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Stop and Frisk…

Interesting piece in The Atlantic about the indignities of “stop and frisk,” and as Richard Pryor might say, a white guy wrote it so you know it’s true.

When I heard that my 21-year-old son, a student at Harvard, had been stopped by New York City police on more than one occasion during the brief summer he spent as a Wall Street intern, I was angry. On one occasion, while wearing his best business suit, he was forced to lie face-down on a filthy sidewalk because—well, let’s be honest about it, because of the color of his skin. As an attorney and a college professor who teaches criminal justice classes, I knew that his constitutional rights had been violated. As a parent, I feared for his safety at the hands of the police—a fear that I feel every single day, whether he is in New York or elsewhere.

We’re often related stories of the injustice of middle-class “good” black kids being treated like, well, black kids. If this young man’s constitutional rights had been violated, they were not earned in the first place because he was a Harvard student, a Wall Street intern, or the son of a white man. The CUNY student frisked on his way back to Bed-Stuy while working summers bussing tables also deserves the presumption of innocence.

Also, I’ve known many Ivy League kids and Wall Street raiders on drugs. The first time I saw cocaine it was in the possession of a Columbia student.

This example is by no means unique. My African-American brother-in-law, a white-collar professional, was driving to my house on Thanksgiving Day with his 20-something son when their car was stopped and surrounded by multiple police vehicles. The police officers immediately pointed guns at my relatives’ heads. If my brother-in-law or nephew—or one of the officers—had sneezed, there could have been a terribly tragic police shooting. After the officers looked them over and told them they could go, my relatives asked why they had been stopped

Again, the author puts his black relative on a social pedestal — not like them, more like us, and deserving of better treatment. Why else would he mention the profession of his brother in law? Especially when we’ve established his own suburban professional credentials? We presume that his brother in law is not a plumber but if he were a blue collar worker, would that justify a random police stop? And in the officers’ defense, how would they know what his brother in law does for a living?

America is a simultaneously racist and classist society. Recent rhetoric about the poor (lazy, unmotivated, no work ethic) demonstrates the latter but also the former (the rhetoric is usually targeted toward the coded “inner city male”). And that’s the key: A strictly classist society can offer mobility — it doesn’t matter who your parents are. If you work hard, you can escape the confines of your birth. But a racist society does not offer that mobility. It will always matter who your parents are — or at least the parents you more closely resemble.

Black Americans are still Americans and as such are susceptible to the American illness of classism, and its virulent lie that if you work hard, follow the rules, you can advance up the ladder, which somehow justifies the mistreatment of everyone “beneath” you. The rage among many middle and upper class black males who are randomly stopped, frisked, or followed is not that anyone in this country regardless of status is treated this way but that they are when they have earned their position among the elite. It is a shell game of course, because race is a fixed class, and the Harvard Wall Street intern and the black “white collar professional” will never attain the status in this country that is innate for white people, regardless of what they do for a living.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2014 in Social Commentary

 

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Weiner Setback…

Reuters reports that Anthony Weiner’s sideline as an amateur porn star has not been good for his mayoral campaign:

New disclosures of explicitly sexual online chats have cost former Congressman Anthony Weiner the lead in the New York City mayor’s race and helped City Council Speaker Christine Quinn pull ahead among Democratic voters, according to a poll released on Thursday.

Quinn is openly gay, so perhaps New York is so sick of Weiner’s penis, they not only prefer a female candidate but one for whom any possible sex scandal will not involve a penis in any capacity.

However, it is still possible for Weiner to win the primary but only if he legally changes his name to Carlos Danger. Who wouldn’t vote for that guy?

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2013 in Political Theatre

 

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Feed Me, Kate….

Feed Me, Kate….

I was sorry to see the following link in my Facebook newsfeed:

Kate’s Joint, vegetarian restaurant and bar, has been a staple in New York City’s East Village since 1996. Solely owned and operated by neighborhood native Kate Halpern, who dreamt to create an affordable restaurant to serve the community she grew up in. Kate’s Joint has grown to become much more than just a business, it is a home for locals and travelers a like, a place to bring family and friends, and to meet new ones.

Unfortunately, with the changing neighborhood and economic recession Kate’s Joint has seen a fall in business and rise in costs. Kate is currently in arrears with the landlord. Eviction notices have been sent, court appearances have been made, and if a substantial amount of money is not raised by April 11th, the next court date, the doors will shut permanently at Kate’s Joint. The East Village will lose another neighborhood landmark.

Kate’s opened the same year I moved to Manhattan, but I didn’t have my first meal there until 1997. At the time, I lived on the outer edges of the Upper West Side with Central Park on my right and a Law & Order crime scene on my left. I ventured downtown on occasion but usually to the West Village and rarely did I cross over into Alphabet City where Kate’s resided on the corner of Fourth Street and Avenue B.

