A New Hope for Syracuse?

by Maximilian Eyle

If crime is an indicator of the health of a city, then Syracuse has seen better days. Chief of Police Frank Fowler was appointed by Mayor Stephanie Miner in 2009, and now – nearly ten years later, he is making his exit. As we reflect on his legacy, there is not a lot to celebrate. While crime did drop by about 15% during his term, this is in line with the national crime rate and does not suggest any special change in our community. Furthermore, 2016 made headlines as the deadliest year in Syracuse history, with a record 30 homicides taking place. Gang violence continues to be a problem, and the relationship between the community and the police remains tense.

I am a native of Syracuse and have chosen to return and make it my home after leaving to earn my degree. Our city has a lot to be proud of. We boast a rich history, a thriving music community, a number of museums and theaters, great restaurants, and a growing downtown. All this nestled within the gorgeous landscape of Central New York. Yet public safety continues to burden our community and tarnish our reputation. Scandals with police brutality have cost the city millions of dollars in the past few years, with Chief Fowler showing little remorse or interest in departmental change. In a recent court testimony, he was asked if it is acceptable for police officers to beat someone who is already handcuffed. “It might be,” Chief Fowler responded. This attitude from our law enforcement leadership is atrocious and unforgivable.

Finally, change is upon us. On November 2nd, Mayor Ben Walsh announced that Kenton Buckner will be the new Chief of Police in Syracuse. Prior to this appointment, Buckner has been the chief in Little Rock, Arkansas – a similarly sized city to Syracuse. In his recent press conferences, he has affirmed his commitment to improving the diversity of our police force, and to focusing on rehabilitation and second chances rather than just punishment. Much about his history, character, and rhetoric gives us hope. Only time will tell if his approach will be successful. In the meantime, we as a community must do our best to hold our leadership accountable to their promises.

Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He works as a media consultant and writes each month about a variety of issues for Spanish-language papers across New York State. Maximilian has a love of Hispanic culture and learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at maxeyle@gmail.com.

The Jewish Community in Venezuela

by Miguel Balbuena

Venezuela has recently been ruled by the government of President Hugo Chavez, who served four terms in office between 1999 and 2013, and, then, by the administration of President Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded Commandant Chavez, both being officials of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (USPV), in power for 19 years now.

The policies enacted by the USPV have led to a significant drop in the Jewish population staying in this Caribbean country. Thousands of Venezuelans of Jewish ancestry have chosen to live in self-imposed exile. It happens that many of these expatriates are prominent members of the Venezuelan intelligentsia.

The concept of intelligentsia was introduced to me while I was fresh out of high school. A fellow freshman at the Pontifical Catholic University (PUC), Carlos Chipoco, first presented this concept to me. In my storied years in college no professor even mentioned it. Chipoco, in many ways, back then knew more than PUC faculty. Later on, he went to become classmate of future U.S. President Barack Obama at Harvard Law School.

In short, the intelligentsia can be defined as cultural workers who create content to be consumed by human generations, even those not born yet. The intelligentsia is a cast of educated people (not necessarily college-educated, it could also be self-educated ones) that not only reproduce pre-existing ideologies, but expand their frontiers or produce novel ones. The members of the intelligentsia are trendsetters, opinion influencers, who, ideally, exert critical thinking in shaping the culture and politics of their country.

Due to its outsize role in society relative of its numbers, adherents of the intelligentsia have historically become a thorn on the side of governments, some of which have resorted to extreme measures to get rid of these opponents. Books such as “Lenin’s Private War: The Voyage of the Philosophy Steamer and the Exile of the intelligentsia,” by author Lesley Chamberlain, illustrate this by telling the story that Vladimir Lenin, then Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, expelled hundreds of people hostile to the Soviet power: philosophers, students and the like, to Stettin, Germany, and Istanbul, Turkey. They were transported by vessels, which earned the name of “philosophers’ ships.”

In the case of Venezuela, neither Chavez nor Maduro tossed out the Jewish Venezuelan intelligentsia using “philosophers’ ships.” Instead, individuals associated with this status class left by their own volition and by their own means. These subjects included Moises Naim, author of a book titled “Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy,” published in 2005, and; Daniel Benaim – co-director of “Chavismo: The Plague of the 21st Century,” a 93-minute documentary film – who, since 2006, has been media director and adviser to the Confederation of Israelites Associations of Venezuela, which publishes some of Naim’s pieces.

