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New York’s Public Schools Struggle to Reduce Student Suspensions

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HOST INTRO: When you think of school suspensions, you think of a student who is removed from school for a few days for bad behavior. But education advocates say too many suspensions cause a snowball effect – a student goes from suspension to arrest to eventual incarceration. So schools are now looking for ways to reduce suspensions while maintaining order in the classroom. Aparna Alluri reports.

By the time he was 10 years old Rodney Summers had been suspended from school seven times.

SUMMERS: For fighting, kicking teacher’s doors, not going to class, when there’s movie time in the auditorium, disrupting the movie like going on the stage and stuff (00.11)

Rodney was getting suspended so often, he was falling behind in class. He was in the fourth grade but he could barely read. And he would act up in class.

RODNEY: They would still make me read so I would have to act a certain way, take a pick at another person. (00.05)

Things got so bad he went to live with his aunt, Ronnette Summers. She wasn’t working at the time and offered to help him with schoolwork. But the suspensions continued.

SUMMERS: And the further he fell behind, the worse the behavior got. So eventually I found another school for him which I felt like was a better fit (00.05)

Summers pulled Rodney out of their local public school and enrolled him in a charter school. There, Rodney was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, which often causes problems with concentration and mood swings. Summers doesn’t excuse Rodney’s behavior, but she says the public school could have done more to help him.

SUMMERS: There’s other ways to try to get to the root of exactly what is going on with a student (00.07)

Rodney’s situation is quite typical. In the school year 2011-2012, New York City’s public schools handed out nearly 70, 000 suspensions – a disproporationate number going to black students and those with disorders such as ADHD. After more than a decade of increased suspensions, the numbers have started to drop. That’s due to changes to the discipline code; schools are encouraged to use suspensions as a last resort.

MARC EPSTEIN: So you have to ask what are the rights of the other children in the classroom?

Marc Epstein taught at Jamaica High School in Queens for 18 years. He says it’s unfair that he can’t suspend students for disrupting a class.

For example, if students are late to class, teachers are cannot ask them to stay out. Instead they must report it to the principal and then contact the parents.

MARC EPSTEIN: So you’ll have students just wandering into a classroom at any time. The burden has really shifted to the teacher rather than responsibility being placed on the student.

That is, principals and teachers are being asked to provide more counseling and individual attention. Advocates believe that these alternative solutions will keep students in school in the long run.

Judith Kaye is a former chief judge for the state of New York. She now heads an independent task force focused on keeping students in the classroom and out of the courtroom.

JUDITH KAYE: When they have problems that are left unaddressed, and they are separated from schools, they are headed in the direction of long-term incarceration (00.14)

She says schools should definitely discipline students. Except they need to be more….. thoughtful about it.

KAYE: We don’t need to do it so abusively and destructively and particularly disproportionately for certain racial and other communities (00.10)

As for Rodney Summers, the boy who was suspended so many times he fell behind, he’s now in the 7th grade. He is reading and he hasn’t been suspended in 3 years. He says that’s because the teachers know how to help him.

RODNEY: Like if I am mad or something, they let me call my aunt. They pull me to the side and ask me if I need to talk about anything or need anything from anyone (00.11)

If Rodney gets angry now, he just sticks his hand in the air and his teacher lets him step out of the classroom so he can calm down.

He says these changes are the reason he no longer acts up in school. But experts say it will take a lot of work to do the same in larger, overcrowded public schools.

Aparna Alluri, Columbia Radio News

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The Great New York City Mayoral Transition

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HOST INTRO: Just over three weeks remain before Bill de Blasio takes the oath of office to become New York City’s 109th mayor. Though De Blasio announced a few key appointments last week, political watchers are still waiting for others. But not everyone who’s currently in city government will leave when Mayor Michael Bloomberg does. Dan Mescon reports.

Bill de Blasio was elected mayor on November 5th. A few days later, a “Talking Transition” tent opened to the public just north of TriBeCa.

AMBI: Sound up of music from the town hall for a few seconds, then turn down and keep under until near the end of next piece of narration. (0:13)

It wasn’t affiliated with the de Blasio campaign, but it was meant to give New Yorkers a place to voice their opinions on what’s important to them in the coming years.

JONES AUSTIN: “Your words, your voices, will carry.” (0:03)

AMBI: Sound up of town hall room. Fade out at end of narration. (0:07)

At the tent’s final event – a town hall meeting in late November – Jennifer Jones Austin spoke to a crowd of about 500 people.

JONES AUSTIN: “You’ve heard a lot about what needs to get done by January 1st. And so we are on a short timeframe, a short clock. But, the transition will continue way after January 1st.” (0:12)

AMBI: Sound up of town hall room. Fade out at beginning of Jones Austin’s next sound bite. (0:12)

Jones Austin is a co-chair of de Blasio’s transition committee. Last week, the mayor-elect appointed former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton to once again lead the police force. He also named Anthony Shorris as first deputy mayor and Emma Wolfe as director of intergovernmental affairs. Other high profile positions, like schools chancellor, have yet to be announced. But, Jones Austin says there are some government employees who will stay where they are.

JONES AUSTIN: “One of the great things is that there are people who were working in city government who will remain in place, and so they will be there to provide a bridge.” (0:08)

AMBI: Sound up of town hall room. Fade out when Skurnik is first mentioned. (0:13)

So not everyone leaves when a new mayor gets elected. There are hundreds of thousands of career employees in New York City – police officers, firefighters, teachers and sanitation workers. They’re not going anywhere. Jerry Skurnik, a political consultant who worked in the Ed Koch administration, says de Blasio will replace most city commissioners and agency heads. But it’s the deputy and assistant commissioners who may or may not stay on. Skurnik says some city government employees have quite a long run.

SKURNIK: “When we were in…this was the Koch administration, they had people who had been there from the Lindsey administration, which had started…12 years before Koch came in. And I’m sure there are people still working now in the Bloomberg administration who worked in the Dinkins and Giuliani administration. Probably some in the Koch administration. You know, maybe in different jobs.” (0:25)

Barbara Fife helped coordinate the transition effort after David Dinkins won the mayor’s race in 1989. Then she became a deputy mayor for planning and development. And she says potential new employees are everywhere once the ballots are counted.

FIFE: “What happens is as soon as the election returns are in, the resumes just come pouring in. I mean I was afraid to look under my door at night.” (0:12)

Skurnik says thousands of people wanted jobs after Koch won his election – from low-level positions on up. During the transition, he acted as a kind of political vetter for job-seekers.

SKURNIK: “My job was actually to look at those resumes to see if there was any, based either on what was in there, or just my own knowledge, whether or not any of those people actually had any political…either good or bad baggage.” (0:16)

Skurnik says it could take up to a year for the commissioners and agency heads that won’t continue on to be replaced. For right now, he says it’s important for de Blasio to get his key people installed, because a crisis always comes up.

