Riccardo’s Memory

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“The rooftop skyline gives me the contrast of the natural and the manmade” – Riccardo Taylor

In the city, nature only exists above.
The sky pours blue down into the cracks
between the sky scrapers.

Artificial environments carved
out decades ago
by people books don’t talk about.
The blue bled closer to the ground.

Here and there a bird adds a bit of motion.

The sun tracks
cross pruned straight sycamores, walnuts and elms
embedded between blocks of concrete and glass.

Out in the distance,
green peeks out
from behind little rectangles of wood and plaster.
But only for a moment; it retreats more each day.

Downtown sits low,
scooped out of the hillside
by creatures so large
they filled the basin when they stopped to rest.

 

Three File Lawsuit against Park Board

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The rumblings of the people’s movement have once again sprang forth in Over-the-Rhine. Lack of transparency and a lack of democracy are again the complaints. And the collusion between government and 3CDC is again the catalyst. Last week, three citizens who live near Washington Park filed a lawsuit against the Park Board and its director, Willie Carden, alleging that the board abused the law and unfairly developed rules for the new crown jewel of the parks system.

According to the new lawsuit, the Park Board and Carden “are violating Plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights,” which deal with freedom of speech and assembly, by arbitrarily adopting rules and placing signs without public input and without public consent. These arbitrary rules lead also to arbitrary application and arbitrary prosecution. The Park Board created these signs under Rule 28 of its own rulebook. The lawsuit alleges that the use of Rule 28, which states that the Board may issue new provisions for parks simply by erecting signs, creates a system of rulemaking that is totally outside of “proper public legislative channels.” These signs are essentially laws; and criminal citations and prosecutions have occurred in the past for violations. Such a system effectively creates special criminal jurisdictions where special laws exist, but only within the boundaries of the parks.

In Washington Park, the rules posted after the reopening in July were clearly directed at discouraging the poor and homeless from using the park and its facilities. In general, park rules do not prohibit the sharing of food on park grounds, at Washington Park they do; they generally do not forbid the inspection of trash and recycling containers, in Washington Park they do; and they generally, do not prohibit the use of amplified sound, in Washington Park they do.

As the lawsuit alleged and emails obtained through a Freedom of information Act request show, these rules were not debated publicly, on the contrary, they were discussed between a few parties including the Park Board, the police and 3CDC, this sort of backdoor legislating is not acceptable in a democracy. According to the lawsuit, such a scheme creates “quasi-criminal laws [which] were wholly written and adopted by a private corporation and a member of the executive branch of government outside the public process and immune from public participation.” And the discussions that led to the rules show that they were developed based on the preferences of those who did have a voice. Rather than consulting with the Drop Inn Center, or asking those who use its services how the park can best serve them, the Board deferred to Captain Daniel Gerard of the city police, who wrote in an email dated December 18th “Until the Drop Inn Center moves, the line about food and clothing drop off being prohibited is absolutely needed.”

This all underlines the way that city leaders and redevelopers see Over-The-Rhine heading in the coming years–services are being moved elsewhere, and the homeless population, and others who rely in services that help the homeless, will be forced to move with them. The park and the redevelopment in general simply isn’t for them.

Jerry Davis, one of the plaintiffs and a vendor of Streetvibes, has been asked by police several times to move away from the park. He now tends to stay away, and, as the lawsuit alleges, this has created a chilling effect on his first amendment rights, as he is unable to distribute Streetvibes and is thus less able to raise awareness for the work that he does as a homeless advocate.

The suppression of free speech during Occupy is also referred to in the emails obtained where, Captain Gerard wrote “After what we’re dealt with during our Occupy protests, adding a line about no camping or personally owned tents can’t hurt.” A similar situation with the rules emerged during Occupy, when the Park Board changed the general rules, adding a section to stifle the encampment and make it easier to remove the protesters from their homebase at Piatt Park. The encampment was evicted on the eve of the funeral parade of Carl Lindner, which was set to pass by the park on 9th and Vine.

The other plaintiffs, Andrew Fitzpatrick and Ann Brown, have almost completely avoided the park, which they frequented prior to the renovation, for fear of violating one or more of the new rules and risking arrest or citation.

Andrew Fitzpatrick, who is a member of the People’s Platform, boiled the rules down to a question of service to others saying, “ I want to be able to give food to a hungry person or clothes to a cold person without getting in trouble.This right should be accessible to all people and faith communities.” But if the Park Board rules are allowed to stand, this services will have to take place outside of Washington Park, and likely eventually outside of Over-the-Rhine. Community groups like the People’s Platform for Equality and Justice, who hold monthly grill outs to connect with residents wouldn’t be able to readily hold such grill outs on park grounds. Because these grill-outs include members of the homeless community, they would likely be less successful, and regular attendees like Davis, Fitzpatrick and Brown would be unable to do the work they do. Other groups like Food Not Bombs which shares food for free with anyone who walks by, would also be unable to continue with their program in the park.

Crying wolf is often the first step in creating the environment for renovation and permanent demographic change change, the opponents of the Anna Louise Inn routinely cite apparent marijuana usage among residents as an example of their unworthiness to live in the prime real estate of Lytle Park, in the shadow of Western and Southern.

