Immigrants Then vs. Now: Busting Misconceptions

It was during this week in 1907 that Ellis Island experienced its busiest day ever, with 11,747 immigrants processed on April 17. In terms of immigrant arrivals, that was also its busiest year ever. This prompted researchers at the immigration think tank New American Economy to ask: How do immigrants from that era compare to today's immigrants? So they sifted through census data then and now. "In 1907, only 1.3 percent of immigrants who arrived were professionals," said Andrew Lim, NAE's Director of Quantitative Research. "These are people like doctors, lawyers, engineers." At the time, 5 percent of the American workforce were professionals. By contrast, 27 percent of American workers today are professionals. But among immigrants, Lim said over 34 percent are professionals, well above the American average. In other words, immigrants now are far more skilled than they were more than a century ago. They're also far more likely to know English today: 83.8 percent of immigrants who arrived in 2017 spoke English partially or fluently, while nearly half of all immigrants who came to the country in 1907 spoke no English at all. Still, historians and educators say the public clings to the myth of yesterday's immigrant: someone supposedly more skilled than today's immigrant. "We're remarkably ignorant sometimes of our own history," said Kevin Jennings, president of the Tenement Museum, located in the Lower East Side. He said many visitors think earlier immigrants weren't just more skilled, but more law-abiding. "You would be amazed at how many people come to this museum and say that to us: 'My grandparents came here legally.' Well of course your grandparents came here legally. There were no laws." It was basically open borders, he said. Unless you were Chinese, in which case it didn't matter how qualified you were, because in 1907 you weren't allowed into the country.

Sixth Swastika in Five Months Found in Summit Schools in New Jersey

Another symbol of hate — the sixth in five months — was found in the public schools in Summit, NJ, officials said. The swastika was located in a sixth-floor girls bathroom at the district's middle school, and immediately removed. Reports of swastikas have skyrocketed throughout the New York and New Jersey region, as WNYC reported in January, and are the most common hate crime. But Summit, a well-to-do town in Union County with about 4,000 students in the public schools, seems to be getting hit harder than elsewhere. About two-thirds of the students are white, and there is a notable Jewish population. The six swastikas were all found in the middle and high schools, and some of the graffiti may have predated this school year. There have been no arrests connected to any of the incidents, and no perpetrators have been identified. Police Chief Robert K. Weck said his department's juvenile officer is working with Summit school officials and the Union County Prosecutor's Office on the investigation. "Because of the location where the symbols are being placed, the school and [Summit Police Department] will also have to rely on student(s) coming forward with information on who might be responsible for these hateful acts," Weck said in an email. To address the situation administrators have added hall monitors, strengthened adherence to bathroom-use policies and encouraged students to come forward with information, according to June Chang, the district's superintendent. "We understand the negative impact of these symbols, and have taken a multi-pronged approach to respond to the graffiti that has been found in our schools containing these hateful symbols," Chang said in an email. He added that "identifying the perpetrators has been challenging," because the swastikas mostly have been found in the single most difficult place in a school to monitor: bathroom stalls. Plus, he said, the largest swastika was merely the size of a silver dollar. Chang described "a campaign of education and information" involving parents, students and the community, including ongoing solidarity-themed programs in the schools and a candlelight service at a local synagogue to promote unity. There are also plans in the works to send social studies students to a local Holocaust remembrance exhibit. "The purpose of these events has been to ensure that the vast majority of our students, staff, and families, who are offended and troubled by the discovery of these symbols, are both informed and heard," Chang said. The swastikas have roiled Summit. One parent told WNYC she feared drawing a dreidel on her daughter's lunch bag during Hanukkah. And last year, after school leaders angered parents by failing to immediately inform them about the initial spate of incidents, Superintendent June Chang apologized and pledged to continue to notify the public. School officials also placed temporary restrictions on the use of school bathrooms, scheduled a "Day of Unity and Kindness" and allowed students to hang "No Room For Hate in Summit" posters at the middle school. "This hateful symbol has no place in our schools or in our communities," said Evan Bernstein, the regional director for the Anti-Defamation League in New York and New Jersey. "We must continue to speak out and condemn this behavior, and we must remain steadfast in our commitment to educating young people about the atrocities of anti-Semitism and all forms of hate. To do otherwise would be contrary to everything that we stand for here in New Jersey."

Mayor de Blasio Repeatedly Ignored Warnings About Fundraising from People with Business Be...

For years, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has insisted that he acted properly when soliciting big-ticket donations for his now-defunct political non-profit. The Campaign for One New York was the subject of federal and state corruption investigations into its fundraising—though the mayor was never charged. However, a newly-uncovered report reveals that de Blasio repeatedly violated conflict of interest rules about asking for money from people with business before the city, despite warnings from aides and administration officials. According to the news site The City, the Department of Investigation opened a probe into the mayor's fundraising efforts shortly after he closed it down in 2016, amid watchdog concerns that the group was misusing funds and too closely linked to de Blasio's campaign. The results of the investigation were redacted, but a memo obtained by reporter Greg Smith reveals that the Campaign for One New York not only lacked a strong vetting process to weed out potential donors who had business before the city, but that the mayor ignored warnings from the Conflict of Interest Board and his own advisers about the subject. The memo also lays out the process by which de Blasio would solicit donations, including phone calls asking for "support," after which his aides would follow up with potential donors to ask for a specific dollar amount. In a statement, a City Hall spokeswoman insisted that fundraising for the political non-profit "was thoroughly reviewed by multiple parties" and that "the Mayor acted lawfully and ethically." For the full conversation with WNYC's Richard Hake, click "Listen."

Mayor de Blasio Repeatedly Ignored Warnings About Fundraising from People with Business Be...

Lawyer and Comedian Andrea Coleman is Here to Judge Your Laws

There's a state where it's illegal to mispronounce its name. There's another where eating fried chicken with a knife and fork is banned. Lawyer and comedian Andrea Coleman hosts a stand-up show about these laws, which she may or may not deem as "woke." "I usually pick a slightly lighthearted law that isn't typically charged on its face," Coleman told WNYC's cultural critic Rebecca Carroll. "I say, 'Look, this is the woke law courtroom. I'm the Supreme Court justice of this courtroom, and I decide if a law is woke.'" But juggling comedy with the very real challenges of being a black woman lawyer in America today can be a lot to process, and sometimes it's hard to find the humor in painful, often racist experiences. "When I first started practicing law," she said, "I was meeting up with a client to defend her for a deposition and we'd only ever had conversations over the phone....she did not know I was black. When she saw me, she had a very strong reaction to me — she didn't want me to represent her, she gave me a lot of pushback. It was such an intense experience for me. Very painful." It's a vulnerable position to be in and requires self-care. "Sometimes I feel more generous if I've had more sleep, more water," said Coleman. Ultimately, though, the payoff is in the audience laughter. "I find that when I'm honest about my experiences, the reactions are strong." Coleman is performing next month at The Tank.

