News, commentary and analysis by leaders of the Communist Party USA in New York State. We discuss State politics and issues in New York City, covering developments in labor, civil rights education, housing and more.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Critical Mass Bikers Ride for Sean Bell

This evening hundreds of bicyclists and commuters gathered in Union Square to call for justice in the Sean Bell police shooting case. Many of the crowd were gathered for the monthly Critical Mass Bike Ride in Manhattan that highlights transportation alternatives and and bike riding in the city.

Sean Bell's widowed fiancé, Nicole Paultre Bell, his father, William Bell, and Rev. Al Sharpton spoke to the rally from a portable loudspeaker.

A National Action Network (NAN) press release billed the action as a "'slowdown'... to protest the verdict in the Sean Bell case."

"We thank Critical Mass for inviting us here today," said Sharpton. "Because when you demand the right to ride, that is all Sean Bell was trying to do that night, was ride."

Critical Mass bicyclists have faced harassment and persecution at the hands police over the years while trying to simply ride the streets of New York.

Sharpton also mentioned his support of marriage equality for all regardless of sexual orientation during the rally. New York Governor David Patterson recently advised State offices to honor gay marriages performed in other states in keeping with current state law.

More demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience are being planned to bring justice for Sean Bell and his family, as well as making structural changes to the New York Police Department to ensure such a tragedy never happens again. "Let's ride together, so we can live together," said Sharpton.

Sharpton also called for a citywide town hall meeting against violence 10:30 am tomorrow, Saturday May 31, in light of recent shootings in Harlem. The mass meeting will be at NAN headquarters (106 West 145th Street at Malcolm X Blvd.) and will be followed by a march to Mount Morris park at 11:30 am.

The Critical Mass rally ended with a unique image: Rev. Al Sharpton got on a bicycle and rode across 14th Street on the south end of the park through the intersection, being chased all the way by a crowd of news photographers, gawkers and passers by. Other bicyclists mounted up and headed to the streets.

Gabcast! CPNY Blog Audio #2 - Rev. Al Sharpton speech at Critical Mass

Rev. Al Sharpton speaks to gathered supporters and bicyclists at the Critical Mass Bike Ride, Friday, may 30 in Manhattan. Riders then too to the streets to bring attention to police accountability issues and too demand justice for Sean Bell who was killed by police in 2006.

Another Crane Collapses in NYC

Yet another construction crane has fallen in New York City. At the corner of 91st Street and First Avenue a crane attached to a newly constructed building fell some twenty stories smashing into an occupied apartment building across the street and destroying cars below.

It is unknown how many casualties there are are. Over 100 firefighters are on the scene doing rescue work.

This is just the latest of a series of dramatic construction accidents in the city amounting to the death of 17 construction workers in the first five months of the year, more than the total deaths in all of 2007.

The most recent crane collapse led to the resignation of the head of the city's Department of Buildings and promises from Mayor Michael Bloomberg that it will never happen again. He also said the equivalent of "accidents happen." A representative of the builders association was reported as saying "no increased regulation could have stopped the collapse."

After years of reduced inspectors in the office, the City has promised additional inspectors and stopped all crane operations for a few days. But now the race to develop new construction in the city is back on. Much new construction is actually illegal or in violation of zoning laws, but it continues hoping to slip through

If workers or residents have been killed in the latest disaster, they are certainly victims of runaway development in Manhattan, which has gone almost unfettered during the economic recession. Corruption, rapacious greed, graft, government incompetence and lack of oversight has led to this situation and more construction accidents will happen until a drastic change will happen.

Update: Two are reported dead and several others injured at day's end. We all mourn for them and feel for their families.

Friday, May 16, 2008

We Are All Sean Bell

I was arrested last Wednesday.

It was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.

I was not alone.

That afternoon at six locations around New York City, thousands of people of all races gathered to protest the innocent verdict in the police killing of Sean Bell and to call attention to the larger issue of reforming the New York Police Department.

Dozens of us then peacefully moved to block key transportation hubs in a well-orchestrated “pray-in,” to force the city to listen to community demands.

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Bell’s family and friends led a group to the nearby entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Police blocked our way. News trucks swarmed. Commuters stopped to watch. A young white office worker in a necktie and button-down shirt approached me and asked if it was too late to get arrested.

We knelt in prayer, were warned several times of our impending arrest, and were eventually segregated by gender and carted off in buses to Central Booking.

We were Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist, union members, mothers, grandparents, students, clergy, veterans, journalists, business people, professionals. Members of SEIU Local 32BJ, Transport Workers Union Local 100 and other trade unions were in our number, as were members of the NAACP, Sharpton’s National Action League and United for Peace & Justice and City Councilman Charles Barron of Brooklyn.

Hours ticked off as we were photographed and cataloged. We greeted each other as long-lost friends. The men around me began chanting: “We are all Sean Bell!” The women somewhere distant chanted back: “We are all Sean Bell!”

