Monday, October 14, 2013

Riding with Right of Way: STREET JUSTICE ACTIVISTS STENCIL MEMORIALS FOR 8 CHILDREN KILLED BY AUTOMOBILE THIS YEAR

Names of a few of the kids killed this year by cars.
Photo Right of Way



All last week, kids lined up along Prospect Park to pay homage to Sammy, a 12-year-old boy run over by a truck in Park Slope.  His death was the topic at church, at school, everywhere. 



sammy park slope by killed by julie markes

His case opens any number of questions:  why are cars allowed to speed near parks?  Why not add slow zones, restricting car speeds to 20-miles-per-hour in most residential areas and ticket violators?  What is the NYPD approach to investigating car crashes impacting the lives of pedestrians and cyclists? Why are there
so few speed camera’s tracking wreck less drivers?   Why are there so few other disincentives to dangerous driving?   And why is it that we are forced to take our lives in our hands just to ride a cycle or walk in this global city where most can acknowledge that non-polluting transportation is part of the solution to so many problems – from congestion to climate change?

With a few of these questions in mind, I joined Right of Way for a fifty mile ride on Sunday to sites where children have been killed by automobiles this year.  This was to their second such action in recent weeks. The group combines direct action with abundant research, laying out data, art, stencils and questions to help reframe questions about street justice in New York City.

The ride started in Staten Island where cyclists stenciled a memorial for Kyrillos Gendy, Age 5, who killed  by a hit-and-run driver on  Richmond Road, Staten Island.

I met everyone on the Manhattan side of the Ferry landing.   A group of cyclists, including Isabelle, a long time Times Up participant, were already there. 



From Lower Manhattan we rode up the West Side bike path to the 97th and Amsterdam, to create a memorial for Ariel Russo, Age 4, who was killed on the sidewalk.  

Several neighborhood members walked up to talk with us about the crash and now scary it is out there.  “You should not have to wear a construction helmet just to get around the city,” noted one man, nodding a my hat.



Our next stop was a 117th and 1st Ave for Amar Diarrassouba, Age 6, who was killed walking in a crosswalk.  The police declared “No Criminality Suspected.”  



Finishing this stencil, we got news of another crash at 116th and 2nd Ave.  So a group of us rode over, finding police parked in the bike lane, where they professed to be ticketing cars.  Instead they pulled over one of us, as the ambulance was leaving the scene.   The police seemed more concerned with the paint on his shoes than the crash which had just taken place.




Police were everywhere so we got back to our ride.  The next destination Jackson Heights Queens.  We would have to cross the Queensboro Bridge to get there. 



It was my first time riding over it.   And what an amazing ride it was.  It is always exhilarating crossing a bridge on a bike, with the wind in my face taking in the vistas of our magnificent city.
Queens was a new riding experience for me.  It is beautiful and raw. But cars drive fast.  And bike lanes are few and far in between. 



Our first stop there was for Jaied Figueroa, Age 3, who was killed by a car driving northbound in the crosswalk.  The driver was later charged with vehicular manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and DWI.



Several of us took in the scene.


Right of Way. 


 By this point, it was getting close to sundown. By this point, it was getting to the magic hour, as photographers dub it, when the sun is just about to go down.  The light was wonderful, cascading through the sky, as we rode past Citifield through the interstate to Flushing Queens, one of the most diverse areas, within perhaps the most diverse borough in New York City.



“It reminds me of Los Angeles” I noted.
“Or Seoul, North Korea,” we chatted.



We were to get a stencil for Allison Liao, age three, who was killed walking with the light in the crosswalk crossing Cherry.  “It is the most common way pedestrians are killed in the city,” noted Michael, of Right of Way.  Still the police declared “No Criminality Suspected.”    Arriving we saw a memorial already in place for Allison.  By standards were there to talk with us.  One man reported he actually saw the crash but he was afraid to go on camera.  This scene felt more vivid than most of the rest.  I kept on imagining the child’s last glimpse up at a car, her parent’s reaction, and the hollow feeling of grief they must be feeling row. 




At each stop someone explains what we were doing.  I talked about what happened here.

Right of Way!


It was now close to dark.  One of my friends brought some mochi candy, which fueled us through our trip through Queens.  Past the Queen Museum, past the side of the world’s fair, we rode.

“We grew up here.  Used to play in this park,” noted Judy.



