Christopher Robbins and Ghana Think Tank in the Microsphere at Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Ghana Think Tank Open Hours:
Monday, June 18 12-2PM (at Flock House)
Tuesday, June 19 12-2PM (at Flock House)
Thursday, June 21 5-7PM (at Flock House)
Friday, June 22, 5-7PM (at Flock House)
Saturday, June 23, 2PM (at Queens Museum of Art)
Tuesday, June 26 12-2PM (at Flock House)
Wednesday, June 27 12-2PM (at Flock House)
Thursday, June 28 5-7PM (at Flock House)
Friday, June 29, 5-7PM (at Flock House)
Saturday, June 30, 2PM (Closing Event at Flock House)
Christopher Robbins Log:
June 29, 2012
Street Vendors At a workshop of Illegal Laws Ghana ThinkTank ran at Immigrant Movement International, people started to talk about the issues street vendors face in Corona, and we began work on the next sign:
In the 1920's new Immigrants to Corona supported their families and began to establish themselves by selling their wares on the street. Several generations later, these Immigrant families now run vibrant, established businesses in Corona (here I think we'll list a few, or make references that make it clear which we are speaking about).
Today, new Immigrants to Corona try to support their families and begin to establish themselves by selling their wares on the street. They are fined and thrown off the street.
Obviously it needs more research and some major editing, but that is the general idea.
And check out the Street Vendor Project, a part of the Urban Justice Center, a non-profit organization that provides legal representation and advocacy to various marginalized groups of New Yorkers.
June 28, 2012
Are you a man or a woman? Should it matter to the Police?
Finalized the text for our first sign today, meant to deal with unfair treatment of people in the Transgender community.
Now to translate and order, though finding Spanish for "gender-identity" has been difficult...
Also learned about a bill that will make condoms inadmissable as evidence in court. This is clearly designed so that sex-workers will not be discouraged from using condoms in their work (there is one article about the ridiculous reality of NYC distributing condoms to sex workers for their safety and then confiscating them as evidence when Police arrest them - Giving Away, and Then Seizing, Condoms - NY Times), it has been a big issue with Police harassment in the Transgender community. The stories we heard concerned Police questioning Transgender people as if they were prostitutes, and upon finding condoms, arresting them!
According to The Sex Workers Project, "on June 6, 2012, the No Condoms As Evidence Bill passed the Assembly Codes Committee! On June 7, it passed the Assembly Rules Committee “ we are now waiting for the whole Assembly to vote on the bill."
Looks like this won't go into effect until November 2012, but here's the beginning of a thought for a sign related to that...
June 26, 2012
A big Italian restaurant, with tables full of white-haired ladies and middle aged men, and at the end of the restaurant, with a mic, police officers taking complaints.
"Those kids, with their loud music, smoking their weed at 3 in the morning!"
"Homeless people are sleeping on my doorstep"
"That club is torturing my wife with their loud music. We cannot sleep for all the noise!"
An hour of a half of this, and then finally, it is my turn,
"I am from Little Neck, but I am doing this for some people who live in Jackson Heights. They are transgender - men who live as women. They go out as women and they get harassed by police as prostitutes. They're going out to clubs together and they get profiled as sex workers, stop and frisked, and if the police find condoms on them, they arrest them as sex workers. They are out going to clubs together; they are not selling sex, and ending up in prison puts a damper on their evening, to say the least. How can we stop this harassment?"
So ends a pretty full day working with the Flock House.
It started with an interview by S.P. Weather Station out by the flock house in a blustery windy day (the mosquitoes still own the flock house for the time being, so we are working from a nearby bench - ahhh the unexpected travaillles of experimental structures).
Then over to Immigrant Movement International to work out some details for Thursday's ILLEGAL LAWS workshop, and catch up on last week's LEGAL WORKSHOP, which covered the effects of the new Dreamer Law ordered by U.S. president Obama on Friday June 15, 2012 and the new Family Unity Waiver proposed by Homeland Security last April.
Then over to Jackson Heights to learn more about Make the Road's work on police profiling and abuse of people in the transgender community.
And on from there to the Police Department's community meeting to ask police about their treatment of transgender people. This was a culture shock for sure. Not sure what the result was, other than humanizing the position of being Transgender in Queens to 100 or so community-members and a dozen or so police officers. I will follow up with individual meetings in the 110th and 115th precinct this week, and try to work up some related street signs to see if they can push the issues. Heck, the police guidelines are now in line with NYC's Human Rights law, so we're simply asking them to live up to their word...
