Volume 78 - Number 38 / February 25 - March 3, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Letters to the Editor

Can’t stomach cookie complaints

To The Editor:
Re “Panthers vow to shut down ‘Negro Head’ cookie baker” and “The Secret Service grills baker; Cookie protest remains chippy, but he says he already apologized” (news articles, Feb. 4 and 11) and “Wacko choco no-no (Scoopy’s Notebook, Jan. 28):

Having just returned from a trip to East Asia, I plucked through the last three issues of The Villager to discover Downtown’s biggest concern is how a baker’s folly has turned into a political crusade.

One would think there are more important issues to protest as our country slides into a black hole. (Excuse me, can I say that?) Next to Japan or even “developing” Thailand, our infrastructure looks like it’s been torn and pasted out of a Dickens novel. While there’s reason to feel good about the basic decency of President Obama and the obvious symbolism of his achievement, his African-Americanness, or blackness, or Negroness should not be the measure of his tenure — after all, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is one of the aforementioned labels and look what he’s done.

The signposts of Obama’s administration are already disconcerting, as he has surrounded himself with ranking members of the party of permanent Orwellian war and with economic advisers who blazed the path to the nation’s present ruinous state. Does anyone truly believe there will ever be enough funding for social programs while the sacrosanct Pentagon consumes half of the federal budget? The war machine in the name of patriotism has bled this country dry for decades.

Obama’s cultish supporters, who demonstrate all the critical thinking of Scientologists, ought to be protesting Obama’s plans to expand the senseless war in Afghanistan, and now Pakistan, against tribal bandits living centuries off of the grid. The death of one innocent Afghan child by a cruise missile is a million times more sinful than a million “Drunk Negro Cookies.” Why the acquiescence to this war, where is this sense of proportion, where’s the outrage?

Why aren’t the New Black Panthers out protesting Governor David Paterson, who seems to have conveniently forgotten all about the Rockefeller Drug Laws that are really racist in their implementation and have ruined more lives and devastated more families than anyone’s individual drug use ever has. I seem to remember Paterson, when he was in the State Senate, as a forceful voice when against these draconian measures. For the Lafayette bakery protesters to even use the name Black Panthers in their pathetic cookie crusade insults the memory of the true heroism and convictions of Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton when they struggled for black power in the racist 1960s against the totalitarian tactics of Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover.

If Community Board 2 is so equally concerned about social justice, why aren’t its members passing resolutions condemning Mayor Bloomberg’s and Commissioner Kelly’s stop-and-frisk policies that criminalize more than 500,000 young black and Hispanic men on the streets every year simply for being black or Hispanic? Speaker Quinn’s pandering to the cookie protesters is particularly hypocritical since she has refused to call hearings or publicly criticize the mayor or the commissioner on this critical civil rights issue.

Lastly, the baker has constitutional right to express himself, in good or bad taste. Somewhere in Trinidad, Chris Ofili is ruminating on how he wished he’d though of “Drunk Negro Cookies” first so he could mount them next to his “Holy Virgin Mary” elephant dung works at his next Saatchi exhibit in London.

Carl Rosenstein


Homeless belonged in park
 
To The Editor:
Re “A man of his times” (editorial, Feb. 11):

It’s discouraging to see a newspaper preach ungrounded judgments of right and wrong (“Pagan was right that Tompkins Square Park shouldn’t have been a ‘Tent City.’ ...putting a park off limits to families with children and to seniors, among others, was unacceptable and untenable.”)

Political officeholders do sometimes base their decisions on perceived principles of human “rights” — life, liberty, protective shelter, access to healthcare, a pretty park for sunbathers and strollers — but more commonly they represent specific constituent interests.

The interests represented in the eviction of the homeless from the park are too obvious to require mention. Obvious, too, the homeless were no one’s voting constituency.

The reason the “homeless” were evicted from their often elaborate park homes and shelters — “tents” — is that political officeholders, Pagan included, acted on behalf of the interests of a particular constituency, not on the basis of what is “right.”

The questions of “right” emerge only in the definition of “park” and “park use” or in consideration of the greatest good for the greatest number. But the answers to these questions also reduce to specific constituency interests, not to “right.” By what measures are conflicting goods and interests compared? Whose interests define the best use of any public space?

The homeless chose Tompkins Square Park, not because it was the only open space available. There were whole blocks of empty, abandoned space immediately to the east where no one would have bothered them.

They chose Tompkins Square Park because they, like all true New Yorkers, possessed in their bones by the metropolitan spirit, hankered to be at the heart of things.

More desperate than their need for shelter itself, they desperately needed to be in a somewhere, not a nowhere. And, like authentic East Villagers, they recognized Tompkins Square Park as itself possessed by the spirit of marginality, irreverence and rebellion. They knew they belonged there, and they did belong there, not by right but by the spirit of the place.

Throughout New York, local gentrification is marked by renovation of the local park in preparation for strollers, dog walkers and sunbathers. Marcus Garvey Park will be getting the treatment in the wake of Harlem’s recent rezoning.

The interests of strollers, dogs and sunbathers were well served by the eviction of the homeless from Tompkins Square Park and the imposition of the park curfew; Tompkins Square Park — really the entire neighborhood — has become their world, their idea, their playground.

The interests of the homeless in creating their own world in a park that had long welcomed them have not been so well served.

Oh, the interests of the homeless may have seemed extreme — a park all to themselves! But there is nothing definitionally wrong with “extreme.” Abstract Expressionism was extreme. Ginsberg was extreme. Emma Goldman was seriously extreme. Bebop, extreme. Graffiti art, extreme. Punk rock, extreme. The whole damned neighborhood east of A was extreme.

All that neighborhood extremity, in both senses of the word, was good and bad. To those of us, like the homeless, who chose to be here, it was good.

Extremely good.
 
Rob Hollander


‘May Pagan rest in peace’
 
To The Editor:
Re “A complex legacy: Friends and foes reflect on Pagan” (news article, Feb. 11):

May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
 
Reverend George J. Kuhn
Kuhn was formerly pastor of St. Brigid’s Church, at Eighth St. and Avenue B



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