Family of Inwood Man Killed by Policeman Still Seeking Answers

By Cherlynn Low for Northattan

After Inwood resident John Collado was shot and killed by a plainclothes police officer last year when he intervened in what turned out to be a drug bust along Post Avenue, his family said he was just trying to help a man he knew when he stepped in the fight.

Police reports of the incident said the plainclothes detective was in the process of arresting Collado’s neighbor Rangel Batista, 23, who appeared to be involved in a drug transaction, when Collado, 43, grabbed the detective from behind and placed
him in a chokehold. The detective, after struggling with the two men, fired one round from his weapon, striking Collado in the abdomen. He died from his injury hours later.

In March this year, a grand jury declined to indict the detective who shot Collado, James Connelly. That left Collado’s family enraged and devastated.

“We believe that the DA didn’t present a case that questioned the criminally negligent homicide aspect,” said Joseph Wright, Collado’s brother-in-law, “And the grand jury, without that information, decided not to indict.”

The family is frustrated at what they believe to be the shirking of responsibility on the part of the police department.

“Someone who was trying to do the right thing was killed by a cop,” said Wright, “Their immediate reaction should have been, ‘This guy took a huge risk and we are sorry that it led to John’s death.’ But that’s not their story, that’s not how they’ve approached it.”

The family believes that if Collado had known Connelly was an officer, he would not have interfered and would not have lost his life.

Wright believes that Connelly placed himself and others at risk when he decided to operate without backup. “Once something starts, you’re not in a position where you can clearly make yourself understood. So you don’t do it without backup or without a uniform. And this is what the guy did.”

But police say Connelly was not operating alone. “He definitely had support in the field on that particular day,” said executive officer of the 34th Precinct Capt Ernest Morales, “It was an ongoing investigation. Unfortunately, an incident took place that wasn’t foreseen.”

Collado’s family also disputes police reports that Collado had Connelly in a chokehold.

Collado’s niece Banays Taveras, who was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for refusing to leave the scene of the incident last year, said it was impossible that Collado could have done that. Taveras said that Collado had a spinal cord stimulator implanted in his back. As a result, she said, “He literally couldn’t do the things they said that he did.”

The family held a memorial service for Collado on the anniversary of his death last month at La Puerta Estrecha, and more than 50 people gathered to show their support.

The initially intimate and supportive atmosphere grew tense when two police officials showed up.

Capt. Ernest Morales gave a brief speech in Spanish, expressing his support for the family.

“As a representative of the police department, I want to be here to support their cause and to remind them that the community and the police department share the same goal, and that’s the safety and security of our community,” he said later in an interview.

But ”the community” did not take well to his presence.

Shortly after his address, Taveras, who said she sustained permanent back injuries
from her arrest in the incident, made an impassioned speech.

“In the next year, hopefully to be given an apology, to be given a reason, when a police officer decides to step beyond that line to serve and protect, and become a criminal themselves,” she said to a standing ovation.

Collado, a former porter and bellman at the Essex House hotel, left behind five
children, including a 3-year-old son, and a grandson.

The family is now pursuing a civil lawsuit against Connelly, the NYPD and the city, and hopes to get a federal criminal investigation into Collado’s death


Fordham Residents Flee Raging Fire in Hazardous Apartment Building

By Coleen Jose and Yi Du for the Bronx Ink

Damage to the second-floor apartment where the blaze began at 2727 University Avenue. (YI DU / The Bronx Ink)

A fire ripped through a University Avenue apartment building on West 195th Street and Eames Place on Sept. 13, injuring 14 residents, three of whom are in critical condition.

Residents described terrifying moments trying to flee on fire escapes that were hard to find in poorly lit, smoke-filled areas. Below a shattered fifth-floor window, a trail of blood stained the building. It was from a resident who severed an artery while trying to escape.

The fire began in a second floor apartment after 11:15 p.m on Wednesday in the northwest Bronx. A 4-year old girl, 34-year old woman and 50-year old man are in critical condition at North Central Bronx Hospital and New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Thick smoke traveled quickly and filled the poorly designed apartment units, making it difficult for residents to find fire escapes. “That was the worst several minutes in my life,” said Jeimy Diaz, a resident in the fifth floor who injured herself while trying to find the fire escape atop the darkly lit roof. “We thought we were gonna die. The whole building is damaged.”

The fire department could not be reached for comment. reported 25 fire units, more than 100 firefighters, rushed to battle the blaze inside the six-story building.

According to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the building has 21 violations described as “immediately hazardous with inadequate fire exits, rodents, lead-based paint, lack of heat, hot water, electricity, or gas.”

