Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

June 6, 2009


Mark Naisin, History News Network - Today, public housing is widely viewed as a failed experiment in social policy, a place where poor and troubled families are warehoused in prison like conditions that breed crime, violence and apathy. But Sonia Sotomayor's experience of growing up in the Bronxdale houses, a low rise public housing development in the Soundview section of the Bronx that opened in the mid 1950's, recall a different reality. The Bronxdale houses, like many other public housing projects that were built in Bronx in the early and mid 1950's, were filled with families of World War II veterans looking to escape crowded tenements and rooming houses, and their airy apartments, spacious, well kept grounds, seemed like wonderful places to bring up children, Not only were the projects designed with green space, playgrounds and outdoor sitting areas where parents could watch their children, they had community centers on premises and schools conveniently located within walking distance of the buildings.

In those years, there was no stigma attached to living in "the projects." To the contrary, many residents took tremendous pride in the beauty of their surroundings. Allen Jones who wrote a book about his Bronx experiences called "The Rat That Got Away" recalls friends and relatives of people who moved into the Patterson Houses in Mott Haven walking through the grounds in sheer wonder at the meticulously maintained lawns and litter free walkways, while Connie Questell, in an oral history interview she did with the Bronx African American History Project boasted that the Japanese Gardens in the nearby Melrose Houses was a favorite Sunday strolling site for Bronx families

But for many residents, the social atmosphere of the projects was as much an attraction as spacious apartments and well maintained grounds For Black and Latino families especially, who experienced extreme segregation in the private housing market during those years, public housing in the Bronx represented their first experience with living in an integrated neighborhood. Taur Orange, a college administrator who grew up in the Bronxdale Houses at the same time Sonia Sotomayor did, remembers Bronxdale as "a little United Nations" and recalls Black, Jewish, Italian, Latino and Asian mothers sitting on the project benches watching their children and sharing stories and recipes. Vicki Archibald Good, a social work supervisor, who grew up in the Patterson Houses with her brother, basketball legend Nate "Tiny" Archibald recalls families of every nationality playing together, raising children together, and sharing each other's food and music. Allen Jones and Nathan Dukes fondly remember days when everyone regardless of race or ethnicity, sang doo wop, danced Latin and would defend their project against all rivals, on or off project grounds. . .

Over time, the atmosphere in the projects would deteriorate. As the first generation of families moved out to buy homes or middle income co-ops, they would be replaced with poorer, more troubled families, many of them on public assistance, and a combination of job losses, drug epidemics and white flight would erode the spirit of community and feelings of optimism that these developments had once been known for. These problems would be intensified by budget cuts that would reduce the quality of project maintenance, leaving lawns poorly cared for, hallways and grounds filled with debris, and elevators in need of repair, and local community centers deprived of needed staff.

Nevertheless, Bronx housing projects never became the broken, hopeless urban concentration camps that many people imagine them to be. The Bronx River and Bronxdale Houses, along with many other projects in the South and West Bronx, were important sites in the development of Bronx Hip Hop. . . And even through the present, Bronx projects house thousands of senior citizens who have lived in them for fifty plus years, and who refuse to move because their neighbors look out for and take care of them.

But the most important thing to remember, at a time when development of affordable large scale multiple dwellings has been neglected for more than a generation (while huge high rises for the rich dot the urban landscape throughout Manhattan and North Brooklyn) is that public housing was a tremendous success when it was rich in social services, provided excellent daily maintenance and was careful in its tenant selection.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The social engineers of the early 20th Century were convinced that crime and poverty were the result of "bad" environments that distorted the growth and development of young humans. They set out to reform society by creating new environments designed to foster all that they thought was desirable in human behavior. Experience turned those theories upside down: Man is a maker and changer of environments. Man alters his environment to reflect himself. So, those who are organized, tidy, improvers constantly maintain and improve their surroundings, while those who are the opposite do not. In neighborhoods where improvers dominated, the Projects remained a great place to live. In places where the neglectors dominated, identical housing was quickly trashed. Over time, people sort themselves out and move to the place where their nature is most comfortable. Human nature is what it is.

June 6, 2009 7:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, blame the victim, it's alway the easiest safest way. However, it leaves out the fact that people outside city neighborhoods make decisions about when or if the cops show up when needed.Here's a letter to the editor that explains some of the real factors so often ignored or covered up.

Copyright: 2000, Newsday Inc.

June 14, 2000

NYC Police Seeking Seven in Attacks
By DONNA DE LA CRUZ, Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - Police distributed photos Wednesday of seven men they believe participated
in the attacks on 24 girls and women in Central Park - stripping, fondling and sexually
abusing some of the victims as they moved in a pack in broad daylight.

