To the editor:
(re: “Riverdale, South Bronx protesters not treated same,” Oct. 8)
Kirstyn Brendlen’s story on the front page of the Oct. 8 issue highlights how demonstrators in two communities — protesting the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis — receive totally different treatment by the police on June 4.
In a 99-page report Brendlen cites, Human Rights Watch detailed police abuses in the South Bronx that night.
Brendlen’s story specifically refers back to what happened in Mott Haven (part of the poorest congressional district in the United States), epicenter of COVID-19, where most residents are persons of color who suffer three to five times the number of hospitalizations, and twice the deaths nationwide.
Life expectancy in the South Bronx is five years shorter than in Riverdale.
Fumes from the Cross Bronx Expressway cause Mott Haven to be called “asthma alley.” In Riverdale — close to the Hudson River — the air is better. People are healthier partly because they are wealthier.
Food insecurity, job losses, housing inequity, educational and health care disparities — all are part of what makes life difficult in the South Bronx. And it’s a difficult place to exercise First Amendment rights. In Riverdale, protesters at the monument are protected by police. In the South Bronx, protesters get police harassment.
The fact that on June 4, more than 200 people there were subjected to “kettling” — herded in like cattle — and unable to make it home in time for the 8 p.m., curfew imposed by the mayor, made arrest inevitable. The very act they were protesting — the chokehold that killed George Floyd and sparked the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the country — rendered Mott Haven protesters as vulnerable as those demonstrating in Minneapolis.
Contrasting the experience in the South Bronx to that in Riverdale, Brendlen’s story made us feel the pain of more than 200 people (61 of whom were injured by the police) who were arrested, crowded into police buses, and held overnight. At what risk for COVID-19 did that overnight experience place them? There is a huge difference between an open-air demonstration and being packed in vans and in cells.
In the aftermath of the Human Rights Watch report, the mayor changed his mind about the police action, declaring on Brian Lehrer’s show in early October that “the police got it wrong on this one.” The matter still remains open.
As William Carlos Williams wrote, “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably … for lack of what is found there.” Poetry depends on the similarities of “what is found there.”
But on this occasion, The Riverdale Press became a forum that let its readers find poetic justice simply by pointing out differences in terms of the very privilege that so divides our nation.