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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | In Hudson River Park, near where a 21-year-old actress was raped early on Sat., Sept. 22, city councilmembers, Parks Enforcement Patrol officers, community leaders and Downtown residents gathered on Monday to express their determination that nothing like that will happen again.
After a brief press conference, around 50 people marched north along the waterfront chanting, “Whose park? Our park!”
“We won’t yield one blade of grass, one street corner to the perpetrators,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who led the rally. She alluded to another rape that had taken place on Sept. 12 in Central Park and said that women should not be afraid to enjoy New York City’s parks.
Both alleged rapists have been apprehended. Both have previous records as sexual offenders.
The rapes have occurred at a time of proposed budget cuts for the New York Police Department and the Parks Enforcement Patrol. On Sept. 23, Quinn and several other city councilmembers wrote to Mayor Bloomberg, saying, “In light of the recent disturbing events in our parks, it has become evident to us that we cannot afford any further cuts to the budgets of the N.Y.P.D. and to Parks Enforcement personnel.”
The letter called on the mayor and on the Office of Management and Budget “to rescind any proposed cuts in the upcoming November Financial Plan that would result in reductions in public safety in our parks or anywhere in our city.”
At the Hudson River Park rally, Quinn commended Park Enforcement Patrol Officers Daniel Murphy and Luis Cabezas, who pursued the alleged Tribeca rapist.
The officers said that when they came on duty shortly after 5 a.m. on Saturday, the naked victim came running toward them, screaming. As Murphy cared for the victim, Cabezas chased the suspect, who he found cowering in the West St. median near North Moore St., two blocks north of where the attack occurred. Police officers summoned by the Parks Enforcement Patrol, arrested Jonathan Stewart, 25, and charged him with rape, sex abuse, a criminal sex act, assault and forcible touching.
Madelyn Wils, president and C.E.O. of the Hudson River Park Trust, which administers the 5-mile-long waterfront park, said that 24 PEP officers guard the park 24 hours a day. The park runs from Battery Park at the southern end of Manhattan to 59th Street. It is officially open from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.
The Hudson River Park Trust pays for its PEP officers. However, the Trust is financially strapped and cannot afford to add to the policing staff.
The rape took place around 5 a.m.
“We encourage people to come to the park after 6 a.m. when the park opens and it’s fully daylight,” Wils said, “but the victim didn’t deserve what happened to her.”
Wils and Quinn both said that New York City’s parks are generally safe. The Tribeca rape was the first to have occurred in Hudson River Park, which opened in stages after it was officially created as a New York State and City partnership in 1998.
Nevertheless, Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth and a member of the Hudson River Park Advisory Council, said that more police are needed.
“This is not a local park anymore,” he remarked.
During the day, he said, the park “polices itself” because there are so many people coming and going, but at night, the park is deserted.
He said that he was not surprised at the rape.
“I went on record a year and a half ago that this could happen,” he said.
Democratic District Leader Jean Grillo said, “For years I’ve talked to the First Precinct Community Council for increased police protection.” She cited an increase in the local population and also in the numbers of homeless as creating a need for greater vigilance. “This is a park used by a lot of women,” she stated.
Julie Menin, former Community Board 1 chairperson, who lives two blocks from the site of the assault, added, “We’ve seen five rapes south of 59th St. recently in Manhattan. This is a great concern for women throughout the city. Given this,” she stressed, “there should not be budget cuts that would affect security in our parks.”
The city offers free self-defense classes given by the Center for Anti-Violence Education (C.A.E.). In response to the Central Park rape, there will be a class at 2 p.m. on Sun., Oct. 7, at the North Meadow Recreation Center on 97th St. A class will also be held in Tribeca at a date to be announced.
Although C.A.E.’s programs focus on women, girls and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, the city-sponsored self-defense programs are open to everyone. To sign up or for more information, e-mail Events@council.nyc.gov or call (212) 788-6871.
With reporting by Tequila Minsky