(TimesLedger) Petitions underway for Phife Dawg, A Tribe Called Quest to be honored in Queens

Nu-Clear Cleaners on 192nd Street and Linden Boulevard was featured in a single from A Tribe Called Quest’s second album. A petition is seeking to have the boulevard co-named after the group.

By Madina Toure

Two major efforts are underway to honor legendary hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest and one of its members, Queens-raised Phife Dawg, who recently died.

Malik Taylor, known by his stage name Phife Dawg and his nickname “The Five-Foot Assassin,” died March 22 in California at the age of 45 due to complications from diabetes, according to his manager, Dion Liverpool, known as DJ Rasta Root.

He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes—when the body does not produce insulin—in May 1990, according to his profile on the website of dLife, or the Diabetes Health Company.

One petition, addressed to City Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Mahattan), calls for Linden Boulevard between 192nd and 193rd streets to be co-named “A Tribe Called Quest Boulevard.”

The video for the group’s single “Check the Rhime,” the first single from their second album, “The Low End Theory,” releaded in 1991, was shot on that boulevard.

Brooklyn resident Leroy McCarthy, who has also been pushing for street renamings for hip-hop figures in the other boroughs, started the motion for the street renaming and Brooklyn native Tee Smif, a TV producer, started the petition, which has 5,359 of the 7,500 signatures needed.

“I have spoken with the management for Phife Dawg and shared with him my condolences and asked them if they would be receptive to this idea,” he said. “They said they are.”

Liverpool said he and the family are interested in the petition but are still recovering from their loss.

“Based on our conversations with him (McCarthy), we felt like it is an honor,” he said. “I think whether Phife had passed away or not, I think that should have been in play just based on what the group has done for culture.”

A spokesman for Mark-Viverito said she is interested in the proposal.

“We’re happy to review the petition,” he said.

Miller said Phife Dawg’s death is a loss for St. Albans and the entire hip-hop industry.

“I look forward to supporting the introduction of this legislation and this tribute to these musical pioneers,” he said in a statement.

Community Board 12 Chairwoman Adrienne Adams said the board is waiting to receive the appropriate forms from McCarthy.

“If it’s what the community wants, then it what’s the community should have,” Adams said.

Taylor, who was raised in St. Albans, is one of three members of A Tribe Called Quest, which he formed in 1985 along with fellow Queens native Q-Tip and Brooklyn native Ali Shaheed Muhammad. The fourth member, Jarobi White, who also helped found the group, left in 1991 but remained as an honorary member.

The group’s first album, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm,” was released in 1990. The group broke up in 1998 but has reunited several times.

Phife Dawg released his solo album, “Ventilation: Da LP,” in 2000.

Another petition, started by Noelle Ross, calls for St. Albans Park to be renamed “Malik ‘Phife Dawg’ Taylor Park.” The petition has received 5,002 of 6,000 needed signatures.

A Parks spokesman said parks are named by the Parks commissioner or through local law, but the agency has not received any official proposals for the renaming of the park.

“NYC Parks, too, is saddened by the sudden death of Queens’ own Phife Dawg,” the spokesman said.

On his Facebook page, White called for Sayres Avenue from 180th Street to Merrick Boulevard to be renamed “Malik ‘Phife Dawg’ Taylor Avenue” and for St. Albans Park to be renamed.McCarthy said White expressed support for the Linden Boulevard petition and that they support the St. Albans Park petition, which Smif also signed.

“It’s not competing petitions,” Smif said. “It’s just love across the board. Different people want to show their love in different ways.”

The article was originally published in the TimesLedger Newspapers.

(Everyday Feminism) 9 Ways Privileged People Can Reduce the Negative Impact of Gentrification

Source: Panoramio

Source: Panoramio


There was once a small brick barbeque joint on Divisadero Street in San Francisco known as Da’ Pitt.

Its customer base was small, but loyal, comprised mostly of low-income African-American families. Though no one travelled more than walking distance to get there, nor wrote about it on Urbanspoon, it fed its community and it was loved.

But the neighborhood gentrified, the community dwindled, and Da’Pitt could no longer serve enough BBQ to pay its rent.

Another company, 4505 Meats, took over the space.

They put wood tables outside and painted the exterior. They added a vegetarian sandwich, an organic salad, and beers on tap to the menu. They hired young, bearded, and beanied white men to work the cash register. They put up artsy meat references, such as buffalo skulls and decorative metal pigs. They advertised the existing wood-fired barbeque pit as “historic.”

The building is the same, the barbeque is—well—still barbeque, but lines of yuppies and hipsters now extend down the block, and local food blogs are singing its praises.

Art-ified and White-ified, Da’Pitt is now Da’ Place to be.

And so is the rest of the block.

What used to be dollar stores and auto shops is an impressive collection of fine dining restaurants, high-end retail stores, specialty food vendors, and recently remodeled apartments that cost an average of $3,480/month (no, that’s not a typo).

The city’s “deadliest neighborhood” in 2005 became its “comeback neighborhood” in 2011.

What We Need to Talk About When We Talk About Gentrification

We know gentrification is racist and classist, that it hurts marginalized people and destroys communities. We know that it fits into a larger cultural reality in which people with more social, political, and economic power have more control over space. We know it fosters discrimination and cultural appropriation. We see the connections.

But there’s a reason that Divisadero Street comes to mind when I think about gentrification: because it’s not a clear picture of behemoth corporations and soulless developers snatching real estate from impoverished communities while comically evil landlords evict their tenants into surefire, immediate homelessness and politicians throw money in the air, laughing maniacally.

At least, that’s not what we see.

Instead, despite our negative views of gentrification, what many of us experience is a more subtle, nuanced version of gentrification, in which not every change is bad and there aren’t any obvious heroes or villains (pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!).

The owners of 4505 Meats, for example, are local residents who are known for using the whole animal, sourcing humane meat from local farmers, and other sustainable, community-oriented practices. They seem like good people, and if Yelp is any indication, their food is pretty good, too (their vegetarian sandwich has green chiles, Oaxacan cheese, and grits, y’all, and I want it).

And we feel more comfortable walking in their now well-lit parking lot.

And we miss our favorite dollar store down the street, but it’s gonna be a kava lounge, dude! (I don’t make this stuff up.)

We are those that benefit from gentrification. And we are ambivalent.

We laugh when things are sold as “urban” and “local” (like, what were they before?), but if we want them, and can afford them, we buy them. We cringe at the idea of sacrificing a one-dollar street taco for a six-dollar street-inspiredtaco, but if our friends invite us out to try one, we go. We side-eye the ten-dollar pear cocktail at the art bar, but what else are you to drink at Indie dance night?

And with our faces in our iPhones and our booties shaking to music made before our time that’s totally cool again, we forget that there is even a problem at all.

And it’s especially easy to ignore the struggles of the poorest members of our community when they have beenremoved from our community, when marginalized people are literally on the margins.

But just because something doesn’t look like a problem doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. So we can choose to enjoy the colorful, “revitalized” façade of our shiny new neighborhoods – or we can peek behind the curtain.

What Gentrification Really Is

Gentrification is not merely a natural shift in the demographics and business landscape of an area, but a collection ofsystematic changes to maximize profit, serving a higher class of people while alienating the middle class and pushing out lower income individuals and families.

