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ONE MORE LAP AROUND THE ARMORY 10.19.07
To grasp the size of the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx is to remember that for two decades it was known as the Kingsbridge Armory Speedrome. Beginning in the late 40s, the cavernous armory held races on an oval track over the largest drill floor in the world, measuring 180,000 square feet.
To understand the contentious political debate over the future use of the Armory is to be reminded that the space, all 575,000 square feet, has been effectively vacant since the 258th Field Artillery Regiment moved elsewhere in 1994. Built between 1914-1918, the castle-facaded Armory has been a source of frustrated envy for city political leaders and developers for over a decade.
With the City expected to announce the winning proposal within weeks, the Kingsbridge community is turning on the heat once more to ensure the finished project anchors the community, instead of torpedoes it. The community was successful in defeating former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s plan to transform the armory into a shopping mall.
The four square blocks of Armory are currently owned by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, who have been overseeing the development proposals. “I can’t speak to previous attempts under other administrations,” said Janel Patterson, vice president of public affairs for the EDC. “But I can tell you in the current undertaking, we have tried to include all the stakeholders and work together. It is a very complex project.”
The Request for Proposal was solicited the second time around by the Kingsbridge Armory Task Force, composed of the Bronx heavyweight politicians. While schools were originally touted as a necessary prerequisite of the proposals, the RFP finally released in September of 2006 called for schools to be built in adjacent buildings.
While the schools in the Bronx currently experience overcrowding at a significant rate, the community is now defending against losing the schools altogether. “The city is disputing the need to build more high school seats due to the high dropout rate,” said Ava Farkas, an organizer with Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, an umbrella organization charged with addressing the various community needs.
In a report commissioned by the New York City School Construction Authority and prepared by the Grier Partnership in January 2007, the report concludes that, “After 2010 there will be a sharp decline with a loss of 14,900 children over the next decade.” There has been a steady increase in population in the Bronx over the last decade,.
The community leaders are now more concerned in securing retail jobs paying over $10/hour and to get a strong commitment from the city that some construction jobs will stay in the community. There is a palpable sense of unease in regards to these projects after the Croton Filtration Plant has left promises unfulfilled, as Bronx Community Board 7 Chairman Gregory Faukner articulated.
Once the proposal is selected, the project will have to go through another public review, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which involves community board, borough board, city planning and city council. The end is in sight. What that end looks like is still anyone’s guess.
The hope was to “get the most bang for our buck” by moving school safety agents out of desk jobs and into the schools, announced Assistant Chief James Lawrence in 1998 on the very first day the safety of the schools was handed over from the Department of Education to the New York Police Department. “Unless it’s an extreme incident or an emergency, an arrest won’t be made without consulting the principal. If we stick to that basic plan, things will go well.”
Two days ago, Mark Federman, the Principal of East Side Community High School in Manhattan, was arrested on charges of obstructing government activity and resisting arrest for intervening with school safety agents arresting a female 17-year-old senior. The student had been trying to get into school early and became engaged in an altercation with the officers when denied entry. Both student and principal were led out of the school at 9 am in handcuffs.
“Unfortunately it is not a unique situation. It is entirely predictable,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of New York Civil Liberties Union at yesterday’s press conference during the City Council hearing into the conduct and training of the school security agents. By NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly’s account, there are more than 5000 SSAs and 200 armed police officers in the schools.
“Instead of giving us safety, they were harming us,” said Adolfo Peralta, a junior high school student who transferred from Roland Hayes School after he was allegedly struck in the chest and face by an officer when he was cutting class. Peralta spent the weekend in juvenile detention and served a month suspension after an assault charge was leveled by the same officer. His father, of the same name, said the officer was near 300 pounds, big enough to be a wrestler, “The officers should be there to protect and serve them.”
The transfer of the school’s security to the NYPD occurred after years of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s urging to bring his “broken windows” philosophy of policing, no crime too petty to ignore, to public schools. According to the 2006 financial plan for the city, Mayor Bloomberg requested $11,272,000 for SSAs within the education allotment from 2007 until 2010. Since 2002, the NYPD has received 2670 complaints about SSAs.