June 22, 2012
We Make the Road by walking
We've been very inspired in our Flock House work by an organization called Make The Road NY, a community advocacy group based in Bushwick, Brooklyn; Jackson Heights, Queens; Port Richmond, Staten Island; and Brentwood, Long Island. They take their name from the poem by Antonio Machado:
Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace el camino al andar. Searcher, there is no road. We make the road by walking.
Their mission is to "build the power of Latino and working class communities," and Ghana ThinkTank first learned about them last summer, when we began our Corona ThinkTank project with the Queens Museum of Art and Creative Time.
Make the Road has recently launched a new stop and frisk initiative: "By sowing deep mistrust between police officers and the communities they are supposed to protect, discriminatory Stop and Frisk policing makes community members feel less protected and, consequently, less likely to report real crimes... More than four million people have been stopped under the Bloomberg Administration, and yet no gun was retrieved in 99.9 percent of stops last year."
Reading about more people's stories made me think of a Ghana ThinkTank project began last summer, which tried to bridge that gap of assumption between police and those who "fit the profile."
Last summer Ghana ThinkTank ended up focusing a lot of its attention on issues of discrimination against more recent Immigrants to Corona, particularly racial profiling. On the advice of our prison think tank, and taking a page out of Adrian Piper's book, we created these Race Cards to hand to police who are using racial profiling:
ESTEEMED OFFICER, I understand that it is your right to stop and question me. Clearly you feel that I have given you some reason to doubt the integrity of my behavior. After all, I have been standing here for some time with no apparent reason for doing so. Then again you know, as I know, that there is nothing necessarily criminal about this—but perhaps it is my age, race and gender that concern you. I am well aware that over 84% of the allegations of police misconduct made in Corona, Queens involve young black or Latino males.
I fit the profile.
This is foremost in my mind as you approach me. I want you to know that I respect the premise of your role and that I acknowledge the risk of personal peril that you undertake each time you report for duty. But you should also know that your rigid stare evokes in me a sense of vulnerability and apprehension that seems out of place in our relationship: you an officer of the peace and me a member of this community you swore to serve and protect. Regardless, here we are and we must make the best of this unpleasant circumstance.
I assure that I will behave in a deferential and cooperative manner while carefully noting the details of our encounter: your name, badge number, and patrol car number. I ask only that you treat me with courtesy, professionalism, and respect.
And on the flip side, the Prison Think Tank suggested we reach out to the Police directly, to see if they could help us bridge that gap with the question "Could you please highlight the difference between the cop's world and the real world?" You can see some of the officers' responses here.
June 20, 2012
First Day at Flock House
For the next two weeks I will be at Flock House in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, continuing an action that Ghana ThinkTank started with Queens Museum last summer: Legal Waiting Zones:
Talking to people along Roosevelt Avenue in Corona last summer, the Ghana ThinkTank discovered that authorities were using an illegal law to stop people from waiting outside. In fact, we soon learned that NYPD was being held in contempt of court for applying this unconstitutional "loiter law," and that we do, in fact, have the right to wait outside. So, we started to put up signs that said so. This summer, we are researching further abuses of power on the street, so that they can be similarly publicized. Ghana ThinkTank will be working with Mary Mattingly's Flock house and the Queen's Museum of Art to point out these illegal laws in the places where they are being abused.
In short, we will use the Flock House as a base from which to look further into laws that affect the different waves of Immigrants that have settled in the neighborhood. The idea is to make 'offical' traffic signs that point out rights that people already have. So, our First Day at Flock House I entered an attack of the waterbugs! An intense swarm of some local insects had moved in before I had a chance, so, tomorrow we are hoping to move the pod to less buggy climes. In the meantime, I was joined by Xris and Paige, and we headed into Corona to find some Illegal Laws. The walk was bookended by street ice - the famous Corona Lemon Ice King on one side, and a wonderful concoction of cactus and celery on the other. In between was tougher - need to modify the call - it quickly changed from 'Illegal' Laws to 'annoying' laws, and then down to things that seem 'unfair.' And then I started feeling like this was all backwards, starting with a specific angle rather than setting a scenario to let one arrive. You know I get super sensitive when I meddle with other people's business. Anyway, after 2 hours of pounding the pavement in the sun talking to people who felt everything was fine (which is fine - we're not just ferreting for misery - so why does it sound that way?), we rolled over to Immigrant Movement International for a helpful planning session. It feels like this sign idea has a lot of traction with different organizations. So we're going to set up and attend a few workshops and take it from there. One ironically appropriate moment in the day came here: After a day talking with citizens about creating their own signs to point out rights they already have, to make sure laws are fairly applied, we bump into this DIY sign, in which people had repurposed an existing traffic sign for their more local priorities: