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September 22nd, 2003, 10:14 PM
Staten Island Struggles with Rash of Bias Crimes

By Daryl Khan
Staff Writer

September 21, 2003, 6:55 PM EDT

Richard Ward, a black teenager, remembers walking across Nome Avenue with his cousin about a month ago, near the line that divides the North and South Shores of Staten Island. They were heading to the bus stop after having pizza when a dark blue sedan packed with white teenagers rolled by at 9 p.m. One of the whites leaned out the window and yelled at them.

"They screamed, 'Hey -- ' just like that," said Ward, 17, referring to an epithet for a black person. "Then they drove off."

Ward and his cousin did not contact the police or file a formal complaint.

A month later at the same strip mall, two young white men hit a black youth over the head with a bottle and hurled racial slurs at him. The victim left the scene before police arrived and has not been found.

That incident was one of a flurry of racially tinged attacks in the weeks since Rachel Carter and several friends were set upon by a group of whites in Great Kills on Labor Day. Eleven people were arrested in the attack on Carter, and two police officers were suspended and their sergeant faces disciplinary action for their handling of the incident.

There is a worry among some Staten Islanders that if the incidents increase, so too will the violence. The recent rash of bias incidents has many on the island asking whether they are seeing a statistical aberration - as Mayor Michael Bloomberg says - or a menacing shift in atmosphere.

Dan Master, chairman of the borough president's Anti-Bias Taskforce, said every incident of racism is grave and needs to be taken seriously. But, he said, the numbers show Staten Island, the city's most predominately white borough, is not the racist community critics make it out to be.

"Any number is unacceptable, but I'm trying to keep things in perspective," Master said. "We're on track for the same numbers as recent years."

The recent spate of bias complaints on Staten Island is unusually high considering that the number of reported bias crimes in the borough has been cut in half since the mid-1990s. There were 38 hate crimes in Staten Island in 1996, and 47 in 1997. There were 20 in 2001, and 20 in 2002. Up until Sept. 1 of this year, the rate of bias crimes in the borough had slowed compared to 2002, police said.

But what about people like Ward?

Mikey Cresante, 15, who is Puerto Rican, said he had a similar run-in with a white resident. Cresante said he and a co-worker were on a lunch break early in the summer at a Kmart in South Shore discussing an argument the co-worker, who also is Latino, had with a white person, when a white, male bystander grew irritated. The bystander yelled at the two and threatened them before storming off. He returned minutes later, hopped out of his car, grabbed a wooden baseball bat from the trunk and began menacing them. The incident ended without violence.

"When he drove away, he kept shouting, 'New Springville! New Springville!'" Cresante said, referring to the neighborhood where the strip mall attack occurred last week. "He said he was coming back, but he never did."

Cresante and his friend did not call police or file a formal complaint.

Neither did Eric Lang, a white 16-year-old of Italian descent. He was riding his bicycle near the Staten Island Mall when a group of eight blacks and Puerto Ricans surrounded him, cussed at him and stole his bike at knifepoint.

The stories suggest that there is more to the racial tensions straining Staten Island than what shows up in official reports.

"Keep in mind there are bias attacks all the time," Bloomberg said Friday. "You're never sure in some cases what the motive was. The average person in New York City is probably more tolerant than any place in the world because we live in such a diverse city. We work together, socialize together, play together. That's what makes New York New York."

While that may be true for most of the city, and for much of Staten Island's North Shore, its not the case for most of Staten Island. Of the borough's half-million residents, about 65,000 are black. And of those black residents, 73 percent live on the North Shore. The borough's housing patterns date to the pre-Verrazano-Narrows Bridge era. After the bridge was completed in the 60s, there was an infusion of public housing built on the North Shore. The influx of black residents caused some white flight in neighborhoods, like New Brighton, which are now diverse.

Anthony, 33, a father and construction worker who lives near Great Kills, where the Labor Day attack occurred, said race relations have improved.

