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NYPD Faces Possible Residency Legislation

Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries proposes new police residency legislation at 1 Police Plaza. (Photo: Rachel Rogers | City Beats)

Future New York City police officers may be required to live within city limits, if legislation introduced by Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries passes. Jeffries held a press conference Sunday in front of One Police Plaza to explain the bill and convey his hopes that it will enable police officers to better understand and respect the communities they serve.

The legislation came in part as a reaction to hostility at this year’s West Indian Day Parade and the subsequent Facebook group where some police voiced hateful opinions about the event’s participants.

At the parade in September, Council Member Jumaane D. Williams was arrested for crossing the police barrier because police did not know who he was. The parade has a reputation for inciting violence, and this year police responded to at least two shootings. Still, community leaders at today’s press conference said that the West Indian Day Parade has been singled out and acquired an unfair stigma.

“That is one of the things that we need to dispel,” said Rickford Burke, president of the Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy.

Any parade involves some level of unruliness, he added, and most of the participants did not experience any conflict.

“The West Indian Day Parade is a significant expression of cultural pride as well as an economic engine for the city of New York,” Jeffries said.

Police officers have had a different experience with the parade. A Facebook group titled “No More West Indian Day Detail” for New York City police officers was created in September after the 2011 parade and discovered by two Brooklyn lawyers in November. Comments on the group’s page referred to participants in the festivities as “animals” or “savages” and even suggested bombing the 2012 parade. The Internet was used as a place “where individuals felt that there would be no retribution,” according to Council Member Letitia James, who also supports Jeffries’ legislation.

No one speaking at the press conference felt that there had been an adequate reaction to the Facebook page from Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

“The mayor and police commissioner, words aside, have been unwilling to change the institution,” Jeffries said.

He proposed legislation requiring police officers to live in New York City because he believes it would make officers more comfortable in the ethnically varied neighborhoods where they work.

“If you live in New York City, you’re more likely to show some respect for the tremendous cultural diversity,” Jeffries said.

That similar legislation has existed in the past and because current regulations state that police officers are not allowed to live in the precincts where they work, cast doubt on the effectiveness of the proposal. But because New York City is a more diverse place than it used to be, Jeffries thinks police will gain the understanding they need by living in the city, even if they are not in their specific precinct.

The latest statistic released on police housing was in 1997, according to Jeffries, when only 45% of officers lived in New York City. Police officers already on the force who live outside of the five boroughs would not be required to move. Similar regulations already exist in Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston.

Posted in City, Crime & Justice0 Comments

Hell’s Kitchen Faces Five Plus Years of Road Work

Mo Rum worries how the upcoming road work in Hell's Kitchen will affect his business. (Photo: Rachel Rogers | City Beats)

Carl Capotorto looked like he was in shock at a block association meeting held on Nov. 7.

“I’m overwhelmed. I’m trying to figure out where I can move,” said Capotorto, 52.

He has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for 16 years, but is now considering relocating because of a water main replacement project that will tear up the street in front of his apartment on West 51st Street.

The meeting, hosted by the West 47th/48th Streets Block Association and Community Board 4, was the first time many of the approximately 50 residents in attendance were hearing about the project. The Hell’s Kitchen initiative is headed by the city Department of Design and Construction and is scheduled to begin in February and is one of many planned to improve the city’s water system, some of which are already in progress.

Residents and shopkeepers have expressed alarm at the scope of the project and the number of problems that would come with it. Noise was a primary issue for residents already frustrated by recent ConEd construction in the area. Local stores fear a loss of business and products damaged by dirt and fumes from construction. The fact that the plans are not well known throughout the community has also upset Hell’s Kitchen shopkeepers.

The approximately 100-year-old water mains are being replaced on portions of 48th, 49th, and 51st streets between Broadway and 10th Avenue to update the infrastructure. They will also connect the west side to Tunnel 3, a project that began in the 1970s to bring water down from the Hillview Reservoir just north of the city. To connect the 8-foot deep water mains to the tunnel about 450 feet underground, a shaft will be excavated on 10th Avenue between 48th and 49th streets.

One of the biggest concerns is noise.  The project consists of four phases, so work will take place at different locations over the five-and-a-half years. But this did not assuage Community Board Member Jean-Daniel Noland’s apprehensions.

“Eight months of noise can be pretty disturbing,” Noland said.

A Hell’s Kitchen resident for 20 years, Noland worries the disturbances he has experienced in the past with ConEd projects, such as being kept up at night and feeling his building shake, will plague the area. He hopes to negotiate the work hours approved by the city, which currently include 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.

Having already dealt with past construction and the raucous bar scene, Capotorto was also worried about the impending disruption.

“I love this neighborhood,” Capotorto said. “I feel attached to it very deeply, but it’s become impossible to live there.

The design department takes precautions to lessen the noise, like using jackhammers with mufflers and monitoring noise in the field, according to Tom Foley, the assistant commissioner at the department. The city’s Department of Environmental Protection will also test noise levels periodically.

In spite of these precautions some shopkeepers in Hell’s Kitchen are expecting to lose business.

“I certainly don’t look forward to it,” said Mo Rum, 42, who opened Scent Elate on West 48th Street six years ago.