Immigrant Detainee Says He Was X-Rayed for Contraband

Yuri McKoy just wrapped up a visit with his newborn son, Joshua, when he went in for the mandatory strip search in one of the few places at the Essex County Correctional Facility that doesn't have a video camera. McKoy said he knew the drill. If you choose to have a "contact visit" — meaning you can touch, hold and hug the loved ones who visit — then afterward, you must get strip-searched. Corrections officers want to make sure that contraband isn't passed to a detainee via, say, a baby blanket. McKoy said he was prepared to strip naked. But the corrections officer thought "detainee McKoy's demeanor seemed to change" after Joshua and the baby's mother left the visiting area, according to one of two Essex County Department of Corrections reports filed after the incident and obtained through a public records request. McKoy seemed "very nervous" and "suspicious." On the way into the strip-search room, McKoy "seemed to move with the intent to get in" the room ahead of the officer, who suspected McKoy of concealing contraband in his rectum. "When I asked him to begin the strip search by passing me his shirt, his hands quickly went into his waistband and immediately moved behind his buttocks," the officer wrote. Since McKoy refused to raise his hands, the officer "immediately took him down to the ground and handcuffed him." McKoy was taken to the medical unit, where he underwent what the jail characterized as a strip search but what McKoy called a body cavity search. Either way, both sides agree, no contraband was found. Still, that didn't satisfy the officers, and he was taken to University Hospital in Newark. That's where McKoy said he underwent an X-ray to determine, once and for all, if he had contraband inside of him. Essex County officials wouldn't go on the record with what happened, but medical records provided by his attorney say that McKoy was "sent to hospital for possible foreign body ingestion...nothing was found." When he returned to the jail, McKoy was charged with an infraction for refusing to be strip searched, and sent to what the guards call administrative detention — and which inmates call solitary confinement. The extraordinary efforts to keep contraband out of the jail — and McKoy's subsequent punishment — provide a window into how Essex County, the largest Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention subcontractor in the New York City region, manages its immigrant population. The county jail has an approximately $45 million contract with ICE to detain between 800 and 900 immigrants at any given time at its massive facility in Newark. Many of the immigrants housed there lived in New Jersey before their arrests, although some were picked up crossing the southern border. And the vast majority, according to the county, have past criminal records. But they are not being held on criminal charges — they are detained as they await proceedings on civil immigration violations or until the government can make arrangements to deport them. Rosa Santana, program director at First Friends of New York and New Jersey, which advocates for detained immigrants, told county officials at a meeting last month that the staff at the jail needs more training. "The staff is trained to work with inmates, they're not trained to work with ICE detainees," she said. "They don't know the difference of working with someone who has a past conviction of 25 years ago, and somebody who is a county inmate." McKoy got caught up in the immigration system when he was brought to the United States from Jamaica when he was just 3 years old. He overstayed his visa and then committed and was convicted of several crimes, which his attorney said were mostly shoplifting and marijuana possession offenses. McKoy also had two disorderly persons offenses for theft and criminal mischief. The convictions, and his lack of legal immigration status, made McKoy a target for deportation. McKoy's son was born last year. Without a Social Security number, McKoy said he had trouble finding work and shoplifted for money. Just before Christmas last year he was arrested at the Macy's in the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne for stealing baby clothes, which he said he planned to give to Joshua, and a sweater, which he planned to sell on the street. "I didn't have any money and I was desperate," McKoy said in a phone interview from the jail. "With a kid on my shoulders, it just seemed justified." McKoy spent several weeks at the Passaic County Jail before ICE picked him up and brought him to Essex. He had been at the jail for more than a month when the incident happened. He said he did not refuse a strip search. "You take off everything, naked," he said. "They just look at you, tell you bend over and cough...I was about to get naked but [the officer] said the way I was moving, he said I was trying to stuff something up my rectum...So he punches me and throws me on the ground, and then puts his knees in my back, and he tells the rest of the [corrections officers] that I got something up my rectal area, and they strip-searched me, cavity-searched me and X-rayed me, and nothing was there. So I kind of proved them wrong about that." The corrections officers union did not respond to a request for comment. McKoy and his attorney, Rachel Salazar, said he was transported to University Hospital in Newark for the X-ray. The location is redacted in the incident report provided to WNYC, but medical records that Salazar provided said he was sent to "UH" for "possible foreign body ingestion," and nothing was found. In the end, McKoy was charged with refusing to obey an officer and was placed in administrative detention, which is the jail's term for what is widely described as solitary confinement. He stayed in administrative detention for what he said was 10 days — 23 hours alone each day in a cell, without reading or writing material. "I just sat on the bed and looked at the ceiling," he said. County officials said that immigrant detainees in administrative detention get a full 90 minutes out of their cells every day. The detainees also have access to three books at a time, plus writing materials, along with visits and phone calls, officials said. Dominic Sisti, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies how medical personnel handle demands by law enforcement, reviewed McKoy's incident reports for WNYC. He said solitary confinement for someone who refused a search is unjustified. It should not be used like "high school detention," he said, because it "will literally cause people to become seriously mentally ill." "This gentleman was seriously abused," Sisti said. "He deserved to be taken care of, he deserves to be treated humanely, and the exact opposite seems to be happening." Sisti also objects to medical intervention — use of X-ray, and exposure to radiation — for detainees. "The idea that a person is acting quote-unquote suspiciously, and then is subjected to this type of humiliation, to me is patently and undeniably unethical," Sisti said. He noted that McKoy had just left his baby and his baby's mother when the incident occurred — "he was probably overwhelmed with complete and total grief." The jail's contract with ICE is coming under increased scrutiny. The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general recently issued a scathing report describing deplorable conditions for immigrants at the jail, including food that smells like fecal matter, and ripped mattresses. The jail underwent a days-long lockdown in a search for contraband in February, and the warden recently resigned after being arrested for driving under the influence. In the side of the jail that detains non-immigrants, a suicide last year of an inmate who allegedly killed himself while wearing a straitjacket is under criminal investigation, and another suicide last month is still being examined by the county prosecutor's office. Activists are mobilizing against the county's contract with ICE, pressuring the Democratic county executive, Joseph "Joe D." DiVincenzo, along with the entirely Democratic legislative body, the county freeholders, to either scrap the contract or use some of the revenue to improve conditions. Last month, DiVincenzo and the freeholders announced that $750,000 will be allocated to provide lawyers for some detained immigrants, supplementing a $2.1 million immigrant defense fund from the state. Unlike criminally charged individuals, detained immigrants don't have a constitutional right to legal representation, and their chances of deportation are much higher without counsel. The new money doesn't cover most immigrants, however, and activists want all detained immigrants to have attorneys, just like those arrested by ICE in New York and housed at the jails in Bergen and Hudson counties. A subcommittee of freeholders examining the ICE contract is also presenting a report about detention to the public Wednesday at 5 p.m. at the Hall of Records in Newark. At that meeting, Freeholder President Brendan Gill said he plans to announce that if he's still on the board when the ICE contract expires, he will not vote to reauthorize it. He also wants to create a civilian review board to oversee complaints. Last year in Hudson County, immigration activists successfully pushed for an end to that county's ICE contract by 2020. But in Essex, scrapping the contract does not seem politically feasible. Even some activists who oppose ICE are wary of closing the facility, fearing that the detainees would be shipped somewhere else, far from their families and attorneys, and possibly in harsher conditions. "If we just shut it they're not going to be released — they're going to be sent elsewhere, and I don't want that to happen to them," said Freeholder Pat Sebold, who otherwise opposes Trump's immigration policies. Wayne Richardson, the freeholder board's vice president, said he doesn't want the detainees to be sent to a privately-run prison, where he said conditions would be far worse. He said that the newly allocated $750,000 to provide legal services is a good step forward. "While that's not a lot of money in the overall scheme of things, it's a start and we got to start somewhere," he said. Sebold and Richardson said anti-ICE activists need to take up their complaints about immigration enforcement with Washington, not Essex. But Kathy O'Leary, regional coordinator at Pax Christi, a Catholic peace and justice organization, told freeholders last month that she rejects that approach. "It is not enough that you tell us to go to Washington, DC to end detention," she said. "You need to become a part of the solution to this problem...You are elected Democrats...You should be on this side to end these contracts. Whether we end them today humanely or end them tomorrow humanely, we need together to come up with a plan to end these contracts."