"It's nothing like it used to be at all," said Anthony, who, like other whites on the South Shore, declined to give a full name. "Back when I was in high school, it was 200 blacks versus 200 whites. It was on. Big time. ... It got a 100 percent better than it used to be."

Ro, who also lives in Great Kills, said the attack on Carter, which angered many South Shore residents, does not represent the community she knows. But there has been a sinister change in the neighborhood.

"There's definitely a poison in the air," said Ro, whose oldest son is a freshman in high school. Ro said despite progress in race relations, "The Devil is always around. Everything old is going to become new. We're going to go so far back it will be like it used to be."

That's why the Rev. Victor Brown, pastor of Mt. Sinai United Christian Church in the North Shore, has contacted clergy from the South Shore to start a dialogue between whites and blacks in an effort to avert the spread of violence. Brown said he has a lot of faith in his borough but understands there are problems.

"I won't go so far as to say that Staten Island is racist," he said. "However, anyone that embraces the notion that this isn't a racist borough is embracing an illusion."

Already, the Anti-Bias Taskforce has scheduled a meeting for Wednesday to discuss the fallout from the Carter incident and others in its wake, incidents that keep coming.

Thursday, for example, a white couple at the New Dorp train station was attacked by a group of black and Hispanic teenagers. As the white woman left the train, the teens blocked her path. "Don't let this white trash pass," one of the teens said before punching her in the face. A day later, a 45-year-old Chinese man was approached by three teenagers, two black and one Hispanic, and was punched in the face.

Brown looks at such attacks and does not like what they portend.

"I wonder to what extent it's retaliation for what's been going on," he said. "I'm hoping it doesn't go in that direction."

Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.

September 22nd, 2003, 10:34 PM
September 21, 2003

Mayor Says Bias Crimes Down in Staten Island


A day after two police officers were suspended without pay for their handling of a racially charged attack in a Staten Island park, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday that bias cases in the borough had decreased by 25 percent so far this year.

"The Police Department is going in the right direction," Mr. Bloomberg said of the effort to fight bias crimes. "But they have a long way to go because one is too many."

Appearing at the 122nd Precinct station house on Hylan Boulevard in New Dorp, Staten Island, Mr. Bloomberg expressed his support for the department and sought to put the attack, which occurred on Labor Day, in context by saying that bias crimes had decreased both in Staten Island and the entire city in recent months.

"I am satisfied that the Police Department is acting appropriately," Mr. Bloomberg said. "But it would appear that a couple of officers were not acting appropriately when a bias crime was reported a couple of weeks ago."

Mr. Bloomberg was referring to Officer Glenn Glennerster, 36, and Officer Samuel Perez, 37, who were accused of nine violations of police procedures, including lying to department investigators, which could cost them their jobs. They were suspended on Friday, and their sergeant, Terence Faherty, 38, also faces disciplinary charges. He is accused of failing to respond to a serious incident and failing to supervise the officers.

Lawyers for the officers and the sergeant have denied that their clients did anything wrong.

So far, 11 people have been arrested and four have been charged in connection with a bloody attack by a group of young whites on a black college student and her Hispanic and white friends in Crescent Beach Park in the early on Sept. 1. The arrests came several days after the family of the student, Rachel Carter, 18, complained to reporters that the police had not taken the incident seriously and had not filed a report even though one victim was slashed with a sickle and another was cut so badly with a broken bottle that he needed 17 stitches.

The mayor went on to say that police investigators were still looking into allegations of potential bias in an assault on Thursday night in which an Asian man was punched by two black teenagers and a Hispanic youth in Staten Island. He added that the police had ruled out any bias in a separate incident on Thursday afternoon in which a white couple was confronted by a group of black and Hispanic teenagers while leaving the New Dorp train station.

Yesterday, a group of protesters held a rally outside the Staten Island Borough Hall to condemn the two attacks and to call upon the state and city human rights commissions to investigate them.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

September 22nd, 2003, 10:55 PM

Hate Crime: On the Rise -- Or on the Decline?