The word gentrification comes from “gentry,” which denotes a noble, ruling class of people who own large tracts of land, to which they believe they are entitled, where other lesser people are not.

It’s the same idea that fueled European colonizers to roll up on this continent looking to occupy already-occupied land behind the enlightened, civilized doctrine of “me want, me take.”

It shouldn’t guide city landscapes in 2014.

But it does.

And the results are horrific.

Like immigrant families living twelve-to-a room in mold-ridden apartments, afraid to assert their tenant rights for fear of eviction. Or non-profit agencies unable to retain their funding as their once populous client bases are forced out of the city and far from the services they need to survive. Or meager earners attending apartment viewings where young white men in dress shirts walk in and write checks for double the asking move-in amount, pricing out everyone at the open house.

I want to scream and throw things do something about it.

Change Starts with Us

Challenging your privilege sucks, and it’s easy to find a reason to resist.

I just got here! I didn’t make this building or set this rent! I work hard at my job! I took the apartment I could afford! I’ve been dreaming of opening this restaurant my whole life! I charge six dollars for gluten-free donuts because people pay it!

Yes, you’re right. You’re not single-handedly responsible for all the problems in your city, and if you’re not a speculator or a landlord or a millionaire, you’re probably also limited by gentrification in some way. But your actions have consequences, and they don’t exist outside of the larger social context.

So, when you’re sitting on the balcony of your new high-rise flat eating your six-dollar vegan donut, watching the community below you crumble, you must ask yourself: Do I have a part in this? How do my actions affect this community? Is there something I can do with my power, privilege, and —ahem— money?

And yeah, there is.

1. Acknowledge Your Privilege

Privilege is a complicated issue, and no one is definitively “privileged” or “oppressed.”

But if you are able to live somewhere post-gentrification, are able to enjoy the amenities in a gentrified neighborhood, and aren’t somebody that people want out of their neighborhood due to some aspect of your physical presentation or identity, then you have some privilege that others don’t.

Own it. And use it to engender change.

Like, if you’re chillin’ at your start-up and your broworker is bragging about how he kicked a bunch of Latino teenagers off of their neighborhood soccer field because he paid the city to rent the field (seriously, I don’t make this stuff up), put down your craft brew, hop on the slide down to the first floor, and be like, “Not cool, bro!” He may hear your voice over those of a hundred local kids.

Yes, that likelihood is maddening.

But that’s the thing about power: It’s powerful.

2. Respect the History of Your New Neighborhood

Neighborhoods have a history, a people, a unique culture.

Enjoy it, learn about it, and work to preserve it, even as new cultural elements and businesses are introduced.

Don’t expect it to look like your old neighborhood.

3. Listen to the Voices of Your Neighbors

People like to talk about being a “voice for the oppressed.” That’s misguided. The oppressed have their own voices. We just have to hear them.

In February, Spike Lee criticized gentrification in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, where he grew up.

When he was a child, Lee recounted, “The garbage wasn’t picked up every [expletive] day…the police weren’t around… why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers for the facilities to get better…to get the schools better?”

Lee’s impassioned speech was met with vicious criticism. Apparently, Lee had “mouthed off” and should “take a valium and calm down.”

Don’t dismiss the voices of marginalized people of color according to your genteel preferences. Open your mind. Truths aren’t always spoken calmly.

4. Understand That Residents Have Feelings About Their Changing Neighborhood

If there is anger, there’s a reason.

People who have been disadvantaged by gentrification may not be friendly or nice to you if your presence represents the destruction of their neighborhood – the very destruction that you benefit from.

Be sensitive to this, and allow for some discomfort.

Your discomfort is nothing compared to a disenfranchised group’s oppressed experience.

5. Make Socially Conscious Purchase Decisions

When you go out for a coffee or a drink or a sandwich, think about the places you are going to.

Are they welcome spaces for all types of people? Do they fit into the social landscape of the existing community? Do they hire local bartenders and waiters? Are they paid a living wage? Are there at least a few items on the menu that most people in the area could afford?

It doesn’t always matter that these places aren’t new – there’s always room for creativity and innovation – but that they add to the character of the neighborhood and don’t take away from it.

6. Invest in Community-Focused, Community-Run Organizations

Developers and large businesses love to create charities and fundraising projects to minimize (read: distract us from) the damage they are doing to a community. These projects are, however, often run by people from the organization (read: not the community).

If you want to invest your money or time into a community (yes! do!), make sure you are giving directly to the community and following their lead.

Communities know who they are, how they do things, and what they need better than outside bodies. And they should have the agency to direct these efforts towards change.

7. Question Exclusionary Tactics Claiming to Be About ‘Safety’

You may be told that the influx of bouncers, security guards, and police in your area is about keeping everyone safe.

Be skeptical.

Because this isn’t about the safety of everyone.

Security staff keep paying customers safe while making elite spaces unwelcome to anyone who doesn’t look like they fit in. Ask a teen in a hoodie if they feel safe in front of a nice restaurant or with increased law enforcement presence in the area and you might get a very different perspective.

Most importantly, despite claims that revitalization lowers crime, studies have suggested that gentrification actuallyincreases crime. So, there’s that.

8. Advocate for Yourself and Others

Get to know the tenant rights laws in your area – they may be more comprehensive than you realize – and visit local organizations for additional information.

Share materials with others. Stand with your neighbors if they are facing eviction or being taken advantage of, and do the same for yourself.

When my last landlord attempted exploitative and illegal actions, ones he had carried out successfully with a string of young female tenants before us, we reported him immediately to the Rent Board. We won several hundred dollars, a signed agreement to stop, and the upper hand. We moved nearly a year ago, and he has yet to re-rent the place.

These victories matter.

9. Vote

This may be the most important factor of all.

Your vote can determine how rent control is regulated, how much affordable housing is built, whether a large corporation can build a skyscraper on your cityscape, what social services will be available this year, and other things that affect your area.

So, get out to the polls! No dress code required.


It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the reality of gentrification, but if you’re able to afford your apartment and your groceries, it’s also easy to ignore.

This isn’t about blame or guilt, but a call to make choices more in line with our values and visions of the world while maintaining respect for the visions that community members have for their own communities.

Unfortunately, not everyone will hear this call to action. They will shut their curtains, lock their doors, and call the cops if it gets too loud.

And that’s Da’ Pitts.

Katy Kreitler is a Clinical Social Worker specializing in youth, gender, and trauma.  She holds an MSW from USC and a BA in Psychology and Sociology from USF. She can be found somewhere in San Francisco reading a book, eating a burrito, and side-eyeing humanity. 

This article was originally published in Everyday Feminism. 

(Backstage) Jerrod Carmichael Treats His Audience Like Adults

By Benjamin Lindsay | Posted March 23, 2016, 11 a.m.

Jerrod Carmichael Treats His Audience Like Adults

Photo Source: Chad Griffith

“I like art that’s perceived to require thought,” says comedian and actor Jerrod Carmichael over lunch in lower Manhattan. That much is clear even in his small talk. While walking to Felice 15 Gold Street after a photo shoot, he riffs on everything from Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” to John Oliver. (While he cites West as a musical revolutionary, he thinks the “Last Week Tonight” host can do better than #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain.) Now splitting a cheese plate and bruschetta, he hones in on someone else’s thought-provoking art: his own.