And Fife says coming into office, there are about a million things to do. Even though the election’s exciting…

FIFE: “By the time you’re halfway through the transition, you’re just very, very aware of what a big and demanding job this is.” (0:08)

It’s something de Blasio and his team have very likely already realized.

Dan Mescon, Columbia Radio News.

Posted in City Life, Money and Politics0 Comments

Changes to Homeless Shelter System

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HOST INTRO There are at least 50,000 homeless in New York City. This strain on resources during the Bloomberg administration prompted what are known as scatter shelters. Those are largely vacant residential buildings that were quickly turned into supposedly temporary shelters for the homeless. Now, incoming mayor Bill De Blasio says he’s going to get rid of them. Charlotte Phillips reports.

There are 123 scatter shelters in New York City. One is known as Freedom House. It’s on West 95th Street. 400 people live in a space for 200. Aaron Biller lives close by. He says there’s been a rise there since the shelter opened, in street crime, noise issues and more.

BILLER: Quality of life in terms of confrontation with people because you have unruly people who are off their medications. TIME: (0.8)

Some residents agree. Samantha, who only wants to be identified by first name, has been living at Freedom House with her husband since June. She stops to talk as she leaves the shelter to go out for the day.

AMBI
TIME: (0.1)

SAMANTHA: There have certain people that drink, giving we good people a bad name.
TIME: 0.11

The mentally ill make up about 30% of the homeless population. Dealing with them makes it difficult to close the scatter shelters. Craig Mayes is the Executive Director of New York City Rescue Mission.

The violent crimes are more likely to come from that part of the homeless population
TIME: 0.12

However, the mentally ill are not a problem the city or any Mayor can solve, as funding for this comes mostly from federal level. But even without the mentally ill proportion of the homeless, Mayes says the city still has to deal with at least 35,000 homeless people.

MAYES: whatever their policies are, you’re still going to have a significant problem in any major city like New York with poverty and homelessness
TIME 0.07

De Blasio representative’s did not return requests to Uptown Radio. But Mayor elect Bill De Blasio has called to end scatter shelters and wants more sustainable solutions. His platform on homelessness focuses on affordable housing and he plans to change the zoning laws so more is available. billdeblasio.com also says he will redirect 1 billion dollars of public pension funds, to locally invest in the 5 boroughs and help pay for affordable housing construction. He also plans to keep utility bills as low as possible, so more people can afford to live in private accommodation.

He also wants to move the homeless into New York City public housing. The 2011 New York City Housing Authority survey showed a vacancy rate of just over 3 %. Anything less than a 5% vacancy is classified as a housing emergency. There isn’t enough room. Craig Mayes doesn’t believe de Blasio’s proposals are really solutions at all.

MAYES Should there be more affordable housing in NY? Absolutely. Where’s that going to come from? Who’s going to pay for that?
TIME: 0.10

Scatter shelter neighbor Aaron Biller agrees.

BILLER: I don’t think that he’s going to be able to affect the kind of changes that he promised. At the end of the day, the funding streams have to be changed.
TIME: 0.18

De Blasio will start to announce members of his administration after he is inaugurated on the first of January, including his director of homeless services.

Charlotte Phillips, Columbia Radio News

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After 5 Pointz Painted Over, Artists Wonder ‘What’s Next?

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HOST INTRO: If you wanted to see work by some of the best graffiti artists in the world, you went to 5 Pointz. At least you used to. The building that used to be covered with art was painted over last month. Now some artists say the surprise paint job was an act of cultural vandalism. Matt Collette has the story.

COLLETTE: A massive portrait of rapper Biggie Smalls used to greet riders of the 7 train as it crawled above ground in Queens. It was one of a few hundred pieces of graffiti and street art on the walls of the former factory known as 5 Pointz. The building was a canvas in the city where graffiti became art, but where artists today have fewer and fewer places to do it legally.

That ended overnight between the 15th and 16th of November, when the building’s owner had the whole painted white. Artists had no idea it was going to happen. The next morning, many dropped everything and headed straight to 5 Pointz — to mourn, to grieve, to just see what had happened with their own eyes.

Topaz was one of those artists. He’d just finished a big mural of Jimi Hendrix, one of dozens of pieces he’d done there over the years.

TOPAZ: The amount of work that went into covering this whole building, you’re talking 11 years. (0:08)

His real name is James Rocco. He’s 37 and lives in Queens. Like most artists, he’d accepted the fact that 5 Pointz was coming down at the end of this year, with two glass condo towers taking its place. But its early end just felt cruel.

TOPAZ: That’s not something you can just sit down and say, alright, let’s start over. You know, a lot of it was winging it. We didn’t know what the hell was going to come out of it, but we knew we didn’t want no trouble, and we knew we wanted to do something good. (0:17)

An artist who calls himself Meres One was curator at 5 Pointz. He says he had an agreement with the owners: the artists wouldn’t put up any new pieces, but their existing work would stay in place until the building was demolished. As the crowd started to gather, Meres — whose real name’s Jonathan Cohen — started taping blank poster board to the building. He wanted to give artists and neighbors a chance to express themselves even though they couldn’t paint on 5 Pointz. As people started to write, volunteer Marie Flageul wondered why a pair of NYPD officers were approaching.

FLAGEUL: We’re not painting and we’re legally in the loading dock, and the cops are coming now. I’m just – isn’t there some car robbery happening somewhere? Seriously? (0:13)

Flageul and a few other 5 Pointz volunteers starting talking with the cops, telling them that what they were doing was legal. And if a crime had been committed, they said, it was when the art was painted over.

COP: You’ve got to remember I got the call as graffiti.
FLAGEUL: Of course. Of course. Of course you got the call as graffiti.
COP: I’m not here to argue with you. I’m just making sure no laws are being broken.
FLAGEUL: No, I appreciate. No laws are being broken.
OTHER VOICES: Not on our side. (0:23)

This was all especially hard on Meres One. He’s curated the work at 5 Pointz for the last decade. In a city where graffiti had been pushed off the streets and subways, he gave it a legal home. Now it felt like they were outlaws again.

MERES: We can’t even put those posters on our wall? That amazes me even more. So where are you pushing us? Where are we supposed to go? Where are we supposed to paint? Where do you want us to go? (0:09)

5 Pointz owner Jerry Wolkoff didn’t respond to Uptown Radio’s requests for comment. But he told New York Magazine that watching the building come apart piece by piece would have been torture, so painting over the work seemed like a better alternative.

But a lot of 5 Pointz artists think he had another motive. A group of them had been putting together an application to get the building declared a landmark, graffiti and all. It would’ve been the second filed with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. The artists had hoped a huge number of signatures might help their cause this time. Graffiti artist Dready Kruger said all of the signatures collected were now worthless.

