My work in black and Latino neighborhoods of this city lately has brought forcibly to my attention the conditions of life for many of my sisters and brothers in this city and country.
I am acutely aware today of my privileges as a white educated person–even though I am comparatively poor in this society. Millions of New York City inhabitants would find my life a paradise compared to theirs.
Here are reports in alternative media about the realities of life for black and brown people in New York right now. Just a demographic note, the resident population of Lower Manhattan is among the poorest in the city of New York–in close proximity to the “Financial Capitol of the World” where rich bankers, many of whom notoriously use cocaine and other drugs as well as rob the world of its wealth, are free of any threat of prosecution, much less persecution or even discomfort.
“… residents in some housing developments that lost power and were inundated with water were not told to evacuate by the city, or even warned that they were in a flood-prone area.
“At other developments where New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) staff were sent to door-to-door to urge people to evacuate, many residents refused, fearing unsafe conditions in city shelters or looting in their absence.
“Some were unable to comply even if they had wanted to because of age or infirmity. NYCHA offered no services to provide for special needs.”
“World Socialist Web Site reporters visited the Baruch houses, home to over 5,000 people on Houston Street, to discuss their experiences with the storm and its aftermath. Many were skeptical that even if they had complied with the evacuation order, there would be enough room to hold all of the residents there. During the storm, water rose four feet above the ground, engulfing cars.
“The water supply at the buildings has been cut off because pumps have failed due to the lack of electricity. Residents told us that there was no heat in the buildings with temperatures expected to drop into the 40s Fahrenheit at night. No one knew when electricity would be back on.
“Residents were filling buckets and containers with water from an opened fireplug in the street and carrying them up in some cases over a dozen flights of stairs.”
According to Mariam Capo, a resident of the Baruch houses, “‘Elderly people have had to walk up several flights of stairs with buckets. Where is the help? The city is doing nothing.
“We have no emergency lights in the building. I have been lighting candles trying to help myself and others get up and down the stairs. It’s ridiculous. And no one wants to report on this. I don’t see any news people down here.’”
“Shontel Srooks, a transit dispatcher, had worked a 24-hour shift the previous night attempting to run test trains through the subway system. Wednesday she stayed home to care for her son.
“’Different classes get taken care of differently,’ she said. She recalled that during the last blackout her train had stopped on the more affluent Upper West Side. ‘After we got everyone evacuated we saw the Red Cross out there taking care of people. Needless to say, when I got back down here after my shift it was different story.’”
All of the quotations above are from the World Socialist Website report which you can read in full here.
Here is more from persons interviewed in poor neighborhoods by Revolution:
Report from a project in Brooklyn:
“It immediately became clear that people are facing a life-threatening situation.There is no running water, no power and no heat in increasingly cold days and nights. Medicines were destroyed in the flood when water came in. And if you have no extra money after your supplies have run out, nobody is coming to help. A couple people said they wanted to stop and talk but they were too hungry and thirsty and wanted to get the store to see what they had left. This was about a mile walk from where we were, if not more [many very poor areas of NYC have virtually no street level commerce, so residents go far to find a grocery store--all the time not just during a storm]. A tall Black man in his late 20s paused to talk to a friend who was talking to us to say he was being forced to sell his new phone to get food and water for his hungry kids. The main demands are food, water, medicine, heat and transportation…”
The scene at a homeless shelter:
“As I got closer to the shelter, I realized it was dark and all the doors were closed, so unless you knew it was an evacuation center, you would miss it completely. Finally when I found an open door I was first greeted by 7 to 8 NYPD cops. Who ask what the hell I was doing there… I said I wanted to volunteer at the shelter, they said they wanted my ID and to search my backpack and jacket. I felt that any moment they were going to throw me against the wall, pat me down and finger print me….”.
Many people in the US would say that quotations from socialist and communist publications are “just propaganda.” Let me assure you that I have been in some of these neighborhoods and seen what happens there first hand. I spoke recently with an intelligent and eloquent man in Harlem who has a degree from the University of Virginia and who, like many people in the US, cannot get work. Being a black man means his chances of employment are even lower than those of the millions of unemployed white people. He was desperate and suicidal. Since I left that neighborhood, I have wondered if he is still alive. In that neighborhood, it is common for the young men to be targeted by the police and stopped repeatedly without warrants, manhandled and abused, though not arrested because they are doing nothing wrong except walking while black and young. The old people I met, many of them veterans of the civil rights movement, all said, “Things have gone crazy here.” Indeed things are crazy here. Only a few alternative media report on conditions in these places.
Here is a report by Sarah Seltzer from AlterNet.org which also substantiates the previous reports with quotations from residents of Lower Manhattan. She adds this quotation from a Reuters source:
“Inequality here [in lower Manhattan] rivals parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Last year the wealthiest 20 percent of Manhattan residents made $391,022 a year on average, according to census data . The poorest 20 percent made $9,681. ”
And Seltzer reported this from Gothamist:
“I did not witness a single Red Cross Truck or FEMA Vehicle or[sic] in lower Manhattan. Recall the assistance these agencies provided after 9/11 – this is NOT HAPPENING. There are bound to be hundreds of elderly people, rich and poor, who live on the upper floors of buildings with elevators that are now disabled. IF POWER IS NOT RESTORED, THIS WILL MOVE FROM BEING AN ECONOMIC DISASTER TO A HUMANITARIAN DISASTER.”
This already is a humanitarian disaster; it was before the storm.
Unless you are one of those people in the US who would call Seltzer and AlterNet “commie” just for publishing such information, this is from a source that cannot be classified as “propaganda”. There is no connection with any political party. This is just factual information which mainstream media will not publish.
Are you comfortable right now, with lights, heat, running water? I know that there is real suffering in this city by people of all colors and races. I also remember that of the millions of people do not have those amenities, the population which is also black or Latino and poor is hardly mentioned in mass media among those who are suffering–not in this case, not ever.
I must resist racist, classist policies that make these conditions real. I do rage against the dying of the light.
This article first appeared on danceforpeace.org on November 1, 2012.