MetroFocus: September 23, 2020

Tonight, as Climate Week gets underway in NYC, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) is pushing a new bill in Washington aimed at eliminating pollution that has disproportionately harmed communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities over generations. We take a look at the climate and racial justice movement in New York with WE ACT For Environmental Justice co-founder Peggy Shepard. As part of our Chasing the Dream initiative on poverty, justice, and economic opportunity in America, the environmental justice pioneer discusses the program’s efforts to protect communities disproportionately impacted by pollution.

Tonight as part of our Chasing the Dream initiative on poverty, justice, and economic opportunity in America, we take you back to the 1970’S when 80% of the Bronx burned to the ground. Independent lens’ Decade Of Fire combines never-before-seen archival and home movies and testimonials, to reveal the reasons for the devastation, showing what can happen when a community chooses to fight back and reclaim their neighborhood.

 

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Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.

TRANSCRIPT

> THIS IS 'METROFOCUS' WITH RAFAEL PI ROMAN, JACK FORD, AND JENNA FLANAGAN.

'METROFOCUS' IS MADE POSSIBLE BY SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III, SYLVIA A. AND SIMON B. POYTA PROGRAMMING ENDOWMENT TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM, BARBARA HOPE ZUCKERBERG, JANET PRINDLE SEIDLER, JODY AND JOHN ARNHOLD, CHERYL AND PHILIP MILSTEIN FAMILY, BERNARD AND DENISE SCHWARTZ, JUDY AND JOSH WESTON, DR. ROBERT C. AND TINA SOHN FOUNDATION.

FUNDING FOR 'CHASING THE DREAM' IS PROVIDED BY THE JPB FOUNDATION.

ADDITIONAL FUNDING FOR 'CHASING THE DREAM' IS PROVIDED BY SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III.

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

THIS WEEK NEW YORK CITY IS HOSTING CLIMATE WEEK NYC, THE LARGEST INTERNATIONAL CLIMATE SUMMIT OF THE YEAR.

THE EVENT COMES AT A TIME WHEN RAGING WILDFIRES ACROSS THE WEST COAST HAVE HIGHLIGHTED THE CATASTROPHIC EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE.

IT ALSO COMES AT A TIME AMID HIDE ENDED AWARENESS OF HOW ENVIRONMENTAL DANGERS CAN EXACERBATE WIDESPREAD RACIAL INEQUALITY, OFTEN WITH DEADLY CONSEQUENCES.

A FACT MADE CLEAR THIS YEAR BY THE DISPROPORTIONATE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON LOW-INCOME AND COMMUNITIES OF COLOR.

OUR NEXT GUEST HAS BEEN WORKING ON THE INTERSECTION BETWEEN SOCIAL JUSTICE AND ENVIRONMENTALISM FOR 30 YEARS.

IT ALL BEGAN WITH HER WITH A FIGHT OVER A SEWAGE PLANT POLLUTING HER WEST HARLEM NEIGHBORHOOD IN THE 1980s.

SHE'S BEEN AT IT EVER SINCE.

PEGGY SHEPHERD IS THE CO-FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF WE ACT FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE.

A COMMUNITY-BASED ADVOCACY GROUP, ONE OF THE FIRST ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS IN THE STATE TO BE CREATED BY AND RUN BY PEOPLE OF COLOR.

SHE JOINS US NOW AS PART OF OUR CHASING THE DREAM INITIATIVE ON POVERTY, JUSTICE AND ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY IN AMERICA.

PEGGY, I'M SO PROUD TO WELCOME YOU TO 'METROFOCUS.'

THANK YOU.

I'M GLAD TO TALK WITH YOU TODAY.

OH, THANK YOU.

FIRST, I DO WANT TO SORT OF MAYBE DEMYSTIFY.

FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE, ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, WE ALL LIVE ON THIS PLANET.

WE ALL EXPERIENCE THE ENVIRONMENT TOGETHER SO WE'RE ALL, QUOTE, UNQUOTE, IN THE SAME BOAT, IS SOMETHING WE KEEP HEARING.

I WAS WONDERING HOW YOU CAN TALK ABOUT HOW ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AND RACIAL JUSTICE, WHAT EXACTLY DOES THAT MEAN AND HOW DO THEY INTERSECT, ESPECIALLY IN NEW YORK?

CERTAINLY.

WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ACHIEVING ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, WE'RE WORKING TO END ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM.

WHAT IS THAT?

