By Errol Louis
A lot of hot air has been blowing across Brooklyn lately, now that opponents of Atlantic Yards have discovered that British bank Barclays plans to pay hundreds of millions for the right to have its name on the planne arena on the site. The opponents have dragged out the bank’s past financial connections to the slave trade, the Holocaust and South African apartheid.
“BLOOD MONEY: Nets arena to be named after bank founded on slave money,” screamed the headline of The Brooklyn Paper, a free paper that publishes a weekly compendium of complaints about Atlantic Yards. “Bruce Ratner has stabbed his black supporters in the back,” the paper’s editorial page said.
“Naming an arena after a slave-trading family is a slap in the face,” the paper said, urging politicians “to stand up for blacks, for history, for integrity and, indeed, for all of Brooklyn and urge [Atlantic Yards developer] Bruce Ratner to find another corporate partner.”
City Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents the area, called Barclays “a bank with blood on their hands” and was quoted by the paper as calling black supporters of Atlantic Yards “just tools used by Ratner to get this project passed.”
Barclays – like many companies with household names – profited from an untold number of monstrous crimes over the centuries. But Barclays is hardly alone – and the people and newspapers trying to claim moral ground by throwing around terms like “integrity” and playing politics with horrors like the slave trade and the Holocaust know this. Or they should.
JPMorgan Chase, for instance, has multiple, shameful connections to the slave trade and the Holocaust. According to historians and activists who have filed federal lawsuits seeking reparations, Wachovia, Aetna and CSX, the railroad company, all benefited from the slave trade.
The Brooklyn Paper, which raised this issue so self-righteously, should now practice what it preaches and publicly renounce any advertising dollars from Chase, Wachovia – Barclays, of course – and other institutions built on “blood money.”
And since we’re on the subject of names, it’s worth noting that The Brooklyn Paper is headquartered on Washington St., and thatn Washington Ave. runs right through the middle of James’ Council district. Both streets are named after our first President, a well-known slave master, so maybe James – if she’s serious – should invoke the Council’s power to scrub that name from public view.
And she’d better get busy: we’ve also got Washington Heights and Washington Square Park. And then there’s everything related to Peter Stuyvesant, an early governor of colonial New York who owned 50 slaves. His name graces Bedford-Stuyvesant, Stuyvesant High School, Stuy-Town – and on it goes.
I wish the complaints being aired about Barclays were sincere. But it’s obvious that most of the posturing on the links to slavery issue is coming from people who have never shown the slightest interest in the issue before, even though papers like Our Time Press have pressed the reparations question aggressively over the last decade.
I challenge these people to join the current fight to pass a strong law in Albany to stop human trafficking – a modern form of slavery that is going on in New York City right now.
Some estimates put the number of people in bondage worldwide at 12 million, with as many as 17,500 people newly smuggled into the U.S. every year to be forced, or sold, into brothels, sweatshops and domestic service. Many are women and children, and you may be walking past them every day.
“New York is a major port of entry, transit and destination for human trafficking,” says Taina Bien-Aime, the executive director of Equality Now, a Manhattan-based international human rights group. “It’s in our own backyard.”
In 2005, Nicole Bode of the Daily News traveled to the slums of Tijuana, Mexico, to trace one strand of the slavery network from the Southwest border to the streets and brothels of New York.
“Pimps promise to smuggle the impressionable girls into the United States, telling them they can get jobs as nannies, cooks and maids – making enough money to support their families back home,” Bode wrote. “These traffickers charge the girls as much as $7,500 in illicit crossing fees – but once they get to the United States, the girls are raped and forced into prostitution. By the time the girls realize they have been kidnapped, it’s too late for them to escape.”
A few months later, sexual servitude burst into the headlines again when a Korean couple accused of running brothels in Queens allegedly bribed two undercover cops. That led to a federal investigation that netted dozens of arrests and freed 70 sex workers caught up in a multistate human trafficking network stretching from Rhode Island to Virginia.
The Bush administration has put modern slavery high on its agenda, committing hundreds of millions of dollars and using the bully pulpit of the White House to condemn the practice. But New York remains one of several states with no law that specifically outlaws trafficking.
That’s a loophole that pimps and traffickers exploit: When a city brothel is busted, for instance, traffickers often get charged with minor crimes like promoting prostitution, which result in little or no prison time.
Every Thursday, concerned groups and individuals are gathering on the steps of Manhattan Supreme Court at 60 Centre St. at 12:30 p.m. Dubbed the “Albany Watch” campaign, the protesters shine a light on the New York State Legislature, which has failed for two years running to pass a meaningful law to curb human trafficking in New York.
New York can, and must, do better. March 2 will mark the 200th anniversary of the day Thomas Jefferson signed the law ending the Atlantic slave trade. There would be no better time for our state to play catchup and take serious steps to abolish this great evil.
The city has installed those red-light cameras – which snap pictures of unsuspecting motorists and hit you with a summons by mail – at the corner of Eastern Parkway and Bedford Avenue. If you’re heading westbound on Eastern Parkway near that corner, don’t even think about running the light.