Friday, November 24, 2006

Red Hook Death Should Serve as an Urgent Sign for Action

To all my neighbors and friends who have read this column, I offer my sincerest apologies for not writing these past few weeks. It’s not due to a lack of stories or concerns. God knows there are plenty here in Southwest Brooklyn.

Indeed, there are plenty of sad, senseless stories like the one involving Janet Ramos, 45, a Sunset Park resident who was struck by a van coming from the new Fairway supermarket in Red Hook several weeks ago. She eventually died of her injuries and left behind two children, Cristina, 16, and Jason, 20.

Her tragic death came as no surprise to longtime Red Hook resident and civic activist John McGettrick. He’s been battling money hungry developers and out-of-touch public officials and agencies for years.

McGettrick constantly warned city agencies and officials about the many detrimental effects big box stores would have in this once quiet, hard working, waterfront community.

In the midst of a high-powered public relations campaign launched by IKEA to exploit the legitimate needs of the residents of public housing, McGettrick and others who supported more sensible development of the precious waterfront were marginalized at best, accused of being racists at worst.

Still, traffic remained a major concern of his, especially with the recent opening of the Fairway supermarket. Ramos was hit on a block with no traffic lights or signs.
“This is a tragedy that could have been avoided,” McGettrick, co-chairman of the Red Hook Civic Association, told the Daily News.

In fact, the 16-block stretch of Van Brunt in Red Hook, where Ramos was struck, has just one light. It was installed at Bowne St. when the cruise terminal opened in April with the assistance of Mayor Bloomberg and Borough President “Party” Marty Markowitz.
Despite repeated requests to investigate and act on Ramos’ untimely and unnecessary death, officials from the city’s Department of Transportation still have no plans to expedite a traffic study of the neighborhood until, perhaps, the fall.

Once again I have to ask, why is it so hard for poor, hardworking communities of color to be treated with some respect and dignity by the public agencies that are supposed to serve us?
Why is it so difficult to install a traffic light, erect a stop sign or draw some white lines on the asphalt? Isn’t one tragic death enough to spur this City to act?
One can only wonder not if, but how quickly the City would have acted if this tragedy had occurred in Brooklyn Heights or the Upper East Side.

Last year, when I spoke with McGettrick about the ruthless assault on Red Hook by big box stores like IKEA and other irresponsible developers, he shared his concern about his mostly African American and Latino neighbors in public housing and the many families who flock to the soccer and baseball fields in warm weather and who also form huge lines to buy arepas, pupusa, and tamales at one of the most vibrant, outdoor markets in the city.

He predicted an increase in traffic would be a recipe for disaster.

His greatest fears have now been realized with the death of Janet Ramos. How many more will have to die until this city acts to protect our families?

P.S. Once again, Boricuas and people all over the city will be marching or, should I say, dancing all the way to Prospect Park to check out some of the very best in Latin music during the this year’s Boricua Festival and once again I am forced to ask: Whatever happened to the Latino community based organization that formerly played a major role in sponsoring this event, HYPA (the Hispanic Young People’s Alternatives)? Sara Gonzalez, the Council Member who has so “generously” helped to sponsor this event (with our tax dollars) and who once headed this organization still hasn’t accounted for her role in HYPA’s destruction.

It’s great that her office is being so”generous” with this festival. I love la Sonora Poncena and Yerba Buena as much as the next salsero. Nevertheless, it’s too bad this generosity was never extended to all the children and families who were cheated out of jobs and vital programs while also suffering through all those years of mismanagement and neglect.

Perhaps it’s time for some former employees to start singing themselves.

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