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Barrington Salmon

How Healthy Is Gentrification?

NNPA NEWSWIRE — It’s only in recent years that researchers, physicians, pediatricians, academics and others have begun to drill down to ascertain what, if any, health effects might befall displaced residents as a result of gentrification.

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By Barrington M. Salmon, ​​(USC Annenberg Health Journalism Fellow), Contributing Writer, NNPA

When Detrice Belt walks around what’s left of her neighborhood and community, she is saddened because of the destruction of the place she calls home. She is deeply frustrated by the struggle she and the remaining residents at Barry Farm have been wrapped in for the past six years and is apprehensive about the health effects this facet of gentrification has had on her and her daughter.

Belt, 33, president of the Barry Farm Tenants’ Association, is one of 80 families left out of a total of 434 who lived in the historic Southeast DC community. She has been one of the sparks of resistance for a group of residents who are committed to staying put as DC city officials demolish and rebuild the 432-unit community into 1,400 residential units of mixed-income housing and retail stores. Officials have promised to set aside 300 affordable units with the remaining units available at market rate.

Apart from the stress and anxiety of possibly losing her home, Belt, a dental hygienist and owner of two pit bulls and a turtle, said she worries about what lasting health effects this entire experience will have on her daughter​​and herself.

“They just found lead in some units on Stevens Road. They called people and were coming to paint over the areas with lead,” she explained. “I understand that a test hasn’t been done in 20 years. They snuck in​to​my house to paint the banisters, but someone can chip it and it’s (the lead’s) still there.”

Belt said she is aware of the health dangers to her caused by the dust and debris coming from the demolition of nearby houses, then there’s the noise of construction and the long-term and irreversible effects of lead paint exposure on residents. Belt and residents fighting against gentrification and potential health problems are intent on reducing the forced move and lowering the stress that comes with sudden change, including noise, dust and adjusting to a new cultural environment.

DC housing officials usually move public housing residents from their homes until renovations or rebuilding is completed. Despite promises that residents can return once renovations are done, Belt said she’s aware that only a small percentage of residents have the ability or means to do so​, ​which is why she’s so adamant about staying in place while Barry Farm is rebuilt.

“I’m anxious. They’re using fear tactics trying to force us out, but we told them that we want to stay in place,” said Belt. “We’re willing to occupy Barry Farms. People are ready. I’m definitely still fighting.”

Belt’s solutions include ensuring that if residents have to move off the property, housing authority staff should​​move them into some place new faster; residents should get priority when it’s time to be resettled; and wherever possible, residents should be allowed to stay on the property while builders and developers build, and then move into newly constructed homes.

Belt is not alone in worrying about her health and quality of life.

Across town, in Northeast DC, Donta Waters, Leon Lightfoot, their families and other residents at Dahlgreen Courts Apartments, are fighting their own battles against gentrification and its impact on their health. After laboratory tests they agreed to, residents recently discovered that 40 of 42 of them ​​have elevated levels of lead, mold and bio-toxins.

The resulting health implications for his wife and son alarmed longtime DC resident Leon Lightfoot. Lightfoot, a 55-year-old truck driver, husband and father of a son who is a Howard University student, said it makes him very angry when he contemplates how he and others have been treated.

“For a whole year, this is how we lived,” said Lightfoot, who has lived in the complex since 1999. “After the renovations in 2012, we moved back in and then six months later we saw water damage in the living room. The walls, carpet and floors had mold. We dealt with these problems from August 2016 to July 2017. They put us up in a hotel for three days. I thought it was termites, but it was mold. Specialists came in, cut out the wall and put a white coating on it to stop the water.”

“We still have problems with water and mold. I’m very concerned for my wife and my son. I have headaches, respiratory problems and now I have to use an inhaler. My wife and son have asthma. I’m so pissed off that my wife and son have to endure this.”

Despite the buildings being renovated in 2011-2012, tenants described ​being exposed​​to lead ​(which appeared during renovations); rodent infestation; damage to the units because of water leaking ​into apartments ​through the walls and ceilings; homes overrun with mold; and residents coming down with a variety of illnesses caused by lead, mold and contamination from bio-toxins and other chemical agents.