According to the report released earlier this year by NYCLU detailing “The Over-Policing of New York City Schools,” 82 percent of children attending high schools with permanent metal detectors were Black or Latino. “What are our jails filled with? They are filled with the same demographic,” said Jamaal Bowman, Dean of Martin Luther King Jr. High School. A 2006 report by the American Psychological Association Study found “under zero tolerance policies, African American students may be disciplined more severely for less serious or subjective reasons.”
Gregory Floyd, President of Teamsters Union Local 237, which represents the SSAs, said the NYCLU report was created without the SSA input and “lends itself to distortion and sensationalism.” Floyd agreed with the NYCLU on the divide of authority between the DOE and the NYPD. “Our members are sometimes caught up in a confusing division of authority between their NYPD superiors and school principals.”
Uni Ofer, the Senior Legislative Counsel of NYCLU said, “Many prinicipals told us in confidence they feel like they will be retaliated against if they push this issue too hard,” and therefore did not seek attention for models that were working without punitive, disciplinary methods.
By the time Felice Lepore, principal of Urban Assembly in South Bronx, testified on the methods working in his school, such as using SSAs as mediators and not using metal detectors: The chambers had cleared out. It was, after all, a school night.
The lace and silk of the white dress that Cruceta Martinez wore as she stood on the steps of the Bronx Courthouse typified the trappings of a summer wedding. Martinez posed and adjusted her tiara as brides do, but it was to illustrate the reason there were fifty other women in wedding dresses: evidenced by the scars on her face, neck and arms from the battery acid her spouse threw on her seven years ago.
For the seventh time the New York Latinas Against Domestic Violence organized “The Brides March” to pay tribute to the victims of domestic violence including Gladys Ricart. It was nine years ago to the day, Sept. 26, Ricart was gunned down by her former boyfriend in her home as she posed for pictures with her bridesmaids. One hundred women, men and children marched for six miles from the Bronx to North Harlem to bring what normally happens behind closed doors into the light of day.
According to the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, there were 71 family related homicides citywide in 2006, 22 in the Bronx. “It’s important that people know what they can do to be free,” said Lucy Pizarro as she adjusted her gown to continue the march. Pizarro said that she had been victimized in Puerto Rico and seeing no other alternative had been planning to kill her husband to end the abuse.
“A woman doesn’t have to put up with it anymore,” said Emily Batista, who works at the Violence Intervention Program. Herself a survivor, Batista became involved she said because for too long she didn’t realize there was any help. Batista recounted a recent instance when a man tried to beat up his wife in the courtroom in front of the guards. “He was attempting to do this in public. He was arrested. He was not understanding the message.”
“This is a cultural problem, not an individual program,” said Kalima Desuze, an organizer at Voices of Women Organizing Project. “This is a patriarchal sexist problem and we need to raise our kids counter to that ideology to create a shift.”
Christian Tejada, 17, agreed. Tejada participated in a summer program for RAPP, Relationship Abuse Prevention Program. “Each of us has to speak out against it. Keep the communication open.” The students who participated in the training go back to their respective schools and act as peer counselors.
Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion met the marchers as they made their way on Grand Concourse. “This is not a woman problem. This is a community program,” Carrion said as he highlighted the borough’s commitment to break the cycle of domestic violence. One of the signs read, “Alza tu voz que no estas sola,” translated to “Raise your voice. You are not alone.”
Sitting on the steps next to a blown up photo of her sister Gladys, Yolanda Ricart looked tired as she ate her lunch on the courthouse steps. “Emotionally it helps me and my family,” she said through a translator. “We have more support from the community than we did seven years ago. The first time we marched, people laughed at us. Today people were clapping and cheering us on. It makes me feel much better and we need to continue doing it.”
As photographers swarmed to take her picture, Cruceta Martinez said very quietly she didn’t want other women to wait until something like what happened to her happened to them.