Syracuse Without a Soul

By Mark David Blum, Esq.

Shame on the Mayor of Syracuse and his blood thirsty lawyers for using a repugnant law to throw a 101 year old woman and her family out into the cold winter street on Christmas Eve. Though they proclaim the timing was unintentional, evicting this woman on any date would be just as repulsive. Lawyers say Christmas Eve was an accident and a judge put off until January 5, 2009 the ultimate eviction.

The argument by the City is that the woman did not respond to their request to “talk” about three arrests of the woman’s nephew at her home. Now comfortably imprisoned, Syracuse lawyers still are pursuing the elderly woman even though the problem self abated by the nephew’s incarceration. They want to throw her out of her home, call in social services (read: taxpayers) to watch over the woman for six months while police shutter the woman’s home, and then in six months, she can return to the home she has lived in since 1920. All of this is being done because police consider her to be a nuisance.

Syracuse has a local law that is used as a sledgehammer by police and City Hall that holds when there are three arrests at a single location, police can summarily shut down the property and board it up to its owners. To date, the only places shuttered were local markets serving local communities. Now homeowners and tenants are the target of this horrifyingly abusive race based policy.

Lawyers for the City and police spokesmen say the law is intended to force a dialogue between the target and the City. Can you believe the audacity of that claim? A law is on the books that forces a private citizen into a dialogue with the City and failing to do so yields police action that shutters private property. Only two such closings made the news until recently when we learn that the law is now being used against private property dwellers. The City reports they had 32 such events just in 2008 and all but the old woman responded. So they evicted her.

Clearly the law is not being fairly applied. There is more crime and are more arrests at the Carousel Mall and Shoppingtown Mall in a single week than in a year at the old woman’s home. Dennys on Erie Boulevard has more drugs and guns in it on a Friday night requiring upwards of seven armed watchmen to oversee events. These White neighborhood, White owned, White patronized businesses are all ripe for the nuisance abatement laws. Yet City lawyers target 101 year old Black women and their families instead.

It is all part of the overall plot by City Hall and the Syracuse Police Department management to continue to abuse and target the weakest among us. Somehow they have to justify their existence and in targeting those who cannot fight back, the City gets to put on a face that they are accomplishing something when in reality, they are knifing their own citizens for the glory of a few moments on television and a pat on the back from a friendly judge. It is an unabashed open policy of ethnic cleansing and nobody rational seems to object.

Here is how it works: You wake up one morning, as you have 1,000 times before, and as you sip your coffee, you see on the news a story about a large drug arrest with pictures of drugs and money and guns all displayed in front of a cadre of uniformed officers. They gloat and bleat about the numbers of people arrested and assure the community that our drug problem is over. Next, you start to hear stories in the news about killings and attacks that are “drug related” which is nothing more than competition to fill the market void created by the earlier arrests and crackdown. Eventually, the violence dies down as a new distribution network sets up in place. Then comes the Weed and Seed crowd complaining about drug activity. Police commence a two year long investigation which results in another sweep and another mass arrest. Ahh yes; such goes the cycle of life in Prohibition America.

It is always easier to target the poor and especially Black and Hispanic communities for these types of Prohibition attacks. Setting aside the political impotence of the poor and the blind eye of their elected legislators; the culture in those neighborhoods is turned outward. People there live their lives in their front yards. Children play together in the street. Folks who live in crowded public housing projects need somewhere to go when they tire of sitting in a concrete box all day. Compare this to the affluent neighborhoods and White culture which by contrast tend to turn toward their back yard and living rooms. Thus, folks in the poor neighborhoods find themselves more exposed than their suburban or affluent counterparts.

Additionally, there is the question of youth. When you are a teenager, where do you go after school – especially when you live in a small apartment? Most folks go outside and hang out with their friends. Back in the “old days”, it used to be the malt shop or the pizza shop, or some local hang out where you can buy a soda and do teen stuff with your friends.

In Syracuse, a group of teenagers of a certain skin color standing together outside a market automatically draws the attention of police. Instead of making friends, police will swarm the group and anybody who runs is arrested. All are searched and is consistent with our failed policy in managing drug misuse in society, drugs will be found in a certain percentage of those stopped. I have called it Ethnic Cleansing and the statistics bear that out.