Lightfoot said he and fellow tenants have sought solutions to their myriad problems through advocacy, putting pressure on ​DC ​Mayor Muriel Bowser and other public officials by​​showing ​​​up in their offices, flooding city council meetings and putting the issues they’re dealing with ​directly in front of these officials.

​​Meanwhile, the tenants association, in an effort to seek redress, filed a $5 million lawsuit ​​in DC Superior Court earlier this year. The tenants are seeking financial compensation for the disruption to their lives and possible health impacts.

In the District of Columbia, a shortage of affordable housing, a hyper-expensive rental market and aging and vanishing housing stock ​has​​have​tenants battling spiraling rents and housing costs, and​have left them at​​increased risk of ​getting​​​displaced.

In 2017, according the US Census Bureau, the median household income of white residents, who make up 36 percent of the ​District’s population​​, rose $2,568 to $127,369​,​while the median income of black residents, ​who make up​​​or​​​​46 percent, fell $3,631,​to $37,891. Meanwhile, 46 percent of​​these black​​residents in the Washington Metropolitan Area spent more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing costs. Those middle- and lower-income residents left in Washington, DC have limited options to move or relocate, and little money left to take care of​​​​food, medicine, utilities, transportation and other needs.

Some DC government programs do offer solutions and buffer residents from the health-related ill-effects of gentrification. However, it’s sometimes hard to make a direct link between gentrification and disparate health effects, and housing advocates, members of the medical community and other experts understand that if work is done to stabilize neighborhoods and larger communities, residents — and tenants, by extension — will be healthier.

It’s only in recent years that researchers, physicians, pediatricians, academics and others have begun to drill down to ascertain what, ​if any, ​health​effects might befall displaced residents as a result of ​gentrification​. These studies have been able to move anecdotal information into empirical data and quantify the potential health impacts of gentrification.

A recent New York study, for example, illustrates the link between gentrification and mental health. The study​had found that hospitalization rates for mental illness – including schizophrenia and mood disorders – are two times as high in displaced persons​​versus those who remain in their neighborhood.

This is one of the first US studies to quantify the hidden mental health consequences of gentrification.

Housing advocates, policy makers and those in search of solutions understand that they have to go beyond treating symptoms, like asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes and get a handle on the very process of controlling gentrification.

In Oakland, California, housing rights advocates and residents have been ​protesting, engaging in civil disobedience ​and​​​trying​​to get city and county officials to listen and enact policies designed to stem and change the effects of gentrification on low-income, middle-class and long-time residents.

They are driven by studies that have revealed any number of negative health-related consequences among vulnerable populations wrought by gentrification, including a higher incidence of asthma, diabetes, ​and​​cardiovascular disease ​and​​shorter life expectancy; higher cancer rates; more birth defects; and greater instances of infant mortality.

Just as critical are other health effects experts say ​are​​caused by “limited access to or availability of healthy food choices, affordable healthy housing; quality schools, transportation choices​​(including ​​bicycle and walking paths), exercise facilities [and] social networks.”

A 2014 report, produced by the Alameda Public Health Department and Just Cause (Causa ​Justa, CJJC) which provides free tenant counseling and case management for low-income residents of Oakland and San Francisco – focused on gentrification in ​Oakland, California.

It​​was in response to a growing concern and a recognition of the connections between deepening health problems and disparities in health among children in Oakland and the conditions created by dilapidated housing, especially given the Bay Area’s high rents and extreme housing shortage. Community organizers, non-profits and residents have used advocacy, political pressure and civil disobedience to bring public officials to first understand and then be willing to act on political and policy solutions to the deleterious effects of gentrification.

The report offers solutions, which, though not specifically health-related, are designed to lessen or eliminate the health impacts of gentrification. These include: developing a proactive or healthy housing inspection program; tenant protections to counter dramatic increases in housing costs, lowering the risk of instability, eviction and harassment from landlords; overcrowded housing;​​living in poor housing and neighborhood conditions; preserving housing at all affordability level​s​​,prioritizing funding for rehabilitation and repair of existing housing stock; creating greater alignment and coordination between local government, health providers, and community-based organizations to address gaps in data.

