Stories from Harlem - Poverty and the daily reality of living in substandard housing
by Li Onesto
December 14, 2011
There's something about elevators and stairwells in high-rise housing projects. If the walls could speak they'd tell a whole lot about what generations of poor Black families have had to endure. Not just the daily reality of living in substandard housing, but the whole way you're treated by the authorities, like you're somehow a criminal.
In Harlem some of the projects are over 20 stories high, with several thousand residents. Lack of adequate city services means basic repairs don't get made, trash cans are always overflowing, there's rat infestation. But it's not just this. Horrible and demeaning living conditions are just one part of what people here have to put up with.
There's another kind of infestation and invasion. Something way more dangerous to people's health. There is the constant knowledge that the housing authority, child services, and other government officials can come down on you at any time. There are the Viper cameras, installed in the entrances and hallways, which mean people are under constant surveillance. It feels a lot like prison. And then there's the POLICE—who serve as a frontline in a concerted and conscious effort by the powers-that-be to repress, control and contain a whole section of society. These armed men roam about, in ones and twos or in packs, sweating people on the streets and in the playgrounds. And for them, a favorite stalking ground is the housing projects where they target especially the youth.
Just look at the reality of the NYPD's official stop-and-frisk policy. The NYPD is on pace to stop and frisk over 700,000 people in 2011, or more than 1,900 people each and every day. The authorities argue this is about stopping crime and "keeping the streets safe." But check out the facts: More than 85 percent of those stopped and frisked are Black or Latino. More than 90 percent of them were not even alleged to be doing something wrong when the police stopped them. All of this is totally and blatantly illegitimate and illegal under the stated laws of this country. And it's not just in New York City that this kind of thing goes on. Throughout the U.S., they might not call it stop-and-frisk, it might not always be a stated policy. But for millions of Black and Latino people, especially the youth, getting stopped, harassed, and made to "assume the position" is a basic fact of life—where if you're "lucky" you won't end up being brutalized or killed. But if you're not, the police report chronicling the last moments of your life might say you were shot because you made a "furtive movement," "looked like a suspect," or doesn't list any reason at all.
This is one step in a pipeline that has locked 2.3 million people in prison. This is one of the "entry points" for a whole repressive trajectory—where the cops, the courts, the whole legal system—feeds mass incarceration.CONTINUE AT: [link to globalresearch.ca]