Naim’s family immigrated to Venezuela from Libya, where he was born; Benaim’s family immigrated to Venezuela from Morocco. Then, many decades later, both intellectuals immigrated from Venezuela to the
United States. As an aside, the prefix Ben means “son of” in Hebrew, so the surname Benaim would translate as son of Aim.

Benaim studied at the world renowned S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications from 1978 to 1981, obtaining there a bachelor’s degree in television, radio and film. At this school he met a fellow student, Tere Paniagua, who went on to work at Syracuse University as executive director of the Office of Cultural Engagement for the Hispanic Community.

Daniel and Tere crossed paths again after the release of the “Chavismo” documentary on June 15. After intense negotiations, Daniel agreed to come back to Syracuse for the screening of his film on October 9, immediately followed by his remarks to the audience as well as a question-and-answer session with the public. The event took place at La Casita Cultural Center on Syracuse’s Near West Side.

At this function Daniel praised Naim’s book “Illicit,” although this essay doesn’t mention Chavez nor Maduro, but the filmmaker suggested it was relevant because “Venezuela is governed by thugs.” Then he talked about “The Commandant,” a Colombian television series focusing on the life of Chavez, for which Naim wrote 49 episodes of it.

About the author: Miguel Balbuena is a writer in the academic, scientific, journalistic and literary fields (in the fiction and non-fiction genres).

The Day Syracuse Revolted

by Maximilian Eyle

In October of 1851, roughly 2,500 Syracuse citizens came together in the city’s downtown. With a battering ram, they broke down the door to the jail and successfully freed a man called William “Jerry” Henry. Jerry had escaped from slavery years before and started a new life as a barrel maker in Upstate New York. He would have been sent back to a life of slavery, but Syracuse residents stepped in and secured his freedom. Jerry was immediately sent north to Canada where he was safe from arrest. This event is remembered as the “Jerry Rescue”, and is one of the proudest moments in Syracuse’s history.

At that time, the United States was divided into states with slavery, and those without. In 1850, a federal law known as the Fugitive Slave Act was passed which required that states without slavery help capture and return any escaped slaves. Jerry was arrested under this new law and put in jail. This caused tremendous outrage among the locals. Abolitionist Samuel Ringold Ward expressed his disgust at a public meeting prior to the Rescue, stating: “We are witnessing such a sight as, I pray, we may never look upon again. A man in chains, in Syracuse!”

The story of the Jerry Rescue has the advantages of being both legendary and true. It speaks to the power of a united local community pushing back in the face of an overzealous federal government enforcing an unjust law. The Civil War may still have been ten years away, but protests like this helped hasten the end of slavery. Today, we see similar local resistance as Syracuse refuses to use its police to search for or detain illegal immigrants despite federal pressure to do so. As we look to the future, we should remember the progress that can be made when Syracuse stands as a united and independent city.

Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He works as a media consultant and writes each month about a variety of issues for Spanish-language papers across New York State. Maximilian has a love of Hispanic culture and learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at maxeyle@gmail.com.

How to solve the opioid crisis

by Maximilian Eyle

The prohibition of opioids in the United States has been raging for almost a century. The Anti-Heroin Act of 1924 began the criminalization of importing and possessing opioids. Now, after countless people have been imprisoned and an immeasurable amount of money and resources have spent, have the opioids disappeared? No. On the contrary, we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic. Each year, the number of fatal opioid overdoses rises, with the CDC’s estimates for 2017 reaching a record 72,000 deaths. Let us be very clear: these are preventable deaths. Through legislative change and the implementation of proven harm reduction strategies, we have the option to adopt a drug policy based on compassion and evidence-based results rather than on punishment and propaganda.

The presence of opioids has become common throughout the United States. Some come from the black market and have been produced illegally and without government regulation, while others are prescribed and produced by registered pharmaceutical companies. A common misconception is that overdoses only stem from illegally produced opioids. In reality, a full 40% of these overdoses are due to prescription opioids. Incredibly, more than a third of Americans used a legally prescribed opioid in 2015. This number does not include illegal opioid use. This brings us to our first recommendation in the fight against opioid overdoses: Narcan should be in every household across America.