Daryl Khan
Staff Writer

A wave of bias incidents since Labor Day that sparked a political firestorm about race relations in Staten Island continued this weekend as three more cases of possible bias crimes were reported there as well as six others in the rest of the city.

This latest rash of incidents comes a day after Mayor Michael Bloomberg said bias incidents had declined both in Staten Island and citywide.

The mayor said that even one bias attack was one too many but the flurry of incidents up to that point did not indicate a growing pattern of hate crimes. He said the more widely reported the incidents are, the more likely people will contact the police.

"Well, unfortunately when you write about some things, it sometimes changes people's behavior," the mayor said Sunday. "But I think what we've got to do is just make sure that we have zero tolerance."

That same message was delivered on the steps of City Hall by Councilwoman Christine Quinn. The Manhattan Democrat applauded the police department's efforts investigating a bias attack that occurred Friday morning in Chelsea. According to police, a group of six black men kicked and punched a white man near the 1/9 subway station while shouting anti-gay slurs. The victim received seven stitches.

But that case highlights some of the legal ambiguity that besets bias investigations. The man who was attacked told police he is not gay. According to the law, all that matters is the intent of the act, not the act itself.

Police said there was a similar case in Brooklyn involving a man who was beaten while being insulted with anti-Jewish remarks. The man was Russian Orthodox, but the police, under hate crime legislation, still pursued the investigation as a hate crime because of what the attacker said. Even perception can be considered "bias."

Police said that once a crime has been identified as a bias incident, it falls under the supervision of the Hate Crime's Task Force. A bias crime is any crime based on race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin or disability.

A derisive insult cannot qualify as a crime, but language or the intent of a suspect during the commission of a crime, like an assault, can result in a harsher penalty. The latest bias incidents, three in Staten Island, four in Manhattan, and one each in Brooklyn and Queens, come in the wake of a highly publicized racially charged incident on Labor Day. In addition, on Saturday, pro-Hitler booklets were found on lawns in South Shore neighborhoods including Great Kills and New Springville, according to a community leader.
Rachel Carter, an 18-year old black woman from New Jersey mixed friends were in a park in Great Kills when a group of young white men and teenagers wielding knives and sickles attacked them while they shouted racial slurs.

The police department was heavily criticized for its handling of the investigation and on Friday officers Glenn Glennerster, 36, and Samuel Perez, 37, were charged departmentally with lying to NYPD investigators along with eight other violations of police procedure. The officers were suspended and could lose their jobs. Their sergeant, Terrence Feherty, 38, also faces disciplinary charges.

September 25th, 2003, 12:57 AM
Along With Population and Diversity, Stress Rises on Staten I.


A row of new town houses on Staten Island, the city's fastest-growing borough and one of the fastest-growing counties in the state.

There are residents of Staten Island who, with a kind of sincere sarcasm, still call the expressway that divides the northern, urban third of the borough from its more suburban southern end "the Mason-Dixon line," a symbolic border between, in this case, the white south and the more racially mixed north.

That nickname has seemed especially appropriate this month, as a dozen complaints of racially charged attacks — on blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians — have made headlines and stirred up emotions. But if anything, it is inadequate to describe a borough that has become divided in many more complicated and surprising ways.

The island has been roiled by explosive growth. It is the city's fastest-growing borough and among the state's fastest-growing counties, with a population that rose 17 percent in the 1990's and more than doubled in the 40 years since the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connected it to the rest of New York City. Many people on the island say growth, accompanied by frenzied construction, clogged roads and other problems, has unsettled residents and stoked tensions.

The racial turnover has been particularly breathtaking. In the 1990's, the island's black population rose 39.7 percent, its Hispanic population 75.2 percent and its Asian population 58.5 percent, mostly in the north.

Staten Island's midland and south are still unusually homogeneous and white. Yet in neighborhoods where minorities were scarcely present a decade ago — like Tottenville, Bloomfield and Great Kills, the site of the first of the recent attacks — the black populations have doubled or almost doubled, and their Hispanic and Asian populations have increased almost as much.