“I’m curious about how things affect the world more than just personal exploration,” Carmichael says, turning a grape over in his hand. “When I hear of situations, my mind goes to—in the healthiest sense of the word—the ‘broader’ sense of [how] this is affecting everybody around us.”

Such thought processes are apparent in his socially conscious standup and sitcom. His Spike Lee–directed HBO special premiered in 2014, and more recently, his eponymous NBC series, “The Carmichael Show,” premiered its second season on March 13 after a brief six episodes last August.

“My lawyers are the only reason I say ‘Season 2,’ ” he jokes of the new 13-episode arc. “It’s a deeper version of the same thing.”

For fans of the series, that’s good news. At the tail end of summer 2015, “The Carmichael Show” beat the odds and nabbed an audience over the course of three weeks and six episodes. Its deft blend of familial slapstick and of-the-moment politics ensured Carmichael was a voice worth listening to. He got viewers thinking. In standout episodes like “Protest” and “Gender,” Carmichael brought hot-button issues like the Black Lives Matter movement and heightened visibility of the transgender community to the least likely of stages: the multicam sitcom, live audience and all.

“I actually originally envisioned it as single-cam and they changed it,” Carmichael now admits. “Then I realized that multi was more of a challenge. The narrative of the realm of multicameras is that it’s dying, it’s dead, there’s no true art in it. And what’s more fun than that challenge? [There is] also a connection with the stage performance of it—being a standup comic and knowing that at its best, multicam [gets] that reaction. It elicits this response.”

Luckily, it wasn’t just the studio audience that responded. “The Carmichael Show” Season 1 pulled in NBC’s best ratings for its late summer time slot in over a decade and was promptly scooped up for another round. The series also got a stamp of critical approval. Season 2 has already rolled out buzzed-about half-hours on class and infidelity, gentrification, and most notably, Bill Cosby’s tarnished legacy. After the premiere of the Cosby episode, titled “Fallen Heroes,” Salon went so far as to crown Carmichael “the most important comedian in America.”

“People are much smarter [and] the audience wants more than I think a lot of people behind the camera give them credit for,” says co-creator and Carmichael’s “Neighbors” director Nicholas Stoller of the series’ appeal. “People want to hear the conversations they’re having in their living rooms.”

That’s just where the bulk of “The Carmichael Show” takes place: Carmichael’s childhood living room. Largely inspired by the dynamics of his own family growing up in North Carolina, Carmichael plays Jerrod and is joined by all of the genre’s necessary players: a schlubby, down-and-out brother (Lil Rel Howery); a loud, opinionated father (David Alan Grier); a jovial and equally opinionated mother (Loretta Devine); and Carmichael’s black sheep—and, as the series points out, half-black—girlfriend, Maxine (Amber Stevens West).

Politics of the religious right and bleeding heart left come under one roof while certain events offscreen (a Black Lives Matter protest, for instance) stoke a conversation that is both nuanced and hilarious. More surprisingly, there’s no agenda at play. Audiences can trust that, for better or worse, they will hear all opinions on a matter between the cast’s varied personalities. And while it doesn’t shy away from bits of sobriety, “Carmichael” just as quickly lightens the mood with a laugh-out-loud (if not entirely politically correct) quip. “The laugh that happens after the serious moment [is] just huge because the audience is so relieved,” Stoller says. Look no further than Grier’s take on one character struggling to come out as transgender: “Don’t worry, the woman trapped inside of him will tell the man what to do.” Cue the studio laughter.

“The main thing, I think, that was really important to me and also to Jerrod as we made the show, is that no one’s right and no one’s wrong,” Stoller continues. “I think [that] makes much more interesting conversation and television.”

Carmichael says that much of the series’ content is his perspective as he’s debated with himself and others on these topics. “It’s a completed argument for me,” he summates. “A lot of [Jerrod] is my perspective. Some other characters are my perspective, even the polar opposites. It’s an argument that I’ve had with myself [that’s] harder to do in standup, but with the show, I can fulfill the argument immediately.”

Today, Carmichael credits his analytical humor to his days living in the very home he’s now depicting on prime time. While he’s always rejected the notion of being “just a comedian,” saying it seemed “kind of arrogant” to assume he can make people laugh, that’s exactly what he’s been doing since his days in middle school making comedic topical shorts instead of writing essays. “I have teachers that, years later, tell me they still show some of the videos. My version of ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ is amazing,” he insists. But even before dreams of becoming a comic, Carmichael recalls wanting a series on NBC.

“This is going to sound like I made it up, but my brother likes to remind me of it: When I was 13 years old, I said, ‘I want a show on Thursday night on NBC,’ ” he says with a sheepish grin. “I wanted a sitcom. That was all I ever really wanted.”

So in 2008, he left to chase the dream and moved to Los Angeles. As any working actor will know, a career’s early years are often the most trying, but Carmichael remembers them with clarity and fondness. He didn’t take for granted that L.A. is a mecca of creativity and Hollywood history. He’d often spend afternoons at the Paley Center watching old TV shows and evenings at open mics.

“Me and a lot of the closest friends I have now even still just wanted to impress each other. We wanted to try new things constantly. We weren’t afraid to fail,” he says.

“Don’t think about it. You just do the work, do the art. At some point in the process, you should do it purely for the love of it,” he advises. “A lot of people jump in and sort of make it a business first, and while I knew [my work] could obviously prove profitable, it was really important for me to view it as art. I try to hold onto that as much as I can, even while navigating the business aspect.”

Surviving the industry’s business aspects, however, can be just as daunting, and having an understanding of Hollywood’s effect on art and vice versa is key to striking gold. Carmichael says success also requires a thick skin and an ability to compromise and collaborate without selling out.

“You have to be stronger than everyone’s collective caution and everyone’s collective fear,” he says. “A show is still a business. There’s a lot of money at stake… [but] audiences recognize when a machine created something and when something is personal and true and close. When it comes to creation, playing ‘the game’ doesn’t apply. When you make something, it needs to be as pure as it can be.”

Time and again, Carmichael proves a voice worth listening to. Are you listening yet?

Keep Standing Up

Even at the height of his success at NBC, Carmichael continues to do standup whenever he can. When he was in New York City earlier this month, he made it a point to do a quick set at the historic Comedy Cellar. “Sometimes when I’m writing the script [for ‘The Carmichael Show’], I’ll go onstage and talk about what we’re talking about in the episode to really explore how I feel about it,” he says. Contrary to popular belief, though, Carmichael says standup isn’t all about the laughs. “I’m looking for feeling, I’m looking for connection, I’m looking for a reaction…. When I think comedian, I think [of] the satire of Mark Twain as much as the jokes of Chris Rock. Obviously, laughs are an important thing and you want to be funny and you want to give [audiences] that experience, but you also want them to feel some type of connection to what you’re saying. I treat my audience like adults.

The article was published in Backstage.

(Daily News) EXCLUSIVE: Ted Cruz knows ‘absolutely nothing’ about counterterrorism in NYC, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton says

BY  | SPECIAL TO THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS | Updated: Saturday, March 26, 2016, 7:18 PM
Ted Cruz speaks during an appearance in Virginia.STEVE HELBER/AP

Ted Cruz speaks during an appearance in Virginia.

