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Editorial: A dangerous cure

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The inspections have increased. And so have the...

By The Times-Ledger

For years community leaders in northeast Queens have complained that the city Buildings Department was not doing enough to block illegal conversions. “We need more inspections,” they said.

The inspections have increased. And so have the number of violations issued. And now these community leaders realize that they have created a monster. It may well be that the cure in this instance is far more toxic than the problem.

In New York City, homeowners are guilty until proven innocent. In other words, the city doesn’t have to prove that an addition or renovation was done without the proper permit or that a space is being used illegally. It is up to Joe Citizen to prove he is innocent.

In some recent cases, the hammer of the bureaucracy has come down hard on honest, hardworking citizens who had no idea that they had, or might have, broken a law. The fines are severe and the cost of bringing a building up to code can push some people to a desperate point.

There must be a balance. It must be possible to stop dangerous and illegal conversions without beating up on good people, making them feel like a fly caught in the nightmarish web of an unfeeling bureaucracy.

It happened here

It can happen here. And it apparently did. Police say a young back man was pistol-whipped, kicked and beaten by as many as 12 white men outside a Bayside restaurant. The attack has sent shivers up the collective spine of the decent people of Bayside.

Community leaders, both white and black, have expressed shock and outrage at the beating of George Saint Louis, a Haitian American who was attacked outside the Byzantio Café on Bell Boulevard in the early hours of the morning of Feb. 24. The police have arrested two brothers and they say there may be more arrests. If the accounts of this incident are accurate, there should be many more arrests. Even those who reportedly stood by, beer in hand, cheering the attackers on should be made to answer for their actions.

This assault tells us things about our community that we don’t want to know. More than 20 years after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the cancer of racism still infects even the best educated communities.

At the same time, it would be an injustice if this incident were used to paint a picture of Bayside as inherently racist. Those who live and work here – as we do – know this is not the truth. In an interview with the Times-Ledger, two community leaders from southern Bayside put the attack into perspective. They noted that while Bayside is often thought of as white, it is an interracial community.

Are there racists in our community? “No matter where you live, it's there,” said Loretta Napier. “I'm appalled at a bias crime going on in this community. This should not be tolerated.”

Mandingo Tshaka, a black and native American activist and president of the Bayside Clear-Springs Council said that in his view there is “a lot of racism in this area.” He then called for unity in the wake of this assault. “Either we live together or we'll be destroyed by one another,” he said.

We believe that the overwhelming majority of the people who live in Bayside, no matter what their race, are embarrassed and appalled by this incident. We are equally confident that the police will pull out all the stops trying to find anyone responsible for the assault.

Those who stood by and did nothing are not excused. At the very least they must come forward with the names of the other attackers. As a community we must not only be tolerant, we must show zero tolerance for the stupidity and ignorance that fuels racial violence.

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