Advocates Have Wary Praise For End of NYPD Surveillance Unit

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Aaron McElroy/City Limits

The Islamic Center of Bay Ridge is one of a handful of mosques that the NYPD is known to have infiltrated at one time
The de Blasio administration is shutting down the "zone assessment unit," also known as the "demographic unit" that—thanks to a superb Associated Press investigation—became synonymous with the NYPD's snooping on Muslim New Yorkers under Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

Needed: A New Deal for City Housing Policy

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Rob Bennett for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio/City Limits

The mayor addressed a crowd at the Ford Foundation on Friday.
City Limits has teamed up with The Nation to cover the first 100 days of the de Blasio administration. Click here to read the series.

The 100th day of Mayor de Blasio's term—which comes Thursday—is, of course, an arbitrary milestone. Yet after the conclusion of the state budget last week, with winter snowstorms and nasty charter-school battles out of the way, it does feel like the de Blasio narrative is entering a new phase. The first three months of the year revolved largely around the effort to get universal pre-kindergarten funded. That effort largely succeeded. Now what?

City Libraries Target Jailed Readers

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Jarrett Murphy/City Limits

The Brooklyn Detention Complex on Atlantic Avenue houses up to 759 people. In Sunset Park, the federal Brooklyn MDC holds nearly 2,500 detainees.
"In the second half of the sixth year the prisoner began zealously studying languages, philosophy, and history. He threw himself eagerly into these studies—so much so that the banker had enough to do to get him the books he ordered. In the course of four years some six hundred volumes were procured at his request. It was during this period that the banker received the following letter from his prisoner: 'My dear Jailer, I write you these lines in six languages. Show them to people who know the languages. Let them read them. If they find not one mistake I implore you to fire a shot in the garden. That shot will show me that my efforts have not been thrown away. The geniuses of all ages and of all lands speak different languages, but the same flame burns in them all.'"
-from "The Bet," by Anton Chekov,
a story about a man who agrees to spend 15 years in total isolation
to prove that prison is preferable to death

Seen Here First: Tenants and Exonerees Struggle

It's always nice when the finest newspaper in the world ratifies your decision to pursue a particular story, and in the past few days The New York Times has printed two pieces on topics that City Limits was proud to cover first.

Over the weekend, there was Alan Feuer's superb feature story about new efforts to fill the gap into which so many exonerated prisoners fall: Perversely, because of their innocence, they re-enter society not on parole (with the services and support that can entail) but on their own. Last January, we told the story of several ex-inmates trying to navigate freedom.

Heroin and New York: A History

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Lizzie Ford-Madrid/City Limits

NYPD identification held by Ed Mamet, one of the first undercover narcotics officers to join the department's renewed push against drugs in the 1960s.
The tragic passing of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman from an apparent overdose of heroin is a reminder of the destructive persistence of that drug in New York. Back in 1980, Jack Newfield and Joe Conason wrote in the Village Voice that some crimes aren't just felonies—they're treason against the city. "One is the importation, distribution, and sale of heroin."

In 2009, Sean Gardiner (now of the Wall Street Journal) wrote for City Limits a history of the war on drugs in New York, from the early days to the Bloomberg era mass-arrest strategy around marijuana. That story begins—and continues—with heroin:

Stop-and-Frisk, Already Dying, Gets Buried

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Pearl Gabel/City Limits

City Limits has teamed up with The Nation to cover the first 100 days of the de Blasio administration. Click here to read the series.

On Thursday the legal war over the NYPD's "stop, question and frisk" policy—which resulted in the questioning of hundreds of thousands of innocent people over the years—ended. Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to settle the case along the lines set out this summer when a federal judge ruled the policy had been carried out unconstitutionally: A court-appointed monitor will oversee the City's reform of the policy, and the City will engage community members in the reform process.

Learning to Listen in Child Welfare Enforcement

Somewhere in their heart every parent wonders what would happen if their family became involved with the child welfare system. How would your parenting style and skills appear to a stranger? Could your kids be taken away from you? Would you have a voice in the system?

The Social Justice Clinic at Fordham University's Feerick Center recently got many of the child welfare stakeholders—including the Administration for Children's Services and some its toughest critics—together to talk about how parent feedback might become a healthier part of the system. The focus wasn't just on how to get parent feedback, but what to do with it—how to fold the insight of parents into policy.

How Should de Blasio Continue the Young Men's Initiative?

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Office of the Public Advocate/City Limits

Yesterday we ran a piece by Helen Zelon that took a tough look at one of the signature efforts of Mayor Bloomberg's final term, the Young Men's Initiative or YMI. Launched in 2010 and using ample private funds, YMI was an attempt to reverse the economic and social isolation of young men of color, who are overrepresented among the city's undereducated, unemployed and incarcerated.

Heard Here First: Questions About Infamous 1990 Murder

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Marc Fader/City Limits

Johnny Hincapie
In a city awash in murder, the 1990 murder of Brian Watkins marked high tide. The killing of a young tourist who was defending his mother from a gang of thugs on a subway platform seemed to capture all the elements of urban terror, and prompted the “Dave, Do Something!” tabloid headlines that helped shape the impression that Mayor Dinkins was incapable of addressing the growing violence.

In the wake of the bloodshed, the pressure to find and punish the perpetrators was intense. As Bill Hughes wrote in City Limits in October 2010, "Within 24 hours, charges were lodged against eight suspects. All but one gave videotaped confessions. The one who did not was let off. The rest got 25 to life."

Call for A Wage-Theft Crackdown

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Jarrett Murphy/City Limits

In three languages, the workers complained about cheating employees and lagging enforcement by the state of New York.
When protesters set up in front of 75 Varick Street on Wednesday morning, a building security guard promptly shooed them further out onto the sidewalk, lest they block one of the buildings doors, which happened to be sealed off by construction tape and brown paper anyway.

But workers who spoke at the rally said getting into 75 Varick Street, location of the city headquarters of the state Department of Labor, was not the problem. The problem, they say, was getting DOL to act on claims that employers ripped them off.

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