Earth Day yesterday was a soggy affair. You’re looking at the scene in Chinatown, an event sponsored by the new Chinatown Business Improvement District in Columbus Park. After donning plastic ponchos and posing for photos, participants fanned out across the neighborhood to pick up garbage along several routes.
City Council member Margaret Chin and NYC Comptroller John Liu co-sponsored the cleanup day. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was also on hand to give a few words of encouragement. Among the participants: lots of community activists, but also students from Emma Lazarus High School, Stuyvesant High School and kids from the United East Athletic Association.
Hundreds of community activists and concerned residents marched from the Army recruiting office at 143 Chambers Street to Columbus Park last night, asking one question: “what happened to Danny Chen?” It has been two-and-a-half months since the 19-year old private – who grew up on the Lower East Side – was found dead at a military base in Afghanistan. The tragedy has struck a nerve in Chinatown, where reports that the young man was tormented, beaten and subjected to anti-Asian slurs have understandably caused great alarm.
The rally was planned by the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA), which has been leading a coordinated campaign not only to pressure the Pentagon to conduct a fair and thorough investigation, but also to address anti-Asian bigotry in the Armed Forces. A number of elected officials spoke last night, demanding justice. Chen’s mother, Su Zhen Chen, stood at their side, holding a framed photo of her son and occasionally weeping.
Yesterday afternoon, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stopped by Columbus Park to check on the installation of a statue honoring Dr. Sun Yat-sen. The Chinese doctor and pro-democracy leader is a hero to many in Chinatown. The statue will be formally unveiled by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association Saturday (noon), which would have been Sen Yat-sen’s 145th birthday. Silver posed for photos with CCBA president Jack Eng (standing next to the Speaker) and other Chinatown leaders. Silver and others are helping to persuade the Parks Department that the statue should stay in Columbus Park permanently (right now the city has only agreed to a one-year permit).
This Sunday, August 7, from 11-4, Asian Americans for Equality hosts its annual Chinatown Summer Streets Festival. Held in Columbus Park and along Bayard between Baxter and Mott Streets, the festival promotes Chinatown businesses and highlights the cultural and historical richness of the community. The Hester Street Collaborative will bring the “Waterfront on Wheels” – used to educate and encourage participation in the planned open space being developed on the East River.
June 23 marks the 29th anniversary of the bludgeoning death of Vincent Chin, who was beaten with a baseball bat by two white auto-workers in a hate crime in Detroit in 1982. Thursday evening, a vigil to honor him is planned in Columbus Park, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
We attended a meeting of the 5th Precinct Community Council Wednesday night, in which heated discussion was anticipated regarding the May 8th arrest in Chinatown’s Columbus Park of a Chinese immigrant and musician. Yi Zhuo Wu was arrested for playing and using a microphone without a sound permit and was allegedly mistreated by four NYPD officers. The incident was captured on videotape and posted to YouTube, garnering more than 60,000 views.
Notably, there was very little heat or discussion last night. Representatives from CAAAV (Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) attended the meeting and held yellow signs in their laps that read: “No permit, No excuse,” but didn’t use them. When CAAAV’s Esther Wang asked about the May 8 incident, an official with the 5th Precinct deflected, saying that the Dept. of Internal Affairs is investigating the situation and that nothing further could be clarified pending the investigation. He commented that while the video looks bad—Wu is bloodied and beaten—“you only see half of what happened, there are 20 more minutes before that point.”
We’ve been following the controversy that erupted in Chinatown after the videotaped arrest of a man in Columbus Park earlier this month. City Councilmember Margaret Chin, as well as representatives from the offices of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Borough President Scott Stringer and community groups met today with 5th Precinct officers and Parks Department officials. Tonight Chin has put out a press release, which reads in part:
The 5th Precinct Community Council ‘s monthly meeting will be held tomorrow night (7 p.m., 21 Spring Street). We’ll be there to see whether residents question precinct commanders about the Columbus Park incident.
On June 27th, Community Board 3 is planning a meeting in Columbus Park to go over rules for granting sound permits.
An update on a story we reported yesterday — the continuing controversy surrounding the videotaped takedown and arrest of a 64 year old man in Columbus Park earlier this month. City Councilmember Margaret Chin had been scheduled to meet with the leadership of the 5th Precinct today to discuss the incident. We received word last night that the meeting has been cancelled. No explanation was given for the cancellation.