Someone would begin: “Count it off!” and we screamed: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5 …” up to 50, the number of shots fired into Bell and his friends Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, all unarmed. Bell died just hours from his planned wedding. “50 shots means murder!”

My name was called. I was brought to a large room, circled in bulletproof glass. Inside, nearly 100 men were holding a spontaneous rally. The crowd welcomed me like a hero.

As an African American man, there is something counter-intuitive to voluntarily risking arrest. So it was powerful that, among the interracial crowd, African American men made up a majority. Many talked of their experiences in prison, their negative interactions with the police and their identification with Bell. One brave man said he was an ex-con, currently on parole, but was so angered by the Bell case that he asked permission from his parole officer to participate in the civil disobedience. While police violence affects everyone, Black men face a particular threat.

Even Benefield and Guzman, who had everything to fear from the police, were in the cell that day, both bearing bullet wounds that may never heal. Guzman addressed the men around him, saying, “I want to shake every one of your hands before I leave.”

Racist policing is so pervasive that it is hard to find an African American man who has not encountered the criminal justice system. But instead of fearing jail, dozens of Black men made a statement by getting arrested that day.

Numbers the NYPD released the week of our arrest prove the racial bias in city policing. Of the sobering half-million arrests made in the city in 2006, an indefensible 50.8 percent were of Blacks. Stops in the first quarter of 2008, in fact, were the highest ever. The police claim that their stop-and-frisk policies are based on actual complaints or suspect descriptions, but very few of those stopped were even arrested, let alone charged.

Just last week, police officers harassed and detained an African American who happened to be an off-duty police chief.

Yet almost everyone who spoke in the holding cell noted that the police killing of Bell, and all police violence, is a universal human rights issue. It is everyone’s business to solve.

One young man said, “This room looks like New York. We have Black and white, Latino and Asian.” He pointed out that everyone is at risk when the police can act with impunity — any New Yorker could have been killed that night, shot on the nearby train platform or in a neighboring apartment.

One by one we began being released. I was issued a ticket for disorderly conduct. But we had won the day. We had become galvanized, unified and dedicated to making the city fulfill the demand of justice for Sean Bell and real changes to policing.

We pledged to spread the word, to ensure that there is never another crime like those experienced by Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo or Abner Louima. We are all Sean Bell.

Libero Della Piana (ldellapiana @ is a resident of Harlem, N.Y., and chairperson of the New York State Communist Party.

Reprinted from the People's Weekly World.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Sean Bell Protests Rock New York City

By Dan Margolis

Nothing can bring Sean Bell, an African American man murdered by police officers on the eve of his wedding, back. But tens of thousands of New Yorkers and others are demanding that something be done to redress what most see as a travesty of justice: Not only was Sean Bell killed, and two of his friends wounded, when cops, unprovoked, fired fifty bullets at him, but of the five officers involved, only three were indicted—and each was acquitted on all counts.

New Yorkers and others, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network and a host of labor and community organizations, are demanding a federal civil rights suit be brought against the police officers involved, a special state prosecutor to review and prosecute claims of police brutality, and a police civilian review board with teeth.

On May 7, coordinated civil disobedience actions around Manhattan and Brooklyn brought out thousands of people to support these demands, and justice for Sean Bell. Overall, more than 200 people were arrested at the different sites, including Bell's wife Nicole Paultre Bell, the other shooting victims, Rev. Sharpton, N.Y. NAACP leader Hazel Dukes, leaders of United for Peace and Justice and of the Communist Party USA.

Sharpton said that this is just the beginning, and vowed further civil disobedience that would "shut this city down" if justice is not served.

Stephen Armstrong, Samuel Delgado, and others contributed to the multimedia in this article.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Labor Says No to Housing Cuts

By Samuel Delgado and Matt Parker

NEW YORK - Trade unionists, housing activists, and residents of New York City public housing gathered at City Hall today to protest the Bush administration's proposed budget cuts to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

Over the last eight years, the Bush administration has slashed the budget for NYCHA by $611 million. Bush's latest cuts could force NYCHA to lay off 190 more employees. According to the Teamsters Local 237, "Local 237/NYCHA members are stretched to the point of collapse, and residents of public housing – 500,000 citizens of NYC – are threatened with destruction of core services."

So today, Teamsters Local 237 staged a rally in front of New York City Hall to raise awareness about the public housing crisis in New York City.

James, a retiree with Local 237, told the PWW that "The Bush administration has cut the budget, and the people that do the work in the project, like the maintenance guys and the caretakers, they're not making any money. They [the Bush administration] are taking the money from us and putting it in their pockets."

Pastor Samuel Washington, a preacher from Pennsylvania and founder of World Balance, a global interfaith organization struggling for social equality, gave a speech to the crowd about the importance of public housing, and his experiences growing up living in public housing.

Later, in an exclusive with the World, Pastor Washington told us that "this is about raising awareness - President Bush has issues, and those are important and we're concerned about those too, but he needs to know about our issues and the struggles we're facing."