THAT'S THE INTENTIONAL TARGETING OF POLLUTION AND POLLUTING FACILITIES IN COMMUNITIES OF COLOR FOR A NUMBER OF REASONS.

BECAUSE THEY ARE LESS INFORMED ABOUT THESE ISSUES.

THEY MAY VOTE LESS, HAVE LESS POLITICAL POWER.

OFTEN LAND OR PROPERTY IN THOSE COMMUNITIES MAY BE CHEAPER THAN IN OTHERS.

FOR A VARIETY OF REASONS POLLUTION IS TARGETED FOR THOSE COMMUNITIES.

AND A STUDY FROM 1986 CALLED TOXIC WASTE AND RACE WAS THE FIRST DOCUMENT THAT THE PRIMARY PREDICTOR OF WHERE A TOXIC WASTE SITE WILL BE LOCATED IS A COMMUNITY OF COLOR AND SECONDARILY A POOR COMMUNITY.

OVER THE DECADES THERE HAVE BEEN NUMEROUS STUDIES THAT CONTINUE TO DOCUMENT AND CONFIRM THAT THAT DYNAMIC.

WE ALSO KNOW, FOR INSTANCE, THAT OVER 80% OF LATINOS LIVE IN A COMMUNITY THAT DOES NOT -- HA IS NOT IN ATTAINMENT OF CLEAN AIR STANDARDS.

OVER 70% OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS LIVE IN A COMMUNITY WITH HIGH AIR POLLUTION.

OF COURSE, AS YOU SAID IN YOUR OPENING, WE NOW UNDERSTAND FROM THE HARVARD STUDY THAT BEING EXPOSED TO HIGH LEVELS OF AIR POLLUTION HAVE INCREASED THE RISK OF DEATH FROM COVID, ESPECIALLY FOR AFRICAN-AMERICANS.

OF COURSE, OF COURSE.

ALSO, I WAS WONDERING -- I TOUCHED ON IT A LITTLE BIT IN THE INTRO.

BUT IF YOU COULD SORT OF TELL US ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION AND WHAT IS THE NEED THAT IT'S AIMING TO FILL?

YOU SORT OF EXPLAINED IT A LITTLE BIT.

I WANT PEOPLE TO BE REALLY, REALLY CLEAR ON THIS.

WHAT I FOUND -- I GOT STARTED WORKING IN THE JESSE JACKSON CAMPAIGN, HIS FIRST CAMPAIGN FOR PRESIDENT, AND I DID PUBLIC RELATIONS IN MANHATTAN.

IT REALLY GAVE ME THE OPPORTUNITY TO GO TO DIFFERENT NEIGHBORHOODS AND WORK WITH LEADERS THERE AND TO UNDERSTAND THE NEIGHBORHOODS THAT HAD MORE BENEFITS LIKE GREENWICH VILLAGE AND THE NEIGHBORHOODS LIKE HARLEM THAT HAD FEWER OF THOSE BENEFITS.

OF COURSE, MORE OF THE CHALLENGING ISSUES.

SO WHEN I BECAME THE DEMOCRATIC DISTRICT LEADER IN WEST HARLEM, VOLUNTEERS CAME TO ME AND SAID, YOU KNOW, THERE'S THIS SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANT.

NOT KNOWING ANYTHING ABOUT WHAT THAT ENTAILED, WE WERE TOLD, ARE YOU GOING TO GET US JOBS THERE.

I SET OUT TO GET PEOPLE JOBS THERE.

WE GOT 30 PEOPLE HIRED.

WHEN THE PLANT BEGAN OPERATING, WE REALIZED THAT THE EMISSIONS AND THE ODORS WERE MAKING PEOPLE SICK.

NOW, THIS PLANT IS ALONG RIVERSIDE DRIVE AND THE HUDSON RIVER BETWEEN 138th AND 145th STREETS.

IT'S LITERALLY ACROSS THE STREET FROM PEOPLE'S HOMES.

BE BEGAN AN EIGHT-YEAR ORGANIZING CAMPAIGN AS VOLUNTEERS TO HOLD THE CITY ACCOUNTABLE.

BACK THEN IT WAS MAYOR KOCH.

HE HAD A TERRIBLE RELATIONSHIP WITH UPTOWN COMMUNITIES.

HE SAID WE WERE MAKING IT UP, THERE WAS NO PROBLEM, WE WERE IMAGINING IT.

OF COURSE, WHEN DAVID DINKINS WHO LIVED UP TOWN BECAME BOROUGH PRESIDENT AND THEN MAYOR, HE SAID THERE'S A PROBLEM AND WE'RE GOING TO FIX IT.

