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News from WNYC New York Public Radio

From WNYC Radio

Listen to short and long New York City stories from WNYC, New York Public Radio.

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This Week in Politics: A Freshman Democrat's Fight to Win a Second Term

Last November, Democratic Congressman Max Rose rode the blue wave that swept across New York and New Jersey and picked up a seat in New York City's most conservative district. The 11th covers Staten Island and part of south Brooklyn – territory where President Trump won by a significant margin. And in 2020, Rose will have to defend his seat with the President on the top of the ticket. Jeff Coltin, a reporter with City & State New York joins us to talk about how difficult Rose's reelection will be. Driving the point home, his latest piece is titled, "Max Rose Versus The World." Speaking with David Furst, Coltin says the 11th District is still "Trump country." "The president's support has gone down slightly since he was elected. But he's still at about 50% - about half of Staten Islanders like the guy," said Coltin. "That's gonna make it very tough."

This Week in Politics: A Freshman Democrat's Fight to Win a Second Term

Influential New Jersey Pastor Says He Can't Morally Support the State Budget — Unless It S...

When a group of African-American pastors met in Trenton earlier this month to urge state legislators to support Gov. Phil Murphy's proposed millionaire's tax, Rev. Charles Boyer was noticeably absent. Boyer, who pastors the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Woodbury, is also director of Salvation and Social Justice — a faith-based group that advocates for progressive policies. He stood alongside Murphy in March, for instance, in support of legalizing marijuana to end the racial disparities in marijuana arrests. And Boyer likes Murphy's plan for taxing millionaires extra to raise revenue for public schools, transit and other programs to help lower-income people. It is "the right thing to do, just from the perspective of fair taxation," said Boyer. But he said he cannot morally support the budget because it includes money to pay back bonds designated for building youth prisons. The state Economic Development Authority board approved bonds in December 2017 to build three new juvenile justice facilities, when Republican governor Chris Christie was in office. Boyer, along with the Newark-based group Institute for Social Justice, is fighting the project because the state already has several juvenile justice facilities with empty beds. They would rather see the state use the space it has, and shift the focus away from incarceration. He is asking state legislators and Murphy to shift the use of the bonds to develop programs that prioritize treatment-focused rehabilitation programs over new facilities. Murphy spokeswoman Alexandra Altman did not respond to questions about whether the governor would support using the project money for such programs. The governor campaigned on a promise to address New Jersey's high incarceration rate for black people compared to whites, as a social justice issue. But Murphy has said little publicly about the opposition to youth prisons. According to the Institute for Social Justice, black youth in New Jersey are incarcerated at 30 times the rate of white youth. Boyer called it a form of slavery. He is also asking Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin not to appropriate money to pay back the EDA bonds if the facilities project moves forward.

Influential New Jersey Pastor Says He Can't Morally Support the State Budget — Unless It S...

'People Not Property' Takes a Hard Look at Slavery in the Hudson Valley

Slavery is generally thought of as a Southern institution. But some historians are working to expand the geographic understanding of the systematic owning of human beings as a way to obtain free labor. Historic Hudson Valley has launched a documentary website called "People Not Property: Stories of Slavery in the Colonial North." The interactive project explores the systems of enslavement in the Colonial North by telling the history of a particular site: the Philipsburg Manor near Sleepy Hollow. While plantations are typically seen as a Southern phenomenon, Philipsburg Manor was a plantation as well. Instead of cotton and sugar cane, though, enslaved workers on the 52,000 acre property grew wheat and milled flour, along with other goods that eventually made their way to the South and the Caribbean. One of the enslaved people featured in "People Not Property" was named Caesar, and as historian Leslie Harris tells WNYC's Jami Floyd, he was a highly-skilled worker who ran the plantation's lucrative mill operations. "He was really in charge of that operation. His supervisor was a white overseer, but he, and we believe many of the enslaved people who lived there, did this work semi-independently," said Harris. "And so for many years, he was in charge of wheat that went to the Caribbean and that fed lots of people, both slaves on Caribbean plantations and also the white overseers and owners of those Caribbean plantations." You can hear the full conversation by clicking "Listen."