KRUGER: Meanwhile we have 30,000 landmark applications ready to submit, but what are you going to submit them for if you’ve destroyed all the artwork? (0:06)

There used to be more than 100 artist studios inside 5 Pointz, too. But in 2009 a stairwell collapsed. One artist was hurt so badly she spent months in the hospital. City inspectors said the building was dangerous and ordered the building closed immediately. With condo plans already underway, those studios never reopened.

Early last month, a state court judge in Brooklyn denied the artist’s final attempt to stop the condo development. Their agreement with Wolkoff came to an end November 30. Demolition is set to get started around New Years. But that doesn’t mean 5 Pointz is dead. Ryan Seslow is an artist who teaches at CUNY and a couple other art schools in New York. He says 5 Pointz will be remembered,

SESLOW: as a place that was great and as the foundation of where graffiti has traveled on to. I think that this is just the beginning, and I think there will be not only one, but a number of places that pop up over the next five to ten years. (0:15)

The owners say their new building will have some space for graffiti, though it won’t be anywhere near 200,000 or so square feet of wall space at 5 Pointz. And it’ll be years before the new building even becomes available. Matt Collette, Columbia Radio News.

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Whole Foods Opens in Gowanus: Long-time Residents Take a Look at Their Changing Neighborhood

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HOST INTRO: One week from today, a new Whole Foods store will open for business in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Some local, community activists have fought Whole Foods’ plans to open here for almost ten years, while other residents see it as a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Lene Bech tells the story of a changing neighborhood, through the eyes of two long-time residents.

Gowanus doesn’t fit most people’s idea of pretty. The Brooklyn neighborhood is home to old industrial factories and takes its name from the polluted Gowanus Canal, an EPA superfund site. And yet, Linda Mariano sees beauty, where most people do not.

Mariano: Look, just look at this . The urban, industrial landscape.

I have always loved industrial neighborhoods because it is the strength that this country was built on and this is what I find so important to our culture, our society, our history.

That’s why, Mariano spent years fighting to keep Whole Foods out of Gowanus, as part of a community organization – they attended community meetings and filed appeals.

Mariano thinks the empty lot should have been offered to smaller manufacturing companies, in keeping with the neighborhood’s history.

As she walks to the corner of 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street, she looks at the store and still can’t believe what she sees

Mariano:“What is this.. what is this?

What this is, is a big-box store.

Mariano: It’s like we landed in another world, in another place. This isn’t our neighborhood, this isn’t our community.
This is like some ugly, suburban development here. I mean, this is something Robert Moses (laughs) could have dropped in here

Moses was the urban planner, who built parks, bridges and highways in New York City. His nemesis was social activist Jane Jacobs. When he tried to build an expressway through lower Manhattan, she let a fight that defeated the plan.
The Jane Jacobs of Gowanus is Linda Mariano, according to one Brooklyn journalist. The two women are part of a long line of social activists in New York City.

Petrus: I think it’s distinguished New York and that’s not to say that other cities don’t have a rich history of social activism

That’s Stephen Petrus, a curator at the Museum of the City of New York

He says that while Jane Jacobs succeeded, present-day activists may be facing tougher challenges. Social activism ebbs and flows through history and right now, it’s ebbing. The reason? New Yorkers today are convinced that development improves the economy.

I don’t see this widespread movement where organizations are being formed to combat it because the incentives are for real estate to invest here, it will bring more tax revenue to the city, make neighborhoods even safer.
These are things that will appeal to many people as well

Gentrification is coming at Gowanus from both sides, from Park Slope and Carroll Gardens.
Mariano sees the changes happen as she walks her neighborhood,
(Mariano: Oh-oh, a lucky penny)
just as she sees a lot of people, who know her because of her community activism.
On one of her walks, she stops by the studio of sculptor Ron Mehlmann.

(Actuality of entering Ron’s workshop – music) Hello…

Mariano and Mehlmann went to graduate school together

Mehlmann: She scared the daylights out of me, this one.

and both have owned houses in the neighborhood since the 1970’s
As Mariano heads home to prepare dinner, Mehlmann explains what the neighborhood was like when he moved in almost twenty years ago

Mehlmann: I’ve watched it come from an industrial block street, it was terrible and grungy, with hookers every Friday, mostly on Friday cause it was payday.

Now, he says the neighborhood is mostly better. He thinks his neighbors will be delighted with the new store

Mehlmann: because everyone can have a Whole Foods with healthy -its expensive but so what. I think it’s gonna only enhance the neighborhood, people are complaining but the value of the buildings they own is gonna double and triple.

He does worry that the neighborhood will become too residential, to the point where businesses like his won’t be tolerated.

But, he says, in New York City, neighborhoods inevitably change. He says, he finds the gentrification in Brooklyn exciting

Mehlmann: I sound like a conservative, don’t I? But I’m not really.

And he is going to shop at Whole Foods

Mehlmann: I’m looking forward to walking two blocks down and having a healthy lunch.

Linda Mariano will not be having lunch at the store. As she stands on the sidewalk next to it, she worries it will force the neighborhood which she loves, to loose its industrial character

Mariano: It gives you a sense of place. And a sense of place is something that really makes you happy where you are. And when its taken away by ugliness and thing inappropriate. And not fairly. It’s painful.

The Whole Foods store in Gowanus opens Tuesday.

Lene Bech, Columbia Radio News

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After Two Children Die, Pedestrian Activists Demand Justice

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HOST INTRO: Two children in Brooklyn died this fall after being hit by speeding cars. In response to the pedestrian deaths, activists are demanding lower speed limits. They hope slowing traffic will curb the crashes. But some say writing those laws will be a challenge. Katie Toth reports.

Just beside the traffic on Prospect Park West, there’s a quiet part of Third Street where time stands still.

SOUND: up on running sounds —fade down on “Bears” (0:04)

Teddy bears, a ping pong racquet, and a tiger-striped knit hat are tied to a set of three aluminum gates.

This makeshift memorial for Samuel Cohen Eckstein marks the place he died on October 8. Reports say the twelve-year-old was running into the street after a soccer ball when he had the light. But when the light changed, he got hit by a speeding van that didn’t have time to stop.

Lisa Landow lives in the same building as the Eckstein family.

LANDOW: People are going like 60 miles an hour maybe more and also turning corners really quickly.

She says that there have been attempts to slow cars on Prospect Park West, but they haven’t been enough.

LANDOW: It’s pretty treacherous.

Hilda Cohen—no relation to Sammy—is a longtime cycling and pedestrian activist. She says she’s had enough.