The Brooklyn-based landlord, Residential Management Inc., has received 93 complaints this year from residents of the building, according to city records. The complaints range from broken windows, water leaks, mold and defective or missing smoke detectors.

Charred furniture, strewn belongings and broken glass replaced what were once living spaces for many residents.

While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, residents such as Diaz are asking to be relocated. She worries that her children who have asthma will suffer from the lingering chemicals that now rise from the building’s physical damage.

Ryan Hernandez, 12, lives on the first floor and was able to immediately evacuate the burning building. “I didn’t know what was happening,” said Hernandez, “people were screaming and I heard the firemen say ‘get out there! Everybody get out.’”

As Asian Population Booms, Chinatown Struggles

By Justin Chan for Voices of NY 

Carol Huang, an assistant professor at the School of Education at City College, moderates a panel on the gentrification of Chinatowns in Boston, Philadelphia and New York. Huang, at left, questioned Seth Pollack, a student at Queens College; Esther Wang, director of the Chinatown Tenants Union at the Committee Against Anti-Asian American Violence; and Samantha Varn, a graduate student at Queens College. (Photo by Justin Chan)

New York City’s Asian-American neighborhoods are struggling with problems that include gentrification, generic commercial development and the shuttering of iconic local businesses, according to a panel of community leaders and professors who gathered last week.

“Change is always inevitable,” said Esther Wang, Director of the Chinatown Tenants Union at the Committee Against Anti-Asian American Violence. “Our problem is that it’s not something the residents want. Gentrification is something that erases history and erases culture.”

The panelists were invited by the Asian American/Asian Research Institute at the City University of New York to speak on Friday at a conference, “The Power of Place: Asian American Neighborhoods, Politics & Activism Today.” The conference sought to raise awareness of issues affecting the city’s Asian population, which has grown by 30 percent over the past decade. Professors from CUNY and other universities joined community activists to discuss the future of several ethnic neighborhoods, including Manhattan’s Chinatown and the Indo-Caribbean neighborhoods of South Queens.

“Not all neighborhoods are created equal in their individual and collective quality of life,” said Paul Ong, a professor of urban planning, social welfare and Asian-American studies at the Luskin School of Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Disadvantaged neighborhoods are comprised of marginalized populations.”

Peter Kwong, a professor of urban studies at Hunter College, said that Chinatown, in particular, is no longer the neighborhood it was in the 1970s. The decline of the area’s garment and restaurant industries, along with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, a few blocks south, have led to changes that have reshaped Chinatown’s business model, he said — and these changes are not all bad news.

“Businesses are diversifying now,” Kwong said. “Old businesses are reinventing themselves to be more efficient and more rational.”

Some Chinatown residents don’t appreciate the area’s development. (Photo from World Journal)

Because Chinatown is bordered by high-end residential and commercial areas such as Wall Street, Tribeca and Soho, Kwong explained, many in Chinatown are trying to make the area “conducive to professionals.” Since 9/11, the neighborhood has also become more tourist-friendly, as several hotels spring up.

But Wang, of the Committee Against Anti-Asian American Violence, said hotels will contribute little to the neighborhood’s economy because they offer few jobs to local Chinese residents, and they often replace Chinese landmarks and businesses. She offered as an example the construction of a hotel on the corner of Hester Street and Bowery that replaces the Music Palace, which was one of the last surviving Chinese movie theaters in the neighborhood. Another hotel is planned for East Broadway, where the Hong Kong Supermarket burned down in 2009, Wang said.

The influx of high-income residents into the neighborhoods have motivated landlords to increase rent, Wang said, and the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, she added, has made the situation worse.

“Bloomberg has really used zoning to really reshape neighborhoods in New York City,” Wang said. “Most of the zonings have either been increasing development in low-income neighborhoods or limiting development in wealthier neighborhoods.”

To assess the attitudes of Chinatown residents to the new development, CAAAV and the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center surveyed residents in the area. Their findings indicated that landlord harassment and housing affordability were the two largest concerns in the Chinatown community. Wang said that the agencies hope to use the information to “get residents engaged in the process.”

Academics and community activists mingled over lunch at a conference at CUNY last week on the future of Asian-American neighborhoods. (Photo by Justin Chan)

East Asian communities are not the only ethnic neighborhoods facing problems, said Darrel Sukhdeo, a writer and neighborhood activist who said that the city’s Indo-Caribbeans in the South Queens neighborhoods of Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park have also struggled, but he suggested that some of their problems are internal. Domestic violence and drinking are a problem in community, which is largely comprised of Hindus, he said. Since the 2008 financial crisis, Sukhdeo said, many Indo-Caribbean businesses have flailed.

“Real estate businesses dropped,” he said. “Construction trades businesses dropped. That affected shopping and buying in the area.”