The boom has brought thousands of disenchanted white refugees from Brooklyn neighborhoods, seeking Staten Island's top-notch schools and grassy backyards. But some newcomers, both white and minority, have also brought with them hardened urban views born of ethnic mistrust.

The changes go beyond pure demographics. Development is carving up parts of the island that were once pastoral and creating even tighter congestion in more densely settled sections. New housing, built cheek by jowl, has ended up snarling traffic along major arteries like Hylan Boulevard and produced an atmosphere more teeming than the newcomers bargained for.

These shifts, in turn, have created stresses and divisions that many people say are reflected in the recent accounts of bias attacks.

"The demographic boom means that folks are spilling over the borders of the distinct neighborhoods," said Jerome Krase, a professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, "and that means tensions are likely to flare."

Like many residents, Michael Caminiti, a 64-year-old oldies singer who moved to Great Kills from the Lower East Side in 1976, said Staten Island was no bastion of racism. "Certainly no more so than anywhere else in the city," he said.

But, he added, "people take time to change, and around here there's a lot of change going on."

There is no evidence that the island is a caldron of racial tension distinct from the rest of the city. Until Labor Day, only six possible bias attacks had been reported in the entire borough this year, and the numbers have been steadily declining for years. In 1997, 47 bias incidents were reported on Staten Island. In 2001 there were 15, and in 2002 there were 24, and those numbers on average were about the same per capita as in the city as a whole.

The confrontations have also not always been between whites and blacks, nor have they been confined to the south. Last week, leaders of the island's growing Mexican population called a meeting to discuss claims that Hispanics had been the targets of robberies and beatings by black assailants in the Port Richmond community in the north. A number of anti-Semitic and anti-Asian attacks have also occurred, the police said.

There has, however, been a sharp increase in bias incidents of late. In the early hours of Labor Day, Rachel Carter, 18, a black college student from New Jersey, and five friends were attacked in a small park in Great Kills by a group of a dozen white youths who had been drinking, the police said. Racial slurs were hurled, and one of Ms. Carter's friends was cut with a sickle and another with a broken bottle. Two police officers were suspended without pay on charges that they had discouraged Ms. Carter and her friends from filing a complaint.

In the three weeks since, 11 more incidents have been reported, including a beating, vandalism of a car and verbal assaults. A number of residents and officials interviewed said they thought the surge was the result of increased news coverage of racial friction and more rigorous reporting by the police.

In a variety of ways, Staten Island is distinct from the rest of the city. Until the Verrazano-Narrows was completed in 1964, the island was connected to New Jersey by three bridges, but to the rest of the city only by ferry. The island has consistently voted Republican for generations. While homeowners make up 30 percent of the city's population and renters 70 percent, on Staten Island the statistics are exactly the reverse.

Crime rates are extremely low, even in the poorer sections, and there were only 12 murders last year. The island has one of the largest concentrations of Italian-Americans in the United States, but its ethnic stew has been flavored in recent years by immigrants from Mexico, West Africa and the former Soviet Union.

While the south has had the most drastic changes recently, the north has long been diverse, with five housing projects in the area south of the St. George ferry terminal and in the New Brighton neighborhood that are largely black and Hispanic. The projects are surrounded by streets, ranging from genteel to ragged, that are even more ethnically mixed.

"Walk three or four blocks around my neighborhood and you have a rough approximation of the U.N.," said the Rev. Dr. Lee MacCallum of Olivet Presbyterian Church in West Brighton.

Along Victory Boulevard, just five minutes' drive from his parish, signs in Spanish, English and Arabic dot the street. Trinidadian-style Chinese food and the Daru Xuduo Salon for Hair Braiding are just blocks from the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center, the city's second-largest mosque. The island is home to more Liberians than anyplace outside Liberia.