COHEN: I think we’re at something of a tipping point. I mean there’s always horrific crashes but it just seems to be getting worse and worse. People have just had it.
TIME: 0:10

Last month, another child in her community was killed in traffic. His name was Lucian Merryweather. The nine year old was standing on the sidewalk with his mom in November. An out-of-control SUV struck him and he died.

For Cohen, the root of the problem is this: people drive too fast and the police do nothing about it.

COHEN: You used to fear your kids would be abducted but In New York City it’s really a fear of traffic. I think that’s the biggest fear parents have.
TIME: 0:11

Cohen started a group called Make Brooklyn Safer. Her group, are asking the city council to lower the city-wide 30 mile per hour speed limit to 20—on residential streets. Studies show that when drivers slow down, injuries to pedestrians are less serious.

At first, city council seemed to be all for the idea. But New York State law won’t allow speed limits under 25 miles per hour. So councilors tweaked the bill: to 25 miles per hour on one-lane, one-way streets, only.

But there may be a loophole. With so much of New York being close to a school, the city could declare all those areas school zones, allowing it lower the limit to 20.

Loophole or not, at least one group thinks the law is a bad idea: The Automobile Association of America. Robert Sinclair, is the spokesperson in New York:

SINCLAIR: They seem to be going off ad hoc and doing these things without any basis in fact to support their desires to do this. TIME: 0:08

Sinclair says the city already has the right to lower the speed limit past the state’s 25-mile-per-hour law. It just has to follow certain rules. The city has to do it on a street-by-street basis, with the input of traffic engineers. And it has to add what he calls “traffic calming devices,” like speed humps.

Besides, Sinclair says the city is already failing to enforce the current law.

SINCLAIR: We fail to see how they are magically going to improve their ability to enforce speed limits by lowering the speed limit to 20 miles per hour.
TIME: 0:13

But Cohen says that every path to safer streets needs to be pursued equally.

COHEN: I love the streets of the city. It’s where we see all the people that we know. I mean, personally, I want my kids to not be worried that they’re going to be struck while they’re on the sidewalk.
TIME: 0:10

Two more New York pedestrians were killed by vehicles this weekend. Right now, Cohen’s dream seems like a distant one.

Katie Toth, Columbia Radio News.

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NYCHA Residents Fear New City Development Plans

NYCHA Residents Fear New City Development Plans

NYCHA Residents

Residents gather outside City Hall to fight against the New York Housing Authority’s plan to lease land in the projects to private developers. (Ntshepeng Motema/Uptown Radio)

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INTRO: A new plan is taking shape that would change life inside New York City Housing Authority buildings. It would allow the Housing Authority to lease land to private developers. Some residents are protesting the idea, saying it would ruin their communities. Ntshepeng Motema reports.

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In Cell Phone Age, Pay Phones Still Getting Upgrades

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INTRO: These days most New Yorkers may have cellphones. But there are still 11,000 payphones on the streets and in other public places  in New York. And the City is not planning to abandon them any time soon. As Anna Goldenberg reports, there are even efforts to modernize them.

REPORTER

Mark Thomas has been fascinated by payphones since he was a child.

Bring up sound of walking here.

The 50-something artist lives in Queens. As we walk down Broadway in Astoria on a sunny Sunday afternoon, he has a story about nearly every payphone.

THOMAS

I just wanted to point this one out, because I got this one fixed. This one was out of service for like five years. I made a 311 complaint.

He steps into the three-walled metal booth, picks up the receiver and flicks the silver hook switch to get a dial tone.

Sound of beeping.

THOMAS

That’s not a dial tone.

OPERATOR

Invalid number. Please dial again.

THOMAS

Well, it worked for a little while.

The glory days of the payphone are over. But Thomas might be considered the keeper of the flame. He started a website called the payphone project in 1995. He collected numbers of more than half a million payphones across the country. The data was often used to solve crimes. That rarely happens anymore because most payphones don’t accept incoming calls. But making calls has always only been one way to use public phones. My walk down payphone memory lane with Thomas in Astoria gives a whole new meaning to phone sex.

THOMAS

These are great places to make out, by the way. My girlfriend and I, we like this one.

Fade down sound of walking.

Bring up room tone.

So are payphones often-broken, crime-busting, make-out-booths or public safety essentials? There are still situations when payphones do more than serve as a public refuge for private moments. Charles Jennings is a professor at John Jay College. He studies coordination and safety of first responders. Jennings says without payphones on the street, it could take too long to dial 9-1-1.

JENNINGS

You know, there are plenty of cases where people observe an emergency, they may not have a cell phone with them, and they have to, either go to somebody’s house, knock on a door, or find another means to get someone to make that call.

Jennings says there are at least two other instances in which payphones can be life-savers: During natural disasters, such as hurricane Sandy last year, cell phone networks were overloaded. Because payphones are landlines, they are a reliable form of communication. And then, there’s the subway. Even though the MTA is working on expanding underground wireless and cell phone service, Jenning says that payphones in the stations still serve an important function.

JENNINGS

The whole idea of if you see something, say something. Well, who are you going say something to, if you don’t have a way to communicate.

Fade down room tone.

Data from the City suggest that, on average, six calls a day are made from every pay phone in New York. And almost 2,000 emergency calls per day are placed from sidewalk payphones. Abandoning payphones completely is not an option for the City – but modernizing them is. This summer, the City will put out a call for proposals to get a new franchise partner for the City’s payphones. Stanley Shor from the City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications says the payphone of the future might have both old and new elements.

SHOR

So that you still have the safety net of the emergency call but near the convenience of having wifi. We possibly have cell phone chargers, touch screens, various ways of someone using the city’s streets for telecommunications purposes.

To get a better idea of what a new payphone for New York might look like, his department launched a competition called Reinventing Payphones. The winners were announced in March. Last weekend, they showed off their inventions at a street fair.

Bring up sound of exhibition here.

The sidewalk in front of the New Museum at Spring Street and Bowery is filled with colorful stalls on Saturday afternoon. There is food, activists group – and lots of talk about payphones.

Bring up sound of windchimes.

WONG

So the noise you’ve just heard is the telephone collecting the sensor information and communicating it through the tones associated with numbers of the payphone. And that’s why we call it the Windchimes because it’s kind of the musical aspect of how this works communicating through the tones.

Nick Wong is an engineering student at Cooper Union and the project leader of Windchimes. His is the only group that has brought a life-sized prototype of their invention, for which they won the prize for best community impact. The phone looks and sounds almost like an old-fashioned payphone. He says there’s a reason the model looks old school.

WONG

So it works just like a normal telephone, so people are familiar with it when they step up to make a phone call.

Wong says there’s no handset because it’s the most fragile part of the phone. Instead, microphones and speakers are built into the wooden walls that are open on one side. On top, it has an environmental sensor, that can measure things such as temperature and air quality. That information could be helpful to city planners, health departments, and everyone else who wants specific environmental information from a location.

