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No Snitching: The Rule of the Street

December 6, 2007


The New York Police Department’s CompStat database lists the number of serious crimes by category for each police precinct in the city. The 46th Precinct’s figures can be found at http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/downloads/pdf/crime_statistics/cs046pct.pdf.

According to CompStat, there were 82 murders in our precinct in 1990. In 1995 there were 43. So far this year there’s been 15. The murder rate is falling – as are other major crime such as rape and robbery.

Still, 15 murders in a small precinct such as ours is a significant number. In fact, it’s one of the highest in the city. Why is this? Why does our community continue to record high rates of violent crime, and why are some crimes such as rapes and murders not being solved in our community?

These crimes are not going away, and perhaps they are being repeated, in part because there is a rule in the street that says you never speak to the police.

The no-snitch rule demands that you never speak to the police. For many, going against this rule is to become a “sellout” – a person who betrays his or her community. Such a label implies that one is a traitor who is not to be trusted.

How may this rule of the street affect crime? Well, it may prevent the police from making arrests of criminals who commit wicked crimes such as rapes, robbery and murders. And when the police and the community aren’t talking, criminals may become emboldened.

But there are historical reasons as to why community residents are not talking to the police. One historical reason the no-snitch rule exists in our neighborhood is that in the past the 46th Precinct has served more as the oppressor of the community, rather than the protector. Several infamous cases of police brutality created tension and mistrust that has lasted to this day. In December 1994, local resident Anthony Baez died following a struggle with Police Officer Francis X. Livoti Jr. on Cameron Place. That Livoti wasn’t convicted of anything until 1998 (and only then for violating Baez’s civil rights) made matters worse. Then, in Morris Heights, just weeks after the Baez incident, two detectives were accused of using excessive force in the deaths of two robbery suspects, Hilton Vega and Anthony Rosario.

The no-snitch rule, therefore, was a reaction to the fear and mistrust created by these incidents (and others before and after), and a way to fight back against the police and correct the balance of power.
The no-snitch rule is also fueled by the fear of reprisal. When I first moved to Mount Hope in the early 1990s, it was pointed out to me that another local resident was responsible for the killing of two Jamaican men who lived across the street from my building. It happened at the corner of 179th Street and Creston Avenue. Apparently they had been murdered over a drug dispute. Everyone in the neighborhood knew what had happened, yet no one told the police. The killer continued to live in the community and be involved in drug activity for years to come. Being the curious child that I was, I remember asking my family why the “bad guy” was still around. The response I got was, “Mind your own business.” I was told that if I didn’t mind my own business, then I could put my life and that of my family at risk. I never asked a silly question again.

No SnitchI think that the 46th Precinct has a better relationship with the community today than it did in the 1990s. But the no-snitch rule is still followed in our neighborhood, as it is elsewhere in the city. Certain clothing stores on Burnside Avenue and Fordham Road even sell T-shirts and sweat shirts with no-snitch logos. The clothes are sold as a street campaign to enforce and remind residents of the rule. As such, the relationship between the community and the 46th Precinct is one of mixed feelings.

Is the rule destroying our community, or is it empowering it? Is the rule unavoidable? I don’t know. But if local residents and the 46th Precinct are prepared to meet in the middle, they can provide the answers to these questions.

Jose Roman lives in Mount Hope.

Tenant Harassment Bills Stir Controversy

December 6, 2007


If you don’t pay your rent, sooner or later the city marshal will come a-knockin’. Increasingly, though, even model tenants – those who pay their rent on time and look after their apartment – are being harassed and forced out by unscrupulous landlords, say affordable housing advocates.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn wants to help. In October, she introduced Intro. 627, the Tenant Protection Act. The bill, if passed, would enable tenants to sue their landlords for harassment, a complaint not currently recognized in housing court. Guilty landlords would be hit with a C Violation (the most serious housing code violation) from Housing Preservation and Development and a $1,000 to $5,000 fine.

“This is landmark legislation,” said Jackie Del Valle of Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA), a Bronx-based tenant rights group.

The Tenant Protection Act is supported by the majority of the 51-member City Council. Still, not everyone is behind it. Bronx Council Member Maria Baez has sponsored a rival bill (Intro. 638) along with Majority Leader Joel Rivera, another Bronx politician, and five other Council members.

Baez Bill Attacked

Baez’s proposal also permits tenants to sue landlords for harassment. If guilty, the landlord would be fined $1,000 to $5,000, but they wouldn’t be slapped with a C violation. Most striking of all, landlords would also be able to sue tenants for harassment. If convicted, tenants would get the same fines.  Baez

“What Baez’s 638 pretends to be is even-handed, representing both tenants’ rights and landlord rights,” said Benjamin Dulchin, of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), an advocacy group. “But fining a tenant and a landlord the same amount isn’t [even-handed]. If a tenant’s hit with a $5,000 fine it’s a nuclear bomb.”

Dulchin added that Baez’s bill would make it difficult for tenants to prove they were being harassed, because the bill’s definition of tenant harassment was so narrow. Furthermore, he said, the bill’s definition of landlord harassment is so broad that a landlord could take a tenant to court for doing something as innocuous as making a complaint to 311. Dulchin was referring to a section of the bill that reads: “[Harassment is] making repeated baseless or frivolous complaints to any governmental agency relating to the ownership or management of the dwelling…”

About 20 protesters attended a Nov. 27 rally on the issue in front of Baez’s Mount Hope office, which Del Valle helped organize. Some waved placards that read “Landlords have enough power!” and “The Bronx is our home. Please stop tenant harassment.” 

As the protest wound down, a Baez staffer released a statement saying the Council member was still negotiating with Quinn. “We are having a healthy discussion and debate about both bills,” Baez said in the statement. Added Rivera in the same release, “We want to ensure the legislation is fair and balanced on both sides.”

