2000-07-01 / Columnists

Rockaway Short Takes


by Howard Schwach

I really like the bushes and trees that were placed along Beach Channel drive. They add a certain cool look to the business strip. I walked along the middle median last weekend, however and noticed that many of the bushes were already in the process of turning brown. I’m sure that it was expensive to plant the bushes, but there has to be some money to keep them alive.

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Anybody who reads this column on a regular basis knows that I have been disturbed for the past few months by the fact that the Assembly was not moving on the bill that would make it a Class D felony to attack a teacher. Well, the Assembly, acting on the final day of the session, finally joined the Senate in passing the legislation. It remains to be seen whether the governor will sign it or not, but by all indications, he will sign the new and comprehensive school violence legislation as quickly as possible. The bill goes even further than most teachers would have hoped. It provided that assaults on teachers will be Class D felonies. No longer will teachers have to go to the hospital for the assault to be a felony. In addition, any assaults within the school building by non-students on students will also be felonies. Teachers will also have the authority to suspend disruptive students – a power reserved up to now to the principal of the school – after a "fair but expedited appeal process." That process cannot take longer than four days, but the details of just how that will work in New York City have yet to be worked out between the board and the UFT. Teachers who report acts of violence in their schools will also be protected under the new law. It might seem strange that teachers who report acts of violence need protection from the administration, but that is what our system has come to.

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Remember to get your tickets for the July 6 community cruise sponsored by the 100 Precinct Community Council. For $60 bucks you get an evenings cruise into the harbor to see the OpSail tall ships, a meal and lots of good conversation. Proceeds go to the fireworks display on the Night Out Against Crime in August. Get on board now!

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The government considers me a "Vietnam Veteran" even though I was never in that combat zone. That is because I was on active duty on an aircraft carrier in April of 1964, the month when the disputed "Tonkin Gulf" incident took place. That is marked as the beginning of the war. I was in favor of the war then and many of the pilots I worked with as court-martial defense councils and as court members were volunteering to go to Vietnam to fly and fight. One pilot who I had become friendly with (although I was an enlisted man) explained to me that he wanted to go because not going was like "training for an athletic event for years and then never getting into the game." He died over Vietnam when his A-4 was shot down. By 1972, however, I was already writing for XEP and living in Connecticut. Like most of the nation, I was convinced that fighting a war that we did not want to win was the wrong way to go and that we should get out. That’s when Jane Fonda posed in Hanoi on the turret seat of an antiaircraft gun, perhaps the very same one that shot down the pilot who I had become friendly with. That picture and her use of a group of shot down Navy and Air Force pilots to make her own propaganda statement really angered me. I was angered even more when the prisoners came home and I found out that many of the men in the pictures with her were tortured to make them go and to make them pliable to her words. That anger still stays with me and even though I like many of the movies that she did subsequent to that point, I look at her and remember her sitting on that gun, excoriating her country and extolling the men who were trying to kill Americans who were only doing their duty to their country. Fonda recently apologized for her actions, but that apology is about 28 years too late. I will always look at her and see "Hanoi Jane."

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Even though I have given up writing "School Scope" for the summer, I have to respond to the "copykitten" crime that was committed at MS 180 more than a week ago. According to press reports (I was not there, of course), a group of seven sixth grade boys surrounded a 12-year-old girl in the schools playground. Chanting "Puerto Rican Day Parade" over and over again, they sexually molested the girl. Whether the school reacted appropriately to the attack will come out in the investigation. I am more concerned with the culture and the tenor of the times that led the kids to believe that it was appropriate to do that to the girl. They live in a society where their rap music, their movies, their comedians and their television shows devalue women. They see the women in WWF programs being beaten, vilified and used as props by the men in the show. They hear women being called "ho’s" and "bitches" by people they consider stars and heroes. It is no wonder they act as they do. This behavior often carries over into the classroom, where there is often no sanction for this kind of behavior. What can be done? Society has to change and its values have to change if anything can be done. The schools cannot do it alone, nor can religious institutions. The bottom line is that we as a society have to stop conditioning kids to believe those horrific acts against women and against others are OK.

