“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Earlier today, seven members of the NYPD were arrested, one of whom is a retired vice detective. The vice detective, who is married to a prostitute, teamed up with his wife to start two brothels, one in Sunset Park, Brooklyn and one on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. As a result, there are 30 other officers currently under investigation by the Department of Internal Affairs.
The investigation began over three years ago as an FBI probe and started "after a member of the department suspected illegal activity by other members of the department and reported to Internal Affairs" according the New York Post. During today's busts, Internal Affairs raided the NYPD's 72nd precinct in Sunset Park and confiscated the electronic devices of the entire staff in search of additional evidence. They also stormed the precinct's locker room, clipping the lock on Det. Manuel Rodriguez's locker and going through his possessions. Despite his only having been in the 72nd precinct for about 5 months, Internal Affairs placed Rodriguez on modified duty.
While most of the action went down in Sunset Park, other arrested officers came from 109th and 84th precincts, as well as Transit Bureau Investigation and Evidence Collection. "Today, those who swore an oath and then betrayed it have felt the consequences of that infidelity. The people of this Department are rightly held to the highest standard, and should they fail to meet it, the penalty will be swift and severe," said NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill in a press conference. Details regarding who was involved in what portion of the illegal activity and to what extent, have yet to be released.
Those arrested include:
Sgt. Carlos Cruz, 69th Precinct Det. Squad
Sgt. Louis Failla, Queens Evidence Collection Team
Sgt. Cliff Nieves, Transit Bureau Investigation
PO Steven Nieves, 84th Precinct
PO Giancarlo Raspanti, 109th Precinct
Det. Gionanny Rojas-Acosta, Criminal Investigation Division Training
Det. Rene Samiego, Brooklyn South Vice.
The two detectives placed on leave were:
Det. Rafael Vega, of the Criminal Enterprise Investigative Section
Det. Manuel Rodriguez, of the 72nd Precinct