Shelterforce, an independent nonprofit publication ​that​​and sometimes challenges those in the community development field, offers a number of ​solutions​aimed at preventing gentrification. In ​a story​​​titled, ‘7 Policies that Could Prevent Gentrification,’ solutions include: aggressively building middle-income housing; reducing or freezing property taxes to protect long-time residents; and prohibiting large-scale luxury development in at-risk neighborhoods.

Other solutions are enacting and strengthening rent control laws and developing Community Land Trusts. Those involved with or tracking gentrification​assert that community land trusts (CLTs) are a critical element in the palette of options available for cities seeking neighborhood stability through affordable housing. They​​​say​​obtaining public land for a land trust​is a way to address issues of environmental justice and displacement by creating open spaces, community gardens and much-needed affordable housing.

“I think community land trusts have to be the wave of the future, said Dominic Moulden, resource organizer of the housing advocacy organization, One DC (Organizing Neighborhood Equity). “Rent spikes are making it so that regular people can’t live in or afford them. With community land trusts, people living in certain areas control public and private land. You can get grants from the government to pay the taxes and local residents control the land.”

“People are doing this around the world – Burlington, Portland, Maine, the United Workers in Baltimore, Boston, and the New Columbia Land Trust and the 11​th​Street Land Trust here in DC.”

While Moulden and David Bowers, a longtime housing advocate, said CLTs are viable and necessary solutions to counter gentrification. Bowers, who has been working with government officials, foundations, developers and others for more than a decade said, he has seen some promising projects from philanthropic organizations but he still doesn’t see the political will needed by elected officials to confront and significantly address the myriad problems gentrification has wrought.

In his many conversations and interactions with government officials, Bowers said, the type of movement to effect real change has been absent.

“We need to stop having million-dollar conversations about billion-dollar problems,” he said. “I haven’t seen a fundamental shift over the last few years. On the government side there is a commitment to hold the line budget-wise. The policy and investment are not there. What we have seen is no sense of urgency by elected officials to solve problems within a defined amount of time and no intentionality.”

But Bowers said there is a significant movement, where people who had not been involved before have stepped up. He cited the case of Kaiser Permanente whose officials recently announced plans to invest $200 million to develop affordable housing nationwide.

“They are not a housing group or lender, but they recognize the connection between health and housing,” said Bowers, vice president and Washington impact market leader for Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. “It’s not just a government thing. Foundations who care about the racial equity gap in terms of health and wellness have an opportunity to have a significant impact on providing affordable housing at a time when housing stocks continue to dwindle.”

This article was published as a part of a journalism project for the University of Southern California Center for Health Journalism’s National Fellowship. Read the full series:
As Real Estate Developers Rush to Mine D.C.’s Affordable Housing Stock, Some Residents are Left in the Dust
How Healthy is Gentrification?
For Many Black Washingtonians, Gentrification Threatens Housing and Health

Activism

ILWU leads May Day Protest down Market Street in San Francisco

“The best way to protect worker unity is to protest racism, patriarchy and xenophobia,” continued Davis. “Labor united will never be defeated.”

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    As participants assembled in front of the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero in San Francisco, a group of wearing blue jackets and white painters hats could be seen moving to the front of the group.  

   The group, workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, were on hand to lead the May Day march and rally from the Ferry Building down Market Street to San Francisco City Hall. 

   “This is the real Labor Day and this day is celebrated all over the world, said Trent Willis, the head of the ILWUs Local 10 longshoremen’s union.  In 1886, the first fight for workers was for the eight-hour work day. 

    May Day is the celebration of labor and working classes, promoted by the international labor movement and occurs every year on May Day, May 1. The ILWU in San Francisco has spearheaded for the day in the Bay Area and it has been leading the rally and march for the past 15 years.    