Family Separations in Our Midst

In November 2017, less than a week before Thanksgiving, Tonia Lovell picked up her toddler, Eliana, from daycare in the early evening and returned to the house where she was staying with her brother in Brooklyn. The living situation was not ideal, and Lovell had tried twice to get into a family shelter in the Bronx. The city's Department of Homeless Services rejected her application, likely because she did, in fact, have a roof over her head. But while one city agency found her housing suitable enough to deny her shelter, another arm of city government was about to take her child away because of it. The city would use its authority to remove Eliana on the spot and without court approval — a power that is intended to be used only in emergencies. Lovell and Eliana, who was 18-months old at the time, shared one room in the house, while her brother rented out others. "I don't pay attention to who's in the house because my main focus is my daughter and me," said Lovell. That week before Thanksgiving, Lovell's brother evicted a couple of the upstairs tenants. When they left, he found marijuana plants left behind along with ammunition. He called the police to deal with the contraband. Within hours of the police leaving an employee from the Administration for Children's Services came to the house. The employee, a child protective specialist, showed up in response to an anonymous report of child neglect. The woman took a look around and saw a mess: trash, dirt, an empty kitchen and the smell of marijuana, according to a petition of child neglect later filed in family court. "She's asking me, 'Don't you see anything wrong with this place you're living in?'" said Lovell, describing the interaction as confrontational from the beginning. The report of child neglect did not even list Lovell or Eliana; instead, it listed her brother and his own children, who did not live there. Lovell and her attorney, Sophia Bernhardt, from Brooklyn Defender Services, think the anonymous report may have come from the disgruntled tenants. The child protective specialist consulted with her supervisor and decided Lovell lacked good parental judgment for staying in the house with her child. They decided Eliana could not remain there, or in Lovell's care. It was Friday night, and family court was closed, so the city used its emergency powers. The child protective specialist scooped Eliana into her arms, and under the care of city government. What the Law Says When ACS employees believe that kids are unsafe at home, they may file a petition in family court to remove those children from the care of their parents or guardians. The law requires court oversight. But the city has authority to remove a child on an emergency basis, when court is closed and when there is "imminent danger to the child's life or health," according to state law. It is a power that should be the exception, advocates say, but is too often exerted in cases that aren't emergencies. Last year, of the 3,633 children removed from their parents, the city used emergency powers nearly half the time. Almost all of the children involved in these removals were non-white, reflecting a system that, by and large, only surveils black and brown families. Eliana Lovell, now almost 3, was forcibly removed from her mother's care with the city's use of emergency powers. In that year, 2017, the city removed nearly 2,000 children without first getting court approval. (Clarissa Sosin for WNYC) "There are times when it is necessary to remove a child from their home, and that is when the child is in such danger that they need to be removed," said Emma Ketteringham, managing director of the Family Defense Practice at The Bronx Defenders. "There is no doubt that we do need a state mechanism in place to ensure that children who are in that situation are kept safe. But what we have seen in the last couple of years is an increase in the exercise of the emergency removal power in cases where it is later determined not to be warranted," she said. When the city removes a child without any court process, Ketteringham said, the city bypasses protections afforded by due process, namely legal representation. Parents and children do not get access to an attorney until a case is filed in family court, unless they can afford to hire one. "Unfortunately, the vast majority of families that ACS prosecutes in family court are poor," said Jessica Marcus, a supervising attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, the practice that would later represent Lovell in court. "So almost every parent who ends up in family court is eligible to be assigned a lawyer." Having legal representation means a chance to challenge the agency's facts in the case, or work with the city to come up with a plan to keep children safe at home. Plus, said Marcus, the weighty decision to separate a parent and child, which can create deep and devastating effects for a child and entire family, is not just in the hands of a city agency, which is what the law intends. "The right to have a judge look at this decision is not just a parent's right," Marcus said. "It's the children's right." The City's Removal Numbers In 2014, of the nearly 4,000 children removed from their parents, just over a third, 34 percent, were removed without a court order. The proportion of emergency removals, and the actual number of kids separated from their parents on a so-called emergency basis, increased over the next three years in a row, according to data provided by ACS. In 2017, baby Eliana was one of 1,966 children separated from her parents on the spot, without a court order. That year, emergency removals comprised 48 percent of all children removed from their parents, a marked increase over 2014. The overall number of children removed in 2018 declined from the previous year by a good amount, about 12 percent. But the proportion of children removed with emergency powers remained nearly stagnant, at 47 percent. The racial disparities in these numbers are staggering. Of the children removed with emergency powers last year, only 5 percent were white, according to ACS figures. Black and Latino children made up 87 percent of emergency removals, and another 2 percent of children were Asian. Six percent of children were not identified with a racial group. The city notes that the number of children removed from their parents makes up a small percentage of the approximately 60,000 abuse and neglect cases it must investigate each year. But after an initial investigation, well over half of these reports are found to have no credible evidence of abuse or neglect. (The city is required to investigate every report of child maltreatment forwarded by a state office.) Though high-profile child deaths from abuse make the most headlines, and haunt the city, these cases are rare. The vast majority of investigations that the city handles, about 70 percent, relate to neglect, not abuse. And most of those neglect cases, advocates say, relate to issues of poverty — such as Lovell's situation of inadequate housing. New York City removes children far less frequently than other large cities, according to numbers from the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. Indeed, ACS — in concept papers, public hearing testimony and op-eds — portrays itself as an agency that prioritizes helping parents, all while keeping children safe. The goal is to support and stabilize families, agency officials have said, and place children in foster care only when necessary. "Ultimately, if we do have to make a removal decision, which is a very, very difficult call, it's done collaboratively and we exhaust all measures," said Walid Ghaus, a child protective specialist with ACS. "And as a last resort, that's when the removal is executed." Ghaus and other agency employees stressed that decisions about removals are "never made in silo." A child protective specialist in conjunction with a supervisor or other managers reviews the situation and makes a decision together. But no matter how many ACS employees are involved in the process, the agency is not supposed to make the decision alone. So, advocates ask, why is the city taking children from their parents, without court oversight and the protections afforded by due process, almost half the time it is removing children? The Disconnect Between Policy and Practice ACS separated Cynthia from her two-week old baby, Maia, after the baby's first stool, taken soon after delivery, tested positive for marijuana. (Cynthia and Maia are not their real names. WNYC agreed to shield their identities because their case is pending.) Months earlier, at a prenatal visit, Cynthia disclosed to her doctor that she smoked pot, but had stopped. Perhaps because of that history, the public hospital where Cynthia delivered decided to test her and the baby after the birth. The city used emergency powers to separate Cynthia from her two-week old baby. The case was spurred by the baby's positive marijuana test taken at the hospital after delivery. (Clarissa Sosin for WNYC) When the results came back two weeks later, Cynthia said Maia's pediatrician agreed the baby was thriving. But the doctor told Cynthia that he needed to report Maia's positive drug test. It is against the policy of the city's Health and Hospitals Corporation to report a case of child neglect solely based on a positive drug test, according to public hearing testimony from the organization's chief medical officer (HHC does not make the policy available to the public, nor did it provide the policy when asked). State law stipulates that a parent's "misuse" of drugs or alcohol must lead to an inability to care for the child to warrant a case for child neglect. Cynthia said the pediatrician, with whom she has a good relationship, tried to allay her fears. "He said, 'It shouldn't really be a big deal, this kind of thing happens all the time. Somebody may not even come, they may just call you on the phone,'" Cynthia recalled. But it was a big deal. The next evening, a Friday night, a child protective specialist came to the Bronx family shelter where Cynthia and Maia were staying with Maia's dad. The child protective specialist noted Cynthia's prior case of child neglect, with two older children from years ago. It involved alcohol use, according to the court petition. The city decided Maia could not remain in the care of her mother, and ACS used its emergency powers to force a separation. The only evidence of potential neglect was the drug test, Cynthia said, and a positive test cannot serve as the basis for a case of child neglect, per city policy and state law. Even with a prior case, she said, a removal — let alone one with emergency powers — felt extreme. "I was, like, really scared," Cynthia said. "I was amazed that they can even do that." But this was the Bronx. Last year, the lion's share of emergency removals, 40 percent, happened in the borough. Instead of removing the newborn to foster care, Cynthia agreed to leave the shelter so that Maia could remain with her father. Cynthia tried to explain feedings to Maia's dad, who works six days a week and had not been alone with the baby that much. She then grabbed a bag and left. She didn't have a place to go initially, so she rode the subway all night. "And every time I would call him, I heard the baby screaming and screaming and he doesn't really know what to do," she said. "It was horrible." At the court hearing on Monday, the judge rejected the removal order. He returned Cynthia back to the shelter, where she is closely under ACS's watch until her case goes to trial this spring. The family courts immediately return children to their parents in 20 to 25 percent of emergency removals, according to ACS. The agency does not discuss specific cases, so it is hard to know why it ordered a removal for Cynthia and Lovell's children. But Ducoste Lamothe, an assistant commissioner at the agency, said the agency only conducts an emergency removal when there is imminent danger, as spelled out in state law. "The removals that are done, they're done with the information we had at that point, that was clear that children were in imminent danger," Lamothe said. "It doesn't mean a day later or three days later that circumstances have have not changed." Meaning parents may later be more willing to make a change at home, or share more information about a child's health, he said. But Marcus, the Brooklyn public defender, said an emergency removal rate of nearly 50 percent suggests the city is removing kids when it is not always an emergency. The practice is especially troubling given the trauma that can result from a child being taken from a parent — a harm that is almost exclusively imposed on families of color. "It's a fear that's being instilled in certain communities that somebody could come and remove your child," said Marcus, adding, "I don't even tell my children exactly what I do because I don't think my young children should know that removal from your parents is a thing that can happen to a child." Punishing Families of Color ACS has rolled out implicit bias training for staff members, like child protective specialists and their supervisors, most of whom are people of color. It's an attempt to acknowledge, and mitigate, the effects of a system focused almost exclusively on non-white families. The problem is a national one, not just specific to New York. There are implicitly higher standards for black or Hispanic moms, and particularly for those mothers who are poor, said Jessica Pryce, executive director of the Florida Institute for Child Welfare at Florida State University. And the system is built to punish them when they don't meet those standards, she said. "I think systems are inept in a way that they don't understand systemic racism, and they don't understand that in many ways white supremacy is still the ruling principle when it comes to how we view parents," Pryce said. Systems often focus on the idea of child protection instead of family welfare, she said, sometimes at the expense of child well-being when kids are separated from their parents. Research has shown that children, even in homes where there is maltreatment, fare better when they remain with their parents and get support. Manasha Mompoint helps her daughter, Denise, get ready for school. She said the city's child welfare workers did not look for any of the positives in her parenting. "They make you look like the worst person on earth." (Clarissa Sosin for WNYC) In New York City, mothers and advocates describe a system more set on finding fault with parents than serving families. "Never do you see any of the strengths put forth in those petitions," said Ketteringham, the Bronx public defender. "I've actually wondered — you know, if you're asking a court to make an honest assessment of whether a child is safe to remain home, why are they filing a document that just includes allegations and accusations?" Manasha Mompoint, a Brooklyn mother of two girls, said an emergency removal based on an incident of corporal punishment took into account her worst moment of parenting, and nothing else. Mompoint, whose family is from the Caribbean, said she grew up with corporal punishment, and did not see spanking as an outlier. Still, she says, she rarely spanked her own daughters. But two years ago, Mompoint felt tested during a period when her older daughter, Denise, then age 9, struggled with behavioral issues. In a moment when she felt she needed to discipline Denise, Mompoint said she used a sandal to spank her on the arm. Mompoint said Denise was flailing, and the shoe's buckle hit her on the lip, leaving a welt. The court petition ACS filed said Denise's lip was swollen and bleeding. Corporal punishment isn't banned by the city, but ACS considers it a form of child neglect when it is used in excess, resulting in "physical or emotional harm of a child." Denise's school called the state hotline of child abuse and neglect. Mompoint was questioned by police, who did not find cause to charge her with child abuse. But later, two child protective specialists came to the house. "One lady was very calm," said Mompoint, "and the other lady — it was like she was looking for something." The agency workers were not confident the girls were safe at home, so they conducted an emergency removal of both children. In this case, Mompoint's daughters were able to stay with their godmother. The agency says it prioritizes putting children with family or other known adults, to minimize trauma. A judge returned the children home within days, with continued visits by ACS, after Denise was crying for her mother. Mompoint says they still talk about it. "Denise was like, 'Mommy, I never want to go through that — no, no, no," Mompoint said. The court ordered therapy for Denise, but Mompoint said ACS never followed up. She had to call the agency. "In a month and half, never came to the house," said Mompoint. "I didn't get one visit, nothing. For a case that was so severe — what happened?" Cynthia, whose case with baby Maia is ongoing, said she feels that parents have to constantly prove that they deserve their children; turning down any services or surveillance by the agency means that you are not fighting hard enough to keep your kids. "Instead of trying to help the parents, they always trying to police them and nitpick with them," Cynthia said. "It's like they want to play God." Cynthia undergoes routine drug testing. ACS has also asked her to undergo alcohol testing and a mental health evaluation. She turned down early intervention services for Maia, after consulting with the pediatrician who thought those services for a healthy newborn were needless. Baby Eliana Goes Home After Eliana was separated from her mother in Brooklyn, she went from the arms of the child protective specialist, to a temporary residence for children waiting for foster care placement, to a foster home — all over the course of one weekend. At the first hearing in family court, the city continued to argue that Lovell showed poor parental judgment, and that Eliana should stay in foster care. According to a hearing transcript, the city's arguments centered on the idea that Lovell did not adequately express desperation about her living situation when ACS came knocking on her door. But Judge Erik Pitchal could not find evidence to support that Eliana was in imminent danger, the true issue at hand when determining whether an emergency removal is warranted. He immediately returned Eliana to her mother's care and ordered ACS to help the mother and daughter get into shelter. Lovell and Eliana recently moved into their own apartment. (Clarissa Sosin for WNYC) According to the judge's release order, he acknowledged that Eliana was exposed to "squalid" living conditions. But the judge wrote that Lovell "had no other choice," since she had tried to get into shelter. "The harm of removal is not insubstantial," the judge wrote, "as the child is 18 months old and has lived her entire life with her mother." ACS's investigation into child neglect continued, and Lovell remained under the agency's supervision until her case was dismissed eight months later.