What is Narcan? Also known as Naloxone, this drug blocks the absorption of opioids at the receptor-level. Opioids effect our respiration, which is why someone suffering from an overdose may stop breathing. By pausing the effects of the opioids in the body, Narcan saves lives by restoring the person’s breathing. It is FDA approved and can be administered easily via a nasal spray. Even a child can do it. It was intentionally developed for use by those without medical training who may arrive at the scene first, such as friends or family. Narcan is not a replacement for calling 911, but can save the person’s life while EMTs are on the way.

Just as we have a fire extinguisher in every building and house to protect us in the event of a fire, we should also have Narcan readily available at all times. Harm reduction centers will often provide free Narcan kits and training to those who want it, and an increasing amount of other institutions are doing the same. The New York City government has even started distributing Narcan through a range of channels as part of its HealingNYC initiative.

Raising the availability and awareness of Narcan in our society is a powerful anti-overdose strategy. But legislative change must also be brought about if we truly hope to disrupt the opioid epidemic. Prohibition is a primary driver of overdoses and actually exacerbates the harm that these drugs can cause. We know that banning opioids does not make them disappear. On the contrary, it drives their use and production underground which is far more dangerous. Users do not know the content, strength, or dosage of what they are ingesting. Imagine if every time you needed cough syrup – it came in an unmarked bottle and was always either stronger or weaker than the last time you bought it. Obviously, the chances of you accidentally taking too much would skyrocket. Alcohol is also a potentially dangerous drug, but we learned in the 1920s that prohibiting it only made things worse.

Clearly, some form of regulated access would be preferable to the current system. This has already been tried and proven to work in many other countries, particularly in Europe. Switzerland’s program has gained considerable attention as a success story. Starting in the 1990s, “Zurich became the first place in the world where therapy programs handed out heroin prescriptions to heavy and long-term opiate users for whom other substitutes wouldn’t work.” As a result, the rate of new users, new HIV infections, overdoses, and other problems associated with opioid use all plummeted.

It is up to us as voters and individuals to drive this change forward in the fight against opioid overdoses. The steps are relatively straightforward: Equip yourself with Narcan and learn how to administer it (it’s very simple). Vote for candidates who support harm reduction measures and non-prohibitionist approaches to our drug policy. Getting “tough on drugs” has only made things worse – it’s time for compassion and pragmatic change. Lastly, support your local harm reduction centers. By tackling overdose prevention, HIV and HCV testing, sex education, syringe access, and more – these facilities do wonders for the communities they serve.

Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He works as a media consultant and writes each month about a variety of issues for Spanish-language papers across New York State. Maximilian has a love of Hispanic culture and learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at maxeyle@gmail.com.

Cycles of Stigma

Cycles of Stigma: How Prohibition Makes Sex Work and Drug Use Even More Dangerous
by Maximilian Eyle

June was Pride Month in America, and this year’s theme in New York City was “Defiantly Different”. It represents a chance to push back against the stigma surrounding LGBTQ identities and lifestyles while celebrating the diversity of self-expression that exists within the LGBTQ community. When we talk about stigma in this context, it is usually regarding a lack of acceptance of the individual’s sexuality on the part of the family or by society. What is less frequently acknowledged is that the manifestation of this stigma often sets off a chain reaction as the individual struggles to cope with the trauma of their sexual identity being denied or ridiculed.

When we think about where LGBTQ culture shines brightest, big cities come to mind. Metropolitan areas like New York City act as magnets for members of the LGBTQ community nationwide due to the more progressive mentality toward sexuality and the greater availability of support resources. The stigma associated with non-heteronormative lifestyles in many areas of the U.S., particularly rural communities and small towns, often makes it unpleasant and even unsafe to live openly there.

As these stigmatized people seek a new life in a more accepting environment, they often carry heavy burdens. Some are material, like the struggle to survive financially in an expensive and foreign environment like New York City. Others are emotional, like the memories of having been spurned by friends and family where you grew up. Though there may be less anti-LGBTQ sentiment in a metropolitan area like New York, many who come to such a large city find themselves unable to survive financially.

