Volume 79, Number 01 | June 10 - 16, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photos by Q. Sakamaki

Mounted police on duty on Friday and Saturday nights are providing “omnipresence” along the Christopher St. corridor, according to Deputy Inspector Raymond Caroli of the Sixth Precinct.

Crackdown on Christopher St. after string of violent incidents

By Lincoln Anderson

It was a recent Saturday night shortly after 10 p.m. in Greenwich Village and two police officers were sitting astride their horses, George and Billy, on Greenwich St. just south of Christopher St. They were part of a unit of five mounted officers who have been assigned to help patrol the Christopher St. area on weekends in the wake of a recent rash of violent assaults. A pair of tourists were petting either George or Billy on his forehead.

Suddenly a dark-haired man in a baseball cap ran up to one of the officers and could be overheard saying something about a group of “30” people hanging out up the block, that it was really bad, come quick. Based on his excitedness and urgency, the man didn’t appear to be a police officer, but perhaps a resident or merchant.

One officer immediately started his horse at a walk and hung a right onto Christopher St. He proceeded down the sidewalk and brought the powerful and imposing animal to a halt next to a group of more like 15, not 30, black men seemingly peacefully congregating by a chain-link fence across the street from the PATH station entrance and Chi Chiz, a bar that caters to black gays. The officer talked to them and the men dispersed without incident.

“He said we can’t stand here,” one of the men said afterward.

“It’s a public street, ya?” added another, but didn’t put up any protest to being moved along.

This sort of police activity — moving along crowds, breaking up knots of people — is likely to be seen more frequently along Christopher St. this summer.

After a recent spate of assaults and muggings that have shaken the Christopher St. area — and with the hot weather coming and the accompanying droves of nighttime revelers expected soon — police are beefing up their presence along what they call the “Christopher St. corridor” and neighboring blocks. 

The police response is partly due to complaints from residents and businesses — notably the neighborhood’s gay bars, who say they are suffering because of what’s happening in the streets.

Villager photos by Q. Sakamaki

Tasha, left, and Pinky enjoyed hanging out and socializing on the Christopher St. Pier.

The Sixth Precinct recently received 18 new officers, increasing its manpower. In addition to the mounted officers, two new light towers, one at Christopher and Hudson Sts. and the other at West Fourth St. at Sixth Ave., illuminate the street. A mobile command center is now posted on Christopher St. between Washington and Greenwich Sts. to coordinate area anticrime efforts. Finally, a mobile surveillance watchtower may also be brought in to provide “eyes in the sky,” according to Deputy Inspector Raymond Caroli, the precinct’s commanding officer.

Concern over the recent crime, as well as street conditions in general, dominated the Sixth Precinct Community Council meeting two weeks ago, as Caroli laid out the new plan and listened and responded to residents’ and merchants’ pleas for help.

Caroli reassured people at the meeting that police have a firm handle on things.

“I think one assault is too much,” the deputy inspector said, “but if you put it in perspective, I don’t think it’s out of control. In the last month, all of these assaults have happened along Christopher St. or within a few blocks of Christopher St.” Caroli referred to two stabbings, one bias incident — in which a gay man was attacked by a group of men as he was trying to get into a cab at Sheridan Square and fell and struck his head — as well as some slashings and fights.

As of the meeting two weeks ago, there had been 43 assaults this year in the Greenwich Village precinct; ten of those were against officers as they were making arrests and the suspects fought back.

Caroli pointed out that the precinct last year had fewer assaults — under 100 — than any year since 1990. So, the percentage increase in assaults this year compared to last year needs to be put in context, he said.

“Statistically, I knew this year was going to be a challenge,” the precinct commander said, “to do better than that 18-year low.”

In short, Caroli asserted, the precinct actually has had “a very low number of assaults” so far this year.

Robert Ziegler, manager of Ramrod and Boots and Saddles gay bars, says the crowds of gay and lesbian youth on Christopher St. are hurting local bars’ business.

