By Frank Quinn
On Wednesday, June 16th, the 6th Precinct held a “Sector A Build the Block” meeting at Our Lady of Pompeii Church to discuss conditions at Washington Square Park. Many local media reports described it as an “emergency meeting.”
As a regular attendee at 6th
Precinct meetings, what this reporter found unusual was the size of the crowd and the significant media coverage. Otherwise, it was a typical community police meeting where the cops asked for support, local residents griped, and a few speakers offered substantive remarks.
Later that night, a large group of visitors congregated in the center of the park well after midnight. There was loud music, skateboarders, motorbike riders, and a very festive dance party. It was a semi-organized event, promoted through social media, where many participants explain their motives and intentions. As one person stated, “the youth of New York have been cooped up for a year and want to stay out late in our park.” Enforcing a park curfew would undoubtedly be resisted by large numbers of these park revelers, and police knew this.
The meeting was closed once the church hall reached capacity, and many would be attendees were turned away. A raucous protest then ensued at the corner of Bleecker and Carmine Streets. Confrontations occurred between residents and park users demonstrating for social justice and unimpeded park access. Inside the meeting, many who described themselves as “long-time residents” expressed what they described as an unprecedented rise in drug use, violence, and outright disrespect, making the park practically unusable for law-abiding citizens. However, others expressed a desire for tolerance for park users with different aspirations.
One musician described how he requires an amplifier to perform with his guitar. Currently, the strict code that prohibits amplified music is considered to be unfair because drum and horn players who frequent the park are far louder. Jackie Toboroff, a life-long Village resident with two children, is a Republican candidate hoping to replace City Councilmember Margaret Chin. She offered her explanation of the dilemma: “Washington Square Park used to be a bucolic refuge with an eclectic mix of downtown personalities, musicians, performance artists, and poets. Now it scores a deadly trifecta: it’s dangerous, dirty, and a full-blown drug den—a dramatic degradation of a precious community resource. Proactive policing worked before and it can work now, but only if our elected officials let officers do their jobs and stop undermining them.”
NYPD Chief of Department Rodney Harrison was joined by Assistant Chief Stephen Hughes and Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner William Castro at the “Build the Block” meeting. They explained at length the efforts being made to address the issues at the park, including recent actions to enforce the curfew and address the “quality of life” problems. Notably, they described a June 8th call with representatives from 26 city agencies that concluded without agreement on how or when to enforce a curfew, and expressed their desire to use the meeting to obtain that consensus.
Some attendees considered it significant to note who was absent from the meeting. Mayor de Blasio, who many have thought is the ultimate decision-maker on this subject, was not in attendance. Nor were City Councilman Corey Johnson, State Senator Brad Hoylman, or Assembly Member Deborah Glick, all of whom serve as elected officials for the neighborhood.
In attendance were Manhattan Borough President Gayle Brewer, Community Board 2 Chair Jeannine Kiely, and Andrew Kunkes from the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit. City Council Member Margaret Chin, whose district includes Washington Square Park, sent a staff member.
Competing interests vying to use the park as they see fit will require leadership from elected officials to solve the differences.