Harlem Residents Demand Investments in Their Communities

by | Feb 23, 2023 | New York City, Press Releases

Advocates say this is the year to pass Good Cause, Solutions not Suspensions, and Treatment Not Jails


February 22, 2023 (New York, NY) – Today, leaders from Citizen Action of New York were joined by several city and state elected officials for a press conference in Harlem, emphasizing the connection between safe communities and public money spent on the public good. Speakers including State Senator Cordell Cleare as well as leaders from Citizen Action, called for tenant protections, quality education, alternatives to incarceration and dignity for incarcerated workers.

These bills are all part of Citizen Action’s Our Justice Agenda, a comprehensive platform that recognizes the interconnectedness of progressive issues and the well-being of everyday New Yorkers. Strong and healthy communities require investment, this is what Harlem residents want prioritized. By making the wealthy and big corporations pay what they owe, people and communities have what they need to thrive.

“I am proud to support the entire Our Justice Agenda, and to draw particular attention to the urgent need to pass Good Cause tenant protections and pair them with an entirely new approach to social housing and direct investment in our communities in Harlem,” said Senator Cordell Cleare. “Housing is an essential human right that helps secure and support all other rights and the time has come for us to treat it as a societal investment to support our people.”  

“It is well past time for schools to abandon suspensions as their primary method of addressing student behavior and instead take advantage of alternative strategies to enhance school climate,” said Senator Jackson, lead sponsor of the Judith Kaye School Solutions Not Suspensions Act. Jackson was not able to attend the event but sent a statement of support. “We must act to rectify this issue and combat discrimination against students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ students and prevent the school-to-prison pipeline. As lead sponsor of this bill, part of the Citizen Action Justice Agenda, I am proud to join advocates and legislators working to make this dream a reality – let’s get it done!” 

“Seeing Black and Brown New Yorkers forced into an exodus from New York because the cost of living is too high isn’t just disheartening, it’s disenfranchising,” said Jamell Henderson, Regional Council Chair of the New York City Chapter of Citizen Action. “It feels intentional that our voices are being pushed out of the democratic process when we’re fighting for justice—for a New York City and State that works for all of us. We need investments in housing, and in our students’ well-being, both in mental health support and in concrete resources to navigate their education. It’s easy for elected officials to say they care about our communities, but we’re looking for them to show it.” 

“We don’t live single-issue lives; our members, all of us, are affected by so many of the issues we’re fighting to change with Our Justice Agenda,” said Symone Green, Lead Organizer of the New York City Chapter of Citizen Action. “It’s really a privilege to organize alongside our members who have so much expertise, to be part of seven chapters across the state doing this work, and to see how our members’ people power is really making the change we need to build a New York that works for everyone.”

“I’ve seen how the lack of investment in our students affects the quality of education and opportunities we get—we see it even now with Eric Adams cutting our city schools’ budgets,” said Cleo Acevedo, Community Organizer at Citizen Action. “Education is about self-discovery, we should be ensuring students get the resources necessary to thrive and learn without fear of being punished.”

“There’s a reason Our Justice Agenda is comprised of all these different issues,” said Bereket Ghebremedhin, NYC Regional Council Member of Citizen Action. “Only with attention to  — All of the things we’re fighting for–Education, Climate Justice, Democracy– are tied together in people’s real lives. Meaningful progressive change requires all of these bills to be passed.”

“Treatment Not Jails is transformative, restorative justice,” said Jon McFarlane, Civil Rights Union Leader at VOCAL-NY. “Lots of incarcerated people have substance use disorders, and jailing those folks without treatment—they get stuck in a cycle of recidivism, winding up back behind bars. How does that help anyone? Public safety doesn’t need to be carceral; we could put those same resources into our communities and break that cycle. That’s what Treatment Not Jails is about: true public safety.”

“Higher education rates contribute to a truly safe and healthy society,” said Salimatou Doumbouya, CUNY Student Senate Chairperson. “If our system of dealing with infractions at all levels of education is unnecessarily punitive; then we should review it. We should be working towards a therapeutic, restorative, rehabilitative process instead of stigmatizing people and pushing them out of their opportunities to learn. A supportive holistic education is the best way we can set people up for a successful future.”

The press conference was held in front of the Harlem State Office Building at 12:00 PM on Wednesday, 2/22. It was one of seven press conferences happening simultaneously around the state, in each of Citizen Action’s chapter regions. In the coming days, Citizen Action members will meet with state legislators representing New York City to thank them for their support and urge them to stand up for Our Justice Agenda bills.

Citizen Action of New York is a grassroots membership organization with eight chapters and affiliates across New York State. We work on issues important to our communities, including fair elections, equitable school funding, housing for all, environmental justice, and possibility not punishment.