At a news conference, Police Commissioner Howard Safir denied that the officers
assigned to the Puerto Rican Day parade on neighboring Fifth Avenue Sunday were told to
relax public drinking regulations to avoid tension between officers and the mostly
Hispanic crowd. Several witnesses and some victims have alleged that
the attackers were drunk, and that some reeked of marijuana.
(MarijuanaNews note: Naturally, Giuliani and the Police Commissioner
are making much of this.)

June 15, 2000

Why Giuliani’s Cops Did Nothing In Central Park
By Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T.
(Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics)
(MarijuanaNews note: Art is about truth and beauty. This is a work
of art.)

It would be easy to follow the lead of Mayor Giuliani and blame the numerous individual
police officers who apparently did nothing to prevent, investigate or even report to their
superiors the mob violence, sexual assaults and robberies that took place in Central Park
this past Sunday. Stereotypes of cops as lazy, donut-eating louts readily come to mind.

Is there another explanation?

Victims of the mob violence and numerous witnesses have reported
that a large number of police officers stationed within yards of the hour long incident
sat on benches during the attacks, refused to take reports from witnesses, radioed no one
for help and even dissuaded some female victims from filing a police report. The
Mayor says that pending an internal police department investigation confirming the victim
and bystander accusations, the cops will be fired.

Either NYPD officers are even worse people than activists have made them out to be or
there is another side to this story, a side Mayor Giuliani desperately wants to obscure.

This incident perfectly illustrates the selective crime reporting
and creative NYPD book-keeping behind Mayor Giuliani’s very impressive-but
unfortunately very phony-crime statistics.

DEAland Crime Rate May Be Three Times Higher Than Is Reported
(MarijuanaNews note: Also it is important to realize that violent
crime is down even more in San Francisco and Canada, which have not had to endure these
police state tactics.)

June 7, 2009 9:28 AM  
Anonymous continued said...

These statistically-oriented record keeping techniques, which in this case
involved ignoring numerous sexual assaults, are the source of his undeserved reputation.
To paraphrase a famous Zen saying, if a crime happens in NYC but the police don’t
record it, did it really happen?

According to an article in the NY Post, police officers in the same
general area and time as the attacks confiscated 2,500 bottles of beer, 100 bottles of
liquor and 16 bags of marijuana and made 13 arrests. They also issued 700 summonses.
Clearly the cops were very hard at work faithfully following the prioritized orders of the

Those orders include downplaying anything, including sexual assaults in Central Park, that
might make his administration look bad. Anyone who has attempted as I have to report an
assault, robbery or other crime to the NYPD during the seven years of the Giuliani
administration knows how this game works.

The police do their best to dissuade you from making a report in the first place. If you
are very persistent they will do their best to downgrade the seriousness of the crime. An
assault gets written up as an dispute or harassment. A store break-in becomes a report of
vandalism. Robberies gets recorded as lost property. As a result, crime statistics keep
going down while crime may actually be going up.

The flip-side of this creative police book-keeping is that hundreds of thousands of
unnecessary or false misdemeanor arrests each year which are never prosecuted or are
dismissed by the City after a few court appearances are used as the statistical
“proof” of the Mayor’s crime fighting prowess. The police are ordered by
Giuliani to use massive amounts of personnel and resources to arrest panhandlers, homeless
people, squeegee guys, street artists, truants, farebeaters, vendors, hookers, marijuana
smokers and protesters.

These arrests cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year, remove
thousands of officers from the streets to process the paperwork and do nothing whatsoever
to make the City safer. If anything, the resentment these arrests and harassment cause in
their predominantly Black and Latino targets has made the City a hotbed of racial
animosity. They have also made being an NYPD officer an increasingly distasteful career

June 7, 2009 9:30 AM  
Anonymous continued said...

The carefully-maintained illusion that the City and especially Central Park and the
surrounding midtown area have been transformed into a safe haven for tourists and the
elite is the dogma at the center of the Giuliani myth. The 30 million tourists who visited
the City last year, filled its hotels and boosted its economy will tell you (quoting
Giuliani) that he personally eliminated crime and made New York the, “safest big city
in America”.

The city-wide mayhem of this past weekend, in which the NYPD
publicly admits to at least 40 separate attacks in which 59 people were shot or stabbed
and six victims died (these figures do not include the Central Park sexual assaults and
robberies), shows that you cannot believe everything you read in a travel brochure. The
reality is that murder, rape, bias crimes, sexual assaults and some categories of robbery
are increasing in NYC despite a decade-long nationwide crime drop.