“Arrest rates and corresponding arrest ratios that were calculated for Onondaga County were then compared with statewide averages with a few nearby counties. … Specifically, the arrest rate ratios indicate that the chances of arrest for black residents in Onondaga County are substantially greater in Onondaga County than nearby counties or the state as a whole. … During the years of the study, the arrest rate ratios indicate that chances of being arrested for drug felonies or drug sales are 20 to 40 times greater for black residents.”

“According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Statistics, arrest rates for black residents within New York State as a whole are about 4 to 5 times higher than that for white residents. … The unique nature of street drug markets in urban areas has sometimes been offered as an explanation of why minorities experience higher drug arrest rates than whites. Statistical evidence indicates that drug use patterns within these two racial groups are similar. However, the corresponding arrest rate ratios in Onondaga County are significantly higher than the arrest ratios in Erie or Monroe counties and also significantly higher than those for NY State as a whole. … These large differences in arrest rate ratios for Onondaga County have persisted over the time period included in this evaluation (1995-2004).”

In 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2008, studies, reports, and neighborhood evaluations of Syracuse Police activities show a rising effort of energy concentrated in low income minority neighborhoods. Significant numbers of Citizens and scientists have decried ‘profiling’ as being the basis for the disparate impact of police activity upon Blacks in Syracuse and Onondaga County. Racial profiling is not the issue; but instead, it is racial stereotyping that is causing the problem.

Low income neighborhoods are presumed to be rife with violence against persons and property and hence, stepped up police patrols are concentrated in those areas. An evaluation of the distribution of Level 1 offenses (violence against persons and property) shows that such crimes tend moreso to be occurring in more middle class neighborhoods than in the Southside or near Westside of Syracuse. The types of crimes that show up on activity reports for police in the poor neighborhoods are either on the spot observations by officers or crimes that do not exist absent the presence of police.

Yet local, State and Federal officials keep concentrating their energies and manpower in low income neighborhoods and on drug crimes. Using such high minded language as Operation Impact and the Organized Crime Act, we see that Blacks in this County are the ones who are at greatest risk of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. They are being rounded up an entire neighborhood at a time; an entire generation at a time.

In the end, what we as citizens get is another Syracuse City resident made homeless and supported by the taxpayer. A public housing unit or nursing home bed will be lost to the public. An apartment is shuttered for six months giving another beautiful image for passers through to admire. Can the Mayor, the Police Chief, the Corporation Counsel or anybody in City government assure the community that throwing this woman into the streets will have a substantial impact upon drug use and distribution? The criminal in her home, her nephew, has been abated by the criminal justice system. For what purpose does this persecution continue? Is there anybody alive (whose income does not derive from continuing to fuel this failed policy) who still believes the woman’s eviction is an effective deterrent for drug use or sales? Since we cannot keep drugs out of our maximum security prisons, ask yourself whether you really think we can rid of drugs completely from society.

Supposedly this entire discussion is about quality of life issues. There is going to be violence associated with prohibition forever and always. Two reasons provoke this: One is demand which is never going to go away. The second is the necessity to use high powered weapons on street corners because there is no access to use high powered lawyers in court rooms. Police and prohibitionists create a world that keeps them employed, keeps the public in fear, and just keeps sweeping the problem under the rug. There is no courage in closing down a market, putting someone out of business, and disturbing the lives of thousands of people. Collective punishment is not American justice.

What is really going on is that a law written for white folks and old folks who don’t like kids hanging around in public is being used to abuse an old woman. Drive down the street and see a group of young Black people and the Mayor Matt and his police force’s first thought is criminal activity. Add to that mix “that music”, and “those clothes”, and “that hair” and the next thing you know, some old white lady is on local WSYR radio thanking the police for ridding the neighborhood of that “vermin”. You don’t see this in Manlius because folks have backyards and big houses and living rooms and basements with swimming pools and so nobody complains.

If Syracuse police and City Hall are truly concerned about the health safety and wellbeing of the folks who live in the City, perhaps the Department can put one of its fancy schmancy Neighborhood Policing trailers out front of the woman’s house. But, in making her homeless, police and Syracuse City government prefers to use the fist and to destroy instead of building neighborhoods and communities.

So, congratulations Syracuse. You have another worthless parcel of real estate and several more homeless people on your hands. Get out the adding machine because the costs to social services are about take a massive jump.

To the affected citizens of the affected neighborhood: Make some noise. The rights you give up are your own. How much more blood of your youth and neighbors must be spilt? The City has lost its moral compass and its soul.

Back to the MarkBlum Report

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