   Political activist and college professor Dr. Angela Davis, was a keynote speaker at the rally and she marched along Market Street in between ILWU members. Willis led the march of over 5,000 people with the ILWU, the Teamsters Union, teachersunions and other unions from San Francisco. Adjoining streetswere blocked off to allow the crowd walk freely

    As they walked, the ILWU drill team yelled out chants.  They stopped in front of the Flood Building, where Willis said he,along with others from the labor movement, stand in solidarity with the Chilean Dock Workers Union, who are in the middle of a contract negotiations with the Chilean government for higher wages and better working conditions.  

    The marchers continued to San Francisco City Hall, where Willis, Davis and other labor union officials, got on the back of a flatbed truck and spoke to the crowd.   

    “We need to fight systematic racism,continued Willlis. If you don’t stand up against systematic racism and systematic oppression, racism keeps us from talking to each other.”

   Willis said that when people arent talking to each other, the differences they have cannot be understood or resolved. He said talking is needed in order for people to get along and resolve situations, working conditions and move society forward.        

   Davis,looked out on at the crowd, saying that she was proud to be a part of the march and rally. 

    “There is no place I would rather be then to be standing up for the rights of workers, said Davis.  In solidarity with workers from all over the world.

    Davis said that workers need to stand up and fight so there will not be any more George Floyds, Breonna Taylors, Stephen Clarks, Oscar Grants and Sean Monterrosa. Monterrosa was the San  Francisco man who was killed by police in Vallejo last year. His family was on hand, holding a banner with his name.  

    “The best way to protect worker unity is to protest racism, patriarchy and xenophobia, continued Davis. Labor united will never be defeated.

   Willis said he will make Davis an honorary member of the ILWU, which is an honor that has only been bestowed on Paul Robeson and Dr. Martin Luther King.  He said the struggle for workers continues across the world and within the United States, but it will be a push the ILWU will be vigilant in fighting for to improve working conditions for working people.    

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Bahamians Still Face Years of Recovery Following Massive Storm

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Thousands of people have been displaced and are trapped in “rapidly deteriorating” conditions in the most devastated areas of the Bahamas, said an official of the UN’s World Food Program on Saturday. Charity and aid organizations have been rushing emergency aid and supplies, workers and money to the storm-battered islands but the effort has been hampered by the sheer size of the affected areas and a raft of logistical problems.

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Astronaut Christina Koch of the International Space Station captured this image of Hurricane Dorian outside the space station’s windows the morning of Sept. 2, 2019. (NASA)

By Barrington M. Salmon, NNPA Newswire Contributor
@bsalmondc

Hurricane Dorian mystified meteorologists and weather experts from the time it become a hurricane. The public was informed that data models showed it taking a trek across the Caribbean and slamming into Florida. But the monster storm defied all expectations and instead, punished the Bahamas and skipped Florida altogether.

For almost two days, the Category 5 hurricane – with winds clocked at 185 miles an hour with wind gusts of more than 200 miles an hour – hovered over Abaco and the northern portion of Grand Bahama and savaged them. The hurricane dumped more than 30 inches of rain and triggered a storm surge as high as 23 feet, leaving more than 13,000 homes damaged or destroyed, said government officials and the Red Cross.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said in a press conference that although the storm targeted only a small section of the Bahamas, it still inflicted “generational devastation.” He said the official death toll is 43 but he and Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands say they expect that number to go much higher.

Dr. Paul Hunt is a pediatrician and the only allergy specialist in the Bahamas, who has lived there since 1990 and maintains an office in Freeport and Nassau. As news continues to trickle in about the deaths, the extent of the widespread damage and the disruption to people’s lives, he said he’s heartbroken. He’s fortunate, Dr. Hunt said, because he and his family were in Nassau when the storm hit and his home is not damaged.

But his thoughts go often to those who’ve lost relatives and friends, who’re coping with loss and struggling to come to terms with the damage wrought by the hurricane.

“I’m just numb,” said Dr. Hunt, a husband and father of three. “The gut-wrenching thing is my patients. I have a patient who I looked after since he was two and I just heard that a storm surge swept away him and two of his children, the youngest aged two. He’s lost and presumed dead.”