There seems to be a widespread belief among certain members of the political class that protecting the country against terrorism is a matter of ideology. According to them, the strong leaders in this area are the ones who are willing to insult Muslims, advocate torture, and engage in various other provocations. They claim that other leaders are paralyzed by political correctness and that they alone have the ideological fortitude to guard against the terrorist threat.

Terrorism is ideologically driven but counterterrorism, like other kinds of police work, has no ideological component whatsoever. It is about stopping the terrorists before they strike. That requires intelligence gathering, analysis and focused investigative work.

In the event of a terrorist attack, police also need the capacity to respond swiftly and with effective tactics. It is a matter of consistent, determined, targeted detective work, of highly trained and well-equipped operational units, and of intelligence analysts who can interpret the data, decipher the chatter and distinguish the real threats from the bluster and the noise.

Recently, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz called for police to “patrol and secure Muslim communities before they become radicalized.” We already patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods, the same way we patrol and secure other neighborhoods.

When people call the police, we rush to help them. When people break the law, we move to arrest them. But no, we do not single out any populace, black, white, yellow or brown for selective enforcement. We do not “patrol and secure” neighborhoods based on selective enforcement because of race or religion, nor will we use the police and an occupying force to intimidate a populace or a religion to appease the provocative chatter of politicians seeking to exploit fear.

Bill Bratton holds a press conference in New York City.ANDREW BURTON/GETTY IMAGES

Bill Bratton holds a press conference in New York City.

Nor will we accept the fiction of Sen. Cruz’s narrative as presented. Cruz repeated the false reports surrounding the NYPD Demographics Unit and my decision to abolish it because it wasn’t serving any useful purpose. He tried to depict the demise of the unit, as other ill-informed observers have done, as a knuckling under to the forces of political correctness rather than the sensible administrative decision that it was. The fact is that the former administration had allowed the unit to dwindle down to two investigators. Why? Because the work of the unit, which was to map the ethnic makeup of the city to better understand the domain of the New York metropolitan area, was finished. The two remaining detectives simply had little to do.

This sensible move was translated in the bumper-sticker, sound bite language of politics to be one of two extremes. Either transferring the last two detectives out of the Demographics Unit ended an extensive spying program that inhibited religious freedom (it wasn’t and it didn’t) or, we eliminated the key program protecting New York City from terrorists and with it, our undercover operations, informants and surveillance (it wasn’t and we didn’t).

Members of the NYPD Strategic Response Group stand outside NYPD headquarters after a press conference in New York City.ANDREW BURTON/GETTY IMAGES

Members of the NYPD Strategic Response Group stand outside NYPD headquarters after a press conference in New York City.

It is clear from his comments that Sen. Cruz knows absolutely nothing about counterterrorism in New York City. We have in this city, without a doubt, the most effective and extensive counterterrorism capacity of any city in this country and virtually any city in the world. Let me count the ways:

—The Joint-Terrorism Task Force, with the FBI, has more than 100 NYPD detectives working full time on counterterrorism investigations. They do not place entire communities under surveillance, but at any given time, based on authorized investigations, they may be watching individuals who have aroused suspicion as to possibly being involved in terrorist activity. Our Intelligence Bureau detectives work with informants, surveillance teams, undercover officers and cyber specialists on investigations that are documented, authorized and regularly reviewed to protect the city from terrorism.

—The Critical Response Command, founded on Mayor de Blasio’s watch, deploys more than 500 highly trained and thoroughly equipped officers to critical sites and potential targets. These officers would be immediately deployable to any attack, or series of attacks, and could engage heavily armed terrorists without delay. Given the pattern of attacks in Europe where terrorists hit multiple sites simultaneously and showed the clear intention to kill as many people as possible, these new units have the mission of engaging the terrorists, as quickly as possible, with equal firepower and superior training to stop the killing as soon as possible. The CRC is backed up by other commands with counterterrorism capabilities, including the Strategic Response Group and the Emergency Service Unit. These NYPD units have the capacity to deploy hundreds of heavily armed officers to any attack site in the city at any time of the day or night.

—The NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau, which encompasses both the Joint Terrorism Task Force and Critical Response Command, also houses a wide variety of other capabilities, including a 40-officer bomb squad; a 150-officer World Trade Center Command; radiological detection water vessels and aircraft; an infrastructure unit that hardens targets across the city; and a public-private partnership called SHIELD, with a membership of some 15,000 local property and business owners.

—The NYPD Intelligence Bureau is staffed not only with police officers but highly skilled civilian intelligence analysts, the sort of experts who work in national intelligence. They are continuously vetting leads, hints and rumors to keep the threat picture in New York updated. The Intelligence Bureau also maintains liaison officers in multiple cities around the world who can swiftly report back to us on any attack anywhere on Earth.

—The NYPD Domain Awareness System is one of the most sophisticated networks of cameras, license plate readers and radiological censors in the world, providing real-time information across southern Manhattan and in many other parts of the city.

The dashboard for the NYPD's Domain Awareness System (DAS) is seen in New York.SHANNON STAPLETON/REUTERS

The dashboard for the NYPD’s Domain Awareness System (DAS) is seen in New York.

So, no, transferring the two detectives we found languishing in the already defunct Demographics Unit did not have any effect on our ability to protect New York City from terrorists. Sen. Cruz’s references to the discontinuance of the Demographics Unit shows he has been hoodwinked by a 21st century fairy tale that refuses to die. He uses it in tandem with his suggestions that the police create a looming presence to intimidate Muslim neighborhoods with a show of force.

In New York City, we protect all communities from crime and terrorism — yes, Muslim communities too — because like us, they are Americans who own businesses, work hard, pay taxes and dream of a better life for their children. Over 900 of them work in my police department as police officers, many of them in counterterrorism and intelligence. Many of them have served in the military and fought for their country. We police our city not by campaign slogans or inflammatory rhetoric, but by an old piece of parchment called the U.S. Constitution and another called the Bill of Rights.

Ted Cruz and others seem to be willing to sideline these principles because what they stand for shifts with the tide of the campaign and the shrillness of the name-calling. But as it has been said, when you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything. Sen. Cruz needs to do some homework before he speaks again.

Meanwhile, in New York, we will continue keeping the city safe while policing constitutionally, respectfully and effectively.

Bratton is the commissioner of the NYPD.

The article was published in the New York Daily News.

(Shoppe Black) The Funky Diabetic – Why Phife Dawg’s Death should Spark a Conversation about Diabetes

in Black Thought by

Like many of you, I was greeted by sad news this morning. Phife Dawg of the legendary group, A Tribe Called Quest, had passed away from medical complications caused by diabetes. He was only 45 years old. Phife had been battling diabetes mellitus type 1 since he was first diagnosed in 1990, the year that Tribe’s first album dropped.

56f2c71bac874.imagePhife’s condition was hereditary (his mother had diabetes) and it was exacerbated by his hectic touring schedule which caused him to eat large amounts of fast food.  In a 2010 interview , he said, “I was still waking up to a glass of Quik, you know what I’m saying? Oreo cookies for breakfast, just stupid shit. It didn’t make it any better that we were on the road performing, eating KFC, McDonalds, shit like that and I was going hard when we was younger”. At some point, his kidneys began to fail and in 2004 he started dialysis. Eventually, his wife became his donor and gifted him with one of her kidneys. He drastically improved his eating habits and seemingly regained control over his diabetes before A Tribe Called Quest’s reunion in 2008. Sadly, that wasn’t enough to prolong his life into old age.