'People Not Property' Takes a Hard Look at Slavery in the Hudson Valley

The Docket: DNA Evidence, Policing, and the Constitution

When 30-year-old Karina Vetrano was sexually assaulted and murdered three years ago while jogging in a Queens park, the NYPD felt intense pressure to solve the crime. But as the case started to run cold, police allegedly engaged in a dragnet based on its DNA database that led them to 20-year-old Chanel Lewis. Lewis confessed to the crime, but later said his confession was coerced. Prosecutors tried him twice, securing a conviction the second time around in April 2019. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Since then, Lewis' attorneys and critics of the NYPD have called attention to the police investigation that ended with his arrest —especially the legality of testing literally hundreds of people's DNA in quest for evidence. More than 30,000 people have signed an online petition asking the Queens District Attorney's office to investigate claims of racial bias in the investigation, and three of the seven candidates in the race for Queens District Attorney are now committing to re-examine the case if elected. An NYPD spokeswoman told WNYC that the department gathers DNA evidence in strict adherence with the law and follows established protocols. She also said the department is working with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to review collection and management policies and procedures around DNA evidence. But questions remain that go beyond this one case as to how police use DNA evidence as an investigative tool. Civil libertarians have raised concerns about the methods police use to collect DNA from potential suspects, how that information is cataloged in databases, and how long that data is kept, to name a few items. NYU Law professor Erin Murphy told WNYC's Jami Floyd that while DNA evidence has the potential to be a powerful tool, it comes with big questions about accuracy and privacy. "Law enforcement, in situations like that, at their best they use every tool in the toolbox," Murphy said. "But I think at the worst, they can start to really deform and misshape the tool box in just the hopes of solving the case any way they can." For the full conversation, click "Listen." The Docket is a series on WNYC's All Things Considered that uses real cases to examine the justice system and the law.

De Blasio Administration Turns Attention to Homeless in Subways

The de Blasio administration has developed a program focusing on homeless people who sleep on subways that aims to divert them away from the criminal justice system and into shelters. Normally, homeless people can face criminal action if they take up more than one seat or don't pay their fare. But starting this summer police will suggest they go to a shelter. If they agree, they'll avoid arrest and be able to have their summonses cleared. "Subjecting these individuals to criminal justice involvement for low level, non-violent offenses is not the answer and does not help anyone," Mayor Bill e Blasio said in a statement. City officials said the idea is to get people into shelters and connect them with what they need — from mental health treatment to jobs. But Giselle Routhier, policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless, said the policy is designed to force the homeless to go into shelters, which many avoid because they've had bad experiences. She said the city should instead focus on opening more safe havens — shelters that offer more privacy and fewer rules, and which the homeless favor — and on creating more affordable housing. "Reducing the tragedy of people taking makeshift refuge in transit facilities and on the trains means giving them somewhere better to go — not using the police to chase them in circles," Routhier said.

'I'm So Proud of my Country': Cheering on the Reggae Girlz in Brooklyn

Milk River Restaurant and Lounge in Crown Heights is usually more of an evening spot. But on a recent Sunday morning, a DJ blasted music as soccer fans handed out Jamaican flags to the gathered. They were there to watch their team, the Reggae Girlz, play its first game ever in the Women's World Cup. Their opponent was powerful Brazil. Brooklyn resident Victoria Mitchell nervously but hopefully kept her eyes glued to a large TV as she tried to eat brunch with a friend. She said all of her friends and family back home were doing the same thing. "Today is Sunday, when people are supposed to be in church. I don't think nobody's in church today. Everybody in Jamaica is watching television, watching this game," she said after a particularly exciting moment. "I tell you, I'm so proud of my country, my little island in the sun." The watch party, which was hosted by the Jamaican Tourist Board, featured one very special attendee: Melanie Schneider, the older sister of Reggae Girlz starting goalie Sydney Schneider. Melanie brought a crew to Milk River to watch little sister stand tall in net against one of the most storied teams in women's soccer. Reggae Girlz goalie Sydney Schneider grew up in New Jersey but her grandmother is from Jamaica, allowing her to play for the national team. (Instagram) Even though Jamaica lost 3-0, Sydney ended up the hero of the game, making some huge saves and stopping a penalty kick. "She's who I want to be when I grow up," said Melanie Schneider of younger sister Sydney. "She's awesome." This 3-0 loss to Brazil was almost a victory to the Reggae Girlz fans at Milk River. They were familiar with the team's struggles — the national federation forced the team to disband several times over lack of funding, and it took help from Cedella Marley, Bob Marley's daughter, to become the first team to represent the Caribbean in the Women's World Cup. "Whether they win or lose or go to the next round, they got here. And that is the beauty of this," said Naisha Nichols, who was visiting from Florida. "So honestly I don't care if they win or lose, I got to watch them on the big screen." Yuvon Johns and Vitoria Mitchell at Milk River Restaurant early on a Sunday morning to watch their beloved Reggae Girlz in the World Cup. (Isabel Angell/WNYC News) No Women's World Cup watch party for the Jamaican team is complete without a DJ. (Isabel Angell/WNYC News)

