company -- simply give Ms. Filartiga 40 or 50 thousand dollars, back nine years ago, and leave it at that? Did Filartiga ask for more? Did the insurers refuse to pay, then made her wait nine years? This is the background we need, to weight the equities. But none of the jurors get that information, much less the Alternate, your witness, who is now told to go. There is no closure, as in real life. Good luck Ms. Filartiga, hope you make it to 84 or more.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Getting your life back

“Bronx Community Solutions gave me the motivation I needed to start repairing my life.” James (not his real name) is a college graduate who’s career goal was to be a health care administrator at a major hospital. But, as he says, “once you get into drugs, your life is frozen and you stop growing.”

After he began using crack and cocaine, James began selling DVDs to support himself, instead of pursuing his career. Before long James found himself being arrested multiple times for possession and other charges and he was sentenced to Bronx Community Solutions a total of three times over a period of more than a year. James says that things didn’t improve overnight – in fact it took a long time for things to improve – but the respect and encouragement that he got at Bronx Community Solutions influenced him to start getting his life back together.

“When you’ve been using drugs, you lose a sense of who you are. You have to begin reaffirming who you are, reasserting your identity, and building up your will power. No matter how much assistance you receive, no on is going to help you when you go back to your neighborhood. You know you weren’t born this way. I wanted to find the old James, the one who wanted to go to college, and start salvaging the good parts of my life. Not only that, but once I stopped using, I found out new things about myself as well.”

James began receiving public assistance, but he says there are important benefits to working, which gives him direction and focus. Bronx Community Solutions’ case managers helped James with job referrals, and even helped find him clothing to wear for interviews. Right now, he’s been working for the Parks Department for five months. His position is a seasonal job, and he came back to Bronx Community Solutions for suggestions and assistance with employment after his Parks job ends. He says, “A lot of people here in the Bronx are hard pressed for counseling, and someone to listen. There’s a lot of joblessness and hopelessness. Programs like Bronx Community Solutions are vital – and hopefully in some cases they can catch people before they waste a lot of time, like I did, and help people jumpstart their lives and get on the right track.”

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Too Poor To Parent?

Gaylynn Burroughs, an attorney for the Bronx Defenders, a Bronx Community Solutions partner, recently posted this editorial about problems in the Family Court system on Huffington Post.

New Pre-Pay Bus System Debuts In The Bronx

A new Pre-Pay bus system went into effect this Monday on the Bx12 line in the Bronx (running along Pelham Parkway and Fordham Road). Geared towards both making the bus ride faster and curtailing farebeaters, the new system has been lauded by some and questioned by others.

As detailed in the New York Times, the system involves dipping your metrocard into a machine next to the bus and receiving a receipt, instead of paying while boarding. In order to keep riders honest, there will be random checks where inspectors ask riders for their receipts. If a rider failes to produce a receipt, they will receive a fine of $100 for farebeating (up from the old fine of $60).

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Blogging As Crime-Fighting

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes sometimes walked past 346 and 348 93rd Street, between Third and Fourth Avenues in Brooklyn, near his own home in the neighborhood, but he didn't notice the signs of criminal activity that were going on there. It took a group of concerned citizens, who connected over a website, to add up the details and realize that the property was a location of ongoing drug activity.

According to an article in today's New York Times,

A core group of seven people who met through the blog brought the case to the attention of the community board and met with the authorities. “A group of people who did not know each other came together and traded information,” he said.

Katherine Khatari, 47, who owns a coffee shop in Bay Ridge, said she learned of the complaints about the houses on the blog. “You check and see what’s going on in the neighborhood,” she said “People don’t like to fight alone. There’s strength in numbers, you know? There’s more of us than them.”

For other posts about citizens who are using the internet as a tool to track crime and other conditions in their neighborhood and organize their neighbors, read previous posts here and here.

I wonder if something similar might ever happen in the Bronx...?

Here's another example of citizen's using blogs to shine a light on crime: Holla Back NYC, an online forum for visitors, mostly women, to post photographs and stories about their experiences being groped, catcalled or otherwise sexually harassed in public.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Who Will Replace Judge Judith Kaye?

After 15 years as New York State's Chief Judge, Judge Kaye is retiring, and yesterday, New York State made the official announcement that it is seeking her replacement. This article from today's New York Sun explains the selection process and mentions at least three people who will be likely to apply for the position.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Book Review

A Phoenix in the Ashes, by John Mollenkopf.