Fade down sound from street fair.

Wong’s model phone might not become the payphone of the future. But it is clear that communication on the streets will continue – in one way or another. This is Anna Goldenberg, Columbia Radio News.

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New Bed-Stuy Housing Development Gets Mixed Reception

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INTRO: A new multi-million dollar development in Bed-Stuy aims to increase affordable housing while providing supportive services for homeless families and former inmates. Jessica Gould report.

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Queers, Against Gay Marriage?

Queers, Against Gay Marriage?

John and Glenn

John Hoge and Glenn Santiago have lived together for 27 years. They got married in 2012 a year after gay marriage became legal in New York. This is their home in the East Village. (Camilo Vargas/Uptown Radio).

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INTRO: Support for gay marriage keeps growing in the United States. But some members of the gay community, who call themselves Queers, oppose gay marriage. The issue has revealed a split in the gay community. And it goes back to the radical spirit of gay liberation from decades ago. Camilo Vargas reports from Christopher Street, where it all began.

When you walk into the Stonewall bar on Christopher Street, you’re greeted by a long line of pop hits.

Fade up music at  ‘pop hits’

Near the entrance, a frame has a newspaper from June 1969. The headline: Homo Nest: Queen Bees are Stinging Mad.

Fade down pop music and fade up street ambi.

I walk out with Steve, one of the sixty-year olds at the bar. He was 22 at the time, and he explains the headline.

Steve:

The Stonewall bar was the original bar that was raided by the police where people resisted the raid and the denigration that used to go on. This kicked off the gay liberation movement. 0.12

The rioters were drag queens, runaway youth and gay and lesbian patrons of the bar. Society called them queers. They were the weirdos, the marginals, the deviants. And they inspired activist the groups that sprung up all around the country. They claimed the word Queer as a synonym of sexual liberation, of freedom, of gay power. “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it,” was their motto.  Fade out street ambi

Queer activist Yasmin Nair fears that gay marriage betrays the spirit of the Stonewall riots.

Yasmin

We felt that there was a real need for queers to understand that there’s actually always been a radical history of being against gay marriage and having a left radical politics. 0.10

Queers today continue fighting against what they saw as the establishment.

Yasmin 

The queers have always made a connection between those oppressive institutions and institutions like marriage, the prison industrial complex, the military… 0.08

During the seventies and eighties, the gay movement fought for sexual liberation, for social and economic rights. And for their own survival survival.

Yasmin

We had the AIDS movement in the 80s and that depleted our efforts, not only because we lost so many but because it consumed so much energy.  0.10

Then the face of the gay movement changed in the 90s. Celebrities and rich personalities came out. Organizations like the Human Rights Campaign began lobbying for full legal equality. The new motto was not to fight the establishment, but to be part of it.  The movement began to attract mass support. Gender studies professor Bonnie Morris remembers the third great march for gay rights in Washington.

Morris

Now by the time we get to the Millenium March in 2000 there was a definite trend towards Faith, Marriage, it sounded very mainstream. 0.08


Hundreds of thousands attended the march. But Queer activists all over shunned the event. The demands had gotten too conservative. Corporations began funding gay initiatives. And many Gays began focusing on  the legal benefits of marriage.

Morris

A lot of the shift towards focusing on marriage, had to do with protecting assets if you had some.  0.08

Queer activist Yasmin has a somewhat darker interpretation of the shift. She believes that gay couples must now tie the knot, literally, if they want health care, immigration rights or tax breaks.

Yasmin

Marriage is now being coerced upon too many people, so it’s not an option actually. 0.05

But Morris argues that there is something that draws couples to marriage, and it has nothing to do with assets.

Morris

Gay marriage as a means of also getting access to rituals, and well-wishing, and a host of other things that are very hard to quantify. 0.10

Fade up room tone from John and Glenn’s

Rituals are important to Glenn Santiago and John Hoge. They met in New York in 1985 and have been together for 27 years. Their apartment in the East Village is an explosion of Mexican carnival skulls, catholics relics and gay art. They started celebrating the Mexican Day of the Dead in the name of the dozens of friends they lost during the AIDS epidemic.

John

We didn’t think we’d live to be together 20 years. Everyone was dying. It was like get married, why? Let’s just have as much fun as we can now, because we’re not gonna make it that much longer. 0.13

The experience of surviving AIDS led John and Glenn to get legal documents to protect them in case one of them should pass away. Assets were not in their mind when they decided to tie the knot last November.

John

When did we do our wills? That was…

Glenn

Probably fifteen years ago. 0.05

John and Glenn lived and cherished the free spirit of the seventies. Marriage was not something that they needed. Until last year, when Glenn had a fever that almost took him to the hospital.

John

I realized that if I have to take Glenn to a hospital anywhere in this country now, I don’t have to take that paper with me, I can say “that is my husband.” 0.10

John and Glenn are still getting used to that word… husband. They’ve survived together, lived together. And the day of the ceremony, as the minister pronounced them husbands

Glenn

I got choked up thinking I never ever dreamed that I would be part of a state or a country that would legally say that I was just like everybody. 0.13

Fade out room tone.

Bonnie Morris thinks back to 2000 and remembers why many activists supported the shift in the movement.

Morris

Should we be putting all of our time into defending gays in the military, gays in the altar, gays in the church, and a lot of people said “Yeah, because we’ve been there all along.” 0.18)

The queers are not standing in the way of those who want to get married. But they continue to defend their radical legacy. They want marriage to remain an option among many. And to make its rights and benefits available to all.

Camilo Vargas, Columbia Radio News.

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Construction Unions Want More WTC Cash From Insurers

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Construction unions rallied to demand bigger payments from airline insurance companies to help rebuild the World Trade Center. The companies are currently help finance the new Freedom Tower, but the unions want insurers to pay for claims in a wider area of downtown Manhattan.

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Uptown Radio’s Local Newscast for May 3, 2013

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For Columbia Radio News in New York, I’m Tony Maglio.

Former New York State Senator Shirley Huntley worked as a government informant in 2012.

The Queens Democrat secretly recorded seven elected officials, according to court documents. Prosecutors indicated that Huntley’s recordings may help bring charges against another, unnamed senator, and two other elected officials. Huntley resigned last year after pleading guilty to a corruption scandal in which she admitted to embezzling nearly $88,000. Huntley is scheduled to be sentenced on May 9.

Two former associates of New York City comptroller John Liu were convicted on Thursday for their roles in an illegal fund-raising scheme. Liu, who is a candidate for mayor, has not been charged with a crime and maintains his innocence.

LIU_ACT_NC1.wav: “They can look at anything and everything they want…voters of New York City.”

