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Crime Watch, May 2008

May 8, 2008

Boy Bitten By Teacher

An 11-year-old PS 79 student was bitten on the shoulder by a teacher in the school cafeteria, on April 10. Police said he was bitten when he asked her for a bite of pizza. The Daily News named the teacher as Grace Lewis, 44. She was taken to the 46th Precinct where she was charged with endangering the welfare of a child and assault. According to the News, Lewis is pleading not guilty.

PS 79, on Creston Avenue, is one of several Bronx schools that are being closed by the Department of Education for poor performance. On Feb. 1, parents and teachers came together to protest the decision in a rally outside the school.

Youths Stabbed

Three teenage boys were stabbed on the street shortly after leaving a party at 2000 Valentine Ave. on April 20. The incident happened at approximately 4 a.m. as the teenagers, who are from Brooklyn, made their way to the Tremont subway station on the Grand Concourse. They were attacked by another group of youths, at least one of whom had a knife. One boy suffered extensive injuries, police said, but is expected to recover. The others were less seriously hurt. As of April 30, there had been no arrests.

Five Guilty of Beating Rookie Cop

Jail beckons for five men who assaulted Eric Hernandez, an off-duty cop, inside White Castle at 1831 Webster Ave., on Jan. 28 2006. Last week, the men pled guilty to gang assault, attempted gang assault, and other charges. Sentences ranged from 15 months to 10 years.

Hernandez, a 24-year-old assigned to the 52nd Precinct, got into an altercation with the group at around 5 a.m. in the morning, following a night of drinking. When officers from the 46th Precinct arrived, they found Hernandez, who wasn’t in uniform, out on the street with a gun in his hand. He failed to drop his weapon when asked, and one of the officers – fearing for safety of others and not realizing Hernandez was a cop – shot him three times. Hernandez later died in hospital.

Alfredo Toro, the officer who shot Hernandez, hasn’t been charged with any crime, although Hernandez’s family are suing Toro (now retired), White Castle, and the convicted defendants. The suit charges that Toro was “grossly negligent” and that “he used deadly force without justification.”

By JAMES FERGUSSON of the Mount Hope Monitor

Drug Dealer Turned Child Mentor

May 8, 2008

Mount Hope resident Jamel Allah, 54, is a respected community leader who gives up his free time to help better the lives of Bronx youth.

He’s the founder of Positive Seeds in Pelan, an evening program for 8 to 18 year olds. He’s Community Board 5’s Education chair. And he also heads up a conflict resolution group, which aims to keep kids away from gangs.

But Allah – by day a painter for Mount Hope Housing Company – wasn’t always a model citizen. By the time he was 30, he’d spent nearly half his life in jail.

The Lure of the Street

Allah was born in Harlem in 1953. His parents split up when he was young, and he was raised by his dad, a professional boxer.

Allah’s father provided for his kids, but he wasn’t a rich man. The young Allah wanted more, and he started stealing clothes from Macy’s and other department stores. Jamel

“He [Allah’s father] taught me all the positive things to do, but I was hard-headed,” Allah said.

At that time, 117th Street and Lenox Avenue, where Allah and his father lived, was one of the most drug-ridden blocks in the city. “Today, a lot of guys look up to rappers and basketball players,” said Allah. “But when I was coming up, we looked up to the hustlers, the pimps, the stickup boys, the drug dealers. That’s all we saw.”

In 1968, Allah was busted for robbery and incarcerated for the first time. Spofford Juvenile Center, in Hunts Point, could have been a jolt of reality for the 15-year-old; instead he befriended hardened criminals.

Released in 1970, Allah returned to the streets of Harlem, where he started selling heroin.

The money was good – up to $3,000 a day – but the cops were never far behind, and throughout the 1970s he was in and out of jail.

Allah tried working legitimate jobs but the money was slow and he soon lost interest. “Dealing drugs, that’s all I knew,” Allah said. “I didn’t hold many jobs when I was young, I didn’t have any work experience.”

In the late 1970s, Allah and his business associate started making regular runs to Washington D.C. where they could demand higher prices for their drugs.

During one visit, they were introduced to a new buyer, and sold him some heroin. Back in Harlem, some weeks later, they received word that the man was after more. So Allah hopped on a Greyhound bus with what he describes as a “suitcase of drugs” that he planned to exchange for $35,000.

This time, things didn’t go as planned. Caught in an undercover sting, Allah was suddenly looking at 120 years. Eventually, some of the charges were dropped, but he still received 10 years in prison, plus three years in a drug treatment program.

Redemption

Allah, imprisoned yet again, and now the father of a six-month old boy, vowed to turn his life around. “I’m getting older and not getting nothing back from this [life],” he told himself.

He also began to realize the pain he was causing his parents, particularly his mother. “I give her my word as a man that when I came home I was going to do everything I could positive,” Allah said, “and I kept my word to this very second.”

