I live in the Bronx and I’ve been following a few of the stories about bullying lately. Two weeks ago, however, they seemed to be following me.
K-Pants and I were returning a book to the library a few blocks from our house the last Tuesday in October. On the way back there were five or six news vans on 161st Street. Some of the Latin Kings—the alleged perpetrators in the Bronx anti-gay beatings—were about to come out of the borough courthouse. We watched as camera crews and reporters followed them to their cars.
On Monday, a friend and I took our kids to the Little Red Lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge. When you’re standing under the bridge, it doesn’t seem so far from the river. You watch the kids playing at the edge of the water and the bridge grows right out of the ground like a giant beanstalk. And though it doesn’t seem far to the solid, beautiful span, you know Tyler Clementi—hopeless—jumped off and died.
After Tyler’s death and the anti-gay attack here in the Bronx, I recommitted myself to showing love and care with all people.
But I discovered it’s easy to promise yourself you won’t post videos of someone on the web, or that you won’t invite someone over so you can beat him up. It’s even easy for me to promise I will never say something derisive to a gay person; I will never tell a black child she can’t play with my child; I will never spread rumors about someone because of her religion.
It’s simple to name these things, because I would never do them. It’s like saying I recommit myself to avoiding American cheese. Even so, I felt good about myself for a few days.
But then I realized the things I would do. I would cut off the fat woman who’s headed to the subway elevator taking my stroller spot. She’s probably had a long day at work and two knee replacements, but I’m happy to clip her ankles and shove her out of the way telling myself that she should just lose weight. I would look away from every homeless person on the subway, thinking how they are ruining my ride. And I would forget to speak up for the disabled people who can’t use our city amenities, because my son and I can get around just fine.
I got this wake-up call by going to the Yankee Stadium parks redevelopment meeting (a thrill-a-minute, as one might imagine). I wanted a child’s safety gate installed at our park so kids can’t run into the street. Prior to the meeting, my neighbors and I had written to the parks commissioner. He told us we should watch our children better.
Them’s fightin’ words, Mr. C0-mish-on-her.
So I arrived at the meeting with seven pages of photos and admonitions I would use in future litigation once the first run-away child made for the street. However, the parks people stood down and said: Consider it done. Voilà! Child safety latches. Wind out of my sails and faith in government restored.
But other attendees were not so appeased. There were two people at the meeting from New York City Park Advocates, a group that pushes for accountability and inclusiveness in our parks. Did you know, for example, that there are 997 playgrounds in New York City and only 5 are completely accessible? Only five allow children and parents with disabilities to play like the rest of us. I mean really play, not just wheel around and watch other people climb on things.
I was like: Fo’ real?? I took this not only as an affront to the city, but a personal slap-in-the-face—I thought I was aware of stuff like this. When our new park opened, I thought: Great! Look at all these ramps and wide pathways.
But I learned that what I thought was open-access really isn’t good enough.
Sure, kids in wheelchairs can come in and use the ramps, but there’s a step stopping them from getting to the play equipment. They can push their friends on the tire swing, but they can’t get on. They can play in the water feature—when it gets hot enough. And if I were a parent in a wheelchair trying to keep my able-bodied child safe at the park—forget about it.
New York City Park Advocates calls this a culture of isolation. They asked those of us at the meeting for one thing: If you are able-bodied, speak up for those who aren’t.
I didn’t even realize that I wasn’t speaking up. So now, instead of recomitting myself to things I already do, I’m searching for the things I overlook.To find out more about New York City Park Advocates, click here.