Alphabet City (Avenues A, B, C, and D) was deemed unsafe by whoever made such determinations, but that didn’t factor much into my avoidance of the area. It was a good 45 minutes away from my apartment — a journey that included two trains and an eastward trek across long avenue blocks. I preferred to wander up Broadway to The West End or Tom’s Restaurant (yeah, the place from this and this), where I mingled with the Ivy League students just a year behind me. Like Gatsby, I could claim to having “gone” there while not exactly being a “Columbia” man.

The New York Times, a bottomless cup of coffee, and the view from the front window of Kate's kept me occupied on many Sunday afternoons.

This changed when I met my friend Brooke, a pale but colorful woman from Virginia who had no fear of Alphabet City but instead saw the hipness starting to emerge from the track marks. She was always ahead of the curve. She once mentioned her friend Laurel who threw cocktail parties for New York writers and editors. We went to one of the early ones together and she introduced me to a charming woman wearing a feather boa. I think things turned out well for her.

Brooke and I were vegetarians (Brooke might still be — I am decidedly not anymore). However, neither of us were health nuts. Unfortunately, most vegetarian restaurants served dishes so bland not even the animals they spared would eat them. Kate’s Joint offered your classic comfort diner fare just without meat. The first time Brooke and I went, I ordered the Un-Turkey Club, which effectively mimicked the flavor kick of turkey and the texture of crispy bacon. We shared an order of Buffalo Un-Chicken Wings The sauce would ignite my taste buds and I’d calm them down with an ice tea.

The East Village was still gritty in the late ’90s. Apparently, there were heroin junkies in Kate’s bathroom every day. I never came across any or if I did, I probably mistook them for atmosphere. Beside, the graffiti on the restroom walls was more lucid than you’d expect from someone who was strung out.

When Brooke left New York, I continued to frequent Kate’s. I was there at least twice a week, usually more. I experimented with other items on the menu (the southern fried cutlet, for instance) but would usually return to the Un-Turkey Club. My friend and coworker Debbie (who I think is still a vegetarian) swore by the Fake Steak au Poivre. Kate’s was sometimes the start of an extended post-work evening for us in the East Village. The streets burst with the promise of exciting places to meet and interesting people to see. I put it that way because you always seemed to know the bars and clubs more intimately than you did any of the regulars. The places would always be the same when you returned but the people never were.

That’s perhaps why I remember Kate’s so well — the indie rock soundtrack, the hipster servers and patrons who never aged, the quirky fliers on the wall near the door promoting a concert or just looking for a roommate. It doesn’t take much effort for me to recall the exact wording of the graffiti on the restroom wall. I didn’t look like I belonged. I wore a tie every day, but no one seemed to mind. Maybe I was suitably alternative in my own way.

Kate’s changed somewhat over the years but its core and more importantly its food never did. It expanded to accommodate its growing customer base. My friends Lisa, Mara, and I would meet for brunch at Kate’s. The fresh-squeezed juice, tofu scramble, sweet potato hash, and the vegan french toast were unequaled. The bottomless cups of coffee that Lisa considered the best in the city would extend brunch until late afternoon. If it was winter, we’d leave along with daylight.

For several years running, I had Thanksgiving dinner at Kate’s, feasting on unturkey with stuffing, greens, mashed potatoes and yams. Then I started eating meat again. It was a post-9/11 decision. I left my office for lunch, wandered into South’s in Tribeca and ordered a hamburger. The world seemed harsher then. What had cows ever done for me? And I wasn’t going to Kate’s as much anyway.

My beloved McKate with the tastiest fries west of the East River.

You make a restaurant so much a part of your life, this is bound to happen: A woman I met a few months prior to 9/11 lived on Fifth Street and Second Avenue — strolling distance from Kate’s even in her high-heeled boots. She was not a vegetarian but enjoyed the atmosphere, the french fries, and the Karin’s Burger (sauteed spinach, portobello mushrooms, “fakin bacon” and cheese), which she always paired with a Guinness. She never strayed from the Karin’s Burger, but I would usually scan the specials for the occasional reappearance of the McKate, which was two-unbeef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese on a whole wheat sesame seed bun. I like to credit myself with persuading them to make it a permanent addition to the menu.

We stopped seeing each other two days prior to the first anniversary of 9/11. I wandered into Kate’s alone a few days later. The waiter, spotting me as I sat down, came around with an ice tea and a Guinness. “McKate and Karin’s Burger, right?”

“Just the McKate.”

I kept the Guinness. It had been a tough week.

Flea Market, a French bistro on Avenue A, began to replace Kate’s as my neighborhood hangout. True, my ex and I took advantage of the unlimited mussels and fries more than once, including on my 28th birthday that summer, but overall it offered more steak and less sentiment. It also seemed a more mature choice as I entered my 30s, a more sophisticated place to meet someone for a first date.