Police officers did attend a meeting at State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office last week, which also included Wu Yizuo (the man who was arrested), Parks Department officials and representatives of Community Board 3. But the conversation was focused solely on procedures for obtaining Parks Department permits for musical events. The questions surrounding police conduct during the may 8th confrontation were not discussed.
The NYPD has had virtually nothing to say publicly about the ordeal, which has been the talk of Chinatown for more than a week. Presumably, the issue will have to be dealt with one way or another during the 5th Precinct’s Community Council meeting a week from Wednesday.
An incident that occurred in Columbus Park on Mother’s Day is continuing to stir strong emotions in Chinatown. This week, City Councilmember Margaret Chin will be talking with top cops in the 5th Precinct about the ordeal, which was videotaped and (as of this morning) has been viewed nearly 60,000 times on YouTube.
The conflict arose after officers, responding to a 311 complaint, told members of the Street Musical Club they could not use a microphone, since they had no Parks Department permit. An argument between a Chinese speaking officer and 64-year old Wu Yizuo (a club organizer) led to the spectacle depicted in the video; several officers pinned the man to the ground and arrested him, as onlookers reacted angrily .
As you may have heard, many of New York City’s youth services are in danger of drastic cuts due to New York state’s budget deficit problems. On Saturday, the Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC) will host it’s biannual Walkathon and Family Day Fair. This year they will be walking to raise funds for their youth programs.
A large crowd came to a town hall meeting last night to speak out about the problems impacting Chinatown and its neighboring communities. The forum was sponsored by the Chinatown Working Group, a coalition of community organizations. The participants were greeted by protesters outside chanting, "Chinatown not for sale… Lower East Side not for sale."
Chinatown Working Group Chairman Jim Solomon said the idea is to come up with a comprehensive plan for the neighborhood encompassing housing, education, open space, cultural preservation, transportation and social services by the end of the year. Acknowledging skepticism that the organization's plans will actually be implemented, he emphasized the involvement of a broad cross-section of the community and elected officials. Solomon expressed some frustration that the protesters chose to stand outside rather than join the conversation.
It was impossible to miss the political subtext last night. City Councilman Alan Gerson, facing several challengers in September's primary election, addressed the forum, saying he's accomplished a lot for Chinatown but that "there is much more to do." Gerson reminded the crowd that he has pressed the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to withhold funds for the Chatham Square street redesign until community concerns are heard. He called on the LMDC to release $10 million to expand affordable housing in Chinatown and the Lower East Side.
Last night we posted a brief report about City Councilman Alan Gerson's town hall meeting on transportation issues. You can always count on plenty of passion from the people who live on the Lower East Side – and they did not disappoint. Even before the audience got their chance to vent, Gerson made it clear to the city transportation official (Commissioner Luis Sanchez) in attendance that his constituents are, to put it mildly, unhappy with recent changes to streets in the neighborhood.
Councilman John Liu, transportation committee chairman, made a cameo at the beginning of the meeting. He also acknowledged there is deep dissatisfaction not only with DOT decisions but also with the failure of the city to seek community feedback. Gerson pledged to follow up on every issue that was raised at this forum and the other town halls scheduled in lower Manhattan in the next few weeks.
The Grand Street bike lanes and center islands installed last year were ridiculed by several residents of Co-op Village. Harold Jacob accused DOT Commissioner Margaret Forgione of lying when she told him the center median was installed because pedestrians had been killed by cars on Grand Street. Jacob said he believed the changes had, in fact, made the street more dangerous. Because there is less room to maneuver, Jacob claimed fire trucks and ambulances can't safely pass through. "You've actually put lives in danger," he told DOT officials.
Another resident contended the islands, opposed by Community Board 3, were "arrogantly conceived and arrogantly carried out." More than one speaker blamed Mayor Bloomberg, accusing him of "destroying Grand Street." Some people demanded that the medians be removed – others wanted the bike lanes eliminated. Several residents claimed bicyclists on Grand Street are out of control, ignoring traffic signals, riding the wrong direction in the bike lanes and riding on sidewalks. They suggested the city require cyclists to be licensed. A few speakers complained about the parking meters installed on Grand, arguing that local businesses were being hurt because customers can't pay to park.
Other issues that were raised:
Gerson said he was committed to balancing the needs of automobiles, bicyclists and pedestrians in the city. He said he hoped the presence of the DOT officials last night meant a new era of cooperation with the community was about to begin. Gerson said he would hold another town hall May 19.
We spoke with a representative from Transportation Alternatives, the cycling and pedestrian advocacy organization, this afternoon. That interview will be posted soon.
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