Can racial and religious profiling be made palatable if police are more polite?
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)


NEW YORK — June 17, 2012. While thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets on Sunday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg addressed a Brooklyn church saying that his Stop And Frisk policy needed “reform” — but can a policy widely regarded as racist be reformed?


The NAACP, LGBT organizations, and labor turned out in force to protest “Stop And Frisk”
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

On Sunday thousands of New Yorkers, including labor unions and the NAACP, joined a march that traveled across 110 Street and down Fifth Avenue, along Central Park’s eastern edge. The procession was a diverse group united in their opposition to the NYPD’s “Stop And Frisk” program that allows police to arbitrarily detain and search citizens. Statistically, “Stop And Frisk” targets Blacks and Latinos.


The UAW fielded a large contingent
composed of various locals from Region 9A
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)


A protester suggests that turnabout would be fair play
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

The march ended at 77 Street, near Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s apartment. The march was silent, at the request of the organizers who wanted an event that was dignified and disciplined. However, when the procession reached the mayor’s home, a small number of protesters began chanting. After allegedly defying police orders to disperse, nine protesters were arrested.


The march was silent – at the organizers’ request
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

The sheer size of the silent procession, held on Father’s Day, underscored the widespread opposition to Stop And Frisk and NYPD spying on Muslims — two programs described by critics as racial profiling.


Stop And Frisk is often compared to Jim Crow
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

Racial and religious profiling have unfortunate historical precedents. If “Stop And Frisk” and NYPD spying are based on race or religious affiliation can these programs be made less problematic if the police are more courteous, as the mayor argues? Can an arbitrary procedure, conducted by armed individuals with arrest powers — targeting unarmed, often underage and frightened, individuals — be regarded as acceptable if the police are more polite? Can syntactical sugar sweeten what most regard as an offensive and humiliating experience?


NYC Comptroller John Liu is an opponent of Stop And Frisk
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

Many of the signs carried by protesters in Sunday’s march compared Stop And Frisk to Jim Crow laws and law enforcement tactics. Could Jim Crow have been reformed to the point where it would be deemed acceptable? In legal terms, at what point does an arbitrary detention and search violate the Fourth Amendment? While the Constitution does not address the issue of courtesy it is seemingly straightforward on the issue of protection from “unreasonable search and seizure.”


Many New Yorkers regard arbitrary searches as a civil rights violation
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN) notes that, “The Fourth Amendment was written directly in response to British general warrants (called Writs of Assistance), in which the Crown would grant general search powers to British law enforcement officials. These officials could search virtually any home they liked, at any time they liked, for any reason they liked or for no reason at all.”


(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

Prior to the march, the NAACP’s Hazel Dukes sent out an email with the subject line “Skin Color Is Not Probable Cause.” This statement seems a reasonable assertion to this observer — it seems self-evident. And no amount of artificial sweetener can alter this reality.


View Photos From The Protest…


On Father’s Day a number of children marched with their parents
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)


The Town Square occupation was accompanied by free music
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)


STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — June 16, 2012. Music, food, free kitsch, and a good old-fashioned teach-in — rechristened an “Occupy Think Tank” — these were the ingredients in Occupy Staten Island’s “Town Square Event” held earlier today.


The commons was traditionally a place for the public to talk politics
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

A short distance from Staten Island’s ferry terminal, a group of activists reclaimed Tompkinsville Park as a commons for several hours today — occupying the public space in the name of the movement that has come to represent 21st century participatory democracy.


The Occupy Staten Island “Think Tank”
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

The Occupy Staten Island activists gave away silk screened OSI patches, offered screened tshirts for a donation, demonstrated how to make pasta from scratch, held group discussions and self-education sessions, and asked visitors to sign petitions calling for an end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan and the creation of a single payer health care system.


The Town Hall program
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

In one corner of the square, a man playing acoustic guitar jammed with a multi-instrumentalist who alternated between his accordion and a melodica. They were joined later by a woman with a conga drum who kept time in an understated, soothing, way. Overall, the event had a relaxed quality and the Parks Department police, seeing nothing worth worrying about, didn’t interfere. An NYPD community affairs cop drove by the park occasionally but didn’t stop.