Police divers are searching for the body of a pilot on the bottom of the Hudson River. A World War II-era amphibious airplane crashed and sank on Thursday.

State police detected debris where the plane went down near the river’s east bank in Germantown – 40 miles south of Albany. Today, divers located the tail section. The pilot is presumed dead.

An autopsy has determined that a 14-year-old girl found charred and naked on a Brooklyn beach was killed. The medical examiner’s office says that Shaniesha Forbes died of “homicidal asphyxiation,” which includes suffocation and smothering. Forbes’ body was discovered on Gerritsen (HARD G, GERIT-sen) Beach in January.

The city needs to take steps to handle natural disasters better after Superstorm Sandy, Deputy Mayors said today. Suggestions included buying more police boats and developing a system to track patients after hospital evacuations. The city also plans to expand hurricane evacuation areas to encompass 640,000 more people.

On the back of a strong April jobs report, the Dow Jones briefly topped 15,000 today and the S&P climbed above 1,600. Those are both record highs.

Tonight, the Knicks play the Boston Celtics at 7. The Nets host the Chicago Bulls tomorrow at 8 pm. It’s currently 62 degrees and clear. It will be 60s and sunny all weekend.

For Columbia Radio News, I’m Tony Maglio.

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Is New York Mayoral Candidate John Liu’s Campaign Over?

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HOST INTRO: Two of mayoral candidate John Liu’s former associates, Jenny Hou and Oliver Pan, have been found guilty of wire fraud and obstruction of justice. Lance Dixon spoke with Brigid Bergin, WNYC’s City Hall reporter, and she says everybody wants to know if his campaign is over.

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Restorative Justice Aims To Be Peaceful Alternative to Punishment

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HOST INTRO:

The American criminal justice system seems pretty simple: After someone commits a crime, they’re convicted, sentenced and sent to prison. Time is served and people are released. But the disturbing fact is that 40-percent of the people leaving prison will be back.

But there’s another way of looking at crime and punishment – it’s called restorative justice. And as Christie Thorne reports, it’s a movement that’s taking off across the country.

[AMB: Fade Up and Hold Under, Driving in car with Vicky to scene of accident (Engine, Turn Signal)]

On a recent sunny afternoon, Vicky Ruvolo takes a right turn onto Sunrise Highway in Ronkonkoma, a quiet Long Island town. We arrive at a spot less than five minutes from her house. Vicky says this is where she almost died nine years ago.

VICKY RUVOLO:

See, I think it happened right over here at this miniature golf place.

Just before Thanksgiving in 2004, Vicky was driving home from a fun night out with her family. Four teenagers were approaching in an oncoming car. The kids were joyriding, on a shopping spree with a stolen credit card. As the two cars passed, 18-year-old Ryan Cushing hurled a large object out of the window, aiming it right at Vicky. It was a 20-pound frozen turkey…

VICKY RUVOLO:

That went into my windshield, hit me in the face and nearly killed me. I didn’t wake up until over a month later.

She was knocked out on the spot.

[AMB: Drop Out "Driving in car"]

Vicky’s injuries were so severe that she spent a month in a medically induced coma, and another five recovering.

It took the police less than a week to identify the teenagers. Ryan eventually turned himself in. He was facing up to 25 years in prison for first-degree assault and reckless endangerment.

VICKY RUVOLO:

He was going to be wasting his whole life – he was going to lose 25 years to sit and rot in jail for a stupid, ridiculous act.

Vicky didn’t understand the benefit of punishing Ryan. Her emotional struggle was just as challenging as the physical. Still in rehab, Vicky prayed. And she came to a realization: that she had to forgive.

VICKY RUVOLO:

Because that’s the biggest thing that people forget. Is that forgiveness, isn’t about that other person. It’s all about you. Because when you forgive you’re letting go of all that anger, that pain, that negativity. It actually releases you.

Vicky asked that Ryan be given leniency. She didn’t want him to spend more than 6 months in jail.

At the sentencing hearing, Vicky and Ryan met face-to-face for the first time. At the end of the day, Ryan walked over to where Vicky was sitting with her family.

VICKY RUVOLO:

And he stood in front of me and was just crying profusely, just crying. Talking through his tears just saying, “I never meant this to happen. I prayed for you every day. I’m so glad you’re doing well.”

Then, she hugged him.

VICKY RUVOLO:

The only thing I could do was coddle him like a child. And I told him, “Just take this experience and do something good with your life.”

In response to Vicky’s request, the judge sentenced Ryan to six months in jail, five years of probation and a year of community service.

Ryan spent that year working with Dr. Robert Goldman, who was the supervising psychologist at the Suffolk County Probation Department. Goldman had developed an innovative restorative justice program called TASTE.

[AMB: Fade Up and Hold Under, Vicky & Robert greet one another at restaurant (Waitress, Dishes)]

ROBERT GOLDMAN:

I was seeing children in the juvenile justice system graduate into the adult criminal justice system.

Goldman had spent a little over a decade as a criminal defense attorney. And most of his defendants were children. He noticed a problem. Not just in Long Island, but across the country.

ROBERT GOLDMAN:

Like Vicky, I really didn’t know what restorative justice was, I just knew what we were doing wasn’t right.

Restorative justice is an alternative to a purely punitive approach. The movement focuses on the needs of both victims and offenders and gives both parties an opportunity to heal and learn from a criminal experience.

Psychologist Jacques Verduin has pioneered several restorative justice programs in California prisons:

JACQUES VERDUIN:

Where you get to stare down your demons, confront your actions and name your victim in front of everybody. That’s tough on crime.

Verduin says that the current system isn’t doing anyone any good.

JACQUES VERDUIN:

You know, to run a system that is so heavy on custody and so little on creating opportunities for people to change their ways, is in many ways a disservice to public safety. It’s time for us to start investing in keeping people out of prison rather than in prison.

Right now, 1 in 34 Americans are under some form of correctional supervision – that’s close to 7 million people in prison, jail, parole or probation.

JACQUES VERDUIN:

Across the board, about 95 percent of all prisoners eventually get out. And they get out to be somebody’s neighbor. So how do you want them to come out? Punished, clueless, not having learned anything? Or educated, evolved and a bit more humble?

Ryan Cushing is a good example of the latter. Vicky still keeps in touch with him.

VICKY RUVOLO:

Now he’s off probation, now he’s got a job, he’s got his own apartment, now he’s paying taxes like the rest of us – instead of our taxes paying for him to rot in jail!

Vicky knows how much Ryan took away from the experience. She says that she gained, too.

VICKY RUVOLO:

I got my life, what better gift is there? And I was just glad that I could do that for him.

Right now, Ryan’s outcome is the exception and not the norm. But more and more restorative justice programs are being implemented across the country. And in New York City, the method is even being introduced in some schools.