The Queens Jogger Case Raises Concerns About Links Between Prosecutors and Judges

The man convicted of murdering Queens jogger Karina Vetrano is scheduled to be sentenced this week after he was found guilty for the 2016 killing. But throughout the case, defense attorneys and court watchers have raised concerns about the judge presiding over the case, and his impartiality. Justice Michael Aloise presided over both of Chanel Lewis' trials, and made several controversial decisions during each case. He quickly called a mistrial on the first case after the jury deliberated for just over a day; he declined to pause the second trial when the defense received an anonymous letter claiming that police had wrongly targeted Lewis in a DNA dragnet that only tested black men; and at least one juror in the second trial told reporters that the jury felt pressured by Aloise to return a guilty verdict on the day of closing arguments. And topping it all off, Aloise on multiple occasions wore a purple tie in the courtroom—a sign that many observers took as supporting the Vetrano family. While this may seem like an extreme case, court watchers say that's not out of the ordinary in the Queens County Courthouse. In his years covering the city's courts, New York Law Journal reporter Colby Hamilton has found that the Queens Supreme Court stands out for its particularly close links to the Queens District Attorney's Office: many of the sitting judges has family members serving as prosecutors (including Justice Aloise), and many of those same judges started off working for the Queens DA's office (including Justice Aloise). As Hamilton told WNYC's Jami Floyd, those links can create the appearance of impropriety when it comes to judges' roles as impartial arbiters of the law. "Here in Queens, you have a system that's been in place three decades, going through some of the most horrific time periods of crime in the city in recent memory," Hamilton said. "And there's a concern that some of the practices that animated that office and the judges...they still have a part of themselves that is part of that culture that people now are looking at and saying 'that's old. That's out of step with a more fair and more just criminal justice system.'" For the full conversation, click "Listen."

The Queens Jogger Case Raises Concerns About Links Between Prosecutors and Judges

For NYC Immigrant Heritage Week, One Class Decides to Discuss Stereotypes

Immigrant Heritage Week has been held in New York City since 2004. It includes events across the five boroughs such as Cantonese Storytime or an evening of Indian classical music at the Indian Consulate. But in an upstairs room at the New York Public Library's Grand Central branch in Midtown Manhattan, about 15 people are gathered around tables for what's called Spanish Conversation Circle. The participants in this session include Spanish-speaking immigrants from Spain, Mexico and Argentina. And the conversation is focused on Latin American stereotypes. There's the one about the country whose people are said to steal children. Or the country whose population is really arrogant. But participants say they're not there to uphold stereotypes, but rather to debunk them. Stereotypes about gender, or urban vs. rural populations. Ostensibly, the class is supposed to give non-Spanish speakers an opportunity to practice the language with native Spanish speakers. But this particular session is a bit more provocative. It's delving into issues of race and media portrayals in order to give participants a greater sense of cultural literacy. "We're saying these stereotypes come in movies and the movies are really powerful," said participant Loretta Brady, a native English speaker. "It's a joke, but it's a joke that's important to get in front of." At times the room fills with nervous laughter. Thalia Razo is originally from Mexico. She studies English at the library branch. "It's really fun," she said. "It's beautiful to see the people talking in Spanish very well." The Spanish Conversation Circle happens periodically, and in spite of occasionally treading on some difficult terrain, librarian Laura Stein said the conversations sometimes continue beyond the walls of the library. "It's been nice to see some friendships blossom," said Stein. "People who come here for many months...get to know each other outside."

For NYC Immigrant Heritage Week, One Class Decides to Discuss Stereotypes

A Rolling Retirement Party on NJ Transit

When Conductor Gene Ruocchio let slip a few weeks ago that he'd be retiring in April after nearly 31 years with NJ Transit, one of his regular commuters took note. "I said okay, we've got to commemorate that in some way," said Jill Harris, who commutes on the Morris & Essex Line most days. With his blessing, she drew up a flyer and distributed it to other passengers, telling them to send her congratulatory wishes and selfies with Conductor Gene. The flyer also set the date for a retirement party: Monday, April 15th, on the 7:19am train from New Providence Station to New York Penn. Ruocchio greeted commuters Monday morning with his usual smile and salutation: "Good morning! Take your time and hurry up!" But other details set this day apart from the routine commute. Ruocchio sported a multi-colored lei, for one. The first train car was decorated with Thomas the Tank Engine balloons, and Ruocchio's super-fans throughout the train self-identified by wearing party hats. "I've never seen you blush before!" one person exclaimed, just after the car had erupted in cheers for him. A NJ Transit rider hugs train "Conductor Gene" before his farewell ride from Summit, New Jersey to New York Penn Station. (Fred Conrad for WNYC) Let's be clear: these aren't all 100 percent satisfied customers who love their NJ Transit commutes. These are regular people who face their fair share of delays, cancellations, and staffing shortage issues. But somehow, Conductor Gene's presence has had a calming effect. Riders said he's tactical when dispensing humor to ease tensions on an aggravating ride. And he's been known to talk people down from angry outbursts, sometimes even ending in a handshake. "When you're delayed, it gets frustrating," said Ruocchio, recounting an incident two weeks ago when he sat down on the steps of a double-decker train and talked a passenger through a meltdown. "And I don't blame them. I understand them. But unfortunately it's life," he said. "I've learned to do one thing: worry about the things you can control, not those you can't." "Conductor Gene" punches one of his last tickets. (Fred Conrad for WNYC) Ruocchio has played commute-whisperer to a lot of frazzled passengers, but for the three decades he's been working for NJT he's been trudging through his own arduous commute. He wakes up at 3 a.m. most days, drives about an hour from his home in Pennsylvania to the end of the line in Gladstone, works the morning train into Penn Station, takes a break for several hours, then works the evening train back. Most nights, he gets home just past 8 p.m. "People don't understand...it's a different lifestyle," Ruocchio said. And in those 30 years of working his way up, from Assistant Conductor to Conductor, he's noticed a shift in interactions between passengers on the trains. He says now, thanks to phones and laptops, commuters stay more in their own worlds. "Years ago, people had newspapers all over the train. Today it's all technology," Ruocchio said with a wave of his hand. "I fear that someday we're going to be replaced eventually with some kind of automation and the personal touch will be gone. And I think this-" he said, gesturing to himself, "will be looked back as something that once was." "Conductor Gene" poses with his wife, JoAnn, on his farewell ride. (Fred Conrad for WNYC) One regular commuter, Stephanas Palarche, said he's seen Ruocchio on his train route on-and-off for 21 years now. And he's often wondered how he stays so cheerful. "I dunno how you stay so happy. What drives you to get up in the morning to do this?" Palarche asked. "We take this train every day together. When something goes wrong, I'm in it with you," Ruocchio said. "And we've got to make the best of things." At the end of the line, Harris, the party organizer, left Conductor Gene with a three-ring binder book of memories and pictures, collected from over 50 passengers. Friday, April 19, will be Ruocchio's last day in his conductor's uniform. After that, he'll just be a regular rider with one big exception: as a NJT retiree, he gets to ride for free. Loading...

NYCHA to Test More Than 100,000 Apartments for Lead Paint

NYCHA says it will test 135,000 public housing apartments to determine exactly how many have lead paint. The agency is inspecting the apartments using portable X-ray devices that can detect lead through multiple layers of paint. The $88 million testing began at Harlem River Houses on Monday and will continue in other developments next month. The remainder of the city's 175,000 public housing units have either already been inspected or were built after 1978, when the federal government banned lead paint. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the goal is to get a firm count of how many NYCHA apartments have lead so that it can be abated. "We want to take the challenge of lead exposure and eradicate it once and for all in New York City," de Blasio said. NYCHA said it will post testing results online by May 1st and provide updates every two weeks. Testing will be completed by the end of 2020.