Two Occupy activists share a moment
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

Additional “Town Square” events are planned for next month: on July 8, Occupy activists will hold an Occupy Bushwick Town Square in Maria Hernandez Park and on July 22, a Town Square event will take place in Jackson Heights, Queens.

(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)


View Photos From The Event…


A young photographer visits the grave of a pioneer
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — June 11, 2012. On Saturday a group of Staten Islanders paid homage to Alice Austen — a photographer whose style anticipated modern photojournalism, an independent woman who owned and repaired an automobile, and a lesbian whose photographs broke through the mores and taboos of the time in which she lived.


Alice Austen in 1951
(Photo: Wikipedia)

Elizabeth Alice Austen (March 17, 1866 — June 9, 1952) was a native Staten Islander who became a photographer shortly after her uncle, Oswald Müller, introduced her to the medium, in 1876. Another of Austen’s uncles, Peter Townsend Austen, taught her photographic processing. Over the course of 40 years Austen produced 8,000 photographs, half of which survived her passing.

Austen lived and worked in her parent’s house, in the Rosebank neighborhood of Staten Island. The house, built in the 17th Century, overlooks New York harbor and is a national historical landmark and a city park. It affords a spectacular view of the Verrazano Narrows and the bridge that spans the entrance to New York’s busy harbor.


One of Alice Austen’s large format cameras
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

In 1917, Austen was joined at “Clear Comfort,” as the house was called, by her lifelong companion, Gertrude Amelia Tate (1871-1962) of Brooklyn. Alice and “Trude” weathered good times and bad — Austen lost her inheritance in the stock market crash of 1929 and sold her belongings in an attempt to keep her family home. By 1950 she had become destitute and moved into the New York City Farm Colony, Staten Island’s poorhouse. Her fortune improved in late 1951, as a result of a story in Life magazine that featured her travel photos, and Austen was able to move to a nursing home. Supported by the Staten Island Historical Society, Austen remained at the home until her death in 1952. Austen and Tate had both requested they be buried next to one another but the respective families denied this request. Austen was buried in the family plot at Staten Island’s Moravian Cemetery.

Regarded as a social critic for her photographs of immigrants and minorities — and for her photographs of previously undocumented aspects of lesbian life — Austen is remembered fondly by progressives as well as photographers. Even New York City’s most conservative borough has seen fit to name both a ferry boat and a public school after its most famous photographer.

On Saturday, June 9, a dozen Staten Islanders paid tribute to Austen by gathering at her gravesite. Almost all of those in attendance brandished cameras.


Paying respects…
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

Event organizer Gerard Mawn read a poem aloud in a brief ceremony honoring Ms. Austen. “Crossing The Bar” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson — the same poem that was read at Austen’s funeral — is a poignant piece that deals with death. It contains a number of maritime metaphors that are particularly apt as Austen spent most of her life at “Clear Comfort,” her Rosebank home, overlooking New York’s harbor.

Expressing his desire to see Austen’s legacy preserved, Mawn pointed out that Moravian has allowed the gravesite to deteriorate.


Event organizer Gerard Mawn
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

“What’s really important I think is that we need to call attention to what’s happening here. That this person who has contributed so much to Staten Island society — photographs, and history, and documentation — has a plot that needs work, that needs to be restored to the way that it was. And even Alice’s grave area should honor her in the way in the way that she’s being honored by having a ferryboat in her honor, and a school on the Island in her honor, and the museum, in her honor. So that we preserve our history,” Mawn said.

The former home of Alice Austen, now a museum as well as a park, is also endeavoring to preserve the photographer’s legacy – displaying her work, her cameras, and supporting local photographers — many of whom, like Austen herself, remain largely unappreciated outside of the “forgotten borough.” Supporters hope that one day Austen’s work will appear in the galleries of New York’s premier museums. In the interm the Staten Island Historical Society and the Alice Austen Museum redeem the current ahistorical moment with individual acts of remembrance.