Plus, officers are giving out more tickets than last year, he said: In the month prior to the meeting, Sixth Precinct officers wrote 353 summonses for such offenses as public urination, open alcohol containers, panhandling and unreasonable noise — a 40 percent increase from the same month last year, he said. 

Overall arrests are also up sharply compared to last year, according to Caroli.

The added manpower of 18 more officers “is going to have a huge effect on [reducing] these incidents” in the Christopher St. area, Caroli said.

 “I’m not just targeting Christopher St. because it’s there,” he explained of the new crackdown on the famous gay boulevard. “That’s where the assaults are happening. My idea is to get the crowds moving and out of the area as expeditiously as possible. Those who are enjoying themselves is all well and good. But those who are hanging out to do the bad stuff” police will work to move out or arrest, he stressed.

Dave Poster, head of the Christopher St. Patrol, a volunteer anticrime group that walks the area with the Guardian Angels, said he felt the new police efforts would send a clear signal:

“Anything goes here doesn’t go anymore,” Poster said. “Anything goes isn’t business as usual.”

But he said more help is needed from the area’s politicians. Noting it’s an election year, Poster urged people at the meeting to write and e-mail their local politicians and “demand that something be done.”

Charles Rice, owner of The Monster on Grove St., said his customers and employees are at risk when they leave the gay bar in the early morning, because muggers and others are lurking in and around Christopher St. Park.

“I’m concerned there are these guys outside giving hand signals to each other, letting them know that there are guys leaving with money,” Rice said. “There are prostitutes and hustlers watching who’s coming out.”

The area is basically out of control, as Rice sees it, and gets even worse during the Gay Pride festivities.

“There are young things getting off the PATH train that don’t even know their sexual orientation,” Rice said. “Pride used to be fun — but it’s now like apocalypse.”

Rose Mezzatesta, an artist who lives on Christopher St., said, “Christopher St. is literally under siege by gangs. There are girl gangs and there are boy gangs — and they’re fighting a turf war to sell drugs.”

She suggested the Port Authority close the Christopher St. PATH entrance to stem the tide of youth flooding into the neighborhood.

“The Parks Department is going to be pressured at some point about closing the pier,” Mezzatesta added, referring to the Christopher St. Pier.

Vogueing on Hudson St. after the Hudson River Park’s curfew.

Since Hudson River Park’s Greenwich Village section opened in June 2003, the beautifully redone pier has only grown in popularity among gay youth, for whom it has been a traditional stomping ground and safe haven. 

Robert Ziegler, manager of Ramrod, a gay bar at Christopher and Weehawken Sts., said he was happy about the strengthened police presence, when a Villager reporter spoke to him at his bar on the recent Saturday night. As opposed to pointing to specific incidents of crime, Ziegler expressed concern about the general tone of the street.    “Thank God,” he said of the police initiative. “The kids are very rowdy. They run in here and yell and scream. People don’t want to come down here. They close the park at 1 a.m. and the kids don’t have anywhere to go. The kids are underage. They can’t go in the bars. They go up and down the street in groups of 15. They don’t get out of your way. I walk in the street, I just don’t want a problem.

“I think most of them are from New Jersey,” Ziegler said. “You can be gay, but respect the neighborhood.”

Meanwhile, Weehawken St. “is like a hooker street,” he said, where transgender prostitutes occasionally knock out his lights to better ply their trade.

In short, Ziegler said, Christopher St.’s gay bars are hurting in tough economic times, and a major reason is the street scene. As a result, a number of the bars — Ramrod, Boots and Saddles, the Hangar and Ty’s — have banded together to form a coalition to survive. They’re taking out joint advertisements in local newspapers and teaming up on a float for the Gay Pride march, among other ideas.

“If we lose the bars, we don’t have Christopher St. anymore,” Ziegler said. “Two Potato, we lost. Sneakers, we lost.” 

The former Dugout almost went under as a gay bar location, but it was recently revived as Ramrod, he noted.

Badlands, the gay video store formerly just east of Ramrod on the West Side Highway, closed six months ago. Ziegler said he was hoping to rent the space and put another gay bar there, but can’t find out what’s going on with the property. The former Sneakers is going to be some sort of museum devoted to a local artist, he said he’d heard.