Allah was released from Ray Brook, a prison in the Adirondack Mountains, in September 1986, after serving five years and three months.

His first legitimate job on the outside was in construction. Later, he worked as a porter at a Salvation Army’s women’s shelter, and then as a counsellor for their boys and girls groups.

In 1999, he took a job at Mount Hope Housing Company. “Mr. Shaun Belle [president and CEO of Mount Hope] is a man who gives you an opportunity,” Allah said.

Though Allah appreciated his job, he was drawn to working with children. In 2005, he formed Positive Seeds in Pelan, a mentoring program. “It came out of the gun violence in the community,” he said. “We had to do something to try and save these children, and the best way to do that was to get involved.”

The program is designed to keep kids on the straight and narrow, even if that meant shocking them. On one occasion, Allah took a group of 10 teenagers to a prison in New Jersey, so they could see what life was really like behind bars.

The Unity Center

Today, Positive Seeds still exists, but it has morphed into something bigger. For in the last few months, Allah’s been working with Bronx Heritage, on Townsend Avenue and 175th Street, to set up an after school anti-gang program. Jamel Today

The so-called Unity Center offers a refuge for at-risk youth. Here they can play games, relax, and socialize. But its deeper purpose is to offer those involved in gang disputes, somewhere to resolve their differences peacefully. A large round table sets the theme: “Everyone is equal here,” said Allah. “There are no heads at this table.”

Rosalyn Spriggs, Bronx Heritage’s executive director, is pleased with how things are going. “I see that he [Jamel] is a leader; that he has a knack for how he speaks to our youth,” she said. “He shows them other ways of handling themselves.”

Watching Allah in action, it’s easy to see why Spriggs is impressed. He’s down-to-earth, humble, and wise. To the kids in his program, he’s a friend, teacher, and no-nonsense father figure all rolled into one. When he speaks, they listen – most of the time, that is.

“I basically get satisfaction being able to help these children,” said Allah, adding that his dream – if he gets the funding – is to set up a Positive Seeds program is every borough. That way, he can help more vulnerable children avoid the mistakes he made; the mistakes that nearly destroyed his life.

By JAMES FERGUSSON of the Mount Hope Monitor

Editor’s note: The Unity Center is currently accepting students. For information, call Jamel Allah at (718) 801-6580.

My Space: A Waste of Space

May 8, 2008

Not too long ago, I was at a neighbor’s house helping her translate a few documents while she studied for her citizenship exam. Her grandson was there, sitting by the computer, looking at MySpace. “Nothing new there,” I thought. But when I came to leave a few hours later, I noticed he was still glued to the screen. I decided to ask him about it. He told me that he spends three to four hours a day surfing through MySpace, and double that on Saturdays and Sundays. So in total he spends 30 to 40 hours a week on MySpace. That’s like having a full-time job!

I spoke to his grandmother, and learned that he is doing poorly in school, and may end up repeating a grade. Could his MySpace addiction account for his poor performance?

It’s stories like this one, that lead me to believe that time on MySpace is time wasted.

It gets in the way of schoolwork, and it discourages students from attending after school programs, as many can’t wait to get home and turn on the computer and “talk” to their friends. MySpace, then, has become the new “hangout.” When you log in, you can see which of your friends is online at that moment. Then you can start chatting, and chatting, and chatting…

MySpace

Hanging out, therefore, no longer requires being outside. Some parents like that. Better my kids are inside, they think, than out on the street experimenting with drugs or committing petty crimes like vandalism. And I see their point, to an extent. But kids can still get into trouble online. For MySpace brings with it a whole new set of problems. Outside, 14-year-old girls rarely engage with 30-year-old men. But online no one’s monitoring who’s talking to whom, so a child can freely talk with an adult. The concept of “hanging out” at home is not as safe as some parents may think.

MySpace can be even worse than television. Many parents purchase computers for their children in the hope that they will become computer savvy and attractive to employers in today’s technology driven job market. But what are they really learning if all they do is visit MySpace? At least some TV channels are educational. MySpace exists purely as a network for social gathering. It is a means for one to advance his or her social network and cultivate existing relationships. Some even use it to arrange intimate encounters. There is nothing educational about it.

What’s happening is that our children are in danger of becoming the next generation of lazy adults. They cannot focus on a task for any period of time because they lack the discipline and training to think creatively and critically. Their brains are only receptive towards information that is for entertainment purposes – information like MySpace. Surfing the internet for hours on end is not an experience that will prepare youth to be tomorrow’s leaders. Instead, we’re creating a new generation with limited working skills, meaning our community will continue to battle with high crime and poverty.