HE THEN, THROUGH OUR ORGANIZING, HE GAVE MONEY TO A SCIENTIST TO DO A REPORT ON THE OPERATIONS OF THE PLANT WHICH REALLY GAVE US FACTS TO BEGIN TO TALK TO THE MEDIA AND POLICYMAKERS ABOUT.

IT ALSO GAVE US AN OPPORTUNITY TO EDUCATE THE COMMUNITY ON THIS ISSUE.

SO WE WERE ABLE TO GET THE MAYOR TO COMMIT $55 MILLION TO FIX THE PLANT.

WE WERE ABLE TO GET A $1.1 MILLION ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFIT SETTLEMENT FOR THE WEST HARLEM COMMUNITY TO USE FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROJECTS, AND WE WERE KIND OF OFF AND RUNNING.

BECAUSE WHEN YOU SEE ONE PROBLEM, YOUR EYES ARE OPEN TO ALL OF THE OTHER ISSUES GOING ON IN THE COMMUNITY.

SO THAT'S WHEN WE REALIZED THAT WE WERE HOME TO OVER ONE-THIRD OF THE ENTIRE DIESEL BUS FLEET IN NEW YORK CITY.

WOW.

MANHATTAN IS A SMALL AREA IN TERMS OF SQUARE MILES, BUT WE HOUSED OVER ONE-THIRD OF THE LARGEST DIESEL BUS FLEET IN THE COUNTRY IN THOSE NEIGHBORHOODS.

DIESEL FUMES ARE CARCINOGENS.

SO WE THEN BEGAN A CAMPAIGN THAT TOOK ABOUT 18 YEARS, BUT BY WORKING WITH THE COLUMBIA SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH AND TRANSLATING THE RESEARCH THEY WERE DOING ON THE IMPACT OF DIESEL ON PREGNANT WOMEN AND THEIR CHILDREN, WE WERE ABLE TO BEGIN TO USE THAT RESEARCH TO ADVOCATE TO THE MEDIA, TO THE GOVERNOR AND THROUGH TO THE MTA ABOUT THIS ISSUE.

AND THEN WE NOW TURN UP AND TAKE A LOOK AND EVERY BUS HAS BEEN TRANSFORMED TO HYBRID.

NOW THEY'RE TRANSFORMING TO ELECTRIC BUSES.

SO THAT'S A GREAT EXAMPLE OF NOT ONLY, FIRST OF ALL, THE HISTORY OF THE ORGANIZATION BUT ALSO HOW IT ACTUALLY PUTS ENVIRONMENTALISM INTO ACTION IN A CITY LIKE NEW YORK.

GIVEN THAT THIS CONFERENCE IS GOING TO BE HAPPENING THIS WEEK, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE THE BIGGEST ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUE FACING NEW YORK?

ARE THERE ANY OBSTACLES TO FIXING IT?

SOME OF THE BIGGEST OBSTACLES -- CERTAINLY AN IMPORTANT ISSUE FOR OUR COMMUNITIES AND ALL OF NEW YORK CITY IS POOR AIR QUALITY.

A LOT OF THAT IS DUE TO MOBILE SOURCES.

WE HAVE WHAT -- I DON'T KNOW HOW MANY BRIDGES.

MAYBE SIX OR SEVEN BRIDGES THAT ARE BRINGING TRAFFIC AND TRUCKS INTO NEW YORK CITY USING OUR NEIGHBORHOOD STREETS AS THOROUGHFARES.

SO THAT BECOMES A BIG ISSUE.

A VERY IMPORTANT ISSUE IS WHETHER OR NOT THE MOST AFFECTED COMMUNITIES HAVE A VOICE IN ENVIRONMENTAL DECISION MAKING.

SO THE THEORY OF CHANGE FOR MY ORGANIZATION, WE ACT FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, IS THAT WE MUST ENGAGE AND ORGANIZE COMMUNITY RESIDENTS TO BE INVOLVED IN ENVIRONMENTAL DECISION MAKING.

YOU MUST HAVE THE MOST AFFECTED PEOPLE REALLY IN THOSE DECISIONS.

I'LL GIVE YOU AN EXAMPLE OUTSIDE OF NEW YORK.

THIS IS CLIMATE WEEK.

SO WE'RE THINKING ABOUT CLIMATE ALL OVER THE COUNTRY, THE WILDFIRES, THE HURRICANES ON THE GULF COAST.