A sign on the former Badlands announced “Store for Lease” and gave a phone number for Weinberg Properties. A woman who answered the phone there Monday said she was the owner, Weinberg, but wouldn’t give her first name.

Asked about her plans for the location, she said, “I don’t want to comment.”

While Christopher St.’s bars are trying to hang on, Ziegler said, many gay bargoers now prefer to hang out in Hell’s Kitchen, at newer places like The Ritz, therapy, Posh and HK Lounge.

Nearby, two friends, Daniel, 18, and Byron, 19, paused at the corner of Weehawken St. to do a romantic pas de deux for The Villager’s photographer. Asked about the complaints — voiced by others as well as Ziegler — that the young gays hog the sidewalk and won’t move out of the way, Daniel responded, “I think they should move.”

But he wasn’t talking about the gay youth moving over on the sidewalk, but local residents moving — as in, out of the neighborhood.

“I think they should move, because this is our place where we get to be us,” he said.

A group of lesbian friends hanging out on the Christopher St. Pier, drinking what they said was “soda” out of styrofoam cups, agreed some of the youth ought to behave better. In fact, they had been discussing it among themselves.

“It’s exactly what we were saying earlier,” said Maddness, 24, wearing a tan baseball cap. “We have mature adults and young kids down here.” The immature kids are the problem, she said, adding, “We only come down here to have fun, not start violence.”

Her friend Pinky, 26, wearing a red baseball cap and with heavily tattooed forearms, gestured to some garbage on the pier’s lawn next to the bench they were sitting on.

“You see this right here,” she said disapprovingly. “The people from this neighborhood don’t do that.”

However, Tasha, 21, who was wearing neon green hoop earrings and sported a more feminine style, said  she didn’t feel the neighborhood was too accepting.

“I feel like I’m under surveillance by police,” she said. 

Maddness was psyched for Gay Pride, when, she said, “They be butt naked down here.” She said she had a 3-year-old daughter through a sperm donor, but wouldn’t bring her to the pier, because the environment isn’t good for kids.

Mira, 20, was on the pier with another group of women, a mix of lesbians, straights and bisexuals, from New Jersey.

“We’re from across the pond,” she quipped. 

“This is where you get to relax,” Mira said of why she likes to come to the Christopher St. Pier. “I think this is like one of the coolest places on earth.”

Bob Morris, a writer who lives on Perry St. and was walking his dog past the pier around 12:30 a.m., dismissed the fuss about the gay youth as way overblown. He’s gay himself, he noted.

“Nobody’s going to bother you,” Morris said. “These are gentle kids with big mouths. No one’s going to hurt anybody.”

According to Poster of the Christopher St. Patrol, one activity has actually decreased — prostitution. Transgender hookers used to troll the Meat Market, but that area’s transformation into an entertainment district drove them south into the Village’s quiet streets, for a time. Christopher St. used to have young male prostitutes, but not anymore, Poster said. The current prostitution scene is basically transgender prostitutes along Greenwich and Washington Sts. north of Christopher St., but the numbers really seem to be down, Poster said. And whatever prostitutes remain are mainly coming out late at night, he added.

On the recent Saturday night when The Villager was out reporting, just one obvious transgender prostitute was spotted around Charles and Greenwich Sts., and said not to take her photo. She was seen later on further north standing on a street corner a block south of the Meat Market. It wasn’t clear if another, friendlier transgender who passed by along Greenwich St. was a prostitute or not. She said she could use some head shots from the photographer since she was a model.

On Wed., June 17, at 7:30 p.m., a forum on West Village crime will be held in the basement of Our Lady of Pompei Church, 25 Carmine St. The forum is being sponsored by the Sixth Precinct Community Council, Community Board 2, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, State Senator Tom Duane and Assemblymember Deborah Glick.

For more of Q. Sakamaki’s photos of the Christopher St. nighttime scene, go to www.thevillager.com.

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