After almost three years working in the Bronx Criminal Court (most of it spent running our intake department, assisting hundreds of our clients, attorneys, court officers, judges, and the public), I'm still fascinated by my job. I enjoy being a student of criminal justice and operations of a large public bureaucracy. In a course I recently took at Baruch College, I studied Bolman and Deal's "Four Frames." Each frame, the structural, human resource, political, and symbolic, respectively, provides a different way of understanding how an organization functions. While I think that I am naturally inclined to view organizations from human resource and symbolic frames in my own work, I have, while working in the Bronx, gained a better appreciation for the structural and political frames.

The political frame is the view that organizations are an arena for the healthy competition of various factions and groups. Reading Mollenkopf's masterwork on the operation of contemporary New York City politics (covering its evolution from the late nineteen-seventies to the early nineteen-nineties), gave me a rich context for attempting to understand a large organization like the Bronx courts in the political frame. Chapter Three, especially, provides a concise summary of growth, decline, competition, and cooperation between New York's various major demographic groups and economic sectors.

Next, I'll review Street Level Bureaucracy by Michael Lipsky.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mayor Announces Mental Health Initiative

Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg held a press conference to announce the release of a set of recommendations from a combined City/State review panel that was created in the wake of recent police shootings of people with mental illness and cases such as that of accused murderer David Turloff. The recommendations cover a broad range of topics, including the expansion of mental health courts across the state, and the introduction of mental health screening in Criminal Court for individuals sentenced to community-based sanctions, which the city plans to test in the Bronx:

"NYC should expand post-arraignment mental health screening in the Bronx Criminal Court to identify appropriate individuals, sentenced to brief community-based programs, for mental health assessments, intensive engagement, and voluntary case management as an alternative to the original court mandate. This pilot would help evaluate whether brief mandatory engagement efforts promote longer-term participation in mental health services."

Here is a PDF of the report.

And here is an article in the NY Sun.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Summer Events

Here is a partial calender of upcoming Bronx Community Solutions events...


Bronx Community Solutions Annual Staff Picnic

DATE: June 20, 2008
TIME: 1p.m to 6p.m
LOCATION: Mullaly Park

Theme is "Child's Play"

FOOD, FUN AND GAMES, VOLLEYBALL, MUSIC, CARDS, FRISBEE


Juvenile Accountability Court Graduation

DATE: June 30th
TIME: 5:00pm
LOCATION: Bronx School of Law Government and Justice

Parents, family, friends, probation officers, judges, law guardians, corporation counsel and program partners welcome!


Bronx Community Solutions Community Advisory Board Meeting

DATE: July 16th
TIME: 5:30-7:00pm
LOCATION: Bronx School of Law Government and Justice

Meeting agenda: Partner Recognition Ceremony


Play Streets

DATE: July and August TBD
TIME: TBD
LOCATION: TBD

Theme: "Greening the Bronx"


Nat'l Night Out Against Crime

DATE: Aug 5th
TIME: TBD
LOCATION: TBD

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

USA Today: Community Courts Growing

Cities and counties increasingly are creating innovative community courts to deal with the growing number of habitual petty criminals that police call "frequent fliers."

Criminals who are arrested repeatedly for crimes such as public drunkenness, trespassing and panhandling are crowding jails and sapping police resources, officials say. The cost of handling small-time criminals who cycle in and out of jail is becoming a more pressing problem for communities as budgets tighten and jail populations swell.

The new courts sentence "frequent fliers" to treatment plans and social services, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, instead of jail.

"It's the new frontier," says Amy Solomon, who studies criminal justice at The Urban Institute in Washington. "There is a new realization and recognition" that incarceration is not the best solution. "I think it'll grow and continue to pick up."

View the Full Article.

Monday, June 09, 2008

At the U.N.

From Bronx Community Solutions Deputy Director Maria Almonte-Weston

“I’m very proud to know that we are working to re-humanize those whose dignity has been stolen.”

These were very poignant words coming from Dr. Mark Lagon, Ambassador-at-Large and Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State. The TIP Office coordinates the U.S. Government's activities in the global fight against modern-day slavery, including forced labor and sexual exploitation. He was the moderator for a panel discussion event at the United Nations, Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), called “Criminal Justice Responses Against Trafficking in Person.”

I’m glad I attend this event, I was able to see first hand the number of individuals interested and involved in the effort to end human trafficking. This very serious issue is finally being given a significant amount of attention, both domestically and internationally and small but concrete changes are occurring.

The panel consisted of a diverse and impressive group of individuals, from different backgrounds, professions and experiences. Dorchen A. Leidholdt, Esq. the Director for Battered Women’ Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families; Jessica Neuwirth, a founder and current president of Equality Now, an international human rights organization; Kenneth Franzblau, director of Human Trafficking Prevention at the State Division of Criminal Justice Services, who is in charge of implementing New York's new anti-trafficing laws, the toughest in the nation (more about him in this article); and last but certainly not least, a person who I believe was the most impressive and impactful individual on this panel, Ms. Kika Cerpa, a survivor of human trafficking and a strong voice for change (you can read more about her story in this Op-Ed column by Bob Herbert, "Hidden in Brothels, Slavery by Another Name"). Kika’s story is like so many others, a stranger in a strange land, with hopes of a better life who ends up with the mental scars of her abuse as her reality.

But there is another story, another face, one I see every time I go out on a Bronx Community Solutions street outreach with the NYPD. It’s the face of our neighborhood “Kika”, the run-away, throw-away, hard core youth I frequently encounter in the night. These girls, are rarely seen like ‘victims’ and are seldom treated like individuals who need to be protected. My hope is that the ‘prostitution initiative’ implemented by Bronx Judges, court players, precinct commanders and Bronx Community Solutions will also makes a small but significant change in the lives of sexually exploited individuals in the Bronx.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Bronx Food Adventures

On this blog, we've posted previously on Bronx food gems. Today, I found this treasure trove of Bronx food discoveries, restaurants, lunch counters, cafés, street vendors, fairs, festivals, grocers, and greenmarkets around borough, on this blog, Eating in Translation, field notes about interesting food around New York and sometimes beyond.

Problem Solving Justice in the News

The Queens Tribune is highlighting a book, recently published by the Center for Court Innovations' Center for Courts and the Community and the New York State Unified Court System entitled "Drug Courts: Personal Stories." It is the first collection of narratives to document the remarkable turnaround of New Yorkers who have recovered from addiction after years of law violations and personal tragedies. Read the full article in the Tribune here. To read a collection of success stories from this blog, go here.


And the San Fransisco Chronicle is carrying another editorial supportive of the Community Justice Center there. This caption neatly describes the concept of community justice:

After 18 months of work, a wide coalition of judges, law enforcement officials and social service leaders are proposing a break from the usual. Take suspects arrested for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies - such as shoplifting, car burglaries or small-time drug peddling - to a one-stop court. There, a court commissioner will weigh the case to see if the arrestee is a candidate for detox, supervised housing, health care and even tattoo removal to get a job. If a candidate balks or breaks a promise to seek help, then the case goes back into the conventional court system. The new process is designed to take days, not weeks, as it does now.

The Bronx Is Rising

According to the New York Times, "From Art Deco buildings to slick restaurants and a growing artists’ colony, the borough offers more than baseball and beer-soaked bars."

This article, from the Travel Section, is intended to open the eyes of the throngs of first-time visitors who are trekking to the Borough for a chance to watch the Yankees play their last season in the House that Ruth Built. It's focused on notable attractions around the Yankee Stadium area that justify straying a little further afield.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Can New York Break Its Incarceration Habit?

Crime and the number of felons are down in New York, but the state continues to keep its prisons open, eating up money that could be used for drug treatment, better supervision of released offenders and improving parole. My latest article for the Gotham Gazette is available here.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Creative Sentencing: Greatest Hits

This has got to be one of the most creative alternative sanctions ever handed out in a court of law. According to a story from AP, more than two dozen young people who broke into Robert Frost's former home for a beer party and trashed the place are being required to take classes in his poetry as part of their punishment.

Using "The Road Not Taken" and another poem as jumping-off points, Frost biographer and Middlebury Professor Jay Parini hopes to show the vandals the error of their ways — and the redemptive power of poetry.

The prosecutor in the case came up with the idea and contacted Parini. "I guess I was thinking that if these teens had a better understanding of who Robert Frost was and his contribution to our society, that they would be more respectful of other people's property in the future and would also learn something from the experience," said prosecutor John Quinn.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Praise for Court Staffers

The steps of the Queens County Courthouse became a familiar site to New Yorkers during the weeks of coverage surrounding the Sean Bell case. Whatever you might think about the proceedings and the verdict, an article in today's Daily News says both the victims and the defendants in the trial are unanimous in their opinion that the court personnel handled the trial with upmost professionalism.

"The respect, protection and the sincere kindness that was received from [the] court officers ... serves as a small comfort at a most unfavorable time in [our] lives. Mr. and Mrs. Bell would simply like to say: Thank you," Valerie and William Bell wrote in a letter.

"The highly professional court staffers ... served the interests of justice ... in their efforts to assure that equal-handed, courteous treatment would be shown to all," lawyer Steven Kartagener wrote on behalf of the three acquitted detectives and their legal team

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Graffiti Wars, Continued


Addressing graffiti as a quality of life issue is complicated. Positive art form? Self-expression? Contesting ownership of urban public space? Gang warfare? While there is a lot of nuance, and a lot of different situations, this article from the Daily News shows what an outrage graffiti can sometimes cause. Vandals recently defaced a mural to a fallen FDNY officer killed on 9/11.