For members of the transgender community, their ability to conceal their sexual identity can be more difficult than for gays or lesbians. When faced with this added barrier to entering the “traditional” workforce, some will inevitably turn to sex work as a means of survival. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey studied this and other issues among 6,400 transgender adults nationwide between 2008 and 2009. It found that, “An overwhelming majority (69.3%) of [transgender] sex workers reported experiencing an adverse job outcome in the traditional workforce, such as being denied a job or promotion or being fired because of their gender identity or expression.”

Because prostitution is illegal in the vast majority of the United States, legal and social repercussions face those who choose this line of work, needlessly stigmatizing them and making their lives less safe. They are forced to enter the black market, put themselves at risk for arrest, and are limited in their ability to receive access to contraception, STD testing, and other essential healthcare resources. Though heterosexual prostitution is also stigmatized, the taboo tends to be greater for gay or transgender sex workers.

If the person has been arrested for drug use, finding a traditional employment path will be particularly difficult if not impossible. Again we see the damaging influence of stigma appear – this time in the context of drug use. The War on Drugs has conditioned society to regard substance use as a moral failing, much like many anti-gay groups view LGBTQ lifestyles as morally wrong. Our justice system advances this perspective by incarcerating and punishing these individuals, adding the inescapable and institutionalized stigma of a criminal record.

Just as prohibiting sex work makes it even more dangerous, the most dysfunctional and destructive aspects of drug use are usually products of prohibition rather than of the substance itself. Consider overdoses, which almost always result from the user’s inability to know the content, purity, or strength of what they are ingesting. In the U.S., where nearly 65,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, users are buying their drugs on the black market. They cannot know what they are consuming, and their purchases fuel a black market worth over $100 billion annually. In Switzerland, where the government started giving opioid users access to pharmaceutical heroin and other opioid substitutes dispensed in a clinical setting, their overdose rate dropped by half and the rate of HIV infection dropped by 65%. Furthermore, the rate of new users there has declined. This harm reduction practice puts users in contact with medical staff without the pressure to change their lifestyle or usage.

The long history of stigmatizing members of the LGBTQ community increases the rate of trauma and abuse. (77% of transgender sex workers experienced harassment during childhood after expressing their transgender identity.) The continued discrimination that is present as transgender people enter the workforce forces them to find alternatives in the black market, bringing with it further stigma and legal peril. The consequences of this are dire. The attempted suicide rate of transgender sex workers is over 60%.

The legal system’s practice of legislating morality via the criminalization of drugs as well as sex work only serves to exacerbate the potential dangers of these behaviors by limiting the available resources and adding to the stigma felt by drug users and sex workers. Compassion, not punishment, should be the underlying philosophy behind our public policy. The social and legislated stigma felt by people who are drug users, sex workers, LGBTQ, or a combination thereof, is a cruel burden that must be lifted before we can truly hope to help the most at-risk members of our communities.

Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He works as a media consultant and writes each month about a variety of issues for Spanish-language papers across New York State. Maximilian has a love of Hispanic culture and learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at maxeyle@gmail.com.

Please Make Syringe Access a Google Business Category

by Maximilian Eyle

Have you ever wanted to find a great Chinese restaurant near you? How about an HIV testing center in your area? Fortunately, Google’s Business listings make finding these options very easy, with their basic information listed along with their location on a map. You can compare reviews, check if they are open, and more. This is accomplished by having businesses select from a long list of categories which define when and where it will appear in search results. These categories include everything from equestrian facilities to Syrian restaurants, Christian bookstores to yoga studios. Some of my favorite categories from the A section alone include Abrasives Supplier, Adult Day Care, and Angler Fish Restaurant. But if you travel down to the S listings, you will find that Syringe Exchange, Syringe Access, and other related terms are missing. How did a sophisticated registry from one of the world’s largest tech companies come to include such categories as “Nut Store” and “Shinto Shrine” while omitting one of the most important harm reduction resources available to us?

The history of Syringe Access Programs (SAPs) is an important one. The first government-approved SAP opened in the Netherlands more than 30 years ago, and they have since spread across Europe, North and South America, and parts of the Middle East. In the U.S., the Center for Disease Control emphasizes the importance of sterile syringe availability as a critical tool for reducing the dangers of injecting drugs. The idea behind it is simple: by providing people who inject drugs with sterile syringes, we can prevent the spread of HIV and other infections that are transmitted via needle sharing. SAPs also provide a resource for safely disposing of used syringes so they are less likely to be discarded in a public space. By 2002, SAPs had already removed 25 million used syringes from across the U.S.