WHEN WE THINK ABOUT KATRINA, HURRICANE KATRINA THAT RAVAGED THE GULF COAST AND NEW ORLEANS, WHEN THAT CITY WAS THINKING ABOUT EVACUATION AND THINKING ABOUT EMERGENCY RESPONSE, OBVIOUSLY THEY DIDN'T HAVE LOWER INCOME COMMUNITIES REPRESENTED IN THOSE MEETINGS BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T SEEM TO KNOW THAT THE LOW-INCOME COMMUNITY DIDN'T HAVE A CAR TO EVACUATE.

THEY DIDN'T HAVE A CREDIT CARD TO GO TO A HOTEL.

SO THOSE WERE THE PEOPLE WE SAW SITTING ON THE ROOF HOLDING UP A SIGN SAYING HELP, WE NEED A RESCUE.

THEY WERE THE PEOPLE IN THE COLISEUM OR THE SPORTS STADIUM SLEEPING ON COTS FOR WEEKS.

AGAIN, WE REALLY HAVE TO ENGAGE FOLKS.

AND HERE IN NEW YORK CITY WE'RE REALLY LOOKING AT A TRANSITION FROM FOSSIL FUEL ECONOMY TO RENEWABLES.

ARE OUR COMMUNITIES GOING TO BENEFIT FROM THAT TRANSITION?

THAT BECOMES AN IMPORTANT ISSUE AND, YES, THERE ARE OBSTACLES.

SOME OF THE OBSTACLES ARE THE INFLEXIBILITY OF OUR UTILITY COMPANIES.

SOME OF THE OBSTACLES ARE THE FACT THAT IN THAT TRANSITION OUR ENERGY BILLS, THEY INCREASE, BUT WE ALREADY HAVE 30 MILLION HOUSEHOLDS IN THIS COUNTRY WHO ARE ENERGY INSECURE.

SO WHAT HAPPENS WHEN OUR ENERGY BILLS DO BEGIN TO INCREASE DUE TO SOME OF THIS TRANSITION AND THOSE PEOPLE ALREADY CANNOT AFFORD AN INCREASE?

WELL, WE'RE COMING UP ON THE END OF OUR TIME TOGETHER.

BUT ACTUALLY MENTIONING ENERGY BILLS AND OUR ENERGY USAGE, I UNDERSTAND THAT THAT IS A PROJECT YOUR ORGANIZATION IS WORKING ON, PARTICULARLY IN HARLEM.

THAT'S RIGHT.

WE HAVE A PROGRAM CALLED S.

U.N., SOLAR UPTOWN NOW, WHERE WE'VE TRAINED OUR UNDEREMPLOYED YOUNG MEN AND WOMEN IN OUR COMMUNITY TO DO SOLAR INSTALLATIONS.

WE'VE CONTRACTED WITH A SOLAR INSTALLATION COMPANY AND THEY HAVE AGREED TO HIRE THE PEOPLE WE'VE TRAINED.

SO WE'RE WORKING TO KEEP HOUSING AFFORDABLE WHICH HELPS TO FIGHT GENTRIFICATION BY PUTTING SOLAR ON AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND HDFCs, TENANT-OWNED COOPERATIVES TO HELP KEEP THEIR ENERGY BILLS LOWER WHICH KEEPS HOUSING MORE SUSTAINABLE AND FIGHTS GENTRIFICATION.

OF COURSE, OF COURSE.

ALSO JUST VERY QUICKLY, GOING BACK TO THE ISSUE OF AIR QUALITY.

FOR SOME PEOPLE THEY MIGHT SAY, WELL, BUT HASN'T NEW YORK ADDRESSED THIS?

WE MADE IDLING ILLEGAL, AND WE'VE CHANGED SOME OF THE TAXIS TO BEING GREENER TAXIS?

HASN'T THE CITY MADE SOME STEPS FORWARD?

THE CITIES HAS MADE SOME STEPS FORWARD, BUT WHEN YOU HAVE A CRATE CAL PROBLEM, THOSE STEPS FORWARD AREN'T QUITE ENOUGH.

FOR INSTANCE, WE NEED TO THINK ABOUT TRUCK ROUTES.

THEY CAN BE REROUTED SO THAT THEY'RE NOT GOING THROUGH NEIGHBORHOODS OR GOING PAST SCHOOLS.

WE CAN HAVE DELIVERIES IN THE EVENING.

WE COULD DO A WHOLE VARIETY OF OTHER KINDS OF THINGS THAT REDUCE SOME OF THE IMPACT OF AIR QUALITY.