All over the country, Bahamians joined hands to help the thousands left helpless, providing food, water and shelter for the legion of suddenly homeless people left without shelter or possessions. Celebrities like Rihanna, Ludacris, Bethanny Frankel, Tyler Perry and companies including the Disney Company and Disney Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line have donated money, food and supplies, while Norwegian Cruise Lines, Bacardi and Lowe’s are each contributing $1 million to disaster relief.

Bahamian government officials told the media that US Coast Guard helicopters have been flying across the string of barrier islands looking for survivors while on the ground, members of the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, police officers, coroners, investigators and search and rescue teams are scouring Abaco and other islands in the north of the archipelago assisting survivors, aiding the injured and removing the dead.

Some bodies were transported to Rand Memorial Hospital in Nassau and others placed temporarily in refrigerated trucks.

“… We acknowledge that there are many missing and the number of deaths is expected to significantly increase,” said Dr. Minnis in a Sept. 6 statement. “This is one of the stark realities we face in this hour of darkness. The loss of life we’re experiencing is catastrophic and devastating. The grief we bear as a country begins with families who have lost loved ones.

“We meet them in this time of sorrow with open arms and walk by their sides in this time of sorrow every step of the way.”

Across social media, people watched videos, talked to survivors and saw pictures showing the utter devastation wreaked by the hurricane. One video shot by an unnamed member of parliament showed parts of his flooded house and dark water lapping against his living room and kitchen windows which are about 15-20 feet above the ground.

Thousands of people have been displaced and are trapped in “rapidly deteriorating” conditions in the most devastated areas of the Bahamas, said an official of the UN’s World Food Program on Saturday. Charity and aid organizations have been rushing emergency aid and supplies, workers and money to the storm-battered islands but the effort has been hampered by the sheer size of the affected areas and a raft of logistical problems.

But in a National Emergency Management Agency briefing, NEMA officials announced several new measures governing evacuations of the residents still on Abaco. Among the provisions: There is no mandatory evacuation order for Abaco because evacuation is strictly mandatory; 3,500 people are slated to be evacuated to Nassau; public and private partners are flying residents out, including Bahamas Air, Delta, Western Air and other private partners. Ferries and private boaters are also involved in the evacuation effort; all evacuations are free; those who decide to stay on Abaco are being provided with temporary housing; search and recovery is still being conducted, particularly in Marsh Harbour.

A 50-member team from the US Agency for International Development/Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance worked with Royal Bahamas Defence Force to conduct a systematic sweep of the island as recovery teams are still searching for survivors, locating bodies and checking for hazardous material. The Caribbean Community has sent soldiers to help with security. For example, there are 33 Jamaica Defence Force officers and 122 officers from Trinidad and Tobago who will be helping in securing operations.

Royal Caribbean is providing 10-20,000 meals per day to people in Grand Bahama. NEMA is augmenting these hot meals with non-perishable relief supplies. Hands for Hunger and World Central Kitchen will distribute 2,000 hot meals to people in Little Abaco beginning on Sept. 9. And the World Food Program and Samaritan’s Purse are distributing 12,000 meals ready to eat to 1,000 families in Marsh Harbour.

Dr. Hunt said Bahamians have embarked on what promises to be a long and difficult process of recovery but he said he’s confident the island nation will rebound.

“Our beloved island of Grand Bahama took a pounding and there is a lot of hurting,” he wrote on Facebook. “My heart goes out to the families of those with loved ones who have lost their lives, several of who were well known to me. The destruction in Abaco was catastrophic and gut wrenching … I will be returning to Freeport shortly to do my part in trying to alleviate some of the suffering and help in the rebuilding of our Island. We in Grand Bahama have faced and conquered many obstacles that have been placed in our path. We will not be undone by Hurricane Dorian and we all will emerge from this collective experience stronger, wiser and more united.”

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Discussion Spotlights Vagaries of the Criminal Justice System and Media Complicity

NNPA NEWSWIRE — On a recent afternoon, a distinguished group of panelists spent almost two hours in a conversation exploring the Central Park Five case, the public furor, the effects on the defendants and particularly, the role local and nation media played in creating and driving the narrative. The panelists were participating in a monthly series called “What’s the Story? Criminal Justice and Local News” hosted by The Marshall Project. The discussions feature prominent Americans looking at how to create and disrupt narratives around criminal justice. The series is sponsored by the Public Welfare Foundation.