Christie Thorne, Columbia Radio News.

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New York Church Helps Ex-Convicts Find Jobs

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HOST INTRO: Another way to help former inmates re-enter society is through religious groups. Re-entering society after imprisonment can be difficult on the former inmate and his or her family. Amber Binion visited Riverside Memorial Church where religious organizations met to discuss the most effective ways to help ex-convicts find jobs.

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Debris Impedes Post-Sandy Recovery Along Jamaica Bay

Debris Impedes Post-Sandy Recovery Along Jamaica Bay

Don Riepe of the American Littoral Society looks out over Jamaica Bay six months after Hurricane Sandy hit, May. 2013 (Katherine Jacobsen/Uptown Radio)

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HOST INTRO:

When Hurricane Sandy slammed into the shore of Long Island, it devastated humans as well as ecosystems along the Northeastern seaboard.  Six months later, Katherine Jacobsen went to Jamaica Bay to see how one of these ecosystems is recovering.

__

The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is made up of a sprinkling of islands, tucked behind the Rockaways in the Jamaica Bay. When Sandy hit, the storm surge sent water over the low-lying islands dismantling houses, docks and sand dunes.

Lincoln Hallowell is a park ranger at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. He says that he and his colleagues still aren’t sure what effect Sandy will have on the area’s wildlife.

Lincoln Hallowell:

It’s, it’s a different place. 

He stands in his office and points to a map that shows the area before the storm.

Lincoln Hallowell:

You can see… it looks like there should be something there, and up until Oct. 29, there was something there.

That something was a freshwater pond that was an important stopover for migratory birds and a walking path.

Lincoln Hallowell:

In just a matter of a few hours during the storm, that disappeared. 

But even though the freshwater pond and the sand dunes that kept it in place were washed away by the storm, environmentalists say that the wildlife in the area has been surprisingly resilient.  But they also say the sand dunes need to be rebuilt.

Arthur Lerner-Lam is a seismologist from Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Arthur Lerner-Lam:

So, Jamaica Bay was almost a buffer for some of the populated areas inland. What do we learn from that? We learn that nature in some way can be used to protect the places where people live.   

The sand dunes at Jamaica Bay acted as natural shock absorbers.  Sand dunes are known as soft infrastructure.  That’s as opposed to hard infrastructure, like storm walls.  The walls can send the waves bouncing back into the ocean.  Lerner-Lam says, in a small inlet area, this means that the waves could hit each other, amplify and then crash into the hard structure again.

But Lerner-Lam says the dunes won’t survive a storm without the grasses that grow on top of the dunes.

Arthur Lerner-Lam:

Well, any vegetation, such as marsh grasses will actually hold the sanddunes in place, or at least the top layer in place.

In other words, the sand grasses keep the dunes from washing away.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is attempting to rebuild the dunes around Jamaica Bay in part with money allocated by Congress after the storm.  But the problem is, to restore all of these sand dunes, someone has to remove the junk that Sandy left on top of them.

Gerry Tiss is off the south shore of Long Island on a Saturday morning.

Gerry Tiss:

The orange and blue stuff is people’s docks that were blown apart. 

Tiss stands on his 4ft by 12ft skype blue wooden motor boat and points to a nearby sand dune.

Gerry Tiss:

It looks like a roof from that bayhouse that came from who knows where…

There’s no way that Tiss’s boat stands a chance of picking up the debris. And so he does what he can and scoops up pieces of washed up two-by-fours, plastic bags and the like.

The issues are similar, if not as bad, at Jamaica Bay.

Don Riepe is with the environmental watchdog group, the American Littoral Society.

Don Riepe:

You know, some of the pieces were too big, they have to be cut up… so you can see some of the debris left over by the storm.

Riepe and others say it’s the park service’s’ responsibility to move the trash   But Ranger Lincoln Hallowell says the Park Service has its own issues.

Lincoln Hallowell:

Part of the problem is, we lost a lot of equipment during the storm that hasn’t been replaced yet.  

Hallowell says even if the park service had the equipment, it wouldn’t be easy to remove the debris without disturbing the wildlife.

Lincoln Hallowell:

A lot of areas are environmentally sensitive so you don’t want to get a lot of areas with heavy equipment through there.  

Environmentalists hope the debris can be removed and dunes can be rebuilt before the hurricane season starts on June 1st.

Katherine Jacobsen, Columbia Radio News.

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Mixed Martial Arts Questions Legality of Beating People Up

Mixed Martial Arts Questions Legality of Beating People Up

Champion Jon Jones, top, lands an elbow against Chael Sonnen during their UFC 159 Mixed Martial Arts light heavyweight title bout in Newark, N.J., Saturday, April 27,2013. Professional mixed martial arts is illegal in New York. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

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HOST INTRO: Mixed Martial Arts is one of the fastest-growing sports in America. But New York is one of only two states where the sport is banned. Tony Maglio tells us why 2013 may be the year that this changes. Or possibly why it won’t be.

If you’ve never seen a mixed martial arts — or MMA — match before, it can be tough to watch.

[Bring up UFC 121 ambi]

At a 2010 event in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC – which is the “big league” of mixed martial arts — the heavy weight champion is about to lose his title. The challenger and soon-too-be-champ is on top, hammer punching his face and head. There is blood on the mat, all the champ’s. He has a bad cut under his left eye. It’s over quickly. A first-round knock out.

It is this kind of spectacle that led New York legislators to ban professional combat sports in 1997. In 2000, the legislature also cracked down on amateur bouts.

[Fade out UFC ambi]

[Bring up gym ambi]

But that has not put a damper on the dreams of Anthony Pipola. At a gym in midtown, he sees becoming a pro MMA fighter as a way out of his current life.

[Fade down gym ambi]

Pipola: “Currently I dig holes for a living…and it kind of sucks. So I’d rather much try to beat the sh** out of people for a living.”

Pipola’s 31-years-old and from Queens. He’s currently 2-0 as an amateur.

Pipola: “The fighting’s the easy part, the training sucks. The dieting, the conditioning, the strength training, the living like a Buddhist disciple, pretty much removed from everybody and just concentrating on what you have to do – that’s the hard part. The nine minutes of fighting is easy.”

[Bring up gym ambi]

Pipola alternates between two-minute rounds on the heavy bag and wrestling with his coach. He trains six days a week for his next amateur fight on May 25 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. But he would rather fight in New York.

[Fade out gym ambi]

Some legislators, like Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman, want to keep the sport illegal.

Hoylman: “The reason I’m concerned about mixed martial arts is because I have a two-year-old daughter and the main venues where mixed martial arts at a professional level would be held are in my district.” 