Van Asher, Harm Reduction Services and Syringe Access Program Manager at St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction, has seen the impact of these programs first hand. “When SACHR began in 1990, there was a 60% HIV incidence rate among the city’s 250,000 people who injected drugs. As a result of [SAPs} and other similar program efforts, the HIV incidence rate in New York City has dropped to under 3% among people who inject drugs.” Furthermore, when a person who injects drugs is in touch with an SAP, they are more likely to receive overdose prevention education and other important harm reduction information. There is also a fiscal incentive to promoting SAPs in addition to the obvious public health motives. HIV/HCV and other infections transmitted through needle sharing can be very expensive to treat. The CDC reports that every dollar spent to expand access to sterile syringes would generate a return on investment of $7.58 due to disease treatment savings and other factors.

There is an ever-expanding list of business types in today’s world, and the purpose of this article is not to denounce Google. But in the face of today’s opioid epidemic, with overdoses rising to the number one cause of death for Americans under 50, listing Syringe Access Programs as a defined category within Google’s business search structure would be an easy and effective means of connecting people with harm reduction resources. By adding a couple lines of code, Google could tangibly help save lives. We hope they will take that step.

Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He works as a media consultant and writes each month about a variety of issues for Spanish-language papers across New York State. Maximilian has a love of Hispanic culture and learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at maxeyle@gmail.com.

The dangers of living in an Echo Chamber

by David Alfredo Paulino

As a society, the internet has been regarded as the great equalizer, it allows us to acquire most if not all the information in the world in the blink of an eye. Now in 2018, while that is most certainly the truth there seems to have been some complications with the internet and the kinds of information that one can receive. The internet has been transformed into informational camps created to house different tribes. The most famous of the tribes are the right, the left, conservatives, liberals, progressives…etc.

One would have thought that as a society this kind of tribalism would have been left in the past, since I thought that we have come to the realization that tribalism leads to a rigid and homogenous kind of environment. To stay in a rigid and homogenous environment stunts growth, maturity, and learning. 22 years ago, in 1996, MIT researchers, Marshall Van Alstyne and Erik Brynjoflsson thought of the potential negative aspect of such a connected world, “Individuals empowered to screen out material that does not conform to their existing preferences may form virtual cliques, insulate themselves from opposing points of view, and reinforce their biases”. Both researches were able to foresee the kind of environment that would be created.

It seems that people are just too scared to just listen to others just for the sake of being proven wrong, because if they are proven wrong then that means that their way of thinking was wrong and so on and so forth. Social media has become this echo chamber where we only hear and see the same kind of information that we are used to already seeing. The danger of living in that kind of environment is that it creates a box that one hides themselves in, and it also supports the mindset that everything one needs is inside this box and everything outside of it is wrong. This kind of thinking does not support diversity if anything it fragments and divides us.

Currently, it seems that nobody can have a peaceful discourse without a giant uproar or a screaming match between two parties. We now speak to disrupt and get our point across rather than listening and understanding each other. Just because one listens and tries to understand the other parties does not mean that you necessarily agree with them. This is how conflicts happen and inevitably wars begin.

Just because you do not agree with somebody does not mean that that person should not be able to express their opinion. This is regarding to many talks having to been cancelled due to students organizing and causing disruptions. If anything, those that do not agree with said speaker should attempt to have a conversation about why they may think that they are wrong. Denying the other side is essentially part of the problem, it does not allow for the diversity and inclusion of the other. This is not to lay blame at a specific realm of thought, if anything having everyone’s reluctant to understand the other side is problem.

This homogenous environment stunts our growth and our potential prosperity as a society. I would love to continue this kind of conversation if any are willing through twitter, follow @Alfredo_David1, so that we may try to understand each other a bit more.

My name is David Alfredo Paulino. I graduated from SUNY Cortland with a international studies major with a concentration in Global Political Systems and my minors are Anthropology, Latin American Studies, and Asia and the Middle East. I was born in Manhattan, NYC, but I currently live in the Bronx with my Mother, little sister, and Stepfather. Although I was born here, most of my fondest memories come from my frequent visits to the Dominican Republic, and always being there. I even stayed there for a year. Due to my constant going back and forth, I grew to love the atmosphere there and sometimes I yearn for it more than the actual city.