Social Issues

A voice from the Bronx

By Jorge Fuentelsaz

New York, Jun 10 (efe-epa).- “Most of my friends either ended up dying or in jail, or are still living in the same community that we’re in now,” Chris Ramos, one of hundreds of thousands of African-American residents of the New York City borough of the Bronx, said in an interview with Efe.

He is one of millions of people worldwide who have been demanding social justice for the United States’ African-American community following the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Ramos speaks calmly and clearly and walks slowly.

He spent 10 years of his childhood and early adolescence in one of the city’s public housing “projects” – which in the US are synonymous with minorities, poverty, drugs, crime and violence – until his parents became the beneficiaries of a government-subsidized unit in a lower-crime area of the South Bronx located five blocks away.

The 28.4 percent poverty rate in the Bronx, according to official figures from 2019, is the highest of all of the Big Apple’s five boroughs, and far above the average for the metropolis as a whole.

And in some areas such as Hunts Point, Morris Heights and Concourse, two out of every three families are poor.

That economic hardship goes hand-in-hand with a lack of access to health care and other public services, as well as dirty streets and police harassment of African-Americans, who along with Hispanics make up the majority of the population in that northern borough home to 1.5 million people.

The 27-year-old Ramos has moved back in with his parents temporarily after having lost his job at a sports clothing store due to the coronavirus-triggered lockdown measures, saying he is helping them make ends meet.

The neighborhood seems like a pleasant place at midday, with churches visible every couple of blocks, very few people on the streets and most of the stores closed due to the Covid-19 restrictions.

But Ramos said it is not safe to walk around after nightfall.

“It’s not for everybody,” he said, noting that people in his neighborhood have two primary concerns: “people in your community because there’s a lot of gang violence and just senseless violence, and we also have to worry about the police.”

“You kind of get it from both sides. So it’s definitely difficult. But we do what we can. We try to prosper. We try to make the best of our situation.”

Ramos said he has suffered from racism and been harassed by police countless times. He said he was jailed on one occasion for three days until the charges against him were dropped and that one of his best friends spent three years in a juvenile detention center between the ages of 14 and 17.

He told of one incident a year ago in which he and his friends were approached by undercover police officers near the Davidson Houses project.

“A black (Chevrolet) Impala asked us what we were doing. We let them know we were just hanging out. They asked us if we lived in the building, which most of my friends do. And they still decided to search everybody and they told everybody to face this way, grab the gate,” Ramos said.

“And I was kind of against the gate, and the undercover (cop) just put his elbow against my back and then kicked my legs out from under me, telling me to stop resisting when I wasn’t even moving. I just had my hands up. There was nothing much we could really do. My friends just watched,” he said, adding that several pieces of his dental apparatus broke off when his face hit the gate’s iron bars.

“It happens a lot more times than you think, especially here you’re constantly being harassed by police or assaulted by police and everybody just brushes it off as it’s normal or it’s normalized, but it’s really not.”

At the end of 2017, more African Americans (475,900) were housed at federal prisons in the US than white inmates (436,500) even though white people outnumber blacks nationwide four to one.

Life expectancy for black men in the US is one year and three months less than it is for white males, while African-American women live an average of seven months less than their white fellow citizens.

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