In the basement of Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, women gathered recently to participate in the Muslim Community Network’s self defense class. Lately, it has been busier than usual.
“I believe that we got so many people interested and all of these RSVP’s because people were panicked after the election,” said Emaan Moosani, Program Director at the Muslim Community Network.
There has been an increase in hate crimes toward the Muslim community. The day after the presidential election, various attacks and hate oriented crimes were reported around the country.
“The need is really strong for us women to be able to defend ourselves, in light of all the Islamophobia and negative stuff that has been happening for the past almost two years,” said training participant, Ayesha Mohammed.
In a recent study, The Southern Poverty Center found that the number of groups on the American radical right has expanded from 784 in 2014 to 892 in 2015 — a 14% increase. This hostile climate has translated to an increase in attacks on vulnerable populations. The FBI hate crimes statistics show that assault, attacks on mosques and other hate crimes against Muslims surged by 67% since 2014. This increase is the biggest since 2001 when more than 480 attacks occurred in the aftermath of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
During the training, Magda Kamel, a teaching assistant, shared an experience she had following the elections.
“In the morning, on my way to the mosque somebody came and whispered bad words, f- words, and many things. At first, I ignored him, and he came closer… I was so scared of physical touch, but he came closer to curse me more,” Kamel recalled.
The fear in her community is overwhelming.
Mariana Aguilera served as a facilitator at the event. She emphasized that the training space was designed to help women cope not only with immediate danger but also with a state of being when facing a constant threat.
“ Self-defense is not just learning how to address something physically, but also how to address something mentally,” said Aguilera. “Self-defense has two parts, and those skills that you learn from there will give you the solution when you are confronting somebody verbally, physically, or what you are going to do when you are dealing with the situation itself.”
Participants stayed after the event to exchange contact information and provide words of support to the women that shared their experience during the training.
“I feel a whole lot more confident than when I walked in the room,” said Magda Kamel.
Jose Marti Park in Union City was created in 2008 as a tribute for the Cuban community in the area. Photo by Sophie Herbut
The Jose Marti Park in Union City, is a small, gated park named after the famous Cuban poet. It was once nicely decorated with a tile Cuban flag behind a bust of Jose Marti and lined portraits of famous Cubans. Now the tiles have been taken down and the small display has been weathered and barely recognizable.
But it is still a gathering place for the older local Cuban men. A place to smoke cigars, play dominos, talk about family, memories and Cuba.
These men came to America with nothing except an idea. They left their families, friends and the few things they owned for freedom. They came for a chance to work, earn and build a better life.
“Personally, my country is here,” Fernando Andreu said in Spanish recently at the park. “I have my children and grandchildren here. Cuba is lost now.”
Fidel Castro’s death in November shocked the Cubans of Union City. It was a day that brought, reflection and pain.
Many Cubans immigrated to Union City to seek political and economic freedom after Fidel Castro gained power. North Jersey and New York have the second highest Cuban population in the United States. Their influence gave Union City the nickname “Havana on the Hudson.”
Now after Castro’s death, many older Cuban-Americans are not expecting any liberation to come to the island.
“With the communism, there are different people who live there,” Andreu,66, said. “They don’t think the same as we do. [Cuba] is not the same.”
Born in the capital of Cuba, Havana, Andreu and his family left when he was eight years old in the 1960s, as Castro was gaining control of the government. Because his dad was taken as a political prisoner for working in the previous government, Andreu left Cuba with only his mom and his sister.
“When we came, we were political refugees,” said Andreu. “[Now] Cubans step foot here and automatically have [citizenship]. Many people from Latin America would love to have the same thing.”
Andreu and his family came with nothing and lived in poverty. They collected welfare until his mom was able to get a job at a factory to support the family. He learned what it meant to work and earn his own keep. After spending most of his life in the U.S., he’s disillusioned at the thought of a free Cuba.
