Human Rights Commissioner Patricia L. Gatling officially opened
a new field office in Staten Island on September 24, 2003. The Staten
Service Center is located at 60 Bay Street in the St. George section
of Staten Island and becomes the first office in that borough in
the Commission’s 48-year history. The office also marks the
first time a staff attorney has been assigned to one of the Commission’s
field offices. The Commission now has a Community Service Center
in each borough.
new Community Service Center’s staff includes its Director
Roy Pingel, Deputy Director Alexander Korkhov, staff attorney Paul
Labossiere, and two Human Rights Specialists and a support staff
the official opening, Commissioner Gatling pointed out that the
new office will be used to educate, mediate and enforce the strongest
anti-bias laws in the country. Commissioner Gatling said, “Our
message is a simple one: Discrimination will not be tolerated in
Staten Island Community Service Center is open from Monday through
Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. to provide the many services
the Commission offers. They include: the intake and investigation
of discrimination complaints in employment, housing, public accommodations
and bias-related harassment; Human Rights and Conflict Resolution
workshops in school and after school settings; Community Mediation;
Peer Mediation training in high schools; Equal Access (disability
access) investigation and intervention; Immigrant Employment Rights
training; and Mortgage Foreclosure and Pre-Purchase Counseling to
avert predatory lending practices.
The Staten Island Community Service Center’s Director
Roy Pingel offered the following remarks at a recent meeting held
by the Commission:
its first forty-eight years of existence, the Commission established
field offices in every borough except Staten Island. That situation
recently changed when Commissioner Gatling opened the Staten Island
Community Service Center.
want to thank the Commissioner for her leadership in creating this
office and express my appreciation to all of you who were able to
attend the opening and make it such a successful event. The new
office is a short distance from the ferry, the Staten Island Railway
and most bus routes serving the Island. Please visit us.
Commission was warmly welcomed to the Island by a large and diverse
group of elected officials, clergy, community leaders, public and
private institutions and community-based organizations. I would
just like to give special thanks for their presence and support
to Borough President James Molinaro, Councilman Michael McMahon,
Assemblyman John Lavelle, Assemblyman Matthew Mirones, Rev. Dr.
Victor Brown of Mt. Sinai United Christian Church, Rabbi Chaim Segal
of the New Springfield Jewish Community Center, community activist
Debi Rose, and Eric Adams of a Hundred Blacks in Law Enforcement.
wide range of people and affiliations at the event is a testament
to the variety of individuals and groups that our staff was already
collaborating with prior to the office actually opening. The opening
of the office itself was the culmination of an eighteen-month planning
process that included extensive community outreach. In September,
when a brief increase of bias-related incidents occurred, we were
ready to open not as a reaction to it but as a result of a planning
process that had already recognized the critical need for an office
and permanent presence on the Island.
April of 2002, after working a number of years in Brooklyn, Commissioner
Gatling asked me to begin laying the groundwork for a Staten Island
office. Based on previous community organizing experience, I devised
a community survey and analysis to identify and interview community
and institutional leaders. A demographic analysis was conducted
using census data, Department of City Planning population and land
use reports, maps and other publications.
met with members of the local community boards as well as NYPD commanding
officers and their community affairs officers. We also met with
civic associations, immigrant groups, community-based organizations,
advocacy groups, business people, and City agency heads and developed
a number of contacts and resources.
of our success in being able to “hit the ground running”
on opening day is due to the team we assembled – some of the
Commission’s most knowledgeable and experienced. Alex Korkhov,
our Deputy Director, is a long-time Staten Island resident with
extensive knowledge of the City’s expansive Russian community.