Though Staten Island, whose population last year was 448,197, is still the only borough with a white majority, the proportion of whites has shrunk from 80 percent in 1990 to 69.5 percent in 2002, according to a recent analysis by the Census Bureau.

"We're definitely not the most diverse borough, but we're the most rapidly diversifying borough," said Daniel L. Master, counsel to the borough president and chairman of the borough's anti-bias task force.

Throughout the island, a certain provincialism endures. This is, after all, the borough that a few years back wanted to secede from the city. Obituaries in The Staten Island Advance still specify whether the deceased was a native islander.
But much of that is changing. With housing prices skyrocketing, developers in the north are tearing down old Victorians to put up eight town houses on the same lot, while in the south, scenic open spaces have been lost. All over, houses are often built so close together that there is not enough curb space between driveways to park a car.

Donna Hakim, a third-generation islander, said: "The joke you hear most often is: `You're from Staten Island, really? Is it finished yet?' "

Staten Island is not immune from the same types of pervasive bias found across the nation, like racial profiling by police officers. The Rev. Dr. Victor A. Brown, pastor of Mount Sinai United Christian Church, who is 39 and black, told of driving a year ago in his wife's Mercedes-Benz with a white minister and being pulled over by a white officer for supposedly using a cellphone. When the white minister told the officer that Dr. Brown had not been using the phone, he said, the officer backed off from writing a summons.

"I won't go as far as to say Staten Island is a racist borough," Dr. Brown said. "However, anyone embracing the notion that racism does not exist in the borough is embracing an illusion, as clearly demonstrated by recent events."

Yesterday, the city opened the island's first field office for its Commission on Human Rights to handle job and housing discrimination complaints, a move City Hall had planned for the last year.

A number of blacks said they had heard that homeowners and landlords in the south were reluctant to sell to blacks. But some blacks also said they felt freer walking in white neighborhoods than they might have many years ago.

Jeannine Blake, a public-school paraprofessional who is black, strolled with a friend last week at Crescent Beach Park. When told that the park was the site of the Labor Day attack, she said that would not discourage her regular visits there. Staten Island, she said, is no longer a place where she feels afraid to walk in white neighborhoods.

But Ms. Blake, who was born on the island 29 years ago, said she worried that the island's changes may have contributed to the attacks. "Things have gotten worse as the island's gotten more crowded," she said. The island "has lost its personality, lost its personal attention."

Mike Etzelon, a Russian immigrant who opened Mike's Barber Shop 15 years ago in Great Kills and lives there, expressed some uneasiness with the changing face of the neighborhood. "In high school, more people coming in, more of all colors, too much people," he said.

Schools, where the bravado of youth and gang rivalries often take a racial tinge, have been a source of tension. Contacts across the races have increased as the high schools that are predominantly white — like Tottenville High in the south, with a 93.7 percent white population — have accepted students who transfer out of predominantly black and Hispanic schools. Schools like Curtis High in the north, with a 75 percent minority student body, have created magnet programs to draw white students.

Dr. Brown, the pastor, said some black parents had said they would prefer that their children attend predominantly minority high schools like Curtis. "It is not just the school that is their concern, but also the neighborhoods their kids would have to walk through to get there," he said.

Anthony Nelson, a black mechanic, lives in West Brighton and works in Great Kills, just down the block from where Rachel Carter was attacked. He sounded an ambivalent note about the neighborhood: "Let's be real: the time has passed for playing the race card. Great Kills is a good community."

But he added that some people in the neighborhood have a "possessive mentality" about the area. "I mind my business. When 6 o'clock arrives, I get on the Hylan bus and head north. I don't look for trouble."


Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

September 27th, 2003, 09:58 PM

In the Wake of Bias Attacks, Pique Over a Borough's Image


It was ambivalence as usual at the Muddy Cup Cafe in Stapleton on Wednesday night, as patrons sat on funky antique couches discussing the recent bias attacks on Staten Island and their effect on the borough's image.