Some of the problems derived from using MySpace lie with parents. In low-income communities like ours, working class parents often hold more than one job, so the last thing they want to do when they arrive home is to engage with their children’s nonsense. They are tired and the computer serves as a means to keep their children busy, consequently limiting interaction between them and their children. Parents, however preoccupied, need to become more involved in their children’s development. Allowing a child to spend 30 to 40 hours a week on MySpace could be seen as a form of neglect.

The picture I just painted of young people forever surfing the Internet is a sad one. But it’s one that is easily corrected – even if that means parents telling their children: “No more MySpace under my roof’s space.”

Jose Roman is a regular contributor to the Mount Hope Monitor. He lives in Mount Hope.

Community Council Elections

May 8, 2008

Every police precinct in the city has a community council – a body of local residents who are elected by their peers to work with both the police and the community in an attempt to maintain and improve relations between the two.

Elections for these volunteer positions come around every two years. In the 46th Precinct, the next election is being held on May 20, at the Precinct Station House, 2120 Ryer Ave., at 7 p.m. Those interested in running put their names forward at Four-Six’s April council meeting. Only one position is being contested: the job of president. Local residents Nero Graham and Bernice Williams have both stated their desire to run. (Louella Hatch, president for the past four years, is stepping down.)

Here’s a quick look at the candidates:

Bernice Williams

Williams, who’s lived in the community since 1981, already performs a number of volunteer positions including: vice-chair of Community Board 5; chair of the Board’s Human Services Committee; chair of Neighborhood Advisory Board 5; a member of the Bronx Mitchell Lama Task; and president of 1985 Webster Ave.’s tenants association. She’s also an alumni of the Citizens Police Academy, from where she graduated in 2005.

Bernice If elected, Williams says she’ll create a committee to “discuss the differences between the police and community.” The committee, which would meet once a month, would be made up of the executive board of the council, the precinct’s community affairs officers and local youth. The committee would “empower our youth,” says Williams.

On weekends, Williams, at home in her apartment, often hears gunshots. “I’d love to get out there and talk to the kids and get them away from that behavior,” she said. At present, very few (if any) teenagers attend the council’s monthly meetings, something Williams wants to change. “I’d like to see at least half of that room filled with youth.” Williams admits she’s the “new kid on the block.” Nero Graham, her opponent, has been president before, and he has a good relationship with Hatch, the outgoing (and still influential) president, with whom Williams hasn’t always seen eye to eye.

Still, she thinks she has what it takes to do the job. “I think I have good ideas,” she said. “I’m an intelligent woman, a woman of character and integrity. My life is about trying to make this community better.”

Nero Graham

Community Council presidential nominee Nero Graham served as the council’s president in the 1980s and early ‘90s. Graham, a Mount Hope resident for more than 28 years, believes it is this prior experience that will make him an effective president. “When I say I’m going to do something, it’s going to get done,” says Graham. “I have a great track record.” Nero

Graham has worked as a commissioner on the New York Board of Elections since 2001, but still finds time to remain active in the neighborhood. “I am involved in my community 24-7,” he says.

In the 1980s, Graham founded the Morris Avenue Block and Tenants Patrol. Currently, he is president of the Mount Hope Housing Company’s Board of Directors, and also works with the Bronx Heritage Society and Latinos Making a Difference. Graham believes the most important function of the president’s office is fostering communication between the precinct and the community. “I need to get in and go back to the basics – reaching out to the community,” he says. “If you don’t talk to the community, you can’t solve their problems.”

Graham believes the neighborhood’s biggest problem is the youth gangs and the drugs they sell. “We have to reach out to them too,” he says. “When I was president, there seemed to be more information sharing and community involvement,” says Graham. Though he believes Hatch has done a superb job, he claims he would do things differently. “We have different styles of management,” he says. “She’s done it all by herself. I never carry the ball by myself.”

In order for the council to succeed, Graham believes he needs a strong support staff, capable of filling in for him when necessary. He also believes the council can do a number of small things to improve communication. He hopes to pass out literature, post fliers, create a mailing list and hold street fairs.

Graham likes his chances in the upcoming election. He believes experience will be an important factor. “I am very confident,” he says. “Bernice has her views. I have mine and I have experience that goes back many, many years.

The Role of President

So what does the president do? According to Mark Turner of the 46th Precinct’s Community Affairs, there are a number of responsibilities, including: presiding over the council’s monthly public meetings; meeting with and talking to new cops about the neighborhood, as and when they are assigned to the precinct; and working closely with the commanding officer.

Turner added that Hatch also played a big role in National Night Out, during which local residents and police officers take a stand against drugs and crime in the community. Turner hopes the incoming president will also take an interest in the event, scheduled this year for Aug. 5. To vote in the upcoming election, you must have attended at least three of the council’s monthly meetings in the last year.

By JAMES FERGUSSON and CHRIS MATTHEWS of the Mount Hope Monitor

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