THEN WE CAN ALL WORK TOWARD TIGHTER REGULATIONS AROUND AIR QUALITY AND AROUND FACILITIES THAT EMIT POLLUTION.

UNFORTUNATELY WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO LEAVE IT THERE, BUT I WANT TO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

PEGGY SHEPHERD, CO-FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF WE ACT FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

THANK YOU.

ABSOLUTELY.

> IN THE 1970s THE SOUTH BRONX WAS LITERALLY ON FIRE.

THE SCALE OF THE DEVASTATION DURING THAT DECADE IS HARD TO FATHOM.

40 FIRES A DAY, ACCORDING TO ONE ESTIMATE.

A CONTINUOUS BLAZE THAT WOULD END UP DESTROYING 80% OF THE HOUSING STOCK IN THE AREA, REDUCING ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOODS TO RUBBLE.

BUT JUST WHY AND HOW WAS THE SOUTH BRONX ALLOWED TO BURN TO THE GROUND?

IT'S A QUESTION THAT STILL TROUBLES LONGTIME RESIDENTS AND THE SUBJECT OF A DOCUMENTARY ON INDEPENDENT LENS.

'DECADE OF FIRE' FIRES A BRONX-BORN ACTIVIST AS SHE UNCOVERS THE UNTOLD STORY BEHIND THE FIRES REVEALING SHOCKING NEGLECT AT EVERY LEVEL OF GOVERNMENT.

HERE IS A PREVIEW.

I GREW UP IN THE SOUTH BRONX IN 1970s, DURING THE TIME OF THE FIRES.

LANDLORDS WERE BURNING OUR BUILDINGS FOR PROFIT AND THEY DIDN'T HAVE TO REBUILD OUR HOMES.

A QUARTER OF A MILLION PEOPLE DISPLACED, RESIDENTS AND GRASSROOTS ORGANIZATIONS HAD NO OTHER CHOICE BUT TO FIGHT BACK.

THESE WERE OUR HOMES.

THIS WAS OUR NEIGHBORHOOD.

WE WEREN'T GOING TO TAKE IT LYING DOWN.

AS PART OF OUR 'CHASING THE DREAM' INITIATIVE, CO-DIRECTORS AND PRODUCERS OF DECADE OF FIRE, VIVIAN VASQUEZ AND GRETCHEN HILDEBRAND JOIN US NOW.

WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU.

THIS WAS SUCH A POWERFUL DOCUMENTARY.

VIVIAN, I WANT TO START WITH YOU.

THIS IS VERY MUCH YOUR STORY.

TELL ME HOW DID THIS FILM COME INTO EXISTENCE.

JULIA ALLEN AND I, WHO IS OUR CO-PRODUCER, WORKED TOGETHER IN THE BRONX DURING THE EARLY PART OF THE 2000s.

WE WERE PART OF THE 21st CENTURY SMALL SCHOOLS MOVEMENT.

WE WERE WORKING WITH A CBO -- IN A CBO.

WE WERE WORKING WITHIN A CBO TO START A SMALL SCHOOL.

WE WANTED TO WRITE A CURRICULUM FOR BRONX HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS SO THEY COULD LEARN ABOUT THEIR HISTORY IN THE BRONX.

EVENTUALLY THE CURRICULUM WAS NEVER TAUGHT, BUT WE JUST KEPT TALKING ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED IN THE SOUTH BRONX DURING THE 1970s.

I KEPT TALKING ABOUT MY EXPERIENCES, HOW I GREW UP.

JULIA ENCOURAGED ME TO WRITE ABOUT IT AND THEN EVENTUALLY SHE ENCOURAGED ME TO WORK ON A FILM.

SHE INTRODUCED ME TO GRETCHEN, AND THEN WE BEGAN FILMS FRIENDS AND TELLING OUR STORY ABOUT HOW WE GREW UP IN THE SOUTH BRONX AND WHAT THE CONTEXT WAS OF THE DAY.

FOR MANY OF US, WE HAD A GREAT TIME JUST LIKE ALL KIDS HAVE A GREAT TIME DURING THEIR CHILDHOOD, BUT THERE WAS THIS BACKDROP OF DEVASTATION AND NEGLECT THAT WAS EVER SO PRESENT IN OUR MEMORIES.

GRETCHEN, I JUST WANT TO SAY THAT WAS SOMETHING I THINK I FOUND SO ENGROSSING ABOUT THE FILM IS THAT YOU WERE ABLE TO GET SO MUCH FOOTAGE THAT MADE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU WERE THERE.

HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO PUT TOGETHER ALL OF THESE PIECES THAT REALLY BROUGHT THE AUDIENCE INTO THE SPACE THAT, FOR MYSELF, I DIDN'T GROW UP IN THE CITY SO I WASN'T THERE.

BUT YOU FEEL LIKE IT WATCHING THIS FILM.

JUST TO MENTION, WHEN WE FIRST STARTED WORKING ON THIS FILM, IT WAS 2008.

SO IT WAS A TEN-YEAR PROCESS THAT WAS -- WHAT YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT, THAT WAS OUR END GOAL, BUT IT DEFINITELY WAS A HUGE AMOUNT OF WORK AND WE WORKED TOGETHER COLLABOATIVELY.

SO WHILE I WOULD BE DOING THE FILMING OR THE EDITING, WE ALSO TALKED EVERY WEEK ABOUT THE STORY BECAUSE THERE'S A HUGE AMOUNT OF AMAZING FOOTAGE.

I CAN TELL YOU MORE ABOUT WHERE WE FOUND THAT, BUT I THINK PART OF WHAT DRAWS YOU IN IS THAT WE SPENT SO MUCH TIME REALLY FOCUSING ON HOW TO LET THE VIEWER EXPERIENCE THE STORY THROUGH VIVIAN'S EYES.

SO OFTEN THE BRONX IS PORTRAYED BY OUTSIDERS AS THIS OTHER PLACE THAT YOU WOULDN'T BELIEVE WHAT'S HAPPENING THERE.

WE REALLY WANTED TO BRING PEOPLE IN TO THAT EXPERIENCE OF, LIKE, THE ACTUAL LOVE THAT PEOPLE HAD FOR THE BRONX AND FOR THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS THERE, WHICH IS WHAT ENTICED THEM TO ACTUALLY STAY AND FIGHT FOR IT WHEN ALL THIS STUFF WAS GOING ON.

IN ADDITION TO THE HEART AND SOUL OF YOUR STORY SPECIFICALLY, THIS IS ALSO VERY MUCH A HISTORY LESSON.

YOU LEARN A LOT ABOUT, AS I WAS SAYING IN THE INTRO, THE FAIL YOURS OF GOVERNMENT AT EVERY SINGLE LEVEL.

LET'S GO BACK TO JUST ONE OF THE BIG ISSUES, AND THAT WAS THE RED-LINING, THE CREATION OF THE SOUTH BRONX IF YOU WILL.

WHY WAS IT SO IMPORTANT TO MAKE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND HOW -- FIRST OF ALL, WHY THIS NEIGHBORHOOD WAS INTENTIONALLY CREATED THE WAY IT WAS.

RED-LINING BEGAN ACTUALLY IN BROOKLYN IN THE BEGINNING OF THE 1900s.

IT STARVED OFF NEIGHBORHOODS THAT BANKS OR POLICYMAKERS JUST WANTED TO KIND OF GET RID OF.

SO WHEN IT CAME TO THE BRONX, IT BASICALLY CAME -- THE WAY THAT I INTERPRETED IT WAS THIS NEIGHBORHOOD WAS A BAD BET BECAUSE WE NOW HAVE A GROWING NUMBER OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN AND PUERTO RICAN PEOPLE LIVING IN IT AND THERE'S NO USE TO SUPPORT THESE NEIGHBORHOODS, THESE FOLKS DON'T KNOW HOW TO TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES, SO WE MIGHT AS WELL LEAVE THEM THERE.

WHAT THAT MEANT IN PRACTICAL TERMS IS THAT FOLKS WERE NOT PROVIDED WITH ANY LOANS.

THERE WERE NO RESOURCES TO HELP BUILD OR RESTORE, MAINTAIN THE BUILDINGS WHICH WAS REALLY IMPORTANT.

THESE WERE PRE WAR BUILDINGS.

A LOT OF THE ELECTRICAL WIRING WAS OLD.

THEY COULDN'T SUPPORT THE NEW APPLIANCES THAT WERE COMING INTO PLAY AT THAT TIME LIKE HAIR DRYERS AND HEATERS AND THINGS LIKE THAT.

THERE WAS NO WAY TO GET NEW SERVICES.

SO WHAT RED-LINING MEANS IS THAT YOU DRAW A RED LINE AROUND THE COMMUNITY.

LITERALLY.

AND THEN YOU DECIDE NOT TO PROVIDE -- THE GOVERNMENT DECIDES, ALONG WITH PRIVATE ENTITIES, DECIDE THAT THEY'RE NOT GOING TO PROVIDE ANY ECONOMIC SUPPORT TO THAT AREA.