“The fact that they’re saying it’s not a done deal is a victory,” said Del Valle after the protest. “We clearly sent her a message.”

Baez didn’t return several phone calls left with her office seeking further comment on her position. Rivera also did not respond to a call seeking comment.

Types of Harassment

In a hot housing market, CASA and ANHD say some landlords are trying to harass tenants out of their apartments so they can hike up rents (increases for vacancies, new leases, and repairs are allowed by law).

Landlords have several tactics at their disposal, says ANHD’s David Shuffler. They may refuse to make repairs to an apartment. Or, they might bombard tenants with petty legal cases. (As reported in the Norwood News, The Pinnacle Group was accused of this after buying scores of Bronx apartment buildings and bringing cases against hundreds of tenants.) Or they may use threats, based on immigration status. “You don’t want me to call INS, do you?” often gets thrown around, said Shuffler.

Advocates also say landlords are trying to evict rent payers in order to convert buildings into co-ops.

According to Del Valle, tenant harassment is particularly common in low-income areas like the west Bronx. “[Baez’s] district is very vulnerable because it’s one of the poorest in the city, with some of the worst housing conditions in the city,” she said. “She should be a leader on the Tenant Protection Act [not against it].”

Mary Silva, a CASA volunteer who lives at 1505 Grand Concourse, says she knows what it’s like to be targeted by an aggressive landlord. Last year, Silva, 72, started receiving letters and phone calls claiming she owed back rent. Then she was told she had three days to vacate the apartment. But in housing court, it was determined that the landlord owed her money, she said. 

Silva’s been in her building since 1971. She rents a two-bedroom for $633.65 a month. “These landlords, they probably figure, ‘If I can make people leave my building, I can fix up the apartment and rent it for $2,000 [the rent at which apartments cease to be rent regulated.’”

You can fight them, she added, but many people “get scared, they cry, they get sick, then they move out.”

The Landlords’ Position

CASA’s literature indicates that Baez’s bill was drafted by the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), a group that represents landlords. But Frank Ricci, an RSA spokesperson, said they had nothing to do with it. In fact, he said, they dislike both Quinn’s and Baez’s legislation.

“We don’t think either bill is needed,” Ricci said, adding that there are already numerous checks in place to stop tenant harassment, such as the 1982 Unlawful Eviction Law.

Ricci isn’t convinced that widespread tenant harassment is happening, either.  “It’s not something that, through this whole debate, has been substantiated,” he said.

Anti-harassment laws, he added, will “lead to a lot of frivolous complaints in housing court.”

In mid-December, both Intro 627 and Intro 638 will have public committee hearings, says Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Quinn. (Bills that pass in committee are sent to the full Council for a more thorough debate and final vote. If passed, the mayor can sign or veto them.)

Baez and Rivera, then, will get a chance to continue their “healthy discussion.” But Quinn has the majority of the Council behind her and may be unwilling to compromise. As her spokesman Doba said: “Speaker Quinn feels 627 strikes the right balance.”

Students Take Home 150 Computers

December 6, 2007


More than 150 students from M.S. 331 on Tremont Avenue have been given free desktop computers.

The students, all of whom are in the seventh grade, gathered at the school with their families on Saturday, Nov. 3 to pick up their refurbished computers and attend a crash-course in how to use them.

M.S. 331

The computers were donated by Computers for Youth, a non-profit that helps low-income children do better in school by improving their homework environment. It’s the second year in a row that the group has donated to the school.

“Now two-thirds of the students of our school have a computer,” Principal John Barnes said.

Each computer came equipped with educational software that will help students with their homework. A special offer by Verizon gave families discounted Internet access.

“This will help my daughter a lot in math,” beamed Lisa Matos as her daughter Talisa Diaz, 12, was getting acquainted with her computer. “This is excellent, they really should expand this [program]. It helps a lot when it’s free.”

Tree Lighting Ceremony

December 6, 2007

More than 125 people showed up for the Fordham Road Business Improvement District’s third annual “Sparkling the Heart of Fordham” tree lighting ceremony at Bryan Park on Nov. 30. The lighting came on the heels of the Fordham Road BID’s announcement at Banco Popular on Fordham Road that they would be offering discounted shopping at many of  the commercial corridor’s stores. The program will run until Dec. 16. The Learning Tree choir performed at the bank, while the Fordham University Choir performed at the lighting.


Marking World AIDS Day

December 6, 2007

Word AIDS DayTo honor World Aids Day, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) held a vigil at their community center at 1130 Grand Concourse, on Nov. 20, to commemorate the lives that have been lost in the worldwide battle against HIV/AIDS, and to celebrate victories against the disease. (PHOTO: Courtesy of CAB)

Webster Avenue’s PAL Gets Makeover

December 6, 2007


The Police Athletic League’s Webster-Giannone Center reopened earlier this fall following a summer makeover, and in November, staff and kids held an open-house and ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate its new look.

Work has been done to the swimming pool, lobby, entrance, main office, and game room, which was enlarged and now boasts revamped pool tables. The center, located at 2255 Webster Ave., also got a lick of paint.

“We’ve got some great feedback,” said Jennie Bonilla, the center’s new director. “The kids love it, they love the feel of new things. It’s important they enjoy it, they are our clients, after all!”

Bonilla, a former teacher, has high hopes for the future. “I have a great team on board who knows how important [the center] is to the community,” she said.

The center, which gives youth a safe place to learn and play, currently runs an after school program for kids aged 6 through 13, from 3 to 6 p.m. Bonilla says they also have plans to start an evening program. For more information about Webster-Giannone, call (718) 733-6748 or visit www.palnyc.org.

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