By Stanley Wlodyka
“What’s up man—you smoke?” When asked if his menu contained items besides marijuana, he offered, “I might be able to get some coke.” But that was an afterthought, and not part of his usual wares. A wide smile, every third tooth a golden one, communicated that this fella, though certainly up to no good, wasn’t necessarily a bad guy.
A concerned WestView reader reached out about alleged criminal activity occurring in Washington Square Park, making the specific claim that “there is constant dealing and drug use within feet of the children’s playground.”
WestView’s investigation could not confirm that claim. Park guards, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they otherwise might face termination, confirmed that drug dealers stick to the western edge of the park, the side opposite from where the children’s playground is located. Not one of the parents interviewed at the playground, watching their children swing, slide, and screech with delight when the odd squirrel joined the fray, said they had noticed that sort of activity.
Perhaps the greatest shadow thrown over our reader’s assertion comes from the one man who would know: the custodian. Hour after hour, day after day he combs through the park, sweeping up all types of garbage, including drug paraphernalia. Speaking also with anonymity, he stated that he didn’t recall ever observing drug use by the playground, nor has he found drug paraphernalia near there. He went on to say that he has not encountered evidence of more extreme drug use, like needles, while carrying out his duties.
The west side of the park is another story altogether. The dealers’ presence on that side is so prominent that one can even observe their easy interactions with the park staff, who display a sort of bemused tolerance. The custodian confided that drug users regularly sniff “dope,” or crack cocaine, in the public restrooms right next to and in the same building as the park staff offices. Indeed, WestView noticed that there was suspicious activity occurring in the men’s bathroom stall during the investigation. The custodian maintains that these addicts are by and large harmless after doing their business, and are mostly in a dazed and confused state of mind that he charmingly termed “spooked.”
Park guards said that there is a “chain of command” that goes into dealing with this type of situation. First, a member of the public must report the infraction by calling 311, which is the city line used to report non-emergency situations. The local police force is notified, whose personnel then relay back to the park guards “to be advised” that such nefarious activities are occurring.
In June of last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that police would stop arresting individuals caught smoking in public and issue citations instead. This came after the discovery that there was a stark racial disparity in arrests. Despite research that shows that members of each race consume la ganja in equal numbers, approximately 89 percent of those arrested in New York City are Black or Latino.
Bleecker Street resident Cynthia Nixon made the legalization of marijuana a central issue of her gubernatorial campaign last year, stating, “We have to stop putting people of color in jail for something that White people do with impunity.” Many credit her championing of this issue for influencing Governor Cuomo to put the state of New York on the fast track towards legalization. With a reported 65 percent of New Yorkers in favor of recreational marijuana, it is expected to occur within a matter of months and will likely draw as much as $300 million in tax revenue for the Empire State, which would be the 11th state to legalize.
NYPD released data from 2018 on nine months of police activity related to this issue. Of the 4,289 arrests made for marijuana possession during that period, the West Village’s 6th Police precinct made only 27 arrests. Meanwhile, drug dealers approached WestView News five separate times during the investigation. It might be pertinent to mention that they were all Black. Perhaps, aware of the racial tension, police avoid making arrests. Despite repeated attempts, the NYPD press office refused to comment.