AND THAT DEVASTATED THE COMMUNITY BECAUSE WE NEEDED ECONOMIC SUPPORT.

EVERY COMMUNITY NEEDS A LEVEL OF ECONOMIC, POLITICAL AND SOCIAL SUPPORT.

WHAT THAT DID WAS THAT IT JUST -- ALL THE BUILDINGS BEGAN TO RUN DOWN AND PEOPLE COULDN'T GET OUT, AND PEOPLE COULDN'T SORT OF MAINTAIN.

WHEN SOMEONE BUYS A HOME NOWADAYS, YOU GET A LOAN, YOU WANT TO FIX IT.

YOU REFINANCE, YOU DO SOMETHING.

THERE WAS NO ECONOMIC INCENTIVE TO SUPPORT THE SOUTH BRONX.

OF COURSE, THE FILM ALSO ADDRESSES THAT THERE WAS NO ECONOMIC INCENTIVE AT LEAST ON THE PART OF THE LANDLORDS TO SUPPORT.

HAS IT EVER BEEN PROVEN BEYOND A SHADOW OF A DOUBT THAT LANDLORDS WERE INTENTIONALLY BURNING THESE BUILDINGS, OR IS THAT SOMETHING THAT HAS BEEN COME TO UNDERSTOOD?

WHAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT TO KNOW DURING THIS PERIOD IS THE CITY WAS CUTTING BACKFIRE SERVICES ACROSS THE CITY.

SO IT WAS CUTTING BACK THE FIRE DEPARTMENT'S ABILITY TO RESPOND TO FIRES AND THEY CUT DRAMATICALLY THE NUMBER OF FIRE MARSHALS.

WE TALK ABOUT THIS IN THE FILM.

FIRE MARSHALS ARE THE PEOPLE WHO SHOW UP TO INVESTIGATE THE CAUSES OF A SUSPICIOUS FIRE.

THE NUMBERS VARY OVER TIME, BUT IT WAS WOEFULLY UNDERSTAFFED.

SO THE VAST MAJORITY OF FIRES, IF THEY WERE RECORDED AT ALL, BECAUSE MANY FIRES NEVER EVEN WERE RECORDED, WERE NOT INVESTIGATED.

SO IT'S VERY DIFFICULT TO KNOW THE CAUSES OF MANY OF THESE FIRES BECAUSE THEY HAPPENED 40 YEARS AGO AND NOBODY EVER MADE -- TOOK DOWN RECORDS ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED.

BUT THERE WERE A HANDFUL OF PROSECUTIONS AND THERE WAS A FEDERAL INVESTIGATION BY FEMA ACTUALLY INTO THE PRACTICES OF LANDLORDS AND ALSO THE INSURANCE COMPANIES AS WELL.

AS WE -- WE FOUND THIS RESEARCH BY -- VIVIAN GOES TO DIFFERENT ARCHIVES AND DIGS IT UP.

IT'S NOT OUT THERE.

IT'S NOT IN THE PUBLIC MIND THAT THIS IS SOMETHING THAT WAS A PRETTY WIDESPREAD PRACTICE BY A CERTAIN TIME.

ANECDOTALLY IT WAS WELL KNOWN.

ACTUALLY, VIVIAN, THAT'S AGAIN -- SO MANY REASONS WHY THIS FILM IS SO IMPORTANT, AND IT ADDRESSES THE ISSUE, ALSO, THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE IN THE NEIGHBORHOODS IN THE SOUTH BRONX INTERNALIZED AND BLAMED THEMSELVES FOR THE FIRES.

AND THERE'S ALSO ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE OF CITY OFFICIALS AT THE TIME SAYING POINT-BLANK IT WAS THE FAULT OF THE PEOPLE IN THE SOUTH BRONX.

THIS FILM LAYS OUT WHY PEOPLE SHOULDN'T BE BLAMING THEMSELVES.

WHY WAS THAT SO IMPORTANT?

BECAUSE, IF YOU LOOK AT CURRENT DAY, I WORK IN THESE DEVELOPMENTS AND WE SEE YOUNG PEOPLE CARRY A LEGACY THAT DOESN'T BELONG TO THEM, THAT THEY COME FROM THE SOUTH BRONX OR COME FROM SOME POOR NEIGHBORHOOD AND THE NARRATIVE THAT IS THE CONVENTIONAL WAS COME IS THAT POOR PEOPLE ARE POOR AND THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS ARE RUN DOWN BECAUSE THEY DON'T KNOW HOW TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS.

