Sunday, December 6, 2015

Life in the Pissant Swamp: A Black Day for SUNY Oneonta

4 September 2015 marked yet another anniversary of the famous and infamous Black List at SUNY Oneonta and Oneonta, New York. On that day in 1992 an elderly woman was assaulted in her home. The person who assaulted her cut his hand during the assault and a police dog followed the trail of the assaulter to the SUNY Oneonta campus. To track down the culprit from there the police asked Vice-President for Finance and Administration Leif Hartmark, who was sitting in for the president of the college that weekend, for a list of Black and Hispanic male students. Hartmark authorized the release of the names of Black and Hispanic male students to the police and the police set about interrogating Black and Hispanic males on campus--one source claims some 300 were grilled--on the basis that the attacker was Black or Hispanic.

There was a backlash almost immediately. Black and Hispanic students, some faculty, and even some staff labelled what was happening an invasion of civil rights. The story of the Black List, as the list of Black and Hispanic students Hartmark released came to be called, went state wide and even national when it was picked up by the New York Times.

The fallout over the Black List has continued ever since. Vice-President Hartmark was suspended without pay, demoted, and later reinstated to his vice-president position. Suits over the action were brought by the students--all of them apparently were tracked down by the police and asked to show their hands to them--who were investigated by the police in their dorm rooms and at their homes in the city of Oneonta. A federal court dismissed the suits but later investigations found that the federal judges did not have access to the police reports which indicated that the victim said her assailant had a young voice and that she saw only his hand. She did not say he was Black or Hispanic. As a result of all of this SUNY Oneonta and the city of Oneonta have had to deal with claims that there was a strong undercurrent of racism in the investigation ever since. The national media occasionally report on the Black List and its fall out. A documentary, Brothers of the Black List, was released in 2014. Every 4th of September SUNY Oneonta ritually remembers the Black List and issues apologies for the release of the list.

Dissolve and cut from SUNY Oneonta, were I work as a part-time lecturer and have since 2010, to Honest Weight Food Coop in Albany, New York. My Oneonta and Honest Weight lives are about to connect. I, a member worker and eventually a part-time cashier at Honest Weight since 2012, learn that Leif Hartmark is a member of the Coop when he comes through my line. I am not aware of his role in the release of the Black List when he first comes through my line. I haven't since asked him when I have seen him why he released the Black List to the police. I don't know his motivations for potentially violating the privacy of every Black and Hispanic student on campus. Was it fear? Was it mental fog? Was he convinced that he was right in his actions? What was it? I would like to ask him this question, though I hesitate to do so since it undoubtedly will open wounds and I wouldn't want to do that. As a historian and sociologist, however, I would love to get answers to these questions.

Speaking of Honest Weight, Honest Weight is in the midst of "change" or so some member hope and say. Charges have been made by some, likely thanks to advice from the National Cooperative Grocers Association, UNFI, CDS Consulting, and the National Cooperative Business Association, that Honest Weight's member programme, where members work for discounts, and the member programme of "coops" everywhere are illegal. At Honest Weight Board members including the aforementioned Leif Hartmark sent a letter to the New York State Department of Labour informing them that "new management" is "modernizing" the store and that part of that modernization process is the elimination of the "member worker" programme, something that has long been the symbolic and actual heart of Honest Weight and coops everywhere though many of these latter have raised the flag of surrender long ago without going to court and establishing a legal precedent in the process. Others at Honest Weight have fought back, however, and the "transition" the letter proclaims has been put on hold if very tenuously for the moment wince Deb Dennis and what is left of the executive committee, Leif Hartmark, and their lawyers met with the DoL after Board member and former Board president William Frye was recalled and John Serio, who as Board secretary was on the executive committee of the Board was defeated in a special election. They are apparently trying to persuade the DoL to issue a ruling on the legality or illegality of the programme, a ruling they likely think will go their way.

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