By Errol Louis
While nobody was looking, black political empowerment in Brooklyn has taken a big step forward in recent years. What used to be considered impossible in Kings County – the election of a black candidate to a borough-wide position – is now routine. In the last five years, no fewer than 10 black judges have won countywide races for Civil Court: Delores Thomas, ShawnDya Simpson, Evelyn LaPorte, Johnny Baynes, Genine Edwards, Sylvia Ash, Jacquelyn Williams, Deena Douglas, Robin Sheares and Carolyn Wade.
It must be pointed out that many of these judges ran with help from Clarence Norman, the former Brooklyn Democratic boss who was recently convicted of larceny and other crimes and is currently incarcerated. When he first took over the Kings County machine, Norman promised supporters he would create more diversity on the bench – a promise he kept despite his many other mistakes.
* * *
Counting on Progress
According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), blacks only comprise 3% of all CPAs and make up less than 1% of partners in accounting firms – and those numbers have remained constant for nearly two decades. To change this, the 100,000-member National Association of Black Accountants, Inc. (NABA) and the Howard University School of Business Center for Accounting Education (HUCAE) have launched a program called CPA Bound, an initiative to address the barriers to certification, including misperceptions about the level of preparation needed to become certified.
NABA has convened summits on the topic and is preparing a study that will include recommendations on how educators and professionals can increase the number of black CPAs nationwide. For additional information about the initiative, visit www.nabainc.org.
* * *
The Struggle for Safety
There are signs everywhere that violent crime is increasing in Bedford- Stuyvesant. So far this year, murders have jumped in the precincts that cover the neighborhood: Killings are up 18% in the 79th Precinct and up 22% in the 81st compared with last year.
But there has been a curious apathy on the part of NYPD commanders when it comes to battling this wave of violence.
Exhibit A is the main walkway in the middle of the Tompkins Houses public housing project. The Bloods gang has taken over the complex so completely that for months – a full year, according to some residents – ominous words were spray-painted all over the main walkway of Tompkins in big red letters: WELCOME TO DEATH ROW.
The walkway runs two blocks and has cast-iron fences on both sides. Once you’re on it, there are few places to run. Criminals have found it an ideal spot for ambushes.
There could be no mistaking what the red spray paint meant. Each message was tagged with the nickname Teflon.
In one place, there’s one red arrow pointing to DEATH ROW and another pointing to MEMORY LANE, festooned with half a dozen initials of the dead. There’s even a no-trespass sign painted across the street on the walkway of the adjacent Sumner Houses: a red arrow, the label TOMPKINS and the warning DON’T SLIP.
For reasons best known to themselves, the Housing Authority and the NYPD left this murder manifesto undisturbed, in full view of the complex’s 3,300 residents until I wrote a Daily News column about it. It’s hard to imagine a better way to let people know they are completely outside the concern or the protection of the city, hostages at the mercy of murderous thugs.
As we’ve heard ad nauseam since the early 1990s, the NYPD’s vaunted “broken windows” approach to crime-fighting depends on stopping little infractions to show crooks that somebody cares about the area and will fight to protect it.
You’d think that bright red gang graffiti in foot-high letters would qualify. It seems the cops – and officials of the Housing Authority, the landlord – either passed by the DEATH ROW markings every day and ignored them, or quit patrolling the area at all.
Fortunately, a few exasperated Bed-Stuy leaders took matters into their own hands, covering the gang markings with black spray paint. The minute they began spraying, residents ran over to thank them and point out other spots to cover.
The move was the brainchild of activist Taharka Robinson, founder of the Central Brooklyn Anti-Violence Coalition, who rounded up a few retired cops – including state Sen. Eric Adams and Mark Claxton of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement – and a couple of ministers, the Revs. Leonard Hatter and Damon Cabbagestalk.
The bravest member of the group was my neighbor Frances Davis, whose three sons were murdered in the complex between 1987 and 1993.
“This was my second home. I got married in the community center,” she said. “It broke my heart when I saw those words on the ground.”
The words are gone – for now. It’s up to everyone – the cops, the community, the Housing Authority – to keep them gone, and to join in the fight to save Bed-Stuy from the violent criminals who prey on it.