And there are activists on Hoylman’s side. One group hosts a web site called UnfitForChildren.org. Let’s break those initials down: “U-F-C.” The site accuses Ultimate Fighting Championship of sexism and homophobia, and accused one of its stars of having made a ‘how-to’ rape video.”

Mixed Martial Arts can be dangerous, too. Aspiring pro Anthony Pipola certainly has had a few injuries.

Pipola: “Uch, about 7,341.”

all sarcasm aside…

Pipola: “None during fighting, all during training and my conditioning routines. Three broken noses, broken ribs, sprained my back, sprained my knee…

Since MMA in New York is illegal, any bouts that do occur are unregulated. Stephen Koepher is Pipola’s coach and owner of the New York Sambo gym. He says that means anything can happen.

Koepher: “There was an incidence where a gentleman fought on an unregulated show in New York, and he was banned by the Association of Boxing Commissions for having hepatitis. So he couldn’t fight anywhere else, but he fought here in New York where nobody cared to check.”

And that’s not even as bad as it gets. In the past year alone, there have been three deaths in amateur mixed martial arts. Last month, a 35-year-old fighter collapsed and died following an amateur bout in Michigan. There was no doctor on site.

Koepher and other critics of the New York State ban say that legalizing the sport would make it much safer.

Koepher: “And New York right now having a blank slate, actually has an opportunity to make some really important changes.”

It could also be a boon to the state’s economy: The UFC’s own study estimates that legalizing and regulating MMA in New York State would bring in $23 million annually and create over 200 new jobs.

In 2013, for the fourth straight year, the state legislature has taken up a bill to legalize the sport. The past three efforts failed. This year’s bill has passed through the senate and into the assembly. That’s where it sits now.

The reason the bill has been shot down over and over is … a union dispute 2500 miles away.

Culinary Union Local 226 is by far the largest union in Nevada. And it’s locked in a battle with the Fertitta brothers, who own Station Casinos in Las Vegas. The National Labor Relations Board found Station Casinos violated U.S. labor law 82 times in efforts to block the Culinary Union from organizing its employees. Stephen Koepher of New York Combat Sambo says there’s one more thing the Fertitta’s own…

Koepher: “They are also the owners of he UFC. So their beef in Nevada has dragged its way over here to New York. So both parties are sort of using New York MMA as a proxy battleground to take shots at each other. And New York, being a union-friendly state, obviously has some ears that are listening to what the union is having to say.”

New York Legislators are listening because this culinary union is a part of a larger union, UNITE HERE, which has a major presence in New York. Sources with knowledge of the situation in Albany confirm that it is union pressure that has killed the bill to legalize MMA in the past.

And remember that website “UnfitForChildren” which bashes the Ultimate Fighting Championship? That website is connected to Culinary Union Local 226. Though you’d really only know that if you emailed them. Which Uptown Radio did. No one at the website responded to multiple requests for comment, nor did the culinary union or UNITE HERE.

The bill is still up for consideration as the legislative calendar year approaches its summer recess.  And some backers are hopeful. But with only about four weeks left for the bill to get going, other backers say they’ve used up all of their optimism in the past.

Tony Maglio, Columbia Radio News.

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Proposed Bills to Stop Use of Condoms As Evidence of Sex Work

Proposed Bills to Stop Use of Condoms As Evidence of Sex Work

Activists assemble on the steps of City Hall, May 3, 2013. They’re backing city and state bills that would create more oversight of the NYPD and ban the use of condoms as evidence in sex work prosecutions. (Camilo Vargas/Uptown Radio)

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HOST INTRO:

A New York State Senate Bill would ban the NYPD to stop using condoms as evidence of sex work, and a City Council bill would create a new NYPD oversight office. Activists for the bills gathered at City Hall to support the measures. Camilo Vargas reports.

——-

A bundle of legislation to reform the way the NYPD operates is currently making its way in the State Council. It’s called the Community Safety Act, and among its measures is the creation of an Inspector General for NYPD Oversight. The Measure has been endorsed by Mayoral Candidates Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio. But the measure is opposed by current Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. They claim that the bill would add more bureaucracy to NYPD oversight.

At noon today, human rights, public health and anti stop and frisk organizations gathered at City Hall to push for passage of the Community Safety Act. They support the act because they believe it will end what they call police profiling of LGBTQ communities of color. And that it will end the NYPD’s practice of using condoms as evidence of sex work.

[Ambi of protesters chanting “Safe needles saves lives”]

Activists chant on the steps of City Hall protesting against the NYPD. They’re a coalition of HIV Aids, LGBT and human rights groups that oppose the city’s stop and frisk measures. They claim the NYPD confiscates condoms and needles, and use them as evidence to arrest and charge people of prostitution and drug use. A transgender hispanic woman gives her testimony for the crowd.

Transgender witness:

Porque en mi caso personal cuando yo iba para un club me arrestaron por andar un condon en mi bolsa.

She says she was arrested for carrying a condom in her bag as she headed for a club. She fears being arrested for carrying condoms sh   e got at a city health center. She is one of the cases documented by a study by Human Rights Watch. The human rights group interviewed 125 sex workers, LGBT individuals and outreach organizations, and found that because of the NYPD’s use of condoms as evidence, people at high risk of infections are afraid of carrying them.

Margaret Worth:

That the condoms that they have on them at the time can be considered evidence by police and by prosecutors.

That’s Margaret Worth, a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch at the press conference. She says people in communities at high risk of HIV and STD infections sometimes believe that there’s a limit to the number of condoms they can carry, so that the NYPD doesn’t prosecute them for sexworkers.

Elizabeth Worth:

There’s absolutely no legal limit to the number of condoms a person can carry on them. Condoms are not contraband.

Elizabeth Lavenger, a spokesperson for the gay men’s health crisis says the measure of confiscating and using condoms as evidence of sex work contradicts the city’s policies of promoting condom use. The city’s health department actually hands out condoms for free. But what the city giveth, the city taketh away.

Elizabeth Lavenger:

People take those condoms and then almost immediately taken by the Police. So it’s money wasted that could be used to prevent infections.

The activists claim that these infection have led to a recent health crisis. Health officials recently documented meningitis and syphilis outbreaks among men who have sex with men in New York City. They also continue to record higher than average HIV infection rates in this group.

The organizations are also pushing for passage of the State Senate Bill sponsored by Senator Velmanette Montgomery, that would ban the use of condoms as evidence of sex work. The bill has received the endorsement of several public officials, including Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Haley. George Artz is the DA spokesperson:

George Artz:

The District Attorney has assigned his LGBT liaison to work with Senator Montgomery’s staff to support a bill prohibiting the use of condoms as evidence.

The bill is garnering support in the New York State Senate. Activists expect it will be ready for passage later this year.

Camilo Vargas, Columbia Radio News.


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