The lawsuit touches on a similar theme in Washington Park; alcohol being of primary concern. When the public relations push to renovate the park was being made several years ago, the issue of alcoholism was raised in nearly every article in the various news sources. The rules, as they are written allow only the Park Board to grant permission to sell or possess alcohol in any park, however 3CDC, who runs the park, is effectively able to circumvent the official path to liquor licensing and, at its convenience, sell alcohol at any time and any event.

The case is not unlike that which the major players in redevelopment have seen before; when residents were removed from their homes in the Metropole Hotel, 3CDC and the city deceived the tenants. After the tenant association filed suit, the developers were forced to settle and caved to some of the demands of the residents. The three plaintiffs in the Park case are carrying the torch lit at the metropole for citizen’s voice and accountability in the changes taking place.

It is always the residents, the poor, and the homeless who are at fault when others come to push them out of their homes and neighborhoods. Such language alienates residents from the very beginning, and develops latent assumptions that anyone appearing to be homeless in the park is going to be using alcohol. But the case is not about freedom to consume alcohol, as those who vilify the homeless would like to make it out to be. The case is about a different kind of freedom, the democratic freedom to have a say in how this city is run and how the downtown is redeveloped; it is about the freedom to have a say in the transformation that few would say is not needed or wanted. The public needs to be disabused of the notion that these anti democratic sanctions are somehow the norm.

Were the city and 3CDC actually interested in stopping the rummaging of trash cans or the distribution of food, they would implement policies that got people off the streets permanently, attacking the root of the problem, and effectively making the job of organizations like the Homeless Coalition and the Drop Inn Center obsolete. They would include the voices of the residents, including the poor and homeless in a meaningful way, not just at public forums. They would allow citizens to help draw up redevelopment plans, a system that has worked in other places. They would not deliberately shutter the process at every step, which has been the norm for the last 10 years.

This article originally appeared in the print edition of streetvibes

Stars Earn Stripes: A Despicable Display of Militarism

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When the summer Olympics ended, they left not only a blank schedule on NBC, but also a vacuum for displays of strength and competition. The network spared no time in debuting Stars Earn Stripes, a new reality show that pairs 8 celebrities with 8 members of special operations teams from various sections of the military. The premise is simple enough: each celebrity, be it Laila Ali, Picabo Street, Todd Palin, Dean Cain, Nick Lachey and others; teams up with members of elite forces: a navy sniper, a member of the “classified” delta force, a green beret (and on); these teams take part in mock missions, based on real special operations that have taken place in the war on terror. The stars that perform the best receive money to be donated to an active-duty or veteran’s charity of their choice. The show carried the torch of the spectacle of the Olympics, and is the latest theater for the glorification of war.

The first episode opened with Wesley Clark, former Supreme NATO Allied Commander for Europe and host, explaining that he “loves this country” and is doing the show to “introduce you, the viewer, to the individuals who have sacrificed so much for all of us… the men and women who do this everyday to protect our freedoms [emphasis added].”

At best, it is dangerous propaganda, putting militarism on display and serving as almost a celebration of these operations without questioning the consequences of the actions, let alone the wars. One only needed to watch the first few minutes of the first episode to get a tone of what the show entailed. Terry Crews summed up the excitement of the celebrities, explaining “I can’t wait to fire a real gun, with real bullets.” What Crews and the show in general doesn’t examine are the circumstances around the mock operations. In the real war, Crews’s bullets could easily enter the body of innocents in the mountains of Afghanistan or the streets of Baghdad.

The show also comes with healthy doses of hypermasculinity and hero worshipping. When Superman Dean Cain met his partner Chris Kyle, a sniper in the Navy Seals who was celebrated for having over 160 confirmed kills, he recounted the story of explaining to his 9-year-old son what an “American Hero” was by showing him Kyle’s picture. This reductionism leads to a simplified treatment of war and an unethical definition of “hero” for kids who may be watching at home.

Tom Stroop, a SWAT Commander, explained that he was there to “raise awareness for all of our troops that are dying and struggling everyday,” but misses the mark when he continues “to keep our freedoms.” It is true that our troops are dying everyday, but no attention is paid to the troops who are struggling after having their lives torn apart by service to defend the interests of the 1%. The New York Times recently reported that there are 18 veteran suicides a day. 13% of America’s homeless population are veterans. And it has been long known that veteran mental health is in shambles. In a review of the show for WBEZ Chicago, veteran Matt Ulrich reminded listeners, if the celebrities wanted to get the real experience then he’d “like to see that celebrity come home [from war] to a country that now seems foreign… Integrate them back into society and watch them attempt to drive down a familiar and friendly road with full blown anxiety… And the real winning shot: give us a closeup of the face of the celebrity when someone asks them, ‘Oh, you’ve been to war! Did you kill anyone?’” It might seem redeeming that the celebrities are competing for various charities, but none of the charities are aimed explicitly at helping veterans overcome their ptsd, depression, or suicidal thoughts–the everyday enemies of soldiers after the war.

The show has been met with much criticism. Most notably are the calls for cancellation from nobel laureates, Desmond Tutu, José Manuel Ramos-Horta and others (notably absent is Henry Kissinger). We must not stop there however, such entertainment will continue as long as we are fooled into fighting our brothers and sisters across the world to defend Empire. We should support our troops by bringing them home and providing them the care they need when they return–there is a way to support veterans without supporting the wars and glorifying military action. This is not it.

This originally appeared in the4 print edition of Streetvibes.