Volume 79, Number 03 | June 24 - 30, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Q. Sakamaki

Christopher Park in Sheridan Square around 10 p.m. on a recent Saturday night.

Gay bars and neighbors say, ‘Anything goes’
has got to go

By Lincoln Anderson

The head of a volunteer anti-crime group is demanding a strict 10 p.m. curfew on the Christopher St. Pier and a complete lockdown of the Christopher St. PATH station on weekends. Meanwhile, a leading transgender activist is saying all of the Christopher St. area’s quality-of-life issues stem from one thing, drugs — and that she’s ready and willing to assist in solving the problem any way she can.

As for the Sixth Precinct’s Deputy Inspector Raymond Caroli, he said police are going to continue the plan they unveiled last month; plus, they’ve recently begun locking Christopher Park, a source of bad behavior and crime, earlier on Friday and Saturday evenings. 

More than 100 people filled the basement of Our Lady of Pompei Church at Bleecker and Carmine Sts. last Wednesday evening at the Sixth Precinct Community Council’s monthly meeting.

After a spate of assaults a month ago, including two stabbings and a gay-bashing incident, Caroli put into place a series of new measures. These included light towers at two key intersections, a mobile command post at Greenwich and Christopher Sts. and a unit of mounted police on weekends to provide “omnipresence.” The precinct also recently received 18 new officers. 

Although neighborhood residents said they’re seeing — and hearing — a difference, some think even stronger measures are needed to control crime, noise and crowding.

David Poster, president of the Christopher St. Patrol, said that while much talk is made of providing a “safe space” for gay and lesbian youth, local merchants and residents need a safe space, too.

“Close the Christopher St. Pier at 10 p.m.,” Poster declared, as most of the audience applauded. “Close the PATH station on the weekends — you eliminate 50 percent of the problem.”

The pier and the Hudson River Park currently have a 1 a.m. curfew.

As of now, police are starting with closing something significantly smaller, but which is said to have a big impact on neighborhood conditions, namely Christopher Park in Sheridan Square. Caroli said police recently obtained the key to the little triangular park and are closing it “around nine-ish,” a half-hour after dusk on Friday and Saturday nights. That comes as good news to owners and operators of two gay bars fronting on the park.

“This is a park that no one can sit in and enjoy because of these bums that sit there and menace everyone and defecate,” said Charles Rice, owner of The Monster bar. “Finally, someone is closing the park by 9 p.m. — it was staying open till 1 a.m. Panhandlers come [from the park] and ask for cigarettes, and if they don’t give them, they threaten to throw a brick through the window. Please don’t stop — a lot of us are afraid,” Rice told the police.

“You’re going to continue to see that park closed more regularly,” Caroli assured.

Complaints continued about dangerous streets at night.

Matthew Fletcher, a bartender at The Duplex, said a month ago he was assaulted by three young men as he was walking home to his residence on Jones St. 

“They didn’t steal anything from me. They just wanted to hit me,” he said. 

He pointed a finger at Christopher Park as a key trouble spot.

“I don’t understand what’s going on with this park,” he said. “They come into my business. They bring in their violence and their drug use — and it’s getting worse and it’s got to stop. I’m really upset. I’m just sick of the violence.”

One woman said she lives on the 15th floor but can still hear noise from the park, sometimes at 5 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Darleen Rubin, a longtime Christopher St. resident, said the new police tactics are working and have decreased “the noise and the violence that we have endured...for 30 years. The screamers, however, are still very much around when you’re not around,” she told the police. “The attitude used to be — worldwide — anything goes on Christopher St., you can do anything you want. Not anymore, because of your presence. I’m very grateful for all the deployment.”

However, Maureen Remacle, head of the community council, said it’s not just Christopher St. but the entire Village that has a freewheeling reputation.

“I’ve heard people say, ‘We can do anything — it’s Greenwich Village,’” said Remacle, who lives on another busy nightlife corridor, Bleecker St. “You have crime basically due to the fact that we are a tourist destination.”

Caroli noted that the previous week, police had handed out leaflets regarding public disorderliness and quality of life. While he said the precinct has traditionally been a place for gay youth to congregate, police intend to enforce quality of life, such as, for example, telling crowds not to block street corners.

“It’s not harassment — it’s just enforcement,” he said.

Mariah Lopez, a transgender woman who was a founder of FIERCE, a group that advocates for gay and lesbian youth, said police should focus on targeting drugs, which will solve the other problems.

“There is one quick solution,” Lopez said, “get the drug dealers — instead of stigmatizing my community. We are not all criminals.”

“Cruising on the stoops” will be around long after everyone in the meeting is gone, she said, but the drugs should and can be eliminated. She said a certain gay bar on Christopher St. is the main source of the drugs. Lopez said she can help police and residents attack the drug dealing since she knows the street’s culture so well, and is willing to do whatever it takes to lend a hand.
    Caroli noted arrests in the precinct by the narcotics unit are up 12.5 percent compared to last year. 

John Blasco, a current FIERCE member, told the meeting that understanding and cooperation are needed.

 “I went down to the Christopher St. Pier when I was 16 years old because that was the only place where I felt safe,” he said. “You have to understand that all the L.G.B.T.Q. youth that are down there, they’re part of the community, too. I think we have to stick together — not separate, but stick together.”

One woman who gave her name as Maria, a resident of West Fourth St. between Barrow and Jones Sts., said she has to leave her home for work at 4:15 a.m. When she was younger, she said, she wouldn’t even have noticed all the noise and nocturnal activity, but her feelings have changed.

“I’m afraid,” she said, “and there are times I stay in my apartment, and I listen to the noise and I listen to the screams. I hear grunts and groans — and I don’t know what it is. When I come out, they’re on the corner counting their money — our entrepreneurs taking care of their business.”

After the meeting, Lopez the transgender activist, said she felt many in the audience were “old — and scared,” though quickly adding, “And they should be scared.”

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