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On a recent afternoon, a distinguished group of panelists spent almost two hours in a conversation exploring the Central Park Five case, the public furor, the effects on the defendants and particularly, the role local and nation media played in creating and driving the narrative. The panelists were participating in a monthly series called “What’s the Story? Criminal Justice and Local News” hosted by The Marshall Project. The discussions feature prominent Americans looking at how to create and disrupt narratives around criminal justice. The series is sponsored by the Public Welfare Foundation.

By Barrington M. Salmon, NNPA Newswire Contributing Writer
@bsalmondc

Ava DuVernay’s searing and powerful Netflix miniseries “When They See Us” has reignited a often rancorous debate about criminal justice, its deeply exploitative nature, the embedded systemic racism and who’s most affected.

As more than 25 million people watched the four-part series recently, America’s penal system came under intense scrutiny from supporters of the penal status quo, those seeking radical reform, and a growing number of critics who’re calling for abolition of the entire system.

On a recent afternoon, a distinguished group of panelists spent almost two hours in a conversation exploring the Central Park Five case, the public furor, the effects on the defendants and particularly, the role local and nation media played in creating and driving the narrative. The panelists were participating in a monthly series called “What’s the Story? Criminal Justice and Local News” hosted by The Marshall Project. The discussions feature prominent Americans looking at how to create and disrupt narratives around criminal justice. The series is sponsored by the Public Welfare Foundation.

In 1989, Yusef Salaam, 15, Kevin Richardson, 14, Korey Wise, 16, Antron McCray 15, and 14-year-old Raymond Santana, Jr. were falsely convicted of the brutal rape and assault of Trisha Emili, a white investment banker. The boys spent between seven and almost 14 years in prison.

Salaam, one of the Exonerated Five and a panelist who discussed the media’s role in the notorious Central Park Five case, said bluntly during the question-and-answer section that the criminal justice system must be abolished. He comes from a unique perspective, having spent seven years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

“The criminal justice system needs to be dismantled,” Salaam told a rapt audience at Google headquarters in downtown Washington, DC during the July 16 discussion. “The slave trade moved right into the criminal justice system which runs us down, jails us, kills us. The Central Park Five is one worm out of a can of worms … it definitely needs to be abolished.”

He is not alone.

All over the country, individuals, groups and organizations like Color of Change and BYP 100 Chicago are working for and demanding change; imagining a just, vociferously challenging the conventional wisdom around crime and punishment; organizing, mobilizing the public to vote for reformist district and state attorneys and voting out prosecutors like Anita Alvarez in Chicago and Robert McCullough, both who refused to prosecute the cops who killed Lauan McDonald in Chicago and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

What was soon very clear is what is already known: that the vast majority of the 2.3 million people entangled in the criminal justice system are Black and brown people and increasing numbers of non-white children and Black women. Although the United States comprises less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it has the dubious distinction of having 25 percent of the world’s people behind bars, well ahead of China, India and Russia. In addition, about 7 million formerly incarcerated individuals are under the control the prison system whether it’s probation, parole or some form of monitoring and surveillance.

The miniseries – which recently received 16 Emmy nominations – details the harrowing experience of these young boys’ childhoods which was snatched by an over-zealous district attorney, police investigators who played hard and fast with the rules and a relentless criminal justice system which has and continues to swallow up Black girls, boys, men and women. Spurred on by District Attorney Linda Fair stein, cops subjected the boys to between 14 and 30 hours of interrogation, pressure and manipulation, eventually coercing confessions from them. They were eventually exonerated for the crime in 2002 when Matias Reyes, a serial rapist, confessed and DNA evidence taken from the victim confirmed he was the assailant. The charges were completely vacated and in 2014, the five men were awarded $41 million from the city although city officials never admitted culpability.