Blaming individual police officers for their seeming indifference in Central Park this
Sunday is no more justified than blaming them for the racial profiling policy that has
recently led to unarmed and innocent men being shot to death in NYC. If there is anything
the NYPD does well it is following orders. As the cops always say, we are just doing our
Putting Drug War Criminals On Notice:
“Just Following Orders” Is Not A Valid Defense, Especially When You Are Breaking
the Law.

Their job is dictated each and every day by Mayor Giuliani who personally sets
the priorities for the NYPD including deciding which individuals will be arrested, which
behaviors will result in arrest and arrest quotas generally. At times of intense media
scrutiny-as I’ve personally experienced on more than one occasion-the NYPD even has
non-arrest policies.

June 7, 2009 9:32 AM  
Anonymous continued said...

This Sunday appears to have been one of those days.

If tomorrow morning the Mayor ordered the police to accurately document each and every
crime they became aware of, NYC would instantly revert to being America’s statistical
crime capital. Giuliani bragged on a recent installment of his
Friday radio talk show that he was in charge of compiling crime statistics for the Reagan
Justice Department. Apparently he learned his lessons very well.

The police are used by Giuliani primarily as a tool of propaganda on
the one hand and intimidation on the other. Maintaining the image and statistical results
of crime fighting rather than focusing on actual crime fighting is the goal.

Where I live in Brooklyn cops are assigned to patrol the streets in excessive numbers
during the day when elderly residents and storeowners will be sure to see them. They are
on every corner, busily writing up their daily quota of parking tickets and searching for
vendors to arrest. Their patrol cars obstruct the streets as they pull over car after car
for the slightest infraction causing even more traffic congestion than there already is.

All of this extremely visible police activity gives the illusion that the neighborhood is
being heavily protected. The only problem is that these police officers are barely needed
during the day when the streets are filled with people. At night when things become a lot
more dangerous, disorderly and disruptive, there’s not a cop to be seen.

There’s never a shortage of police day or night when it comes to harassing and
intimidating protesters, however.

Commenting on the Central Park attacks both Giuliani and Commissioner Safir claimed that
no amount of police could guarantee a crime-free park. This is the same Mayor who
routinely sends an army of officers to clamp down on even the smallest protest that
criticizes his policies.

On the streets of New York under Giuliani you have a better chance of getting away with a
sexual assault than with displaying a painting critical of the Mayor. During a 65 day-long
street artist protest in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1998 Giuliani had
hundreds of officers on full-time duty surrounding a handful of artists peacefully
creating and displaying anti-Giuliani signs and portraits. Each day for sixty-five days
artists were dragged away in handcuffs.

Out of more than 100 arrests and criminal summonses issued during
the protest not one resulted in a defendant plea bargaining, paying a fine or being
convicted of a crime.

My own 41 arrests, not one of which has resulted in a conviction,
involved hundreds of police officers, lawyers for the NYPD, high-ranking supervisors
including Deputy Mayors, survelliance and post-arrest interrogations by detectives from
the Intelligence Division and seven years of court appearances wasting the time and
salaries of judges, District Attorneys and Legal Aid defense lawyers. Virtually every
officer involved in my arrests spent his or her entire shift processing my arrest
paperwork while freely acknowledging that the arrest was probably unjustified and would be

If police organizations like the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association want to salvage
what’s left of their shredded reputation they need to go public with the truth about
the Mayor’s manipulation of these statistics and his chronic self-serving misuse of
the NYPD.

Instead of attacking Bruce Springsteen for using his freedom of speech to write
a vaguely critical song about Amadou Diallo they need to exercise their own freedom of
speech and expose the Mayor, who continues to be the City’s number one criminal.

Giuliani is showing no hesitation to place the blame for the Central Park scandal on the
police. Will they quietly be the fall guys or will they show some real courage and expose
the Mayor for the pathetic liar that he is? We the people, the ones the NYPD are actually
supposed to be working for, are waiting to hear from New York’s Finest.

June 7, 2009 9:39 AM  
Anonymous ending said...

Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T.
(Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics)
ARTISTpres@aol.com (718) 743-3722

June 7, 2009 9:40 AM  
Anonymous Grateful said...

Thanks for posting the real deal about Ghouliani, 2nd anonymous, and thanks especially for speaking out specifically against the intellectually lazy custom and tradition of blaming the victim.

June 8, 2009 7:25 AM  

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