Still, Sukhdeo said, he has been inspired by the area’s young people, who he credits with driving civic engagement in the community.

“I’m very encouraged by the new generation,” he said. “They have a new American mentality while keeping in touch with Indo-Caribbean culture.”

While in the past, the community’s leaders were older, now even teenagers are becoming involved in community efforts, Sukhdeo said.  “Young people are coming and saying, ‘How can we help?’”

Sandy Evacuees Continue to Move Into Temporary Shelters

By Tenzin Shakya for Northattan

City officials announced that schools are set to reopen Monday, Nov. 5, forcing many Hurricane Sandy evacuees out of their temporary shelters once again. For many, this will be their third move within the last five days.

Steven Upson, his wife and their three children evacuated their home on the Lower East Side Sunday evening. They took shelter at the Seward Park High School in Lower Manhattan until the building’s power was cut off.

“The past days have been chaotic,” he said. “They sent us to one school but it was so compacted, they said up to 750 people, but it felt like 1,000 people, And now they’re moving us up to yet another school with more people.”

They are headed to the George Washington High School, one of the eight city schools that will not resume classes Monday. Instead, the Washington Heights school will remain as a shelter until further notice from city officials.

“I didn’t want to move from the first shelter but then they said they will be separating people with children from the other people, so then we jumped on the bus,” Upson said. “But, if I’m going to be cluttered at the end of the day, I might as well be cluttered with my family.”

Subway flooding and downed trees brought public transportation to a halt. Many evacuees were not able to reach the uptown shelters where space was available until Tuesday.

Roughly 68,000 people evacuated their homes because of Sandy, according to the city’s Office of Emergency Management.

Many city employee volunteers said, roughly 80 to 90 evacuees were brought from downtown to Harlem shelters.

Angela Moore was visiting from Chicago. “This is my first hurricane experience and definitely not what I thought I’d be doing on my trip to New York,” she said. She was staying at her friend Carin Gurgone’s apartment near the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel when she noticed the waters coming in. “They cut the electricity, but we thought we would be OK,” she said. “And then when they cut the water off, we couldn’t stay there anymore, so we had to evacuate.”

Moore and Gurgone checked into a downtown shelter, but had to be bused to Harlem after the generator failed. Moore said she’s ready to fly home.

“I’m hopeful it will go out of LaGuardia,” she said. “Or, I’ll rent a car and figure out a way to drive home. At this point I’m not sure.”

“They had a little house and it got flooded. They had to be evacuated on a boat,” she said while apologizing for trying to catch her breath and stop crying.  “You think about the people who went through Katrina, they literally had nothing. But now, it’s happened to me. I could just imagine how they felt.”

She said she’s hopping on the train and cabbing back home, in the Baruch Houses, on the Lower East Side.

Limited public transportation has been restored to most of the city, but no service is going below 34th Street, where power is still off.

Gurgone is also planning on heading back to her apartment near the Battery tunnel sometime soon after her friend heads back to Chicago. “I think I dreamt last night that the kitchen was flooded from the melting of the freezer,” she said jokingly. Speaking about the power, she said, “hopefully it’ll be back on, otherwise I’ll have to find someplace to stay again.”

Despite public transportation’s resuming services, some evacuees are still unsure of their route back home.

“I’m gonna go back, I’m gonna try to go back tomorrow by bus,” said Jefferey Cowser, a landscaper from Belmar, N.J. “My main concern is basically getting home to look at what was destroyed in my place.”

Cowser has been stranded in Northern Manhattan for five days now. Though he didn’t have to move from shelter to shelter, he said he’s desperate to go home. His house is just two blocks away from the city’s boardwalk. According to the National Weather Service, that area was hit with roughly 80 mph sustained winds.

“I don’t know the extent of the damage but I know from the way that ocean was, and from what I saw on television, it’s pretty much destroyed,” Cowser said.

But, if Cowser can’t bus across the river, city official volunteers said, “no one would be turned away.”

That’s good news for people like Kim Serrano and Nola, who live and depend on the city’s shelter system.

“We get hot meals, blankets and they do activities with the kids. It’s nice,” said Nola, who declined to state her last name. “They told us it would take a little while for the electricity to come back in the other shelters. So, in the meantime we have to go where they tell us to.”

Nola said there are a lot of children inside the shelter, which led the volunteers to organize a Halloween party.

Hamilton said she took her two nieces and three nephews out to trick-or-treat. But she said, “They felt hurt because there were other kids that had costumes they didn’t have.” Hamilton’s 15-year-old niece is a diabetic and forgot to pack her insulin kit.

“She went a whole day without her insulin,” she said. “It’s hurtful, you know. The volunteers called 911 and they had to rush her to the hospital.”