Week Ahead: April 15, 2019

In this week's look ahead: We continue our reporting on the local measles outbreak with a report on where the anti-vaccination movement is getting its information. Also: how the city's Administration for Children's Services removes children from families; the upcoming MTA board meeting; and a rare bird sighting that inspired us to take this suggestion and cue up Stevie Nicks. White-Winged Dove in Central Park today #birdcp pic.twitter.com/yptXhSqGyY — Sandra Critelli (@alexcritelli7) April 15, 2019

100 Solos for 100 Years of Merce Cunningham

Merce Cunningham moved to New York as a teenager to dance for Martha Graham. He went on to become one of New York's most influential choreographers, founding his own company and reconceptualizing modern dance. On April 16, 2019 — what would have been Cunnigham's 100th birthday — 100 solos from throughout his repertory will be danced in (and live streamed from) three separate cities across the globe: London, Los Angeles and, locally, in New York at BAM. Later in the month, the Joyce Theater will host three different companies presenting different Cunningham works, while the Skirball Center presents In Conversation with Merce, featuring different dancers' responses to the choregrapher's legacy. Click on "Listen" to hear WNYC dance critic Marina Harss' full review. Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event at BAM, Tuesday April 16 at 7:30pm. Merce Cunningham Celebration at The Joyce Theater in Chelsea, April 17-21. Cunningham Centennial: In Conversation with Merce at NYU Skirball, May 3-4 at 7:30pm.

This Week in Politics: The Blame Game After NJ Transit's WrestleMania Mess

Last weekend, wrestling fans were left stranded in the rain at New Jersey's MetLife stadium as they waited for trains to arrive after WrestleMania 35. The incident caused a bit of verbal sparring between NJ Transit, the WWE, and the state's political leaders. And the whole mess served to highlight larger problems with New Jersey's beleaguered transit agency. Larry Higgs covers commuting for NJ Advance Media and joins us for a look at the WrestleMania blame game and the current state of NJ Transit. Speaking with David Furst he says under the Murphy administration, "We're seeing little glimmers of hope."

This Week in Politics: The Blame Game After NJ Transit's WrestleMania Mess

Rutgers University Faculty Threaten to Strike

The unionized faculty at Rutgers University is threatening to strike if the school's leadership doesn't meet its demands for a new contract. The union's requests include pay parity between the university's campuses, plus higher diversity numbers among the teaching staff. "That was a huge factor in their negotiations, getting their diversity numbers up," Carly Sitrin, a reporter for NJ Spotlight, said. "It's important to note that Rutgers recently announced $20 million in additional funding for their faculty diversity hiring initiative and that, a lot of the union members will say, is a direct result of their continued push during these strike negotiations." Sitrin talked to WNYC's All Things Considered host Jami Floyd about the status of the contract talks.

Death at Essex County Jail is Under Criminal Investigation

The Essex County Prosecutor's Office has opened a criminal investigation into the death of a 41-year-old inmate at the county jail last August, WNYC has learned. The probe is looking at "indications of neglect and record falsification" in the death of Lucas Vieira, who was being held on a parole violation, according to a report on the incident obtained under the state's open records law. The case echoes the findings of a WNYC investigation last year about the high rate of inmate deaths in New Jersey's county jails, and it calls into question the effectiveness of the Murphy Administration's promise to increase oversight of the facilities. Vieira, who lived in Newark, was struggling with mental illness and drug addiction when he died at the jail. A lawsuit filed last month by his brother alleges that jail officers failed to provide him proper medical care. The lawsuit says Vieira was somehow able to hang himself while restrained in a device characterized as a straitjacket. The death was not reported at the time. Following the filing of the lawsuit, WNYC submitted a public records request with the department asking for the "morbidity review" required after every suicide under new guidelines issued in December in response to the WNYC investigation. A records custodian initially told WNYC that no such document existed, despite the fact that the new guidelines were said to have been in place for three months. Then, earlier this week, the custodian sent WNYC a related document — a death notification. The "method of suicide/death" section of the form was redacted, but a note underneath revealed the criminal investigation into the matter by the Essex County Prosecutor's Office. A spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office said all deaths at the jail are investigated, but she said she couldn't comment more because the probe is still active. The death notification document was signed by the director of the correctional facility, Alfaro Ortiz, and dated April 4 — two days after WNYC submitted the request for documents, and almost eight months after the actual death of Vieira. According to state law, county jail officials have three days from the time of death to file such a report. A spokesman for Marcus Hicks, acting commissioner for the Department of Corrections, said he was unable to respond to questions Thursday due to the department's budget hearing before the state senate. He said he would address questions on Friday regarding why the state did not force the county to submit the notification following the death or after the death became public last month. A spokesman for Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, who oversees the jail, downplayed the existence of the criminal investigation. "Whenever there is a suspected suicide, the Prosecutor's Office conducts an investigation," spokesman Anthony Puglisi said. Officials did not respond to questions about why the investigation is still open eight months after the death, and cited the Vieira family lawsuit as the reason for not being able to comment further. The family's attorney, Hillary Nappi, said that Vieira was on suicide watch when he died. "If Mr. Vieira was clearly in a situation that he was presenting the utmost danger to himself or someone else, he should've been monitored very closely so he wouldn't be able to successfully complete a suicide attempt," she said. The lawsuit names CFG Health Systems, a South Jersey-based for-profit contractor that runs the health system at the jail. The company lost its contract at the Hudson County Jail last year after six inmates died there in less than a year's time. CFG did not respond to a request for comment. WNYC's investigation into jail deaths last year found that determining the number of deaths at New Jersey jails is difficult because the reporting requirements are so lax. In some counties, the monthly death numbers in state inspection reports didn't even add up to the yearly totals in the same reports. Three weeks ago, a 25-year-old man named Jose Recoba-Morales also died at the Essex jail in Newark. The Essex County Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman said that death is under investigation as officials await toxicology reports to determine a cause of death. A source in county government said Recoba-Morales was believed to have died of natural causes, and his death notification filed with the state did not indicate a criminal investigation.

Want to Fight Illegal Robocalls? It's an Uphill Battle

Having a phone number today means that living with incessant robocalls is almost a guarantee. According to YouMail, a company that tracks robocalls, there were almost 50 billion of them made in the U.S. during 2018. That breaks down to a mind-numbing 1,500 calls per second. Efforts to fine perpetrators of illegal robocall scams have been largely ineffective. Since 2015, the Federal Communications Commission has fined illegal robocallers more than $200 million. However, the government has collected less than $7,000, according to records obtained by The Wall Street Journal. Because of that lack of success, consumer advocates have been imploring the government to try a new approach. "We've been urging the congress and regulators to require telephone companies to make call mitigation technology widely available," said Chuck Bell, programs director for advocacy at the Consumers Union. Bell said telecom companies can utilize "software programs or devices that could help block robocalls from even getting to the consumer to begin with." While that dreamland seems a long way off, New York lawmakers feel they're a bit ahead of the rest of the country in dealing with the robocall epidemic. Legislation introduced this year would require mobile and landline carriers to provide free robocall blocking technology to consumers who ask for it.. If a caller consents to receive robocalls from someone, like a doctor's office, pre-school, or pharmacy, the technology would supposedly allow those calls to go through. But passing the bill and fine-tuning the regulation could take some time. For now, certain phone companies may provide some call blocking technology for a cost, or they might recommend customers go to a private vendor that can offer relief. "When you get the carriers involved, when you get the government involved, things just start to slow down," said Aaron Foss, founder of the tech company Nomorobo. Consumers deserve some respite from the madness of robocalls sooner rather than later, said Foss. "I think that a lot of time people can just think of this as kind of an annoyance, right? 'Oh I got one of those crazy robocalls, oh it happened again.' But this is like a real problem," said Foss. "It really rips off a lot of people." The New York bill is currently working its way through the legislature.

Review: Hallelujah! Leonard Cohen's Music is Being Honored at the Jewish Museum

Leonard Cohen was the greatest-ever singer-songwriter who had a bad voice. Cohen, who died in his native Montreal in 2016, was famous for both his brilliant lyrics and his limited vocal range. His voice, at best, was gritty and gravely; on bad days, it was so raspy you might think he had a bronchial infection. But his voice remained his best instrument – at least in terms of authenticity – and you can listen forever to songs like "Hallelujah" or "Suzanne," to name a couple of his best-known songs. "Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything" is the title of a potent and entertaining exhibition now at the Jewish Museum. Organized by the Musee d'art contemporain in Montreal, the show cuts a new path down memory lane, dispensing with yellowed musical scores and other memorabilia. Instead, the museum has assembled a group show consisting of 13 brand-new works of art, most of them installations, and all of them commissions undertaken in a spirit of Cohen homage. The show opens with a raucous, hour-long concert-in-video, George Fok's "Passing Through." But a better place to start is in the gallery next door, which is reserved for Kara Blake's "The Offerings," a documentary-style portrait worth watching in its 35-minute entirety. You sit in the dark, on a low, beanbag-like chair, mesmerized as Cohen tosses off his delightful profundities on five enormous screens. Upstairs, on the second floor, the lights come back on and the installations become more playful. Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's "The Poetry Machine" consists of a vintage Wurlitzer organ whose keys, when you press them, produce audio snippets of Cohen's poetry. Anyone can sit down at the organ and create their own poetic cacophony. At the other extreme, an installation titled "I Heard There Was a Secret Chord," by the Canadian collective called Daily Tous les Jours, invites you to sit on a large octagonal bench and join along in a hummed, wordless, pre-recorded version of "Hallelujah." It's a surprisingly calming experience. The piece re-invents humming – a famous source of irritation for those who overhear it – as a form of social connection and mental well-being even as it skirts the edge of kindergarten simpleness. Of all the works, the pithiest one is also admirably low-tech. Taryn Simon has opted to enclose a front page of the New York Times in a glass vitrine, as if it were a medieval manuscript as opposed to yesterday's news. The date of the paper: November 11, 2016, a Friday when the Times happened to carry a story about Trump meeting with Obama as well as Leonard Cohen's obituary. It is rare that we can see history changing before our eyes, but you can see it on that one page – you see that a beautiful life has ended, and that a menace has risen. It's a chilling sight. One way to move beyond it: hum loudly. 'Listening to Leonard, 2017' (Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal/Photo: Guy L'Heureux)

Review: Hallelujah! Leonard Cohen's Music is Being Honored at the Jewish Museum

Supporters of the SHSAT Make Their Presence Known at Queens Forum

A Queens forum billed as a discussion about diversity in city schools ultimately focused on one topic: the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). And people in attendance at Queens Borough Hall were clear about how most of them felt about the controversial exam — they want to keep it.The crowd of mostly Asian-American alumni and parents called the test the fairest way to admit students to the city's elite specialized high schools. Many also pushed back against the notion that they're against integration simply because they want to keep a test that critics say is to blame for extreme segregation at the schools. Instead they argued that officials could boost integration by improving education at the city's elementary and middle schools, including by adding gifted and talented programs. "Fix the crisis in K through 8 schools," said Brooklyn Tech alum and pro-SHSAT activist David Lee. For years, only a tiny fraction of black and Latino students have gotten into the specialized schools. The number of black students admitted to one of them, Stuyvesant High School, went down this year, to only seven out of 895 slots. Last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed eliminating the SHSAT and admitting the top 7 percent of students from schools across the city instead. As a preliminary step, the administration expanded a summer prep program for low-income students whose SHSAT scores fall just below the cutoff. But recently released acceptance numbers for the program, called Discovery, show only very slight gains for black students. The number of Asian students accepted also increased with Discovery's expansion. In total, just over half of this year's admissions to specialized schools went to Asian eighth graders. And some parents worry that, without the test, their kids' chances of getting into the competitive schools would go down. New York state Senator John Liu, who convened the forum, said the mayor and schools chancellor "intentionally and deliberately" bypassed the Asian community when crafting the proposal to eliminate the exam. He said the goal of the forum was to listen and to ensure all stakeholders had an opportunity to provide input. "This is necessary because last year [City Hall] proposed a plan without including many parts of the city," Liu said. While de Blasio and Carranza have called for eliminating the test, in reality that power lies with legislators in Albany. That's because the exam is enshrined in state law. At a rally outside the forum, SHSAT proponents chanted "keep the test," "save our schools" and "no quotas." Inside, speakers accused the mayor and schools chancellor of pitting groups against one other. "Many Asians feel the city is hostile to them and their families," said Linda Lam. She was one of multiple speakers to call the plan racist and compare it to the Chinese Exclusion Act, an 1882 law that restricted immigration to the United States. But there were some voices against the SHSAT in attendance. "I don't know how desegregation became a shorthand for anti-Asian in so many of these conversations," said Brooklyn Tech alum Alana Mohamed. She referred to experts' research demonstrating bias within standardized testing. She said tropes of "lazy black and brown" students have been "recycled" over the decades. "I sincerely hope we can get past this gridlock," she said. Liu said lawmakers will hold similar meetings on school diversity in each borough.