Scent Elate sells an assortment of soaps, candles, and essential oils. Clothes and accessories are displayed in a vestibule in front of the store. When the department begins work on the road, Rum sees it greatly affecting his business. During past roadwork projects, people have tracked in tar on their shoes. And because fabric absorbs odors from the construction, he said he wouldn’t be able to sell clothing because there is no room to display it inside the store.

Barry Shain, the sales manager at Alpha Engraving Company on West 51st Street, is also worried about the financial losses.

“There’s no regard for the effect on business,” Shain said.

As an on-site engraving company, Alpha Engraving markets its city locations and says it provides fast service so patrons do not have to ship their items elsewhere, according to Shain. He thinks this project will ruin street traffic, discourage walk-in clients, and make accessibility difficult for regular customers.

“I sell convenience. This reduces the value of my service because it becomes inconvenient,” Shain said of the department’s plans.

Hell’s Kitchen shopkeepers and residents need only look downtown to see what they’ll experience in coming years. The Chambers Street Reconstruction Project is another part of the city’s overall water main renovations. It began in August, with work currently being done on Chambers Street between Greenwich and Church streets. Half of the two-lane road is cordoned off, and the top portion of the street removed, exposing tubing for utilities.

“I think it’s affected the lunch crowd,” said Beau Faulkner, 36, a manager at the Chambers Street restaurant Mudville Nine. He added that afternoon customers have decreased because the roadwork dissuades them from walking down the street. The eatery has maintained the dinner crowd, including its regulars and destination clientele.

Sylvia Anonova, 51, has had an experience similar to Faulkner’s. She works at reception at the ABI School of Barbering, Manicure, and Cosmetology, which has been on Chambers Street for nine years. Business has slowed since the construction started, and the work does not seem to be progressing, Anonova said.

“Today I see nobody’s here,” Anonova said one Monday in November. “They’re fixing very slow.”

At the block association meeting in November, Norberto Acevedo, Jr., the design department’s citywide community liaison, said a project representative will be appointed to facilitate communications between the agency and residents. The representative’s job is to keep residents abreast of the work as it progresses and of disruptive events such as the water being shut off.

But some Hell’s Kitchen business owners are already frustrated with a lack of information.

“They don’t notify us,” said Rum.

He and Shain were informed of the project by City Beats. Rum said he would probably go to the next meeting, which Community Board 4 plans to hold in January when the department should have more details about scheduling.

The Alpha Engraving showroom will likely move to the company’s second location on West 58th Street, Shain said. As for the machinery set up in the West 51st Street store, Shain is not sure what will happen.

“My lease is up in two years,” Shain said. “I’ll probably not be renewing.”

Posted in Business, City0 Comments

Asian-American Community Hit Hard by Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying affects 62 percent of Asian-Americans nationwide. (Image: Rachel Rogers | City Beats)

Tej Kaur is a Sikh, a religious minority from South Asia. She joins the majority, however, as one of 62 percent of Asian-Americans nationwide who has been a victim of cyberbullying, according to a study released on Oct. 29 by the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C..

“The only reason I’m okay now is because of my religion,” said Kaur, 21, who was bullied both online and in school about her faith.

On Oct. 29 she joined over 200 students and parents at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ Bullying Prevention Summit at Hunter College in New York City.

Although bullying is considered by some to be a rite of passage, the bullies of old did not have social media tools, like Facebook, at their disposal. It used to be that bullying took place at school. Now the problem follows kids whenever they can go online, narrowing the gap between home and school, and leaving victims feeling like they have no safe haven.

“The world we live in now with the Internet and cyberbullying makes the stakes even greater,” said New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in her opening remarks at the summit.

The Asian American community has been hit especially hard. They are the fastest growing racial population, and are suffering the most from bullying across the board. In addition to high cyberbullying rates, 54 percent of Asian-Americans report having been bullied in school, 20 percent more than African-Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Two weeks ago MTV aired DISconnected, a movie based on the true story of Abraham Biggs, a bi-polar college student and victim of cyberbullying who live-streamed his suicide online.

At the summit representatives from MTV and Facebook participated in a session to help parents understand the role social media plays in their children’s lives. Gurparash Singh, 54, began texting his daughter because it is the easiest way to communicate with her, he said.

“Since 2009 I have been a better person,” Singh said. “I can talk to my daughter now.”

Still Singh, a Sikh, sees many members of the Asian-American community who are insulated by their lack of social media knowledge. While most adults in attendance did have Facebook accounts, the language barrier between immigrant parents and their children was a concern. Facebook is available in 70 languages, but that doesn’t help parents trying to keep an eye on their children’s English pages.

Social media is also accessible to children earlier than ever. Fifty-two percent of children up to eight years old have access to a digital device, such as a smart phone or tablet, according to a study by Common Sense Media.

“They have very powerful tools in their hands,” said Anne Schreiber, vice-president of Common Sense Media, who also presented at the summit. Schreiber added that the tools have consequences bullies are often too young to understand.

“What I see from your slides,” Singh said of Schreiber’s presentation,” is that a bigger problem is coming.”

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