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Roosevelt Island Racial Tensions Mount Now While RIOC Dithers


Racial tensions flared on Roosevelt Island recently. In one reported instance, a couple sitting on the Mediation Steps was hassled by a group. In another, one of a group of three teenagers kicked a man in the head, calling him a “cracker.” But it would be wrong assuming that there aren’t other incidents going unreported, never getting the attention of RIOC’s Public Safety Department.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Thursday morning, as reported by a witness living on Roosevelt Island, a black and white conflict broke out while boarding a Red Bus.

“At the Four Freedoms/Southpoint stop, a Red Bus pulls up and begins opening door,” she began. “A black woman is about to board when a white man calls her “a n—er.

“Her furious husband runs after the man, but the wife convinces him to get on the bus. Both do.

“Meanwhile a passenger wants the bus to go on without opening the door in case white guy has a gun. When the driver closes the door and starts moving, the white crazy guy approaches and takes a photo of the driver and the bus.”

The Daily made a same day request for comment from RIOC President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes, PSD Chief Kevin Brown and RIOC President Assistant Vice President Akeem Jamal. Were they aware of it? Was there any report filed?

Relying exclusively on one person’s observations cannot provide a full picture. But four days later, neither responded, even to the point of acknowledging the request.

Then, On Saturday, Racial Tensions Unsettled Another Red Bus

Another resident boards a Red Bus at Good Shepherd Plaza around 7:30 in the evening. At first, everything is fine with no indication of racial tensions.

A half-dozen African-American teens sit in the last rows, upbeat and smiling, joking among themselves, but something doesn’t feel right. And the reason soon becomes clear.

An Asian girl sitting near the rear exit resists a man, probably her father, who wants her to stay calm.

But suddenly, she frees herself and goes to the rear and confronts the African-American guys. She faces them from a seat. Cellphones start taking videos and photos. While it’s hard to understand what she’s saying, the young men pull back in apparent shock.

When the bus reaches Riverwalk Commons, the young lady gets up, shouting “That’s a whole new level of violence,” twice, and her face scarred with tears, she exits. The guys break out in smiles and giggles, apparently unfazed by her distress.

They belatedly follow her down past Granny Annie’s toward the subway.

Here again, we have an incident that should have been reported to PSD, at least for the record and future planning. But, it appears, neither was.


The uptick in racially charged incidents on Roosevelt Island comes at strange time, a time made stranger by the absence of leadership.

Understanding that the leadership vacuum was acute here, State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright and Senator Liz Krueger got after Homes & Community Renewal head RuthAnne Visnauskas during budget hearings.

In a public showdown, Seawright pressed Visnauskas about community engagement. The Commissioner quickly – and unconvincingly – pledged to light a fire under RIOC. “Yes, absolutely,” Visnauskas promised, answering Seawright’s request for regular community meetings or town halls.

But all that happened was a few poorly attended “PSD Engagements.” More than anything else, they gave Chief Brown a platform for defending himself and his bloated, ineffective department.

Visnauskas is, in theory, chair of RIOC’s board, but almost always a no-show. Her only appearance in recent years involved rubber-stamping Governor Cuomo’s illegal sacking of Susan Rosenthal while anointing Haynes as her successor.

Nothing changed, and even Brown’s boss, President/CYA Shelton J. Haynes notoriously skipped a critical meeting. Haynes himself has been accused in sworn testimony of racism and racial cleansing at RIOC.

While these accusations are not proven, Haynes has never stepped up to deny them nor has he shown any signs of community leadership.

With no substantial community-wide organization setting a tone, the cumulative result has been racial tensions and increasing incidents of crime. Small for now, but given a fertile chance to grow.

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