Miguel Alonso, 60, doesn’t believe Castro’s death meant anything for Cuba’s freedom. He said the hold of communism on the country is far greater than the one man.
“Fidel died to me 10 years ago,” Alonso said in Spanish. “They are just announcing it now.”
Alonso grew up in Havana, under Castro’s government. He left when he was 24, by himself.
“I was young, I came on a boat with the desire to come to the United States for liberty,” Alonso said. “What all Cubans want.”
Alonso escaped through the port of Mariel on April 27, 1980. The port was opened temporarily and a large number of rafts and boats full of people entered the U.S. He said it was the quickest and easiest way to escape.
“I knew people in the United States,” said Alonso. “I knew here you had to work.”
Alonso immediately got to work in construction because that’s what he worked as in Cuba. He had the skills and the opportunity. He said while he grew up around communism, he still believed in democracy.
“No one agrees with communism,” he said. “Communism demands people to be communist. It didn’t work in Europe; it definitely would not work [in Cuba].”
Alonso also said that with Trump as president, he’s unsure where the future of Cuban-Americans are headed.
Francisco Guzman, 63, lit a cigar as he stood against the green fence of the park.
Guzman grew up in Havana and he came to the U.S. when he was 26, after he sought asylum in the Peruvian embassy.
“One Saturday when they said that people could enter, I just went,” said Guzman in Spanish. “I spent 13 days in the embassy.”
Guzman immediately started working when he arrived to the U.S., working in a factory at first in Philadelphia. When he moved to Union City, he started working in agriculture. Guzman’s parents and his brother escaped Cuba, but his sister is still there. He said she will never leave so he helps her with as much as he can.
“I send her clothes and I give her money so she can buy what she needs,” Guzman said.
He said many Cubans who used to live in Union City have moved out to look for jobs and start their families. The ones who’ve stayed have been there for most of their lives.
“The Capitalist goes wherever there’s a job,” said Rijo Alvarez, 50.
Alvarez sat on one of the tables of the park with a cigar poised in his hand. He spoke casually about his life as though it was as common as an afternoon walk. He listed all the jobs he had from construction to electrical work.
“I’ve done things here I wouldn’t have ever been about to do in my country,” said Alvarez in Spanish. “My [Cuban] brothers would have stepped on my head.”
Alvarez moved from Cuba to New Jersey when he was 14. His father was a political prisoner, but was able to take his entire family and leave the island. He was one of the lucky ones. Alvarez’s parents started working immediately when they arrived and Alvarez was enrolled in school.
“I follow a philosophy, not a person,” said Alvarez. “The philosophy to be free. I want to be free and do with my money what I think I should do with it. I wanted to think what I wanted and read what I wanted.”
Alvarez said Castro’s death didn’t faze him. He was American. For him, Castro has been dead for years. But he said that both the U.S. and Cuba would have to change.
“Things have to change [in the U.S.],” said Alvarez. “Cubans aren’t the only ones who deserve the treatment they’re getting. All the Latin American brothers also deserve it. We should all be equal”
Every year, on the second Friday in December, high school seniors from across the country march their application materials through their communities to a local post office or mail truck. The College March began in 2011 at NYC Outward Bound’s network school, the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS). In one year, participation spread throughout the network and continues to grow annually. It is a day that allows students to enthusiastically approach the college application process, rather than feel intimidated.
This year, over 2,700 seniors will march at 35 schools across 12 cities.
The Dakota Access Pipeline project has been a strongly opposed development for the past 18 months. It would create a new underground oil pipeline designed to carry roughly 470,000 barrels of oil across 1,172 miles of land per day. The pipeline would pass through four Midwest states – North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois – connecting Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois.
The most active opposition has come from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Sections of the pipeline would cut directly through sacred holy ground and potentially damage their water supply, so protestors have been drawn to the land to stop construction. Many camping at Standing Rock have faced attack dogs, pepper spray, and even fires being set to camp grounds.