Attacks Against Jews in Crown Heights Stir Old Fears and New Dialogue

This article is part of a series, which includes this piece about people of color accused of hate crimes, as well as a discussion on the Brian Lehrer Show about solutions for dealing with hate. Two Crown Heights old-timers gathered elementary school students in the auditorium of P.S. 289. They walked to the stage, allowing a moment for the student body to absorb the evident differences. "My name's Eli Cohen. I'm a rabbi, I live here in Crown Heights. And this is?" "Geoffrey Davis. Hello everyone." Cohen is white and wiry, with a black hat and beard befitting his Hasidic Judaism. Davis is black and stocky, an anti-violence activist committed to living out the legacy of his brother, Councilman James Davis, who was shot and killed in City Hall in 2003. Cohen and Davis have come to the school for a stop on what they call a listening tour. They're visiting public schools like this one, which has a mostly black student body, and also nearby Yeshivas, where the community's Orthodox Jews are educated, to ask a question: What's going on with the recent spike in violence against Jews on the streets of Crown Heights? "Geoffrey's my buddy," Cohen told the students. "We do this together." NYPD data show Jewish victims of assaults and robberies in the 71st and 77th precincts in Brooklyn that cover Crown Heights jumped from two in 2017 to 10 in 2018. Through March 27 of this year, two incidents have already been reported, with four arrests. Some victims claim anti-Semitic slurs were hurled. (For a list of incidents, scroll to the bottom of this article.) The police did not break down the alleged perpetrators by race. But several incidents, according to victim accounts and surveillance video, involved black boys and young men. Widely circulated surveillance videos of scenes like men getting jumped on the street and a stroller carrying two Jewish children getting kicked are stirring worries that Crown Heights is experiencing a taste of what appears to be a rising plague of anti-Semitism nationwide. But in Crown Heights, with its unique diversity and history of violence, answers aren't simple or singular. And that's what brings a black man and a rabbi, Crown Heights residents since 1971 and 1973, to the stage. "How many of you have a Hasidic family on your block where the man dresses like me, with the black hat, the jacket, or coat?" Cohen asked. Most of the students raised their hands. But far fewer hands went up when Cohen asked if they "sometimes talk to people from that family, say hello or play with the kids." The same dynamic takes hold when the kids are asked if they ever visited the Jewish Children's Museum, which is down the block from the school. Almost none said they had been there. A picture emerged of two communities, black and Jewish, divided. The men asked why people in Crown Heights have been attacked seemingly because of how they look. One student attributed it to racism. Another, Miguel George, 10, whose family is black and from the Caribbean, had a more nuanced thought. "People don't understand the culture of the other person, so they misjudge the person, and then they do what they do, like write anti-Semitic symbols on walls," he said. Davis and Cohen enthusiastically agreed. They believe that cultural understanding can ease tensions. And that begins simply by seeing two men of different backgrounds standing together on a school stage. "Laughing, smiling, having conversations together — they gotta see it," Davis said. "It's gotta be visually seen. So there's a game plan here. We're showing them — look." Not everyone is sold on this approach. "Yes, it's a good thing to have cultural competence and to understand each other's cultures," said Rabbi Yaacov Behrman, a Chabad activist who has friendships and working relationships with black leaders. "But the idea and the notion that somehow the fact that an 18-year-old African American [man] doesn't understand the Jewish culture and that's why he's kicking a 60-year-old Jewish man in the head is ludicrous. We have to respect each other's cultures regardless of what we understand." While Davis wants joint after-school activities, like chess, for Jewish and black kids, Behrman envisions something larger — millions spent on developing and testing school curricula to bridge divides. Underpinning all of this, leaders believe, is affordability — a housing crisis that makes raising families in New York City unattainable for people of all backgrounds. Crown Heights is seeing traditional anti-Semitism mixed with the pressures of gentrification, particularly as younger professionals — who are neither Orthodox Jews nor black and Caribbean — move in from pricier sections of Brooklyn. That has stoked the popular but false belief that all predatory landlords are Orthodox Jews. "The average person is going to say, 'Yeah, those Jews — you know they come in and take up all the land,' and, 'Another Jewman bought the building,'" said Pastor Gil Monrose, director of faith-based and clergy initiatives for the Brooklyn borough president. "That's just the kind of talk that you're hearing." Monrose believes the density of Brooklyn — people living on top of one another — exacerbates a problem that is fundamentally about economics, and black people feeling victimized by gentrification. "If people feel that their livelihood is being threatened, if people believe that they are being forced out or kicked out — whether it's true or not — sometimes they're going to respond in a way that's violent," Monrose said. Monrose recently returned from Poland, where he visited Nazi concentration camps with his friend Evan Bernstein, the Anti-Defamation League's regional director for New York and New Jersey. They're driven by the same concerns that led Davis and Cohen to visit the schools. "When there's a breakdown of communication it can allow for anti-Semitism to metastasize, it can allow for stereotypes to metastasize," Bernstein said. "I've heard stories of people who almost have to run from synagogue to home on Shabbat because they're so fearful of what could happen to them." The situation in Crown Heights is an "anomaly" compared to the anti-Semitic activity elsewhere in the country because "it doesn't fit the normal script of anti-Semitism" tied to white supremacy, Bernstein said. "Look around other cities, you don't see this. And it's not happening in Manhattan. And it's not happening in the Bronx," he said. "So I think it's a very, very unique situation." What's most unique in Crown Heights is the history. Blacks, often from the Caribbean, and Jewish families, usually from the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement, have lived in Crown Heights for more than a half-century. They congregated in different parts of the neighborhood, but they crossed paths daily: on the sidewalks, in stores and as next-door neighbors. Long-time residents remember black and Jewish kids playing sports with one another. "I have a Jew on one side and an African American on another side and we're friends for the last 40 years," said Aaron Bless, 67, an Orthodox Jew smoking a cigarette outside a store on Eastern Avenue. But a long-simmering sense of disparate treatment favoring Jews over black people was the backdrop to the tragic events of August 1991, after a black child was killed by a car in the motorcade carrying the rebbe, Chabad's spiritual leader. The boy's cousin was injured. And when word circulated that a Jewish-run ambulance corps transported the driver but not the children, violence and fires ensued for three days. A Jewish man was stabbed to death. Colloquially known as the Crown Heights Riots, some black residents call it the "uprising," or "rebellion," while Jews often refer to it with an old Russian word, pogrom, which means ethnic massacre. In this Aug. 22, 1991 file photo, a woman passes a fire-bombed car in the wake of the violence in Crown Heights. David Cantor/Associated Press Community leaders feel the neighborhood is not on the verge of a return to 1991, principally because black, Jewish and police officials are in regular contact with one another. But there are parallels between 1991 and today. "A community feeling that another community has more — has more services, you get more police protection, you get better sanitation protection — that's starting to rise again," Davis said. Stories abound of Jews evicting black tenants and strong-arming black owners to sell. That fits with historical anti-Semitic tropes that Jews control monetary affairs, and reflects a rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout the country. But the housing crisis and gentrification affects Orthodox Jews, too, according to Behrman, the Chabad activist. "You have tremendous poverty and gentrification, and there is a false story being peddled that somehow the Jews are treated differently from the broader community, that the Jews are not suffering from gentrification," Behrman said. "And that's a lie." Hundreds of Jewish families have moved out of Crown Heights in recent years because they couldn't afford housing, according to Behrman. "I think people want to blame somebody, and the fact is some of the landlords are Jewish — some aren't, but some are," he said. Behrman and others worry about the anti-Semitism resurgent in national politics and culture. He points to Congress, where Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was recently accused of invoking anti-Semitic tropes on Twitter. Others interviewed in Crown Heights said President Trump has condoned the anti-Semitism of his supporters. In 1991, Behrman's father had rocks thrown at his car. His sister, who had recently learned about the story of Anne Frank, hid in a closet, fearing people were coming to kill her. Behrman also wrote his master's thesis about what happened. He said today's violence is reminiscent of that time. But, he also said: "I'll tell you what's different. On a local level we have great relationships with our African American leaders in Crown Heights. There's no one in this community I don't feel comfortable calling." Yaacov Behrman, right, a Chabad activist, is pictured with Mordechai Lightstone, left, during a 2016 interview. Richard Drew/Associated Press According to Richard Green, a longtime black leader and founder of the Crown Heights Youth Collective, some anti-Semitism plays out in the street — but often it's simple economics. Unemployment among teens and young people is phenomenally high, he said. "They maybe woke up this morning broke, didn't have a job, walking down the street, and [said], 'OK, here's someone I can kind of vent on," he said. Enjoying an early spring dusk at Brower Park, Ronald Taylor, a black man from Barbados, said that Jews are unfairly blamed for "driving the prices up on everything." "Yeah, that's why they're taking it out on the Jews," he said. But "the whites and the blacks — everybody's getting pushed out." There are other grievances, too, related to simple disrespect. Black residents in Crown Heights complain about Jews who don't say hi, make eye contact or hold doors open at stores. They also question why the Jewish community has its own ambulance service and auxiliary police force. One student at P.S. 289 asked why Jews set up a massive white tent blocking off public passageways on Eastern Parkway during holidays. And there have been brief bursts of violence in the recent past. A so-called knock-out game in 2013, in which Jews were punched on the street, ended with four arrests. In 2016, a Yeshiva's school bus was set on fire. So across Crown Heights, leaders of both the black and Jewish communities are reengaging with one another, hoping to avoid escalation. Monrose, the pastor, wants all neighborhood children to visit both the Jewish Museum and the Weeksville Heritage Center, which tells the story of freed slaves in the Crown Heights area. The ADL's Bernstein plans to build on his visit to Poland with Monrose by organizing a trip there next year for several of the neighborhood's Caribbean pastors. He's also planning a drive to Washington, DC, so Brooklyn's Jewish leaders can visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The goal, Bernstein said, is to "allow for the beginning of the conversations that the stereotypes are not real, are not true." — Here's a sampling of recent attacks reported by local and Jewish news outlets: April 14, 2018: A Jewish man was punched in the face and had his nose broken outside the headquarters for the Chabad movement. April 22, 2018: A Jewish 52-year-old man was beaten and choked by an assailant who alleged that Jews stole his home. May 1, 2018: Two men, allegedly annoyed that a Jewish 22-year-old leaving the Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters, was speaking Hebrew on the phone, punched and threw the man into a car. A charity box containing $200 was not stolen. The two men, ages 19 and 20, were charged with hate crimes. October 15, 2018: A teenager was arrested after chasing then beating a Jewish man with a large stick. November 19, 2018: A group of Yeshiva students were attacked by three teenagers. January 30, 2019: Two men were arrested for two separate attacks against two Jewish men. March 11, 2019: A man kicked a stroller carrying two children after the woman pushing it briefly stopped on the sidewalk. WNYC is part of the Documenting Hate project, which gathers and verifies reports of hate crimes and bias incidents. You can learn more and report incidents here. Authorities also urge those who see hate crimes to contact the police.

Attacks Against Jews in Crown Heights Stir Old Fears and New Dialogue

When People of Color Commit Hate Crimes

This article is part of a series, which includes this piece about attacks against Orthodox Jews in Crown Heights, as well as a discussion on the Brian Lehrer Show about solutions for dealing with hate. One evening several years ago, Dr. Prabhjot Singh took a stroll with his younger brother. The two men were walking through Harlem, along the northern edge of Central Park, when they spotted a group of young men on bikes, 20 to 30 in all. The street was well-lit. Singh didn't think twice about the kids until one of them rode right past him and yanked his beard. "And I heard something about 'Osama.'" Singh is a member of the Sikh faith and wears a turban. He and his brother ran toward a Dunkin' Donuts across the street but found themselves surrounded. "I was punched in the face a number of times," he recalled. "My brother recalls a bike frame was used to beat my body from the back." Singh suffered bruises and a fractured jaw. That night, at the hospital, he met another victim of his attackers, a Somali woman who had recently moved to the U.S. with her husband. By Singh's account, the young men had filled a bottle with urine and hurled it at her face, cutting her nose open. The attack took place in 2013. One man, Christian Morales, was charged with 2nd degree aggravated harassment as a hate crime and later sentenced to a year in jail, according to the Manhattan District Attorney's office. But Singh distanced himself from the proceedings, to the chagrin of some other Sikhs. Just a year earlier, he'd co-authored an op-ed in The New York Times, calling on the FBI to track anti-Sikh incidents of hate. However, in his own instance, he struggled to find a meaningful way of confronting what had happened to him. The reason: His attackers came from communities of color. In other words, these were not young, privileged white men. The question he turned over in his head was, would the world be any better if they were imprisoned? Prabhjot Singh at the site of his 2013 attack (Arun Venugopal / WNYC) Today, Singh is Director of the Arnhold Institute for Global Health at Mount Sinai and author of Dying and Living in the Neighborhood: A Street-Level View of America's Healthcare Promise. And he's been revisiting the night of his Harlem assault. In recent months, a spate of incidents have taken place across the five boroughs: an attack on a subway commuter that left her with a broken spine, because she was thought to be a lesbian; an identifiably Jewish man in Crown Heights, punched in the chest by a man who just walks away. Swastikas scrawled by 12-year-olds on a school playground, along with the phrase "No Jews Allowed." As with Singh's attack, the alleged perpetrators of these incidents were people of color. These aren't isolated examples. We know all too well that communities of color and other marginalized groups are on the receiving end of hate. But people of color commit hate crimes, too. This is born out by FBI data, year after year. In 2017, for example, 21 percent of hate crime offenders were black, although they make up 13 percent of the population. This phenomenon, said Mark Potok, who spent twenty years at the Southern Poverty Law Center, is "the dirty little secret of hate." He cautioned that the statistics are weak, and that white victims are "far more likely to complain" than black victims, and more likely to be taken seriously by law enforcement. Nonetheless, "black people have their biases," said Potok, "just as white people and Latinos do." Often, discussion of these incidents is layered with racism. In November, two Latino teens were arrested following a violent attack on a young Orthodox Jewish man in Forest Hills. Afterward, Nora Gomez-Strauss saw the response from neighbors on a local listserv descend into name-calling. "They started referencing them as 'animals,'" said Gomez-Strauss. "And saying 'these animals coming from other neighborhoods to our place.' And it was a pretty coded or un-coded way to say that these were kids of color coming in and doing this." The question is, what do we do differently when people of color are accused of hateful acts? For some, the answer is nothing. "The color of the skin, the religion, the ethnic background of the alleged perpetrator should have nothing to do with how the authorities and how the neighbors respond to a hate crime," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who deals with global anti-Semitism for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. "If you commit a crime, you have to be held accountable by society. And part of that usually means you're gonna do jail time." But this thinking is exactly what Singh has resisted since the night of his brutal assault. He thinks the criminal justice system isn't the answer, because it disproportionately harms communities of color. In the days following his attack, he had an encounter in Harlem that left him shaken. "A young man on a bike stopped me and said, 'Are you that guy, that professor guy?' and I said yeah." Singh said the young man responded: 'Well, fuck you, man." He also told Singh he was sorry about the attack, but that it meant he was now a target of police. "He's like, 'Do you know that if you're a young black man that has a bike, we're being pulled into vans, for questioning about whether we attacked you? It sucks that this happened to you. But it sucks that this happens, too.'" Increasingly, what people like Singh want is restorative justice. Participants in a peace circle run by the Restorative Center in Newburgh, NY (The Restorative Center) RJ, as it's often called, "has become a catchall term which may describe a theory of justice, particular practices or outcomes, the mobilization of restorative practices in a particular place, or a social movement seeking to transform the way society conceives of justice," wrote Shailly Agnihotri and Cassie Veach in the City University School of Law Review. "While mediation seeks to resolve conflicts, RJ seeks a deeper engagement with the philosophical underpinnings of conflict— humans' lack of empathy and understanding of another's point of view." Restorative justice plays out in countless ways, but at its heart it involves the community in ways that criminal justice rarely does. Proponents say it allows survivors of violence the chance to opt for dialogue with the perpetrator or 'responsible party' as an alternative to incarceration. Kay Pranis, a national leader of restorative justice, said it's made significant headway in schools as a means of addressing conflict. "When the school-to-prison pipeline movement started to have some success, they needed to have an answer: What do you do instead? You can't just be opposed to something." Pranis said restorative justice is a sensible response to hate crimes, "because it's about being in a respectful space with one another." "You need to change the story that the person is telling themself, about that other person," said Pranis. "You don't change it intellectually, you change it through an interactive, human experience that allows human emotions to be present." Although it is not specifically intended for communities of color, restorative justice has resonated there because it is seen as a corrective to criminal justice, one that also allows for healing and rehabilitation. Still, there's little data on how effective restorative justice is, or whether it is an appropriate path for dealing with hate crimes. But it's the choice Singh didn't have in 2013. He hopes to see more of these paths in the years ahead, regardless of who is committing the wrong. "It's very, very important for a just and merciful society to build restorative paths for when things go wrong," he said. "And I think it's really tough when you don't see those options." WNYC is part of the Documenting Hate project, which gathers and verifies reports of hate crimes and bias incidents. You can learn more and report incidents here. Authorities also urge those who see hate crimes to contact the police. Correction 4/11/19, 1 p.m.: Originally, this article noted, incorrectly, that Singh's jaw was wired shut for six weeks after it was fractured. In reality, he had a stabilizing plate put in for that amount of time.