His passing reminded me of the death of Patrice O’Neal, one of my favorite comedians. Patrice was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in his early twenties and died at 41.


I’m 37-years old now, and thankfully, in good health.  So as far as I’m concerned, these guys were way too young to die. Unfortunately, diabetes is one of the most life-threatening health problems plaguing the Black community today. Over ninety percent of people who have the disease suffer from type 2 diabetes. This is largely the result of excess body weight and lack of physical exercise. According to the American Diabetes Association, Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. Only five percent of people with diabetes have this form of the disease.

Word cloud concept illustration of diabetes condition

Compared to the general U.S. population, African Americans are disproportionately affected by diabetes. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health (OMH)website, “African Americans are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. In addition, they are more likely to suffer complications from diabetes, such as end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and lower extremity amputations. Although African Americans have the same or lower rate of high cholesterol as their non-Hispanic white counterparts, they are more likely to have high blood pressure.”

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End-stage renal disease (ESRD) signifies that the kidneys are barely or no longer functioning after about 10-20 years of chronic kidney disease. Without dialysis or a kidney transplant, ESRD leads to death.  According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ESRD related to diabetes is about 170% higher in black men than in White men and about 131% higher in black women than in White women.

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Diabetes isn’t exclusive to the Western world though. This health condition is also becoming more prevalent in African countries. A report by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) states that the African continent counts approximately 13.6 million people with diabetes. Nigeria has the highest number of people with diabetes(with approximately 1.2 million people affected).

MCC-treating diabetes in Kenya

In Ghana, a large percentage of the population suffers from type 2 diabetes. According to Elizabeth Denyoh, president of Ghana’s National Diabetes Association, the country has no national diabetes program. Denyou said, “In Ghana, most people diagnosed with diabetes are the poorest of the poor. There is a lot of Type 1 diabetes in rural areas. ” Type 1 diabetes, although still rare in many areas, is becoming increasingly more prevalent. IGT (Impaired Glucose Tolerance) is also becoming problematic in many African countries. This counters the prevailing myth that diabetes is solely a disease of the wealthy west.


In numerous interviews (3 min mark), Phife mentioned how he used his celebrity as a platform to raise diabetes awareness. He said that he would love it if he could inspire others with the condition and let them know that they can still achieve their dreams and desires despite the hardships that come with diabetes.  Like Phife, there are many other well known individuals who have been affected by diabetes directly or indirectly. Many are using their popularity as a platform to raise awareness.

For example,  Lil Jon raised money the American Diabetes Association during his stint on The Apprentice. His now deceased mother had type 2 diabetes and suffered a stroke while they were the taping a season of the show. He went on to raise $195,000 for the cause.

1361555530_lil-jon-now-560Dennis Coles aka Tony Starks aka Ghostface Killah of the Wu Tang Clan, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1996. In a 2005 interview about his condition, he said “I didn’t know what that shit was.” He went to two doctors before it was detected. “My sugar was mad high, but it was a little relief to know what it was.” His doctor prescribed insulin along with a healthier regiment. “That meant putting down the blunts and cutting back on the alcohol and sweets.” It’s about discipline”, said Ghost. “You can quit the cigarettes and all that other shit but as a diabetic you fiend for sweets. When you sitting at the crib staring at them Oreos, you gonna fuck around and go in. You want those Fruity Pebbles and all that shit. I had to learn how to just chill, exercise, drink protein shakes and monitor my sugar.”


Let me be clear: this isn’t some pathological problem that’s simply impacting our community. Black people are dying and developing poor health, largely because of racism and oppressive systems. There are virtual food deserts in many Black communities across the U.S. Young people consume high amounts of soda and candy and other crap. There are rarely any healthy food options, let alone affordable options in many of our communities.


Most of us know someone or have someone close to us who are diabetic, if we’re not diabetic ourselves. Eating habits are hard to break, especially considering the fact that sugar is literally in everythingwe consume. The impact of everyday racism and classism have a way of negatively impacting our immune systems and the physiological functions of our bodies.  But to know better is to do better. Let’s all do what we can to prevent another loss like this. If you want to know about some Black owned businesses that are committed to health and wellness, check out our previous post.


To address this growing epidemic, the American Diabetes Association has created programs and materials to increase awareness of the seriousness of diabetes and its complications among African Americans. Learn more here.

The Busy African

The article was published in Shoppe Black.

(HuffPost) ‘Empire’ Star Jussie Smollett Reminds Us That AIDS Isn’t A Problem Of The Past

03/21/2016 05:36 pm ET

Rahel Gebreyes

Editor, HuffPost Live

With about 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States, there’s no reason the conversation about the issue should be slowing down. Actor Jussie Smollett, who has been an outspoken advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention, delivered that message loud and clear in a conversation with HuffPost Live last week.

The “Empire” star warned against considering HIV/AIDS to be a problem from “yesteryear.”

“We get attached to these hashtags and it becomes this social media fad,” he said. “But it’s almost as if HIV/AIDS stopped being the thing to talk about before social media came around. We’ve gotta bring that back because we’re not done.”

In recent years, the estimated incidence of HIV has remained stable at about50,000 new HIV infections annually, but gay men and African Americans are still most affected. With new infections still occurring, the actor stressed the importance of knowing one’s HIV status and being open about it.

“Getting tested, knowing your status, being responsible for yourself and other people is so important — being honest with yourself, number one, so you can be honest with everyone else,” he said.

Smollett also shared words of optimism for those who have been infected and are seeking proper treatment.

“We have to remember that it’s not a death sentence. You can live with it and you can live a beautiful, wonderful life with it, but it’s also something that we can prevent,” he said.

Watch the full HuffPost Live conversation with Jussie Smollett here

(Medium) The Braiders of Harlem

Christiana A Mbakwe / Medium

Christiana A Mbakwe / Medium

Christiana A Mbakwe | 

There is no décor. The only art on the pumpkin colored walls are vintage posters of bare shouldered black women with elaborate hairstyles. Two women, one from Senegal, the other from the Ivory Coast, split 7 feet of black synthetic hair into sections before they begin to braid.

Behind them is a restless elementary school girl; she swings her legs so vigorously her timberlands thump on the floor. Her hairdresser, Tenin, has tightly wrapped the ends of each braid with string until they resemble sooty bees nests. She dips the ends of the braids in boiling water; acutely aware of the risk involved, the child is finally still. The final step of the three-hour process is simple — Tenin lathers the girl’s head with white mousse.

Aicha Hair Braiding Salon is one of a number of African braiding shops that are clustered around 125th street in Harlem. Much like the Apollo Theatre and Abyssinian Baptist Church, the braiding shops and braiders that work in them are a Harlem landmark.

Hair braiding is a tradition that has been practiced in various African societies for centuries. Across the United States, women from countries such as Senegal, Ivory Coast and Togo, have used braiding as a bridge to a better life. In the 1990’s and 2000’s, entrepreneurial instinct and the ability of braiders to amalgamate traditional braiding styles with hair trends within African-American culture, meant braiding was a secure source of income.