Stapleton is a neighborhood on the island's multi-ethnic North Shore. More than the rest of the borough, Stapleton and nearby neighborhoods are home to liberal voters, many with business and social connections to Manhattan. Its city councilman and state assemblyman are Democrats in a borough where most elected representatives are Republican.

Many of its residents reacted with anger to a Labor Day attack on a black college student and five friends by a group of white youths in a South Shore park, and to several additional bias incidents reported since then. But, just as in more conservative precincts of the borough, there is much touchiness even among these liberal residents about how Staten Island, which has a rate of bias incidents roughly equal to the rest of the city, tends to be portrayed as a hotbed of racism after such events.

T., 28, who works for a nonprofit housing group and defines her politics as "definitely left," said snobbery causes some New Yorkers to think the worst of Staten Islanders.

"Traditionally, we're a bastion of the working class," she said. "That makes it easier for a negative stigma to get attached to the island."

David Shear, 49, a lifelong borough resident who said he is "probably more on the liberal side," also contended that the borough's racial tensions were not markedly fierce.

"There's going to be idiots everywhere," he said.

Mr. Shear also repeated an opinion making the rounds in Staten Island that the Labor Day attackers were not racists but bored, drunken teenagers defending their turf. Not that he knew, he quickly added; he wasn't there.

But some North Shore residents understand the criticism. When Charles Barron, a city councilman from East New York and surrounding Brooklyn neighborhoods, stood on the steps of City Hall in the wake of the incident and compared Staten Island to the Jim Crow South, three Republican lawmakers from Staten Island criticized the remarks as a bias incident in themselves. But David Jones, a St. George resident and a member of the Staten Island African American Political Association, defended the councilman.

"Staten Island is becoming, in despite of itself, less like a plantation,'' Mr. Jones said. "But there is still a lot of the Old South up here."

Still, defensiveness over recent events is common on the North Shore. Doug Victor, 22, a computer engineer who was hanging out with friends outside the cafe, said of Staten Island's bad image of late: "It's all media hype. It's either West Nile virus is after us or, now, bias crimes. Next year, it will be locusts."

He pleaded for a change in media coverage of his borough. "There should be more happy news," he said.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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September 28th, 2003, 05:56 PM
Bias attack payback?

S.I. assault suspect takes licking of his own


The Police Department's hate crimes unit is investigating whether a white suspect in a Staten Island racial attack was the victim of a retaliatory assault yesterday, law enforcement sources said.

Michael Molinelli, 22, was treated for a gash on his forehead and several bruises after being beaten by three Hispanic men early yesterday, the sources said.

The attack took place two blocks from where Molinelli and a gang of whites allegedly assaulted Rachel Carter, an 18-year-old black woman from New Jersey, and her white and Hispanic friends near Great Kills Beach on Labor Day.

Molinelli was in front of a closed pizzeria on Hylan Blvd. near Glover St. about 4 a.m. when he was accosted by the three unidentified men, according to the sources. They hopped out of a car and, after a brief shouting match, attacked him, sources said.

It was not immediately clear what the argument was about, a source said.

The three men fled before police arrived. Molinelli was taken to Staten Island University Hospital, where he was treated and released, police said.

Possible retaliation

Although the incident has not yet been classified as a bias crime, the hate crimes unit is exploring the possibility that it was in retaliation for the Labor Day attack, a source said.

"Because the individual was involved in the prior incident, hate crimes is actively investigating whether the attacks are connected," another law enforcement source said.

Molinelli and his twin brother, Nicholas, were among 11 Staten Islanders charged with attacking Carter and her six friends after they refused to leave a beachside playground under a barrage of racial slurs.

In the melee, Carter was punched in the head and two of her pals were slashed with a 6-inch sickle and a broken bottle. All three received medical attention at a New Jersey hospital.

Carter then charged that officers who responded failed to investigate the attack, setting off a political firestorm that resulted in the arrests and in two cops being suspended for 30 days.

