By Sophia Astor
During the past few months I’ve been getting to know Washington Square Park by speaking with its effortlessly cool skaters, rat-faced social media stars, vendors who sell goods of varying legality, and a host of flamboyant performers.
I realized that in focusing on the “wilder” side of the park—the youth—I was missing out on a more adult perspective. So, in April I attended a 6th Precinct Community Council meeting, held on Zoom due to COVID, to get an idea of how the Village’s more well-heeled residents saw the park and the goings-on within.
It wasn’t any less wild.
As the meeting began, I quickly realized I was in foreign territory. I was probably the only person there under 40, and the residents’ concerns were the polar opposite of what I was used to hearing. The people I’d spoken with at the park complained about overzealous policing. The residents complained that the police weren’t doing enough. It seems that the police department isn’t making either side too happy.
Despite an increase in police presence, the residents complained that they were seeing no change. Some were concerned that officers in the park spend too much time scrolling through their phones; others felt that the police needed to be more diligent about cracking down on skaters, drug dealers, and the homeless.
Captain Stephen Spataro of the 6th Precinct, trapped in a tiny Zoom box, was looking a little nervous. He explained that the police were kindly asking the skaters to leave, and were telling restaurant owners to lock up their outdoor dining stations, which have become popular overnight homeless shelters. That didn’t do much to satisfy the increasingly irate residents and, pretty soon, all hell broke loose.
One participant, Jason Goodman, complained about being assaulted by a skateboarder in the park while the cops watched and did nothing. Maureen Remacle, the meeting’s moderator, replied that she doubted that. This caused Goodman to start flooding the chat with dozens of messages berating both Remacle and the police department. He called for daily mass arrests and ticketing in the park, and was increasingly sounding like an autocrat, when Remacle just stopped reading out his comments altogether. But not to be stopped, Goodman simply unmuted himself and began ranting out loud.
“This meeting is nonsense!” yelled Goodman. “Read my comments, Maureen. You cannot silence me!” “Why is this man unmuted?” yelled Remacle. “Mute him!! Mute him!!” “Because you are lying!” bellowed Goodman, waving his index finger high in the air. “You are not done with me!!”
This interchange continued for a while, until Remacle finally found a way to permanently mute Goodman, but his outbursts were only an extreme example of what a lot of people were grumbling about.
Oddly enough, it all reminded me of the early 2000s chick flick Mean Girls, where the powerful popular girls rule the school until they become so divided that no one can exert control. Now I see that many Village residents, who seem so powerful and united from the outside, have their problems too. In the movie, it is only when the school’s social hierarchy falls apart that equilibrium is restored. We’ll just have to wait and see if that’s in the cards for Washington Square Park.