According to Professor Cheikh Anta Babou, an expert in African history and the Africa diaspora, although it was generally confined to the informal economy, braiding was once such a lucrative profession, in the peak season braiders could earn $200-$300 a day. Babou estimates 70% of Senegalese immigrant women in the United States are hair braiders. Braiding is so pervasive it has reshaped and transformed Senegalese life in the United States. For instance, the economic independence women gained from braiding meant patriarchal norms were resisted; consequently divorce has become more frequent within the Senegalese community.

In recent years, however, a combination of demographic shifts in neighborhoods, rising rents and technological disruption, has meant braiding is no longer a trade immigrants can rely on.

“This country’s not like before. You don’t get money like before,” said Tenin, the hairdresser who hails from the Ivory Coast. “It was more busy than this. When tax season comes you’re very happy. But now?” she shakes her head in dismay and returns to her work. Two months ago, Tenin gave birth to her fourth child. The uneven nature of her job meant she had to come back to work. On some days she has no clients, while on other days she has eight. Staying at home was far too risky.

Today, it’s not uncommon to see braiders hustling for potential clients at the busiest intersections in Harlem. Some even wait at subway turnstiles, hoping to find a customer. According to Aicha, Tenin’s mother and the owner of the braiding salon where they both work, the spread of braiders onto the streets hunting for clients is a relatively new development. Aicha has worked as a braider in Harlem for over 20 years. She believes the demographic shifts in the neighborhood and rising rents, has meant they have a smaller customer base and have to fight harder for what’s left. “I don’t like to beg on the street for customers. I used to, but not any more. But I understand why women do” she said.

Aicha is correct in her observation about rising rents and dwindling black customers. A report by the Community Service Society, showed between 2002 and 2014 average rents in Central Harlem rose by 90%. Recent census data showed that Harlem’s black population is the smallest it’s been since the 1920’s and they are now only 40% of its residents. The ramifications of this on the informal braiding market are palpable. A number of braiding stores have been forced to close, and some braiders even left New York in search for work elsewhere. However, there’s another force working against women like Aicha and Tenin — technology. In particular, the proliferation of social networking sites, which have created virtual communities centred on sharing information about black women’s hair and an increase in women finding their hairdressers using the Internet. In an unexpected twist, it seems that immigrants aren’t taking jobs from Americans, instead technology is taking jobs from immigrants.

In 2008, a shift occurred in the black cultural zeitgeist that reshaped how black women decided to style their own hair. According to “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America” by Ayanna Byrd and Lori Tharps, the natural hair movement caused a critical mass of black women to stop chemically straightening their hair and wear their hair in its natural state. Historically, there have been other waves where black women have favored natural styles however this was the first in the era of online social networking.

Conversations about black women’s hair are constantly happening on the Internet. They occur in YouTube comments, hair forums and an amorphous subculture within Twitter called “Black Twitter”. The #naturalhair hashtag on Instagram has 7.4 million photos. In theory, this movement should have meant African hair braiders were perfectly positioned to exploit a new and hungry customer base. According to Mintel Black Consumers and Hair care 2015 report, the black hair care market is worth an estimated $2.7 billion — there’s more than enough money to go around. But a cornerstone of the natural hair movement and the digital conversation surrounding it is an emphasis on autonomy and agency. An important expression of this agency is the ability to understand and do your own natural hair.

The emergence of social networking and the fact that the web significantly influences black women’s hair choices, places braiders at an acute disadvantage. The informal and underground nature of the braiding industry has meant there’s a natural and almost instinctive aversion to social media. Despite their presence on the streets of Harlem and Brooklyn, most braiders prefer to be or remain inconspicuous. Some braiders are undocumented or in regular contact with people who are undocumented and this creates a reluctance to create a visible online presence. Very few of the braiding shops have Facebook or Instagram pages, websites are rare and most salon owners don’t respond to reviews on Yelp. Furthermore, in West African culture, privacy is viewed as virtue and openness is a vice. All these things are diametrically opposed to the relentless self-promotion and hyper-exposure the digital age requires. In the meantime, the savviest natural hairdressers are exploiting technology for their benefit and gaining customers.

“I did it in college just for fun, just one video — and it went viral” said Sadora Paris, a popular natural hair blogger. Since Sadora posted her first video tutorial two years ago, her audience has grown to 120 thousand YouTube subscribers and almost 25 thousand Instagram followers. She has leveraged her fan base to become a fulltime brand ambassador for natural hair care lines such as Carol’s Daughter and Shea Moisture. Sadora also earns additional income as a hair coach and beauty consultant.

Sadora views the relationship between the African braiders and their customer base as a complex one that is fractured by generational differences as much as cultural ones. African braiders aren’t the only segment within the black hair industry that struggled to keep up with how technology has transformed it. Many older African-American salon owners who catered exclusively to black women with chemically straightened hair failed to keep up with the times and are also struggling. Additionally, the women she coaches who no longer go to African braiders cite three main factors — saving money, time and their hair. Traditional braiding methods favor tight, neat styles and an aesthetic is valued over the health of the hair. However many black women have concerns about their hair, particularly the perimeter of the hairline referred to colloquially as their “edges”. For Sadora and her clients, the choice to do their own hair is less about the African braiders and more about how they prefer to do their hair.

Dr. Shartriya Collier is an expert in immigrant women entrepreneurs, who has done extensive research on the braiding industry in the United States. While she agrees that technology and other variables have contributed to the difficulties the braiders currently face, she cautions against overstating their significance. In her view, there were no real glory years in the braiding industry– it’s always been a difficult trade. “There was always a tension between African shop owners and their African-American clients,” she said. The intersection of language and cultural barriers meant exchanges between African braiders and their African-American clients have always been characterized by difficulties.

In their economic transactions, most braiders tend to occupy the grey space between legal and illegal activity. Cash is the preferred, and often the only form of payment. Most financial transactions aren’t documented in official records and braiders aren’t paid an hourly wage; instead they pay the shop owner a commission on every client they get. And while technology has had an adverse effect on their cash flow, it’s been advantageous for most parts of the informal economy. Professor Justin W. Webb, of The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, is an expert on entrepreneurship within the informal economy. In his research, he has observed how technological advances have created more opportunities for entrepreneurs who operate outside of the formal sphere. “Technology is presenting a larger market and in a way they’re able to skirt [legislation]. They’re less visible to those who are monitoring and enforcing them,” said Webb.

In his years of studying informal economies, Webb has frequently come across a phenomena he calls the “stepping stone effect” This occurs when a worker gradually formalizes and legitimizes their trade or they accumulate enough capital and knowledge to leave the informal sphere and work in another part of the formal economy. But braiders face a challenge that impedes this effect — language.

Most braiders come from French-speaking African countries, so if they do speak English, it is often their third language. French or Wolof tends to be the lingua franca inside the hair shop and English is only used while establishing price or in brief exchanges with clients. The lack of English fluency makes it difficult to leave the industry. On the other hand, braiders from English speaking African countries often use braiding as a job on the side, to support them while they attend night school or while they learn a more economically advantageous trade. As soon as these women achieve their goal they stop braiding.