I dropped in at Kate’s for a handful of brunches over the next few years. One of my last Sundays in New York, I felt the urge to stop in to read the paper over a plate of Buffalo Un-Chicken Wings, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and Ms. Halpern’s incomparable coffee.

That might have been the last time. With nine days left to go, Kate’s has raised less than $2,000 of the $30,000 it needs to continue. It will be a great blow to the neighborhood if Kate’s closes. I guess our youth ends eventually but at Kate’s, I could at least still taste it.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in Social Commentary

 

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The Victims of Equality…

On July 24, gays in NY will have the ability to legally marry whoever they choose and in the process deny innocent citizens of their God-given right to deprive them of this basic bit of dignity. I suppose when you don’t think about it very hard, it is a tragedy.

The New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms group — a curious name for an anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage organization but there were no runners in Dexys Midnight Runners, either — has set up a self-styled “Courage Fund” for victims of marriage equality, which includes Laura Fotusky, a town clerk in Barker N.Y., who resigned rather than violate her religious beliefs by signing a marriage certificate for a gay couple. Apparently, this is Laura Fotusky’s House of Marriage Licenses (“ask for them by name!”) and gay unions are the Chinatown knock-offs that will devalue her brand.

Gays are apparently not satisfied with robbing Fotusky of all the glitz and glamour associated with her high-stakes position as a town clerk for someplace I just learned about today. They have also targeted Granby NY clerk Ruth Sheldon and Barbara MacEwen, who graciously stated that she didn’t mind her office issuing the licenses to gays, she just didn’t want to sign the designer imposter certificates.

The “Courage Fund” however is set up to protect these individuals who face the hardship of losing their jobs beause they don’t wish to do their jobs:

The New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms website says that the fund exists to “assist courageous municipal clerks and other people of conscience in New York State who oppose same-sex ‘marriage’ from harassment, denial of rightful promotion, or unfair termination for invoking New York State law protecting their sincerely-held religious beliefs.”

Rosemary Centi, another NY clerk who is resigning, has performed “hundreds” of wedding. She told The NY Post’s Andrea Peyser that “I am Catholic… my definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. It is a sacrament.”

Centi is under the mistaken impression that she was performing a religious service. This was a legal contract, and if she performed hundreds of these “sacraments,” there had to have been some stinkers in there: Twentysomething model marrying decrepit millionaire on life support; embezzling hedge fund manager tying the knot with his assistant so she won’t have to testify against him at the trial; anything involving Kelsey Grammer. Did she investigate any of these couples to ensure they were worthy of her? Or is it merely that heterosexual unions, while ocassionally going wrong, have the potential to be great and homosexual unions, by definition, do not.

“I have a number of friends whom I adore” who are gay, Centi told (Peyser). “I respect an individual’s right to live their life however they chose to do.” She paused. “So I would expect the same courtesy.”

Is this really the moral conundrum people are making it? Gays don’t care what Centi thinks of gay marriage. They don’t care that she chooses to resign her job rather than perform a gay marriage. And they probably don’t care that the “number” of gay friends Centi has is either a dubious assertion or cast members on “Project Runway.” Put this way: If Centi were a vegan, those of us who eat meat would respect her choice. If she worked at McDonald’s and they suddenly started serving actual meat, we would not have an issue with her finding another line of work. We would have an issue if she kept her job but refused to make the burgers.

Bronx DJ Clifton McLaughlin also refuses to make the burgers. In Peyser’s piece, he says he won’t spin the slow jams at a gay wedding.

“This is based on God’s law,” McLaughlin told (Peyser). “There is no way man can come with his own law.”

I think he also overstates his role here. The DJ is not one of the twelve apostles. He’s the entertainment. Also, there’s a good chance he’s worked at a mob daughter’s wedding. As long as he doesn’t play the “Electric Slide,” God will not judge him for his participation.

The Wildflower Inn turned away a lesbian couple recently because the innkeepers did not allow same-sex weddings on the site. Perhaps the misperception here is that you have to attend every wedding held at your space or even like the people who are giving you business. This is a more clear-cut violation of public accomodations laws, so I anticipate the owners Jim and Mary O’Reilly being sued into the Phantom Zone.

Peyser and the New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms (*just not yours) lament the apparent inability of people to enjoy freedom of religion in their own state. Granted, if your religion included illegal activities (e.g. ritual sacrifice or line dancing), you could not hide behind your faith in those instances. And in their rush to drape themselves in the cloth of civil rights terminology (i.e. “concientious objectors”), they should take the time to read their history and see that such acts never came without sacrifice. Their wish to defy the law without consequence or discriminate without repudiation is a rather craven fantasy.

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2011 in Political Theatre

 

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