THAT'S WHAT WE OFTEN HEAR.

THAT'S WHAT WE OFTEN HEARD.

WE WERE BLAMED.

OH, THE PEOPLE FROM THE SOUTH BRONX, THEY SET THE -- OH, IT WAS ARSON AND THE PEOPLE IN THE SOUTH BRONX BURNED THEIR BUILDINGS.

THAT'S WHAT WE OFTEN HEARD.

THAT IS A VERY NEGATIVE AND INTERNAL EMOTION.

LIKE THAT'S A MESSAGE THAT KIND OF MANIFESTS ITSELF IN ANGER OR FEAR OR SELF-BLAME OR EVEN SELF-ESTEEM.

PLENTY OF US, WE KNEW THAT LANDLORDS WERE BURNING THEIR BUILDINGS, BUT WE WERE BLAMED.

I TALK ABOUT THIS ALL THE TIME WITH PEOPLE FROM THE SOUTH BRONX AND WITH MY FRIENDS, ANYWHERE I GO, IF I SAY I'M FROM THE SOUTH BRONX, PEOPLE ARE LIKE, OH, YOU'RE FROM THE SOUTH BRONX.

DO YOU CARRY A KNIFE?

IS IT SAFE?

THERE'S ALWAYS THAT STIGMA.

WE HAVE INTERNALIZED THAT BECAUSE THAT'S THE MESSAGE WE CONSTANTLY RECEIVE FROM THE OUTSIDE WORLD.

AND EVEN WITHIN OURSELVES, RIGHT?

WE WERE LIKE, OH, YEAH, WE WERE THE ONES WHO BURNED IT.

THAT'S NOT THE CASE.

I THINK FOR ME IT WAS SO REAL VETTORI TO UNDERSTAND AND REVEAL THE FACTORS THAT RED-LINING STARVED AND ZAPPED OUR NEIGHBORHOOD.

WE DIDN'T HAVE A CHANCE.

URBAN RENEWAL, RIGHT FLIGHT.

THE FACT THAT FIREHOUSES WERE CUT AT A TIME WHEN WE WERE BURNING AND THEN WE GOT BLAMED FOR THAT.

WE DIDN'T HAVE THE PROTECTION WE NEEDED, BUT YET WE GOT BLAMED FOR BURNING OUR NEIGHBORHOODS.

THAT IS VERY IMPACTFUL.

I THINK PEOPLE WALK AROUND THINKING, WELL, I DON'T LIVE IN A SAFE NEIGHBORHOOD.

I'M FROM THIS PLACE CALLED THE SOUTH BRONX.

PEOPLE DON'T WANT TO HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH ME OR PEOPLE SEE ME A CERTAIN WAY.

SO WE NEEDED TO TELL AND KIND OF WHAT WE CALL FLIP THE SCRIPT.

DEFINITELY THE FILM DOES THAT.

NOT ONLY DO YOU ADDRESS OR LAY OUT THE REASONS WHY THERE SHOULDN'T BE SELF-BLAME, BUT ALSO THE RESILIENCY OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD AFTER THE FIRES, HOW PEOPLE CAME TOGETHER AND DECIDED, WELL, IF WE'RE NOT GOING TO GET HELP, WE'RE GOING TO REBUILD OUR NEIGHBORHOODS.

RIGHT.

WE WEREN'T RESPONSIBLE FOR IT.

WE ACTUALLY SAVED THE SOUTH BRONX.

LADIES, THANK YOU SO MUCH.

THIS FILM IS SUCH A CRUCIAL RETAELG OF A PIECE OF NEW YORK HISTORY THAT I THINK PERHAPS HASN'T BEEN GIVEN THE ATTENTION THAT IT SHOULD.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS FILM.

THANK YOU.

THANK YOU.

> FOR MORE INFORMATION ON 'DECADE OF FIRE' VISIT US AT METROFOCUS.ORG.

> 'METROFOCUS' IS MADE POSSIBLE BY SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III, SYLVIA A. AND SIMON B. POYTA PROGRAMMING ENDOWMENT TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM, BARBARA HOPE ZUCKERBERG, JANET PRINDLE SEIDLER, JODY AND JOHN ARNHOLD, CHERYL AND PHILIP MILSTEIN FAMILY, BERNARD AND DENISE SCHWARTZ, JUDY AND JOSH WESTON, DR. ROBERT C. AND TINA SOHN FOUNDATION.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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