In 2002, Mama (as she calls herself), made the trip from Nouakchott, Mauritania to the United States. At the time she was fluent in Wolof and French, and could speak only broken English. She found accommodation in the Bronx and was embraced by a network of African immigrants. They told her to go to Harlem and start braiding hair. Mama is middle aged and braiding has taken its toll on her body. Some days she works for 12 hours at a time at Barry’s Good Braiding, she has constant back pain but can’t afford the surgery. What was supposed to be an opportunity has become a trap and Mama wishes she picked another trade when she first moved to America. Braiding is so niche that her years of experience aren’t easily transferred to another industry. “It’s not a job I’m doing and love it. I don’t have a choice,” said Mama.

Walk into any braiding shop and you’ll notice the incredible speed at which braiders move their wrists and fingers. No matter how long you stare, this speed makes it difficult to decipher each step of the process. It’s wondrous to watch because the women maintain this speed for anything from 3 to 6 hours. And on a particularly busy day they may braid for a total of 10 hours.

Ask any woman who’s had her hair braided the worst thing about it and she’ll probably mention the pain. Most people don’t think about the pain the braiders endure. The physically taxing nature of the job and the mental strain of hoping for clients mean that braiders often end the day exhausted. Over the years this accumulates and has acute physical manifestations. Back pain, shoulder pain, it isn’t rare to come across braiders with ganglion cysts on their wrists — big bumps that are the evidence of years of strain.

For those that have the option to work in the formal economy, the decision to become an entrepreneur is often an expression of their independence and freedom. But for many of the braiders, with limited childcare options, low levels of education and significant language barriers, being an entrepreneur is the only option, rather than a romantic form of self-actualization. It is a beautiful struggle at best.

The article was published in Medium. 

(TimesLedger) Youth to receive job training at new Starbucks in Jamaica

Baristas David Merrick (l.) and Nigel Armstrong (r.) predict the new Jamaica store will have a good effect on the community. Photo Credit: Michael Shain

Baristas David Merrick (l.) and Nigel Armstrong (r.) predict the new Jamaica store will have a good effect on the community.
Photo Credit: Michael Shain


By Madina Toure

Two Jamaica-raised baristas at the newly opened Starbucks in Jamaica, David Merrick and Nigel Armstrong, who met barely a month ago but have already branded themselves the “dynamic duo,” are excited the store will offer job training for youth in the community.

Starbucks held a preview opening for its new store at 89-02 Sutphin Blvd. Monday, the first of at least 15 stores that will open throughout the United States to hire and train youth in diverse and urban communities. The store officially opened Tuesday at 6 a.m.

The store includes an onsite classroom space available to local nonprofit organizations to provide job training and skills building programs for young people in the area.

It is part of the chain’s goal of hiring 10,000 opportunity youth, 16- to 24-year-old individuals who are not in school and not employed.

Merrick, 23, who volunteers for LIFE Camp founded by Erica Ford, said the initiative will give kids an alternative study spot to the library and keep them occupied.

“Honestly, I feel like it’s a good thing because as a kid, you kind of don’t learn what’s going on at a young age,” he said. “So this is definitely a way to get kids at 16 and 17 off the streets and actually introducing them into the workforce and the work environment.”

For Armstrong, 20, the store will be a “home away from home” for kids in the area.

“I know they’re going to have a lot of youth coming in and out of here, so to make that connection with them is going to be really big,” he said. “I feel like they’re going to be looking to us for guidance. I feel like it’s going to be really big for us and for the youth.”

Alisha Wrencher, the store manager, who has worked for Starbucks for 18 years and was born and raised in Jamaica, handpicked all 17 employees, who range in age from 16 to 36 and hail from Brooklyn, parts of Queens and Jamaica in the Caribbean.

“I know how much this store can do to create a brighter future for our opportunity youth and am honored that Starbucks chose me to lead this new store,” Wrencher said.

Borough President Katz, who has launched the Jamaica Now Action Plan to revitalize Jamaica, praised the selection of the borough as the beta site.

“We understand that this is a prototype for the rest of the nation, but just to be clear: It started in Queens,” Katz said, her words met with applause from the crowd.

Starbucks has partnered with the Queens Community House, Queens Connect’s lead agency, and YMCA’s Y Roads Centers, which will be utilizing a dedicated training space within the store specially created by the Starbucks design studio.

The Jamaica store is the first in a nationwide initiative Starbucks announced last year to deepen investments in at least 15 similar U.S. communities by 2018 by opening stores with the goal of creating new jobs and engaging local women and minority-owned vendors and suppliers. The next location will be in the West Florissant neighborhood of Ferguson, Mo.

“One of the things that we’ve learned over the time is that we can’t do it alone,” said Rodney Hines, director of community investments for Starbucks retail operations.

Candice Cadogan, a Brooklyn-born barista raised in Cambria Heights, and Jermaine Slater, a newly promoted shift superviser who was born in Jamaica in the Caribbean and raised in Jamaica, led a coffee tasting for Guatemala Finca Monte David, one of their small batch Reserve coffees.

The article was originally published in the TimesLedger Newspapers.

(National Interest) Senegal: The Linchpin of Security in West Africa

Seth J. Frantzman

Image: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Marine Corps.

Senegalese military personnel are voting in a national referendum on March 13. The rest of Senegal votes in the same referendum on March 20. The military is voting early so that it can be alert during what is hoped will be a peaceful vote. Dakar, the capital of this country of fourteen million, is decked out in posters shouting “Oui”: vote “yes” for strengthening democracy and the rule of law. The referendum concerns reducing the term limit of the presidency and other initiatives. It is a reminder that this is a sub-Saharan African country that is a historically stable democracy, in a region that has seen coups, dictatorship and most recently, Islamist extremism.

A week in this West African state gives an idea of the security challenges it is facing. Dakar port, which is the second largest after Ivory Coast’s Abidjan, is an entree to West Africa and a gateway to Mali, where France intervened to prevent a takeover of the country by Islamist rebels and their allies in 2013. The security here is noticeable, with private security running checks on passengers, and a local police and gendarme detachment. The Senegalese navy is based here and the coast guard does regular patrols from the harbor.

Soldiers have been deployed in districts where there is nightlife in Dakar. Hotels in the capital have also upped security after the attacks on November 20 in Bamako which killed twenty, on Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso on January 15 which killed 30, and in Ivory Coast on March 13. Much of this security seems symbolic rather than necessarily reflecting deep experience or expertise. But there is no doubt that Senegal is taking it seriously and most of those we spoke with felt there was a terror threat and that leaders were cognizant of it.

Senegal’s capital may be 1,200 miles from Ouagadougou, but it feels much closer. If terrorists could slip into that country and attack a hotel, couldn’t they do it here, which is equidistant from Mali or Mauritania where the extremists operate. The U.S. Army’s Flintlock exercise which began on February 8 in the village of Theis an hour east of Dakar, is symbolic of the faith Western powers and regional powers put in Senegal’s influence and its desire to be vigilant against extremism. U.S. Army Brigadier General Donald C. Bolduc said of the thirty-nation exercise that “it is more than a military exercise, we are training together to increase our interoperability and collaboration to counter today’s threats.” Senegal led this year’s exercise.