He is multi-lingual and is fluent in Russian. Human Rights Specialist
David Lopez has provided assistance to community-based organizations
for years and has conducted many bilingual informational workshops
in English and Spanish. Human Rights Specialist Mark Heron also
has extensive experience working in schools and conducting predatory
lending counseling to prevent foreclosures. Komla Ganu, who recently
left the Commission to teach, offered important technical assistance
to emerging organizations and assisted in our outreach effort to
African groups, especially the large Liberian community.
the presence of staff attorney Paul Labossiere, the Staten Island
office is the first of the Commission’s Community Service
Centers to handle the intake and investigation of complaints. Paul
is fluent in Spanish, French and Creole and speaks Japanese.
Island is undergoing profoundly significant population changes.
It is the least diverse of any borough yet the most rapidly diversifying
of any. During the last decade it was the fastest growing county
in the state. From the 1990 to the 2000 census, it grew by over
17 percent. It now has over 448,000 residents. The last census reported
that the borough was 69% White as compared to 90% in 1980. The North
Shore, Community Board 1, is 50% nonwhite and Latino.
1990, the Hispanic population has increased by 77%, much more than
in any other borough. The third largest ethnic group following the
Italian and Irish communities is the Puerto Rican comunity. The
Mexican population has increased by 428% from 1990 to 2000, and
that’s just the official count. The African American population
increased by 41% over the last decade, far more than in any other
borough. One out of every four Blacks on the Island is from Africa
and the largest Liberian community outside of Liberia is right here
on Staten Island. Asians have increased by 51%, and Arabs by 58%.
During the last three years the Russian population has experienced
major growth on the South Shore of the Island.
coming to Staten Island eighteen months ago, we have worked with
numerous groups and individuals to respond to some of the tensions
often associated with rapid growth and diversification. Below are
just a few of the issues we have been involved in:
- We collaborated
with Rev. Terry Troia and other community leaders from El Centro
de Hospitalidad, Project Hospitality, an association of day
laborers, the Port Richmond Board of Trade, the local civic
association, the Latino Civic Association and St. Mary of the
Assumption Church to address intergroup tensions following the
death of a day laborer. We have also begun to develop a workers
center for day laborers.
- We joined
with these same groups and others to meet at St. Philips Baptist
Church when Mexican residents were targeted for robberies but
were afraid to report the crimes to the police. Those meetings
resulted in the creation of the Port Richmond Anti-Violence
Task Force, which has met with the police and is achieving results.
- We assisted
members of the Russian community in organizing the Russian American
Council of Staten Island to help voice their community concerns
after they stated that they had encountered ethnic harassment.
referrals from local clergy members and the Staten Island NAACP,
we are working with residents to address various issues of employment
discrimination and harassment.
- We are
working with members of the Chinese and Indian communities over
their concerns of possible incidents of bias-related harassment.
- We are
active participants at the Staten Island Housing Court information
- We are
working closely with members of the MS Society, American Brotherhood
for the Russian Disabled and other disability rights groups
to provide wheelchair accessibility to stores and other facilities.
- We recently
met with school administrators about instituting our school
and peer mediation programs.
- We assisted
Roza Promotions-African Immigrant & Refugee Services and
its Executive Director Rufus Arkoi in forming an African immigrant
coalition to address immigrant rights issues.
- Last year
during Ramadan, when Muslim women and children were being verbally
harassed at a shopping mall, we worked with the Arab American
Association of New York and the mall’s management and
security to make sure the harassment ended before violence erupted.
- We continue
to conduct Human Rights Law and immigrant workers rights presentations
at community centers and meetings and recently participated
in a diversity celebration at Wagner College.
is some of the work we were already doing when the Staten Island
Community Service Center opened. The future of this Service Center
is based on building upon the work we have already started and we
look forward to continuing that work and assisting the development
of an island-wide immigrant rights coalition and a Staten Island
anti-violence network that includes middle and high school students.
are some individuals who will always resist change but with rigorous
education, public information and outreach, this change can be exciting
and positive. Our office has opened at a timely moment in Staten
Island’s development. Having many different peoples and cultures
here holds the potential for dynamic social, cultural and economic
benefits to the borough residents, institutions and businesses.
The Commission is already playing a critical role in helping this
development to happen in a fair, peaceful way, sooner rather