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The Department of Parks, generally not a friend of Rockaway, will be running a series of boardwalk craft fairs on weekends from July 1 through Labor Day Weekend. The fairs will run on the boardwalk from Beach 113 to Beach 115 streets. Generally, I am in favor of whatever brings people to Rockaway on a summer weekend and I understand that the city will earn lots of money by franchising the fair’s booths to the production company. What I can’s understand is why the city feels the need to compete with local business that have enough trouble staying alive and need the summer business to see them through a generally slow winter season. The people franchised by Parks will sell sunglasses, beach hats, beach apparel, skin care products and other beach-related items. That is exactly what such yearlong stores as Rogoff’s and others on the strip sells. Why take business away from them in order to make some money for the city? A really bad summer could theoretically put some of those stores out of business. It makes little sense to me.

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Speaking of the Parks Department, its head honcho, Henry Stern, is trying to get control of Riis Park from the feds. That is the last thing that Rockaway needs. While the feds have not been keeping Riis Park up to snuff, the city’s Parks Department has become "the gang who couldn’t shoot straight." Let the feds keep the park until Stern shows us through the action of his agency that he can do the right thing with the beaches he already controls right here in Rockaway.

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I want to add my congratulations to the community’s accolades for Stan Brown and his "Stan’s Pepper Stepper’s," the double-dutch champs who recently took it all at the World Invitational Championships at Stony Brook University. Brown’s team is now the undefeated world champions and both Brown and his team of teenage girls deserve a well done!

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Little things often mean a lot. Landel Ellis and Michael Gittens allegedly molested a 20-year-old woman on the A Train in late May. The two got away. But later that morning they were stopped for fare-beating at a Rockaway A Train station. Hours later, while still in custody on the fare beating rap, they were identified as having participated in the assault and were charged with sex abuse, unlawful imprisonment (they kept the victim from leaving the scene) and harassment. If it has not been for the fare beating arrest, they may have been free to strike again. Other perps wanted for major crimes, including one whose story appeared on "America’s Most Wanted," were picked up for fare beating and then found to have been involved with major crimes. Despite the fact that picking up people for minor crimes has proven effective in major crime arrests, the ACLU still maintains that they are a violation of a person’s rights. Norman Siegel, the head of the local ACLU, maintains that the arrests have racial overtones. "…there is an issue about the enforcement, whether it is being done accurately and whether it is being done with racial overtones," Siegel recently told the press. According to police sources, a large number of fare beaters have been found to be carrying weapons or were wanted for major crimes in other venues.

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It is getting harder and harder to get teachers to work in New York City schools. The question is often asked as to why somebody would want to teach in the city when they could make much more and have better working conditions in other venues such as Nassau, Suffolk and upstate counties. It is a valid question and those who denigrate the question by saying that teachers are already being paid too much for a 10-month year just do not understand the question. Those detractors say that people are not leaving the city in any great numbers. That might be true, but even 10 percent of the qualified teachers who admittedly leave each year amounts to 6,000 teachers, which is not exactly a trickle. Add to that the fact that many new teachers do not even look at the city any more, but go instead to one of those other venues is troubling. The detractors say that those jobs do not really exist. That is also not true. Those jobs do exist. I looked through last weekend’s New York Times Week in Review section – the major advertiser in the educational marketplace. Here’s what I found: Teacher’s or administrator’s jobs in Pleasentville, Plainview-Old Bethpage, Farmingdale, Sea Cliff, West Babylon, Roslyn, Bronxville, Garden City, Middle Country (Centereach), Elmont, Riverdale, Greenburgh, Somers, Syosset, Massapequa, Cold Spring Harbor, Locust Valley, Uniondale, Long Beach, Lynbrook, White Plains, Lawrence, Nyack, Port Washington, Bay Shore, Freeport and Dobbs Ferry. Each and every one of those jobs pays 20 percent or 25 percent more than a New York City job and every one of them promises better working conditions, fewer disciplinary problems and less bureaucracy. If you were a new teacher, which would you pick? If our schools are to turn around, it will take smaller classes and that will take an infusion of thousands of teachers. Where will they come from? Only our political leaders can answer that question and they generally have all the wrong answers.

 


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