Aminata Touré, a former prime minister and currently adviser to the president says that one of the great long term threats to security can be youth unemployment. “There is a relationship between instability and youth unemployment. That is the first threat to security and social stability. Of course, we are concerned by security issues, we are surrounded by countries with troubles.” Many Senegalese emphasize that the country was able to prevent Ebola from crossing the border after the outbreak in West Africa in 2014, which points to an ability to close a porous border if necessary.

According to local security analysts the Senegalese army is of a high quality compared to its neighbors. It does not play a role in politics, an issue that has harmed armies in other countries in this region because of suspicion between the presidential guard units and other units. Senegal’s army also has experience fighting in Mali and most recently in Yemen, where it sent 2,100 troops to join the Saudi-led coalition in May of 2015. SO far, more than a dozen Senegalese have joined ISIS and related groups. In December, for example, one medical student at Senegal’s largest university posted on Facebook that he had gone to join ISIS. Four local imams were arrested in November for supporting extremism. A Pew Research Center poll released the same month showed that while 60 percent found ISIS unfavorable there were 10 percent who found it more palatable.

Many local experts say that the tradition of large Sufi brotherhoods in Senegal means extremists have difficulty taking root. Professor Ibrahim Thioub, the rector of the University Cheikh Anta Diop, says that on the fringes of these brotherhoods are figures who are marginalized and punished if they promote extremism. “The brotherhood knows how to discipline these urban youth leaders. But the problem is the Salafists who exist in Senegal since the 1950s. The radicalization in the last years, it is slightly more, but not like in Mali, or Mauritania, because there is something else. The brotherhoods are able to organize and have a strong network.” He argues that even abroad, where Senegalese might be exposed to extremism—in France, for example—these brotherhoods have local chapters and encourage moderation and a very Senegalese version of Islam. Amsatou Sow Sidibé, a former presidential candidate, agrees that the people of Senegal are the strongest asset the country has against the regional developments:

“[Terrorism] is terrible. We must have solidarity both of the people here and of the countries. It’s not good. We haven’t had any acts of terror but we don’t know. It is a possibility. We don’t have eyes to see the future. We must be vigilante, and the public must be educated to be vigilante.”

Part of that vigilance is relying on these local brotherhoods and citizens to inform on any extremists who may be operating. The concept is to rely on human intelligence and the strong social solidarity in Senegal which is different than some of the region’s states whose instability led to the rise of groups like Boko Haram, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and ISIS. In some cases these extremists preyed on tribal, ethnic or religious differences, or perceptions that the government was suppressing local people. Senegal, whose population is 95 percent Muslim, appears to have very strong feelings of social solidarity.

Nevertheless the fact is that Senegal has become a base for many regional embassies, due to the Ebola outbreak in neighboring states and to the country’s relative stability. That means Senegal has a strong foundation of international support but also is a target. Those foreign embassies, foreign nationals, hotels and NGOs can all present a target—like in Bamako and Ouagadougou—where Islamists seek to carry out spectacular attacks to harm the image of a country through mass murder.

So far, Senegal’s decision to send troops abroad has given its army experience, and its hosting of regional security exercises such as Flintlock are a welcome development. The key would be if the country could project its stability to neighboring states, and anchor the West African security system against the threats of extremists.

Seth J. Frantzman is a Jerusalem-based journalist who holds a PhD from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The article was published in the National Interest Online.

(NYT) Carson Endorses the Demagogue

Ben Carson endorsed Donald Trump in a news conference at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times)


On Friday, I watched yet another bizarre scene from an already bizarre election cycle: The affable but hopelessly vacant Ben Carson endorsing the demagogic real estate developer who once said of Carson that he had a “pathological temper” as a child and compared him to a child molester.

Carson said in his endorsement speech that there are actually “two different” sides to the front-runner.

What does this mean? Which one is real? Are they both? Is there a Jekyll to this Hyde? It was an exceedingly strange and feeble attempt to diminish the danger that this man poses, but in a way, if anyone could understand this duality, it would be Carson.

This is the same Ben Carson who has inveighed against the “purveyors of division,” who played a video at his presidential campaign announcement in Detroit in which the narrator said in part:

“If America is to survive the challenges of the modern world, we need to heal, we need to be inspired, and we need to revive the exceptional spirit that built America. Never before have we been so closely connected to each other, but more divided as a country.”

This is the same Ben Carson who used this closing statement at the sixth Republican presidential debate in North Charleston, S.C., by imploring Americans to join him “in truth and honesty and integrity.”

Ben Carson endorsed Donald Trump in a news conference at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times
And yet, on Friday, Carson endorsed one of the most dangerous and divisive demagogues in recent presidential election history, a man for whom “truth and honesty and integrity” are infinitely malleable, and easily discarded, concepts, and whose rallies have been plagued by vileness and violence.

Carson, like so many conservatives, isn’t truly interested in unity as much as silent submission, a quiet in which one can pretend that hostility has been quashed, all evidence to the contrary.

These are folks who view discussions about reducing racial inequity and increasing queer equality as divisive. They are people who see efforts to protect women’s health, in particular their full range of reproductive options, including abortion, and to reverse our staggering income inequality as divisive. Indeed, the very words white supremacy, privilege, racism, bias, sexism, misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia, and poverty are seen as divisive.

Somehow, they think, these very real oppressive forces will simple die if only deprived of conversational oxygen. In fact, the opposite is true. By not naming these forces and continuously confronting, they strengthen and spread.

Carson’s endorsement further tarnished his already tarnished reputation. He validated and rubber-stamped a grandiloquent fascist who is supported by a former grand wizard.

All Carson’s calls for civility were in that moment proven hollow.

No wonder so many Americans despise politicians and see them as soulless and without principle. And although both these men pride themselves on being political outsiders who’ve never held political office, they are undoubtedly political animals and relentless personal brand promoters who chase a check over a cliff.

But the more I thought about it, the more sense it began to make. Carson and the real estate developer are not so different from one another in this predilection for outrageous utterances, it’s just that one smiles and the other scowls.

This is the same Ben Carson who called President Obama a psychopath who is possibly guilty of treason and was, oh my, “raised white.” He has accused President Obama of working to “destroy this nation” and compared Obama’s supporters to Nazi sympathizers.

This is the same Ben Carson who on a radio show in 2013 said of white liberals:

“Well, they’re the most racist people there are because, you know, they put you in a little category, a little box — you have to think this way. How could you dare come off the plantation?”

This is the same Ben Carson who has compared women who have abortions to slave owners, who said Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery — yes, he’s obsessed with slavery — and that being gay is a choice because people go to prison straight and leave gay. On the issue of whether a Muslim should allowed to be president, he said:

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“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

Carson isn’t the only one. Chris Christie’s endorsement of the front-runner is just as baffling and unprincipled. As The Los Angeles Times put it:

“Christie had spent years curating an image as a policy-focused administrator who reached out to Muslims and Latinos, and he was rewarded with rock star status in the national Republican Party. Now he’s backing a candidate who has insulted minorities, shown a casual disregard for policy discussions and is reviled by the party’s establishment.”

And yet it is Carson’s endorsement that I find more interesting, not because it will have a greater impact, but because he and the front-runner are two sides of the same coin: they are both dangerous, but one is a narcissist who just might win the nomination and the other is a near-narcoleptic who never had a chance.

The article was published in the New York Times.