Social media users across the nation took to action with the hashtag, #NoDAPL. Towards the end of last month, demonstrators in North Dakota requested Facebook users to check-in at Standing Rock. This was done in an effort to create a cyber smokescreen, and prevent local law enforcement from using the social media platform to target protestors. This past week, New York joined the fight.
Green Party candidate Jill Stein rails against ‘greater’ and ‘lesser’ evil political parties at rally
Around 150 people rallied for the Green Party in the South Bronx Wednesday night where nominee Jill Stein pitched herself as an alternative to the “greater evil and the lesser evil” candidates in the 2016 presidential election.
“We’re looking at Hillary Clinton, who wants to start an air war with Russia over Syria, said Stein at the Hostos Community College Arts Center in the South Bronx. “We are looking at a climate which is in meltdown. One candidate believes in climate change, the other one doesn’t, but both of their policies will destroy the planet, so it doesn’t matter so much what you believe, it matters what you do.”
Stein’s running mate and human rights activist Ajamu Baraka and New York Senate candidate Robin Laverne Wilson were also at the rally.
Faye Gotlieb, 27, of St. George, Staten Island, said she had mainly been a Democrat supporter over the years, but felt she could no longer support the party when Bernie Sanders conceded the primary election.
“I feel like I can’t support Hillary Clinton based on her history and her policies,” she said. “I would like a better alternative—at this point, I think Jill Stein is actually the strongest candidate running, and the most progressive candidate running.”
Stein was not included in the debates because her national polling average of roughly 3 percent did not meet the 15 percent threshold set by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Political cartoonist Eliot Crown, of the East Village, said he believed the Republican and Democratic parties were conspiring to keep Stein from having a legitimate shot at winning the election, pointing to the fact that Stein was not included in the presidential debates.
Crown said Stein was a needed alternative to the other parties, which he alleged are driven by corporate interests.
Stein said the Democrats have been disingenuous in their support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We’re looking at a crisis of racism,” Stein said. “The Democrats told their candidates, ‘Just pat Black Lives Matter on their heads and send them on their way. Don’t make any concessions.’
“That’s not how we’re going to solve this problem,” Stein said.
The Stein/Baraka ticket is on the ballot in 44 states, and the District of Columbia. The candidates qualified for write-in status in three additional states, which brings the number of states where voters can cast their ballot in support of the Green Party to 47.
“We’re looking at a crisis of immigration,” she said. “Donald Trump has said bar the gates to Muslims, but Hillary Clinton supported that policy towards Latinos. And the Democrats have been the party of deportation, detention and night raids.”
Paul Gilman, 57, of the South Bronx, is a spokesman for the New York Green Party on drug policy and was outside of the Hostos arts center demonstrating for the legalization of marijuana prior to the start of the rally.
Gilman said drug policy was one issue that was connected to other social and racial problems.
“As as the drug war itself, we’re totally aware of Black Lives Matter and what I call “the Michelle Alexander paradigm” of slavery to Jim Crow to the drug war,” Gilman said. “Once Jim Crow was collapsing, they reinvested in the drug war as a way of disenfranchising blacks, and some Latinos, but mostly blacks. They can’t vote; they lose their gun rights”
Asked how she responded to those who called her campaign a spoiler for the major progressive candidate in the race, Stein said abolitionist parties that stood up against slavery were also called spoiler parties.
“The establishment uses that name for anything they don’t like.” she said. “Right now we are looking at a race to the bottom between the greater evil and the lesser evil political parties.”
Slideshow by Lisa Setyon and Cora Cervantes
The sound of nearly two hundred demonstrators could be heard throughout the Upper West Side last night declaring “Black Lives Matter” in Columbus Circle.
“People tell us we’re wasting our time, but civil rights wouldn’t have been passed if the people then didn’t do what they did,” said Priscilla Ortiz, 38, from Jersey City.