Darker and darker, past BBQs into residential areas, we crossed the borough.  I always think of Kitty Genovese’s seemingly silent, at least, unheard screams as I traverse through Queens. She was ignored. Her needs were neglected like so many cyclists and pedestrians lost this year. You always wonder how many unheard screams take place in our streets and darker corners, behind buildings, in the vacant lots and parking garages, in the empty corners of our city. 

Kitty, whose neglected screams still haunt us. 


“Are you guys sure you know where you are going?”  I asked, looking at the now black night, the October sky with a full moon above.  Still, we rode, chatting about punk movies and the chaos lurking below the surface of the suburban landscape.

One rider after another got lost, including me.
“Wait up!” I screamed after missing a light.
“It’s a good thing you have a loud voice,” one of the riders noted, waiting for me.

I rarely have any idea where I am in Queens, still we rode, as the ride seemed to envelop us.  With each destination, I felt farther from home.



And we slowly made our way through the dark streets to the periphery of Queens and Brooklyn where Puran Thapa, age 7, was killed on Myrtle Ave near Madison Street in Ridgewood.  “No criminality suspected” of the driver



By this point, it was 7:15 PM, way past dinner time.  And I had been riding with Right of Way through this glorious fall day, for some five plus hours.  And I still had forty five minutes to get home. 

Riding down Myrtle, I took a left on Dekalb and made my way back to Brooklyn.  There is an exhilaration to direct action.  But also weariness that so many have suffered too much, often invisibly in our global city.  The stories of their losses reduced to old newspaper print, or blog entries, which are eventually lost.   The others with Ride of Way were riding to Sunset Park to draw memorials for Denim McLean, Age 3, killed on the sidewalk on Utica Avenue and Church Avenue, East Flatbush and Kiko Shao, age 5, killed on 55th St crossing 5th Avenue, Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  No criminality suspected for either crash.  I missed those stops in an afternoon of riding which seemed to go on forever. And I missed the beginning and end.

There is so much more we can all do to create livable streets, starting with creating slow zones in all our neighborhoods.  A kid should be able to be a kid.  And if, he runs out to grab a ball, drivers should be looking out for him.  Speed cameras and slow zones would move us a long way toward having less names of such fatalities.

A Press release for the action declared:
What: Bicycle ride to 8 locations in Staten Island, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens where children under 8 years old were killed by automobile. At each site a memorial will be created.

When: 11:30 noon

Where: Staten Island Ferry Terminal, Manhattan


New York, NY: UPDATE: On Sunday, October 13th, street justice activists with Right of Way will respond by cycling more than 50 miles, through 4 boroughs, to stencil 8 sites where children younger than 8 have been killed by automobile this year. In 5 of these cases, the NYPD has not filed any charges. In one, the NYPD charged the driver only with leaving the scene but not with any crime connected with the child’s death. In only two was the driver charged with any substantial offense: in one, the driver was fleeing police in a high-speed chase; in the other, the driver was DUI.
                                               
“Instead of investigating the crash site to determine the driver’s speed or checking phone records to determine if the driver was distracted, the NYPD routinely blames the victim, declaring the child the perpetrator of his or her own murder for doing something all kids do, like playing with a ball,” said Keegan Stephan, a member of Right of Way.
                                               
“Right now, from Staten Island to Flushing, it is unsafe to be a child on the streets of New York City,” said Stephan. “We have to start enforcing traffic laws that protect pedestrians, cyclists and children being children. We have to start by charging drivers with the appropriate crimes when they break those laws.”


“When I grew up I rode everywhere,” notes Right of Way member Benjamin Shepard, a father of two.  “But now we’re concerned that the roads present a real risk for our kids and our communities. You should not put your life on the line when you ride a bike through the city. The NYPD’s dereliction of duty is killing people every day.”
                                               
“City streets are the common property of all of us, but they've been expropriated by drivers, with the active collusion of the NYPD,” said Michael Smith, another member of Right of Way. “If you want to get away with murder in this town, do it with a car. The cops won’t investigate. In fact, they’ll sympathize.”


Write Bill De Blasio and Brad Lander - let them know this is unacceptable.  We need street justice. Let them know we need a police department which cares as much about saving lives and public health as it does about reducing crime.  One would think these things are one and the same.  Yet, sadly, they are often not. And if you do not want to write them, join Right of Way for our next ride. 

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