“It was tremendously dangerous, devastating and overwhelming at the same time,” Salaam recalled. “400-plus articles were written in the first two weeks. I remember seeing video. Our innocence got little or no attention. It was a whisper. I remember hearing my mother ask if the rats could hear.”

“The damage was done to us. They pulled the fabric and left gaping holes.”

LynNell Hancock, a former New York Daily News reporter, said she feels mortified when she recalls what transpired.

“It’s really hard to see,” she said after watching a clip showing the skewed racist coverage and bloodlust on television and in the newspapers. “I feel overwhelmed with shame. Every time I see it, I wonder what it felt like for Yusef and his family.”

Hancock, director of the Spencer Fellowship for Education Journalism, a program that supports the work of mid-career journalists to study at Columbia and produce significant works of journalism on education topics, said she was transitioning from the Village Voice to the Daily News when the story broke and watched as editors and reporters competed to be a part of what became a huge story.

“Going to the Daily News was like going to another planet,” she recalled. “The Village Voice was a writer-driven newspaper. The Daily News was a hothouse with a lot of competitive, mostly white men, a lot of great reporters and intelligence. It was an editor-driven paper, very controlled from the top and they decided early one to embrace the narrative of the police.”

Salaam, a motivational speaker, activist and educator, said the detectives who investigated the rape and beating of the jogger made sure that he and the other four were set up to take the fall in a case that riveted and angered New York City’s primarily white residents.

“… Our only crime was that we were born Black and brown. In the US we are expendable and are supposed to be at the bottom. They abolished slavery but they had a loophole – prison,” he said. “In our jury pool and the judge, the bias (towards us) was coming through the lens of the media and the police department. The Manhattan North detectives who interrogated had to have been on the force for at least 20 years to be in that unit. These were individuals who should have known better, should have done better.”

Despite signing confessions, Salaam said there were glaring inconsistencies as well as the absence of physical, forensic and DNA evidence which the current climate would have easily uncovered.

“All kinds of inconsistencies were there,” Salaam explained. “If we had social media then, it (the case) would have been blown out the water. Social media would have brought the inconsistencies out.”

Salaam said had no idea when he picked up by police officers that his life was about to change in irreversible and irreparable ways.

“My mother said she was born in the Jim Crow south and told me never to talk to cops, to let them kick the door down,” he said wit a wry smile. “(But) as a 15-year-old, I thought I was old enough to talk to the cops. I thought I’d be home before my mom got home. But I ended up spending seven years in prison.”

“Corey wasn’t on the list but he went with his buddy and ended up serving 13 years. Yet in the whole midst of things, he became the magic piece that freed us. I bumped into members of the original Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. It informs how I teach children.”

Norris West, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s director of Strategic Communications and a former journalist with the Baltimore Sun and Toledo Blade, said he has seen several instances of police chiefs and departments creating a negative narrative to paint all Black men as criminals.

“I grew up in Philadelphia and Chief (Frank) Rizzo weeded Black cops out of his force,” West recalled. “He made Black men strip naked in the street. There was a climate created and a narrative advanced. He stripped away their humanity before removing their clothing. It didn’t happen in a vacuum. The media plays a part in this.”

“The media often paints with a broad brush. And more often than not, white people have a different way of looking and writing about Black people.”

Hancock said she is troubled that no one seems to have learned from the egregious miscarriage of justice.

“I thought the exoneration would cause a tsunami all up and down the ranks of newspapers and police departments etc.,” said Hancock, a reporter and writer specializing in education and child and family policy issues, who has taught journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism since 1993. “There has been no self-examination. I didn’t remember how young you guys were. It wasn’t primary but it should have been.”

“I know more about how false confessions happen.”

Hancock said as many as 40 percent of false confessions are from juveniles.

“You guys looked tall and looked like adults,” she said to Salaam. “Wilding had a life of its own in the media, in policy and academia. They began using kids’ names, there was the super-predator narrative and born out of this was a new breed of criminal juveniles and fear took over.”

Every single state in the country began passing draconian laws to imprison primarily Black children, trying teens and preteens as adults, Hancock said.

“Now, they know it’s been very damaging. It’s being rolled back but the damage is already done.”

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