Here is his piece in the Daily News.
In the runup to the anniversary of Eric Garner’s death in Staten Island, many friends asked me why Staten Island didn’t riot after the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo. We are forced to ask the question again in the wake of additional unrest in Ferguson on the first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death.
When the question was put to me, I tried to explain how my hometown has changed since my birth in 1947. It is now an infinitely more tolerant place.
In 1972, a black family planning to move into a white neighborhood in the Oakwood section of the Island’s South Shore had its house firebombed. I had grown up within walking distance of the house.
That same year, cops were pelted with rocks for several nights after one of them shot dead an 11-year-old involved in a car theft in the New Brighton section of the borough on the North Shore, not far from the Staten Island Ferry.
In 1980, there were race riots following the admission of the first black students at New Dorp High School on the mainly white South Shore. Five years later, black students again were attacked. When Daytop Village, a drug rehabilitation program, tried to open a treatment center in 1982, its building was torched.
That was then. Today, huge swaths of the North and East Shores of Staten Island are as integrated as they have ever been. It is not uncommon to see white and black kids playing on the street and becoming friends at local elementary and high schools.
Apartment buildings in St. George and Tompkinsville, near where Garner struggled to draw his last breath, are integrated. This happened over time and not by government fiat.
In 2007, the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development estimated that there were 6,000 to 8,000 Liberians living near that area; those numbers did not account for immigrants who were not yet citizens. Asians and Russians are buying new homes there, too.
In addition, 60,000 of us travel every day on the Staten Island Ferry, arriving at the terminal by foot, trains and buses to make the 25 minute trip to Manhattan. it’s difficult to hate people with whom you are cheek by jowl every day.
These are common denominators that a place like Ferguson doesn’t have. We don’t have to like each other but we know in our souls that most of our fellow commuters are working so they can live the American dream.
We don’t hate immigrants because we see them every day in every corner of the Island in all kinds of professions. We see them attending religious services, their children snappily dressed, praying the same way we do.
On the North Shore are dozens of stores owned by Albanians, African Americans, South Koreans, Yemenites, Chinese, Spanish, Sri Lankans, Mexicans and Indians.
They are part of us. Islanders are happy they are here as we try to get along. We have no inclination to go on a rampage to destroy the businesses of immigrants who spent their life savings to, in the words of Tennyson, “seek a newer world.”
The people of Staten Island, of all races and backgrounds, want live cops, not dead ones. We understand that politicians put police officers in harm’s way to settle the issues they haven’t figured out, including domestic abuse, gangs, gun and drug runners, homelessness and mental illness.
So, we don’t blame all cops for the reckless actions of Pantaleo. When a cop is shot or murdered, our hearts ache for their colleagues and the families.
Despite its conservative image, Staten Island has an openly gay state assemblyman and an African-American woman in the City Council. We voted for Obama in 2012.
Is everything perfect? Absolutely not. But maybe we feel proud that so many people want to come here.
I know this: When my father arrived in 1930, he had more rights at the age of 20 than most African Americans did, as did I when I voted for the first time in 1968.
Enough of us are the progeny of dreamers, and we understand that we have an obligation to make this a better city.
For all our difficulties, we are a good town with good people.
Callaghan is a freelance writer in New York.