Geraldine O’Rourke knew that she was going to need help for the rest of her life when she returned to her Bronx home after spending nine months in the hospital. She was bedridden due to two hip operations gone wrong and recognized that her husband and family wouldn’t be able to tend to all of her needs.
“I needed help right then and there,” she says of the moment 10 years ago, while sitting in her wheelchair, television remote in hand. “I couldn’t walk and then what happened is the good hip kept coming out of place. I could hardly do anything for myself.”
The 83 year-old former bank worker lost her husband to rheumatoid arthritis six years later and now relies on two home health aides who clean and cook for her and help her bathe and climb into bed at night. Yvonne Garcia is from the Dominican Republic and spends four days a week with O’Rourke. Ifua Morson is from Ghana and is responsible for the other three days. Both Garcia and Morson spend the night at their client’s home but they are only compensated for 12 hours out of a possible 24. This is common in a field where home care agencies often refuse to split long shifts between home health aides in order to save on costs.
“We’re only responsible for one client but my previous one wanted me to take care of her husband as well when we visited his nursing home,” says Morson. “And she wouldn’t allow me sleep at all. She called on me all night. That was really challenging for me so I left.”
On election night at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad warned the audience in the Langston Hughes auditorium that what they were about to be shown would likely offend them. The projection of live presidential election coverage ceased and was replaced by a collection of racist caricatures of president Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. The crowd groaned. Many of them had seen these images before.
With that, Dr. Muhammad, the Schomburg Center’s director, set the tone for a discussion between the panelists on the racist messaging that the Republican party had helped nourish since Obama won his first term in 2008. Newt Gingrich labeling Obama the “Welfare President” and the “Food Stamp President” during the 2012 Republican primaries was mentioned as an example. Governor Mitt Romney’s now infamous remarks to donors in which he derided 47 percent of Americans as “victims” who “are dependent on government” and would “vote for the president no matter what” were also cited.
“Even if it’s not overt, we know who they’re referring to when they say this type of thing. We know,” said activist Monifa Bandele as many in the crowd nodded in agreement. Earlier, she had claimed that Republicans were underestimating the numbers of people of color and the youth who would come out to support Obama. Michaela Angela Davis, a fellow panelist, added women to that list. When exit polls were published in the days following the election, their words proved prophetic.
Ninety-three percent of black voters opted for the president, as did 71 percent Hispanics , 73 percent of Asian Americans, and 55 percent of women. Chet Whye, the campaign director for “Harlem 4 Obama,” believes that Republican attempts to suppress the minority vote through identification laws in battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Florida ended up galvanizing these constituencies into braving the long lines and making sure their voice was heard.
When it comes to New York Police Department tactics, few provoke as much debate as “Stop and Frisk.” Last year, the NYPD performed 685,724 stops. Stephen Davis, a resident of Harlem, was one of them.
“I was on 125th Street, coming out an apartment and police stopped me and two friends because they said we looked suspicious. They stopped us and they frisked us. They found two bags of marijuana on me. I spent 90 days in jail because of that,” Davis explained while standing outside a deli in Harlem’s Little Senegal.
“They wouldn’t have looked at me twice if I was white. We were just walking, no probable cause. I know they do it to look for weapons but I didn’t have no weapons on me.”
The fact that Davis served jail time makes his case rare. Last year, police uncovered contraband in only two percent of stops and made arrests in just six percent of them. Another six percent resulted in summonses while 88 percent resulted in nothing at all. Nevertheless, the use of this strategy has risen by over 600 percent since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002.
Despite a financial situation that he describes as difficult, shop owner Momodou M’Baye stands resolutely at the doorway of New Africa Music and Video in Harlem. Without a deluge of customers to interrupt him, he speaks at length regarding political events in his native Senegal.
“I wouldn’t say that the situation is dangerous. There’s no danger but [Senegalese President] Macky Sall’s latest decisions aren’t good,” he contends.
Back home, torrential rains have battered Dakar since mid-August and caused floods that killed 13 people and displaced at least 5,000 others. The rising waters also unearthed artifacts that were buried several thousand years ago and brought Senegal’s more recent political divisions to the surface along with them.
In response to the human and material losses, Senegalese President Macky Sall cut short a trip to South Africa and proposed to scrap the senate and the vacant vice-presidency in order to, as he put it, divert approximately $15 million in savings to invest in flood prevention.
Less than a month later, the national assembly voted in favor of his proposal despite resistance from the senate. The decision left 100 senators, most of which were handpicked by Sall’s predecessor, Abdoulaye Wade, jobless.