'I'm So Proud of my Country': Cheering on the Reggae Girlz in Brooklyn

Questions Linger Following Death of a Young Woman in Rikers

Nothing about 27-year-old Layleen Polanco's death while in custody at a city jail makes sense — at least not at first glance. First, she was being held in solitary confinement for her role in a fight even though the practice is increasingly seen as archaic and inhumane. Second, she was in jail in the first place because she couldn't pay $500 bail, even though many lawmakers believe cash bail unfairly punishes the poor. Third, she had been arrested in the first place for prostitution and low-level drug possession charges at a time when city police have steered away from enforcing both of those crimes. "All the sort of off-ramps that were supposed to help them remove her from the criminal justice system after that, none of them actually took her out of the system," said reporter Rosa Goldensohn, who has been writing about Polanco's death for The City website. "So it really raises questions about how the system deals with people." The Department of Correction reported that the transgender woman was found unconscious in her cell last week, and that so far an investigation has found no sign of violence. Officials have reportedly said she died due to a seizure disorder — though that has raised additional questions about why she was left alone. Click the play button to hear Goldensohn's full interview with WNYC's Richard Hake.

Refugees, in Pursuit of Art

After his father was killed in the war, Mirza Ramic fled Bosnia with his mother. The two arrived in the United States in 1996. His first memory as a 13-year-old was watching the Jerry Springer show at a motel near JFK. They settled down in Arizona. Rarely do Ramic and his mother discuss those initial years in the U.S. "It's just too painful and dark of a time." The one constant in their lives was music: Ramic's mother was a piano teacher and she taught him to play. In time, he co-founded the electronica duo Arms and Sleepers and now travels the world, performing. His solo piano project, Saigon Would Be Seoul, is set for release. Music saved him, he said, and allows him to express things that have gone unsaid. On June 20, Mirza Ramic will be performing selections from Arms and Sleepers at Micropolis Live, in The Greene Space, to mark World Refugee Day. There will also be spoken word performances by refugees and a conversation with WNYC's Yasmeen Khan. For tickets click here.

New York State Legislators Agree On 'Landmark' Deal to Extend Rent Protections

Just days before rent regulations were set to expire, the New York State Legislature came to an agreement Tuesday that if passed would tip the scales of rent regulation dramatically in favor of tenants. The new rent regulation deal would have three major benefits for renters: 1) Landlords could no longer hike rent by by as much as 20 percent between tenants (the so-called "vacancy bonus"); 2) Rent-regulated apartments would also no longer be removed from the system after the rent hits a certain threshold (which is right now about $2,775). The agreement would also cap the amount of money landlords can tack onto rents because of renovations or building improvements. "For years, tenant activists have been saying this is unfair, this tilts the scales towards landlords," New York Times reporter Vivian Wang told WNYC host Richard Hake. "But this is really the first time there's been a political climate in Albany to reverse that." These new changes would also be permanent, which would be a major victory for tenant activists who have had to lobby Albany every few years when the old laws expired. "This could be a really, really dramatic change to the housing landscape around the state," said Wang. The real estate industry says the proposed laws would be a blow to the landlords that could keep them from investing in their buildings, and therefore, hurt tenants in the end. Press the listen button for the full interview.