Hoods4Justice, a community organization in New York fighting for black and brown liberation nationwide, organized Saturday’s march. The march began at Columbus Circle, continued through Central Park, down Madison Avenue, and ended at Rockefeller Plaza with an uplifting call and response led by one of the organizers.
Some demonstrators wore t-shirts with “Black Lives Matter” proudly inscribed on their chests, and others wore Kaepernick jerseys in support of the NFL player’s recent stance behind the movement.
The demonstration was called “an emergency rally and march” on the Facebook event in response to recent cases of police brutality.
Tensions rose nationwide after the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher, 40, of Tulsa Oklahoma last week and Keith Lamont Scott, 43, of Charlotte North Carolina this past week, and protests erupted nationwide.
But beyond these two recent killings, Saturday’s demonstration in New York was part of the larger mission to effectively end police brutality. A mission that carries many more names on its list of victims – Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Kendra James, Alton Sterling and others.
“Listen, I don’t believe all cops are bad, but I think it’s come to a point where they’ve become a cult, and that’s not okay,” said Ortiz.
The New York Police Department was in full attendance. Blue uniforms lined the streets with barricades, vans, motorcycles and a helicopter patrolled overhead. The whirring of the propellers turned several eyes to the sky and provided an added layer of unease.
Ortiz has been an active demonstrator for most of her adult life. Growing up in Texas, she experienced first hand the tension between police and minorities.
“I was visiting Texas in 2012 and my car had New Jersey license plates. The cop pulled me over and said my backlights were out. My backlights weren’t out. You’re a minority driving down the street and they find a reason to pull you over,” said Ortiz.
Ortiz heard about the event on Facebook and came with her 3-year old daughter Elizabeth, who was wearing a button that read, “We need a Political Party of the 99%”.
“I’m here for one reason, justice. I bring my kids with me because this is where it starts from,” she said. “I’m fighting for my daughter’s future, my son’s future, and my own.”
As the crowd formed, Ortiz grabbed her megaphone, commanded the crowd’s attention and led them in several chants.
“Say his name.” “Terence Crutcher, Rest in Power.” “I Can’t Breath”
Also chanting in the crowd was Mimi McDermott, 74, of the Upper West Side.
McDermott was a part of many rallies in the sixties and has continued to participate throughout the years. She supported several movements including the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, and now, Black Lives Matter.
“We thought we made progress in the sixties, and I guess we did, but it’s back and even more vehement now because we know the problems and here we are again,” said McDermott.
McDermott reflected on her years of rallies and demonstrations.
“The issue is systemic and until it starts to change from the top, there won’t be any change,” she said. “It’s almost like a bacteria or a virus that’s become stronger.”
McDermott was uncertain of the lasting impact of the evening’s rally, but shared hope for an increase in the number of marchers.
As the rally began, more and more people passing by could be seen joining. The occasional scoff or “Blue Lives Matter” could be heard. But they were overpowered by the number of people stopped with a raised fist or a raised iPhone, which recorded a quick clip of the event.
Noreen Abouelnaga, 16, of Astoria Queens was out taking pictures at Plaza Hotel and eating lunch in Central Park when she and a friend stumbled onto the rally.
“In the media there’s a lot of anti-black especially when it comes to white people and police brutality, and so I thought it was okay to stop and say that black lives matter,” said Abouelnaga.
Abouelnaga comes from a Muslim household with immigrant parents. She talked about the constant struggle she has with them to understand race relations in the United States.
“I don’t want to say this, but my mom is really racist because she sees like, what the media shows,” she said. “So I have a black friend and she doesn’t let me hang out with her because she’s black.”
As a muslim, she said she can identify with the movement.
“I think if I stand here supporting black lives and Snapchat it or put it up on Instagram, and my friends see it, I think it gets the message to people my age that it’s not ok,” said Abouelnaga.
A special report by the staff of Pavement Pieces explores Harlem today.
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