Forums on Specialized High Schools, Its Test and Student Diversity Kick Off Tonight

Outrage over acceptance numbers at New York City's specialized high schools has revived the debate, yet again, about the admissions test, the SHSAT. What's different this time is that a group of state lawmakers who actually have the power to eliminate the test are taking on the issue, starting with a series of community forums that kick off Thursday night. State Senator John Liu has said the goal is to hear "every single voice" in order to inform potential legislation. He recently called Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to eliminate the test and admit the top 7 percent of students at schools across the city "racist" — because the administration did not engage the Asian community enough in formulating the proposal. Asian students received just over half the initial offers to the specialized schools in March. "The mayor believes we need an education system that gives every child the opportunity to succeed no matter their background or whether they can ace a single test," said spokesperson Jaclyn Rothenberg in response to Liu's comment. The mayor has acknowledged he could have done more outreach on his specialized high school proposal. Although the debate about a single-test admissions policy for these schools has gone on for decades, lawmakers said there's more momentum now, both to reconsider the test and confront segregation more generally. Both pro- and anti-SHSAT groups said it's important to think broadly and promote integration across the school system. "We acknowledge that it is a segregated system," said Stuyvesant High School alumni president Soo Kim, who is in favor of the SHSAT. "Everyone should get in the room ... to talk about what the root causes are and what the solutions could be." Brandon St. Luce, a sophomore at Edward R. Murrow High School and a member of the student advocacy group Teens Take Charge, said it's time to eliminate the test, but it's also important to keep the big picture in mind. "One test shouldn't make or break someone's future," he said. "But specialized high schools are a small part of a system that needs to be diversified and equitable for all of its students." Student activists from across the city have called for other reforms as well, including eliminating all screened, gifted and talented programs and district preference. The first of the community forums is at Queens Borough Hall from 6:30 - 8:30 pm.

Forums on Specialized High Schools, Its Test and Student Diversity Kick Off Tonight

Fighting White Supremacy with a Celebration of Blackness

People around the world are grappling with the rise of white-supremacist fueled attacks and white nationalist rhetoric, which often leaves more questions than answers on how to move forward. According to authors Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin, if you are black in America, the answer is to celebrate it in a wide range of ways, collected in their new book, How We Fight White Supremacy. "One of the things that sits at the core of white supremacy is anti-blackness," Rankin told WNYC's cultural critic Rebecca Carroll. "So what's the opposite of that? Loving on ourselves." Solomon also pointed out how central platforms like Twitter are. "We would not be having this conversation and we would not have done this book without social media, because I think social media has sped up some of the process around understanding." Listen to the conversation by clicking the play button above.

Many Local Residents Seeing Smaller Refunds this Tax Season, But it's Complicated

It's the first filing season since the 2017 Republican tax overhaul went into effect and the impact the new law is having on high-tax states like New York and New Jersey had been complicated. "This tax season has been the most unusual tax season in the 40 years I've prepared taxes," said Gail Rosen, a certified public accountant in Somerset County, New Jersey. Rosen said this year's tax returns have looked very different because of significant changes brought about by the 2017 bill. For example: many workers neglected to adjust the amount of income tax that employers withheld from their pay check to account for the new tax law. That meant more money in people's pockets paycheck-to-paycheck, but it translated into a smaller tax refund at the end of the year. Some people have even owed money "even though their [overall] taxes have gone down," Rosen said. She said several of her clients have found themselves without a tax refund that they've come to rely on. like Debbie Palacios from Hazlet. Last tax season she used her refund for a vacation. This year, she owed the government money for the first time in years. "[Last year] we traveled to Italy and Spain and France. We went to three countries on a cruise and this year we can't, we are just going to go to Boston," Palacios said. Clifton resident Henry Webb said he owes back taxes for the first time. "Basically I'm taking money from each check and squirreling it away, hoping that I come out ahead," Webb said. But some people say they don't mind paying up. Anthony Esposito of Manalapan said he supports the new tax law, even though he owes a small amount to the IRS this year. "I would rather pay a little bit more and have the Trump agenda in place," Esposito said. He likes that his tax money will go towards funding the military and border security. Like any tax overhaul, there are winners and losers. Rosen said winners include many married couples with children, who can now deduct more taxes and get a $2,000 credit for each child. And small businesses owners can now deduct 20 percent of their income from their businesses taxes. But Rosen said high earners with big property tax bills have fewer reasons to celebrate. That's because they'll be hit by the GOP's $10,000 cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions. And according to Rosen, "They are talking about leaving New Jersey." High-tax states like New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut have tried to implement a workaround that would basically allow residents to deduct some local taxes as charitable donations. But the IRS has continued to push back on the maneuver. Dominique Jack and Paula Moura contributed to this reporting.

Many Local Residents Seeing Smaller Refunds this Tax Season, But it's Complicated

Legendary Contralto Marian Anderson's New York Roots

Eighty years ago, the legendary contralto Marian Anderson performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The April 9, 1939, concert was an iconic moment: Anderson, a black woman, had been invited to sing there by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt after the Daughters of the American Revolution barred her from performing at Constitution Hall. That day, she sang in front of the statue of the Great Emancipator for an integrated audience of 75,000—a far larger crowd than could have fit into DAR's venue. Lesser known is how, by that point in her career, she had already been playing in front of integrated audiences for years. Fifteen years earlier, in April 1924, Anderson took the stage at Town Hall in Manhattan's Midtown for one of her first major concerts outside of her native Philadelphia. At the time, it was one of the few large venues she could perform in as a black woman. But while she was welcome at the concert hall, she still wasn't well known. Only a few people attended, and she was so disheartened by the mixed reviews her performance garnered that she considered giving up singing entirely. "She just didn't get the reception that she wanted," said Town Hall Foundation President Tom Wirtshafter, "and I certainly know that she couldn't get other work, that other halls had not opened up to her." Luckily, Anderson's manager convinced her to keep at it. Soon afterwards, she found success singing in concert halls across Europe, where she no longer had to battle segregation and Jim Crow laws. When she returned to the United States—and to New York—she was an international star. She played Town Hall again in 1935 and brought down the house, cementing her stardom in the U.S. In the following years, more and more venues opened up to her. In the two decades between 1940 and 1960, Anderson performed nine times at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, according to BAM Archives Director Sharon Lehner. At the height of her career, the famed conductor Arturo Toscanini famously said a voice like Anderson's only comes around once a century. And in 1955, she knocked down another wall as the first black woman to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. Marian Anderson died in 1993.