Serrano said she was walking endlessly in Lower Manhattan and experienced Sandy’s wrath from all sides. “I felt the debris and saw the trees being all knocked down and seen glass popping all around. Just broken glasses everywhere,” she said. “I’m happy to be here, somewhere safe where I can sleep and, I feel safe.”

Though most evacuees said they were well fed and comfortable, some are still eager to return home.

Kyra Gaunt is a 2009 Inaugural TED fellow and lives in the Lower East Side. She was one of the evacuees who arrived at the shelter on Tuesday with a 75-year-old woman, whom she referred to as “Ms. Lucy.”

She met Ms. Lucy in the midst of the evacuation chaos downtown, and decided to help her out.

“When extreme circumstances leave you alone and people come together in a shelter, it’s not the volunteers but usually the people you meet that make it bearable,” she said. “So I did that for Ms. Lucy and she did it for me.”

Cowser said he’s headed to the Port Authority bus station where he’ll catch a bus to New Jersey, because his employer told him they received a contract to start rebuilding houses.

“My boss called me saying there’s much work to be done,” he said. “I need to get home and I need to work. I’m losing money staying here.”

Story of Ngawang Sangdrol la, Tibetan female political prisoner who spent 11 years in the Drapchi Prison

By Tenzin Shakya for the San Mateo County Times

Before the era of Twitter and Facebook, political prisoners such as Ngawang Sangdrol-la recorded songs on tape cassettes to document the inhumane treatment they experienced in the Drapchi prison of China.

Sangdrol-la (la is used after an elder’s name as a title of respect) shared her story at Amnesty International’s office in San Francisco during her first visit to the Bay Area last week on the eve of the National Tibetan Uprising Day.

She told the audience that she was only 13 in 1990 when she decided to join 20 other protesters in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, in a demonstration aimed at expressing opposition to the oppression she felt under the Chinese government. She and the other protesters had joined together to express their desire for a free Tibet.She remembers the day vividly still, walking through the streets of Lhasa shouting “Free Tibet” and “Long live His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.”The protesters knew they couldn’t be in a group together and decided to spread out individually, shouting and singing their message.

“We knew we would be caught. We had no desire to run or escape. Our plan was to shout until they (the Chinese police) caught us,” she said. And they did, she said, recalling how Chinese army officials pinned her to the ground and then dragged her away from the crowd.

“I remember people saying, ‘She’s so young, please let her go, she’s bleeding,’ ” said Sangdrol-la. She had violated an official Chinese governmental policy banning all pictures of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan flag.Sangdrol-la said she did not receive a fair trial and was sent to a detention center for nine months. Still, prison was better than the fate of her brother, she said. Chinese police shot him dead when he, too, was 13.When she was very little, she used to watch movies made in China, depicting the Chinese army as “kindhearted soldiers,” fighting against the Japanese Army to protect the mother country.

“I remember feeling like the Chinese are our own people because the TV made me think I was no different. I disliked the Japanese because in the movies they were the bad soldiers who killed the kindhearted Chinese soldiers,” Sangdrol-la recalled. But “father yelled at me and told me the real story of my country, and what had happened to my brother.”

She said that she suffered terrible interrogations, was beaten and tortured in prison, kept hungry and in solitary confinement because she would not denounce the Dalai Lama. She told the audience about the terror of shock treatments she received.”One day the authorities brought a strange object that looked like a telephone. It was actually an electric prod,” she said. The officer asked her if she wanted to call home and when she said her home didn’t have a telephone, she said the officer said he would install one.”Then he put the object in my shirt and turned it on. My entire body shook in a way I couldn’t control. That was my first electric shock, but not the last.”She was arrested again in 1992 during a similar protest and sentenced to three years in prison, but her sentence was increased to 13 years because she would not renounce her beliefs.The prison did not allow family members to visit very often but through surreptitious means, Sangdrol-la and another inmate were able to get their hands on the cassettes and began recording songs to smuggle outside of the prison.

“We recorded freedom songs to tell our loved once that we were OK and even though the conditions were horrible in prison, we still had hope and we were not going to give up,” said Sangdrol-la. “We never thought it would actually reach the outside world like this.”

In 2002, she was released to the U.S. government. She was in critical health and, upon arrival in America, was taken to a hospital in Chicago.Yangchen Lhamo, a member of the Students for a Free Tibet, part of the S.F. Team Tibet coalition, which co-organized the event, said she has heard this story before but “it never gets any less disturbing.””I now live in freedom. But, everyday, I worry about those thousands of Tibetans who are still suffering today, right at this minute, for doing nothing more than a peaceful protest,” said Sangdrol-la.