City Park Worker Tasheema Chatman said she felt, “completely humiliated and degraded,” after she was recently called to clean dog feces from the shoes of an art vendor in Carl Schurz Park during the Grace Square Art Show. City workers say for years they have been required to scrub dog feces from the ground which means on thier hands and knees during the two day art show of the privately sponsored event. (Photo By: Geoffrey CroftNYC Park vocates.) Click on images to enlarge
By Geoffrey Croft
An African American mother of two was “humiliated and degraded” after she was called to clean dog feces with a toilet brush from the shoes of an artist after he stepped in canine excrement, NYC Park Advocates has learned.
The 40-year-old Parks Department City Parks Worker (CPW) said she was called to 86th Street and East End Ave just before her lunch break by one of the park’s caucaian supervisors to clean what she thought was dog crap from the side walk.
When she arrived she was horrified to learn that the dog crap was on a shoe of an artist selling at the show instead.
Tasheema Chatman said she was made to scrub the bottom of the artist’s black European bought shoes with a toilet brush while her two caucaian supervisors watched near by.
The humiliating incident occurred at the tony Gracie Square Art Show in Carl Schurz Park, mere yards away from where the Mayor and his African American wife Chirlane reside.
On Sunday, October 4th Ms. Chatman said she received a call from supervisor John Heimerle to come over to booth 75 because there was poop in the area.
She came from several blocks away with a bucket and toilet brush and fresh cleaning solution. When she arrived she asked them were the poop was.
“When I get there there was no poop on the ground,” she said.
"Poop Crew" City Park Workers Laura Velasco, (l) and Tasheema Chatman (r) on Saturday, October 1st, at The Gracie Square Art Show the day before the incident. The Carl Schurz Park Conservancy took the photos for pr purposes according to the workers.
She said the artist commented, ‘I asked your supervisor to come over here because I have poop on my shoe,’” he reportedly said.
The artist said, ‘I need your to help me clean the poop off of my shoe.’”
He said, “can you help me scrub it,” which meant can you do it for me she explained.
She said she knelt down before the artist. He took off one his black, European bought shoes and held it up. She proceeded to scrub the bottom of the sole with a toilet brush with the cleaning solution.
She walked away when she said the artist began to take off his other shoe to check to see if there was dog crap on the other one.
“He took off his other shoe to smell it to see if there was poop on that shoe for me to clean that one too, ” she said.
“I walked away because I didn’t want to black out,” she said. It was just too much I walked away. I collected my thoughts."
Afterwards, she called supervisors Heimerle and Steven Digiovanni to come talk to her.
Seh explained how she was feeling.
“I felt had been violated at that point, cleaning peoples shoes. Even though it was extreme for us to be out there cleaning up poop with a scrub brush but that’s what they want us to do during the art show.
I felt completely humiliated and degraded. My reaction was, “Why I’m I cleaning the poop off of someone’s shoe. This is crazy , I can’t believe I’m cleaning someone else's shoes. I know this is not in my job specs that’s what was going through my mind, I felt humiliated and degraded ”
And the supervisors she said were standing right there watching.
“John and Steve were fully aware he had poop on his shoe," she said.
“I didn’t feel like I had a choice (not to do it) because John’s supervisor was standing right there, so I felt like I had to do it like it was a direct order. I figured it was a direct order if I didn’t to it I wouldn’t be following the rules. I was afraid I would get written up.
They didn’t stop it. They should have stopped it,” she said of her supervisors.
Afterwards she broke down in the bathroom and cried after the incident. Her colleagues consoled her.
Embarrassed she finally came forward after speaking to her family whom she credits with giving her the strength to speak about it.
She said her mother who wanted to go to the job site to confront her supervisors.
Tasheema has two kids, a fifteen year-old son and a six year-old daughter with autism. She said she cried with her family several times.
Baltimore based artist Christos Palios said he was told several times by someone associated with the park/Gracie Square Art Show, the Carl Schurz Park Conservancy when he brought up the dog feces issue that the park has a service to deal with dog crap.
Meaning park workers.
“She was very accommodating and willing,” Christos Palios said of Ms. Chatman when reach by phone.
“We knelt down I felt uncomfortable a little bit the whole time but I thought it was just going to be a fifteen or twenty-second thing which it was and that was that,” he said.
“What bothers me universally is that she had a choice just to say no, no, no. I mean I didn’t order her I asked her actually a couple of times I said are you sure, and I just thought she had helped someone else with it or, or it was no big deal. You know and as I told you I felt uncomfortable the whole time. ”
He said several times that he offered to help clean but, “she insisted.”
“It was just, “two people helping each other,” Palios said several times.
“New Yorkers don’t clean up their dog poo,” he said.
“I’m upset that someone feels that way that’s what this comes down to,” he said.
"This is dully noted….I’m not even going to think about allowing somebody to do that in the future,” he said regarding lessons learned.
Ms. Chatman categorically denies he offered in anyway to help clean or that she insisted.
“Why would I do that, that makes no sense,” she said she wouldn’t be here if he had.
“That’s not the version that really happened she said. "He asked me could I do it. No he didn’t suggest could he do it because I would have liked for him to clean his own shoes. I mean I wouldn’t even be here.”
Common sense should have dictated how a human being would feel having to do that Chatman says.
"The Park Department has gotten away with mistreating people for so long without repercussion they don’t even know what’s right or wrong. It’s insane,” said Dilcy Benn, president of Local 1505 which represent City Park Workers.
"No one should have do those things in order to have a job. I feel really bad for her as person.”
To add insult injury there are grumblings among some workers that Angelo Figueroa one the main people involved in the so called Boom boom room scandal on Randall’s Island was not only not fired but promoted.
Mr. Figueroa is now assigned out of Carl Schurz Park as well. The city quietly settled out of court with one of the victims, Valerie Marville.
Ms. Chatman, like many other minority park workers had hoped the racial and sexual harassment issues that have long been systemic within the agency would improve under the new commissioner and new mayor but say the reforms that have long been desperately needed have not occurred. They have the wrong priorities she says.
“This happened two blocks from the Mayor’s home,” said Tasheema who has worked on and off for the Parks Department since 2007.
“I would thought that having a black commissioner, us having a mayor with a black wife a lot of things would have changed in parks but it hasn’t. Everything is still the same. Their views of minorities working in the Parks Department haven’t changed they still treat us the same way,” she says.
“Sexual harassment is a big issue and racial insensitivity is a very big issue in the Parks Department and it has been for a very long time," she continued.
“Workers like me and others are kind of scared and intimated to say something, scared that you are going to get written up or lose their job if you say something to the wrong person. They’re scared to step forward and speak up for themselves and that’s why a lot of things happen in the Parks Department and its been happening for years. You are intimated by the ones who have been there for so long and they know this and that’s why they get away with it.
They use their power to intimidate us. They really do.”
Ms. Chatman received a transfer to another park district at her request.
The Parks Department refused comment despite several requests.
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