New York State Legislators Agree On 'Landmark' Deal to Extend Rent Protections

Changes Proposed for a System that Stigmatizes Parents Accused of Child Neglect

When parents are accused of child neglect or abuse in New York, they face an investigation by child protective workers, a potential case in family court and even the possibility of having their children removed from their care. The process can involve many months of home visits and parents may be required, or strongly encouraged, to comply with various social services, all with the aim of ensuring that children are safe at home. And beyond the interventions on the ground, a report of child neglect etches parents into a state registry — many argue for an arbitrarily long time, even for cases dismissed by a family court judge. That registry is officially called the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment. It's easy to get on, difficult to get off and it can restrict parents' employment opportunities for up to 28 years. "If there is any evidence whatsoever that there might have been child abuse or neglect, then you end up with a record — even if there's more evidence that there wasn't abuse or neglect," said Chris Gottlieb, co-director of the Family Defense Clinic at the NYU School of Law. New York is in the small minority of states that requires a particularly low burden of proof to substantiate a case of child maltreatment, she said. Changing this standard is one of the reforms she and other advocates are pushing before the legislative session ends in Albany next week. Being on the registry comes with economic consequences. Parents on the registry cannot work with children or vulnerable people, such as jobs in daycares, as a home health aide or as a substance abuse counselor. Some may see good intentions in a process that's extremely cautious. But the registry does not differentiate between abuse and neglect cases; all parents get put in the same red-flag system regardless of the severity of the allegation. Gottlieb notes that most of the cases reported to the state involve neglect, not abuse. And they are neglect cases that she and other advocates say disproportionately ensnare poor families for issues like inadequate housing, smoking pot or leaving children unsupervised for lack of child care. "You can be on this registry longer for something like marijuana use than you would have a criminal record for a felony," Gottlieb said. The vast majority of families from New York City who are reported to the registry are black or Latino. Legislation proposed by Senator Velmanette Montgomery would amend rules governing the registry for neglect cases only. In addition to raising the standard of proof to get on the registry in the first place, the legislation would seal parents' records after five years for the purposes of employment background checks (the record would still be available to child welfare workers and foster care agencies). Tina and Phil Hankins, parents of a teenage son with special needs in the Bronx, understand the ease of getting caught up in a child neglect report — and the subsequent ramifications that can dog a family. In 2015, the Hankinses pulled their son, David, from his school, after repeatedly expressing concerns for his safety. They claimed that David had been abused by a staff member and had not been receiving proper academic interventions. The school called in a report of child neglect after David failed to show up, even though the family had been approved to receive home instruction. Still, the city's Administration for Children's Services "indicated" the report of neglect, meaning it was credible enough to investigate. With Tina as a daycare teacher and Phil trained as a school guidance counselor, having an indicated report meant the couple could not work with children. At one point, Tina landed a job as a lead preschool teacher, she said, but the offer was rescinded. When the couple appealed the neglect case to the state, an administrative judge ruled in their favor, calling the city's investigation against them "vague and superficial" and the initial report by a school official "vague and erroneous," according to Judge Glenn Harris's decision. The judge sealed the Hankinses record, so that their file would not be known to employers. But the couple is angry, and feels stigmatized. "The government has completely failed me," said Tina. "Here I am, a volunteer worker. I've given myself to my community — I still do. And when my family needs help, I'm completely left to fend for myself." There is widespread agreement that a system meant to help children is actually hurting some families by blocking job opportunities. Even child advocacy groups have signed on to the reform effort. "Our goal of ensuring children are safe is a great one," said Raysa S. Rodriguez, associate executive director for policy and advocacy at the Citizens Committee for Children of New York. "And what we know is that the current system has been overly intervening in some families because of that goal. And it's had an impact on family stability." There must be an effort to balance parents' due process rights without compromising child safety, she said. The city's Administration for Children's Services echoed the same. "We are pleased to see a new bill introduced that goes further to strike the right balance between protecting children in child care and other settings where they may be vulnerable, and ensuring economic opportunities for low-income communities and communities of color," said Chanel Caraway, an ACS spokeswoman. "We can and must do both, and we're working with the State Legislature to try to make sure the law reflects this." But, at the same time, Senator Montgomery knows the legislation is a tough — though not impossible — sell to fellow lawmakers. No one wants to give the appearance of going easy on child abuse, said Montgomery, even if that's not what the legislation is about. "It's taken a lot of explaining," she said.

Changes Proposed for a System that Stigmatizes Parents Accused of Child Neglect

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