Two gatherings across the Bronx denounce years of indifference.
By Michael Flores and Chantal Vaca
One month after the tragic Twin Park North West fire, across the Bronx, various organizers decried the city’s neglect of the borough. By the Twin Parks building, activist groups marched and delivered speeches. Four miles and an hour and half walk away, another organizer held a forum to introduce proposals to address long standing issues.
The campaign’s first borough-wide forum was held at PS 138 Samuel Randall in Castle Hill and included three guest speakers, hailing from areas of expertise including environmental justice, crime prevention and faith.
About 30 Bronxites – from clergy members to former gang members – gathered to put their cultural differences aside and discuss plans they can all get behind for the greater good of the Bronx.
Sheikh Musa Drammeh, organizer of the funeral service for the lives lost in the Twin Park West fire and leader of the Bronx Transformative Campaign, began the forum by reminding the crowd that the fire was not the first time that a building in the Bronx erupted into flames. “As a matter of fact, it wasn’t even unexpected. That’s how bad it is. That’s why being here is vital,” said Drammeh.
Drammeh announced the Bronx Transformative Campaign during the funeral services last month of the Twin Park fire victims. Knowing he had the attention of decision makers, Drammeh saw the funeral service as a “wonderful opportunity” to launch a campaign focused on improving the quality of life in the Bronx so that tragedies like the one at Twin Park North West can be prevented from ever happening again. “Sometimes it takes pain in order to start a campaign,” said Minister Arthur Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 7 in Harlem.
Drammeh’s first proposal addressed absentee landlords, such as majority owners of the Twin Parks North West building who are based in Maine and California. The Absentee Investors Quality of Life Tax would impose a tax upon absentee landlords for any county, community or neighborhood where more than one third of its residents are renters. The money collected from the tax is intended to be used to improve schools and fund grassroots crime prevention and advocacy organizations in the Bronx. “What can we do so that these investors will make as much money as they want to make, while at the same time will be very conscious of the quality of life for their tenants so that everybody will be happy?” said Drammeh.
80 percent of Bronxites are renters and Drammeh proposed giving renters, both commercial and residential, the right to stay in buildings they’ve rented for five years or more after landlords sell the buildings. “The landlords keep selling these buildings, and whenever they sell it, somebody wants to get them out. You have to either be evicted, if not, they jack up the rent,” said Drammeh.
“We do not have opportunities here like we did in the past, and it’s only getting worse,” said Pamela Sterwart Martinez, speaker at the forum and community organizer for WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “Right now, we have business owners that don’t live here. But guess what? They’re making money off of us, and then taking it to their communities so this money doesn’t circle back to us.”
Another topic raised was the need for funding grassroots organizations in the Bronx to prevent crime and children from getting roped into gang activity. “If you look at our kids, long before 2022, losing our children in the Bronx is gaining numbers,” said Marion Frampton, founder of The Black Spades New Direction, a Bronx-based crime prevention organization. Keeping the well-being of the children from the Bronx in mind, Drammeh suggested partnering with the Department of Education and assigning mentors to students.
“I’m really tired of the Bronx being number 62 out of 62 counties. How many decades do we have to be 62 at the bottom for everything that’s good, and number one for everything that’s not good?” said Martinez.
While one meeting took place across town, closer to the Twin Parks apartment building, activists laid out demands and decried the city’s neglect. “This thing was 100% preventable… We have the correct laws on the books. But why don’t we have our enforcement?” said Abdoulaye Cisse, a spokesperson for Bridging African and Black Americans. Members from the Party of Socialism and Liberation came prepared with printed placards and pointed out how the city’s neglect precipitated the Twin Parks apartment fire.
During a speech after the fire, Mayor Adams said residents should close their doors, but protestors claim residents had filed numerous complaints with the city about the non-functioning doors and lack of heat.
To the protestors and the residents they claim to represent, Mayor Adam’s blame on residents reflects the Mayor’s relationship with the apartment building’s landlord, Rick Gropper. Gropper is a member of Mayor Adam’s housing transition team and a co-founder of one of the companies that owns Twin Parks, Camber Property. While there are about a hundred members of Mayor Adam’s transition team, real estate developers are major contributors to his campaign. “We’re going to amplify the voices of the people who are surviving and fighting back to make sure that they have adequate living conditions, adequate heat, and that we hold these landlords accountable. And also the politicians that are protecting these landlords,” said Carla Ray, member of the Party of Socialism and Liberation.