The Alice Austen Museum’s front porch…
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

View Photos/Videos From The Event…


…affords a spectacular view of New York Harbor
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

To learn more about Alice Austen:


Two young Marines taking part in the 2012 Memorial Day observance
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)


STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — MAY 28, 2012. Memorial Day is a solemn affair for former Marine and National Guardsman Ghanim Khalil — but it is a different story for the average American, distracted by electronic gadgets and the other accoutrements of affluence. What follows is Khalil’s take on Memorial Day and Modern Memory (or lack thereof). The accompanying photographs are from the Staten Island observance of the holiday — held on May 28, 2012.


Memorial Day And Modern Memory
by Ghanim Khalil


A distracted drummer
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

Memorial Day (originally Decoration Day) has solemn origins – to remember those who died to protect “these United States.” Coming at the end of an extremely violent civil war, which claimed the lives of over half a million Americans, Memorial Day was a time for reflection. There was much to reflect upon and much to be thankful for. The nation was badly bruised but remained one. People visited the graves of troops, decorated them with flowers, cried, and remembered.

The Marine in the foreground is wearing an Afghanistan Campaign ribbon with two service stars
(top right of the topmost ribbon bar)
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

Memorial Day is many things to many Americans today: a time for shopping and sales, a time for family gatherings and barbeques, a time to hope for beautiful weather so you can visit the beach or park, a time to watch stunning displays of military machinery in action, or a time to pay passing respects to the dead soldiers of the various wars/conflicts of America’s past and present. Slogans of honoring the war dead fill every communication medium technology provides. They seem ritualistic, not genuine. They seem hollow, not heart-felt. Social network sites buzz with single sentences recalling the name of this day in the usual nationalistic styles. Some of these sentences start with the word ‘happy’ thus linguistically reducing a day of remembering the war dead to the consumerized holidays of Valentine’s Day and Halloween.

A “Purple Heart” (medal given to wounded military personnel) float
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

There is another important issue and that is the wars we fight. Not enough Americans care to know why we fight and why so many “had to die”, besides the spoon fed nationalistic reasons we are expected not to question. “We fight to protect freedom” or “we fight for the American way of life”, or these days, “we are fighting the war on terrorism”, and thus, complex (in often endless shades of gray) human events are reduced to fit a simplistic “us versus them” ideology. The important historical, political and economic contexts before, during, and after our wars (which provide the most accurate accounts of reality) need not be sought for clarification. Why seek them when we are so busy shopping, barbecuing, playing, and being happy? We are satisfied with displaying outward forms of respect for the war dead via flags or buying products of all types displaying the red, white, and blue.

A Vietnam Veteran carrying combat gear
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

Since the rise of the United States as a global superpower, for those who notice, there have been multiple examples of the nation’s involvement in military actions overseas that later turn out to be not so honorable or consistent with American ideals. The war in Vietnam began with a lie (the Gulf of Tonkin myth) which led to 58,000 dead U.S. troops and personnel and over two million dead Vietnamese. In more recent times, the war on Iraq (2003) represents an important example of how fear-mongering and hate can lead to unnecessary death and destruction: over 4,200 dead American troops and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, but no weapons of mass destruction. We are still fighting the idealistic “war on terrorism” (and employing methods of violence we supposedly deplore, like torture, humiliation, collective punishments, extraordinary renditions, illegal detainments, and other violations of human rights), and the death rate steadily increases with scant attention by the American media and people of who is actually dying (which includes a substantial number of innocent civilians).

A young ROTC cadet
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

Somewhere in time America grew into an empire, today struggling to keeps its place and influence in the world both most effective and most relevant, but “we the people” persistently refuse to acknowledge this reality regardless of how evident it has become. Unnecessary conflicts continue, yielding more troop deaths, yet we simply want to celebrate or commemorate our holidays in the current ideological, materialistic, and apathetic ways that keep us content.


The Future?
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

Memorial Day today is less the weeping of loved ones over the graves of dead troops or important reflection about war and its multiple consequences. Today Memorial Day is a day of sunshine and thoughtlessness.


Ghanim Khalil was born in England and moved to New York City when he was 11. He is a former U.S. Marine and NYC National Guardsman and a member of Peace Action Staten Island and Iraq Veterans Against the War. He spoke out against the war on Iraq in 2003 and continues to write and speak about the negative consequences of war. Being a practicing Muslim, he has worked with other Americans of different backgrounds in inter-faith activities and bridge-building. He currently lives in Staten Island, New York.