The officers could lose their jobs if found guilty of departmental charges of failure to conduct a proper investigation.

Originally published on September 28, 2003

©New York Daily News 2003

October 1st, 2003, 08:22 AM
October 1, 2003

Hate by Numbers

Across the city, the number of hate crimes reported to the police has been on the decline. Until recently, that was especially true on Staten Island, which took pride in a dramatic decrease in such incidents. The picture of harmony was pierced on Labor Day, when white youths attacked a black visitor named Rachel Carter and her friends.

Since then, there has been a spate of suspected bias incidents, a dozen of them on Staten Island alone. The allegations of harassment involved a veritable mosaic of races, religions and sexual orientation. No clear pattern emerged, and no one is sure why this kind of crime has spiked now. There was no long, hot summer or incident causing a violent schism, as happened when unrest rocked Brooklyn in Bensonhurst and Crown Heights years ago. It might be that on Staten Island — historically the city's whitest and least diverse borough — the mere fact that diversity is increasing has triggered tensions. Or it may be that people who previously were too intimidated to report problems to the police have become more resolute.

That's the likely outcome of the city's strong response after it learned that two police officers responding to Ms. Carter's call for help failed to treat the attack as a bias crime. Raymond Kelly, the police commissioner, sent a signal to the whole department when he rightly suspended the two officers while their colleagues rounded up the suspects. Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged the city's district attorneys to treat crimes of intolerance with "zero tolerance." And for the first time in more than a year, the Staten Island anti-bias task force held a meeting. Less helpful was a handful of politicians in other boroughs who painted the whole island as racist while offering no solutions.

Staten Island's heightened awareness may send dreaded statistics higher. But leaders should focus less on numbers than on their root causes, and include every community in fixing them.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

October 11th, 2003, 10:37 PM
October 12, 2003

Many Speakers at Meeting Cite Racism on S.I.


A town hall meeting yesterday at Borough Hall on Staten Island drew no shortage of residents complaining vehemently of a longstanding, systemic racial problem on the island.

"White racism is the order of the day here," said the Rev. John Johnson, pastor of a church in the Clifton section and a longtime community activist who warned that "a riot is coming to this island."

"Open society has never existed on Staten Island," he told the audience of about 50 people. "We need a federal prosecutor to come in here. Civil rights are being violated."

The meeting, organized by Norman Siegel, the civil rights lawyer, and police Lt. Eric Adams, who heads a group called 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, was called to address a spate of suspected bias incidents on the island recently, including one last month in which a black woman said that white youths attacked her and that two police officers tried to persuade her not to file a complaint.

The speakers, mostly from the island's multiethnic North Shore, said the recent incidents were no aberration, but rather an example of a long history of antiminority sentiment in the city's whitest borough, which, they say, gets far less attention than other boroughs in New York City from politicians. A local activist, Al Peters, called Staten Island "this twilight zone, this borough from another planet."

Mr. Siegel compared the racial discord on Staten Island to past problems in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bensonhurst and Crown Heights, as well as in the South. "If we have to begin a Northern civil rights movement, let's bring it on," he said.

"This could be an historic movement to bring about racial changes needed. You remember the Mississippi summer? We may need a New York summer with some Southerners coming up to help us out with our problem.'

Some speakers complained that while the island's minority population has grown, the percentages of minorities in the school system, police force and government have not.

Jeff McGraham, 30, a white man who lives in a predominantly black part of Stapleton, said he has often seen police officers mistreating young black men on the street.

He said that some white friends living in white areas "don't rent to an Indian or African-American family because the neighbors come out and say, `No, don't do that.' "

Responding to some particularly zealous speakers, Lieutenant Adams cautioned, "Let's not become what we hate," and added, "We must correct the wrong, not add to the wrong." Then he said those gathered for the meeting had to clear the building by 1:15 p.m.

At this, Mr. Siegel shot the crowd a mischievous glance and drew shouts by adding, "Or we could begin our first sit-in at 1:16."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company