Volume 81, Number 9 | July 28 - August 3, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Photo by Lincoln Anderson
A transgender youth stood up and told the meeting that it was she who was the target of the so-called “Dunkin Donuts riot.”
C.B. 2, gay youth hash out issues on the waterfront
By Lincoln Anderson
A meeting of Community Board 2’s Waterfront Committee on Monday evening brought together gay youth and Village residents to discuss issues of safety and quality of life in and around the Christopher St. Pier.
Specifically, the meeting was billed as “Pier 45 — Disturbances, community reaction, summer outreach efforts — a dialogue with stakeholders.”
About 25 members of FIERCE, the gay youth advocacy organization, attended the meeting, as well as David Poster and Teri Howell, of the Christopher St. Patrol, and other residents.
John Blasco, a leader organizer for FIERCE, said L.G.B.T. youth are feeling “increasingly unsafe” in the West Village due to stepped-up summer policing along the Christopher St. corridor, which is the youths’ main conduit to the pier, their main stomping ground.
Blasco said police have, at times, stopped L.G.B.T. youth “just for standing in a group on the sidewalk or being too loud.” The police will then tell them curtly, “You have to move,” and wave their hand to shoo them away, rather than saying, more politely, “Excuse me, could you please move.” It feels like harassment, he said.
The Christopher St. Pier is vital for the youths as their main hangout and safe space, he said.
“It is the only space that’s public where we can be ourselves,” he told the meeting.
Susannah Aaron, the committee’s vice chairperson and a board member of Friends of Hudson River Park, the park’s main fundraising group, wanted to know from Blasco if he and FIERCE understand that the pier is also for “families with children.”
“We really want to make sure that the pier is a safe space for gay youth, West Village residents and businesses,” he said. He added that FIERCE had stood with “the soccer moms” several years at a rally against overdevelopment of Pier 40, at West Houston St.
Blasco was asked if FIERCE realizes, as one C.B. 2 member put it, that there has been “some escalation” in incidents this season.
“I think we at FIERCE do agree there’s a problem with violence in the West Village,” he replied.
Arthur Schwartz, the Waterfront Committee’s chairperson, asked for an update on outreach efforts to the L.G.B.T. youth using the pier and also regarding funding for these efforts.
Says funding was cut
In 2006, funding was given to The Door, on Broome St. in Soho, to do outreach on the pier. Blasco said he wasn’t sure on the status of those particular funds, but said that, in general, city funds for gay youth outreach “have been tremendously cut.”
Krystal Portalatin, FIERCE’s co-director, said the media has played a big role in creating a negative picture of gay youth in the West Village.
Alexander Meadows, a Waterfront Committee member, suggested that the L.G.B.T. youth — many of whom are high school age or slightly older — get more engaged with the community.
“Become an N.Y.P.D. auxiliary officer,” he said. “Become a PEP [Park Enforcement Police] officer. Help. Step up.”
Elaine Goldman, president of the Christopher St. Merchants and Residents Association, proposed to head up a “pilot program” under which she would take some of the youths to visit museums on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Many museums are free at night, she noted.
“I’d love to show you what the city has to offer besides the pier,” she said, adding, “I’m a wonderful tour guide.”
‘It’s not about color’
Howell, vice president of the Christopher St. Patrol, said the bottom line is that people should behave respectfully.
“This is not about what color you are or how much you pay for your apartment — it’s just about being respectful and getting along,” she said. “Just be quiet, calm, respectful.”
Howell also called on FIERCE to take a more active role in helping defuse problems on the pier.
“I have never seen any FIERCE group or any other group, besides The Door, go out there and address the situation,” she said.
For his part, Schwartz said Monday night’s meeting of civil give-and-take represented real progress, especially compared to a similar meeting he led in 2006: Back then, word had gotten out that the Hudson River Park Trust was considering gating off the park at Christopher St. at the park’s 1 a.m. curfew, in order to funnel the gay youths toward Houston and 14th Sts. The idea was to keep the youths from all flowing onto Christopher St. in a large mass, the way they usually do when the park closes, which is a main complaint of residents. FIERCE members showed up at that meeting five years ago with posters and placards and vocally made their opposition known; Schwartz, a veteran progressive attorney and activist, found himself on the defensive and even, to his shock, being called a racist at the meeting.
‘See us as people’
Tamara Green, 24, said the gay youth have a reason why they might be voluble. Formerly homeless, she said she used to sleep in whatever small niches she could find along the Greenwich Village waterfront.
“Why do you think they’re acting up?” Green asked Howell. “You watchin’ a TV that’s bigger than me. You worry about the noise we’re makin’ instead of me as a person,” she stressed. “They don’t have nowhere to go. Drop-ins close at 6 p.m., honey!”
FIERCE members snapped their fingers in agreement, reminiscent of how 1960s MacDougal St. coffeehouse crowds applauded acts, so as not to bother upstairs neighbors.
However, Howell asked Green if the noise the youths sometimes make might be counterproductive — by bringing “negative attention that makes people [feel] not willing to help.”
Noreen Doyle, vice president of the Hudson River Park Trust, gave a report on incidents on the Christopher St. Pier and at the park’s Christopher St. entrance area. The figures compare statistics from May 12 to July 19 for this year and last year, and, in general, they do show an increase.
According to Doyle, there were two arrests for prostitution this season versus one last year; there have been 20 responses by PEP officers for disorderly persons or groups so far this season compared to 10 during the same period last year; there have been five “assault/aided” incidents so far this season compared to four last year; and there have been 30 park curfew violations over the past 90 days versus four during the same period in 2010.
In one category that saw a decrease, there have been five summonses issued for alcohol possession so far this season compared to 13 for the same period last year.
Doyle said the Trust provided the information because the C.B. 2 Waterfront Committee has asked for it in the past. She wasn’t at the meeting to comment but to listen, she stressed, later adding that the Trust “welcomes becoming part of the dialogue.”
One of the more high-profile incidents this season occurred not on the pier but in the Dunkin Donuts on Christopher St. near Sheridan Square. On May 16, a group of transgender youth swarmed into the store and threw metal chairs and tables at another transgender individual who was inside.
Police made four arrests in connection with the incident. Two individuals, Dwayne Jones, 20, and Mark Wright, 19, were indicted for attempted assault, criminal mischief, criminal possession of a weapon (the thrown furniture) and riot.
Dunkin target speaks out
At one point at Monday night’s meeting, a transgender youth rose to say that it was she who had been the intended target in the donut mayhem.
“They were throwing chairs and tables at me. They tried to hurt me,” she stressed.
As she spoke, at times looking emotional and on the verge of tears, she stared directly at the Christopher St. Patrol’s president, Poster.
“I raised 10 kids on my own,” she said, adding she was from Staten Island.
“So you don’t like violence either?” Schwartz asked her.
“I don’t...I wasn’t raised to be like that,” she said. She started as if to talk more about what happened during the Dunkin Donuts incident, but the FIERCE contingent, as one, murmured with concern for her not to do it. “No!” someone called out.
Schwartz said that if she was going to talk about “gangs” involved in the riot, then that information should come out and she should say it.
“I’m talking — I’m not worried about that,” she declared, but FIERCE members escorted her out of the meeting room and toward the elevator. A reporter made several attempts to approach her to ask her questions, but FIERCE members repeatedly blocked his way and said she wasn’t ready to talk. Donning a pair of large sunglasses behind a protective phalanx of FIERCE members, she could be heard saying she identifies as straight, as in a straight woman.
‘Found common ground’
Afterward, Aaron said she was optimistic that progress had been made.
“I felt it was a really good meeting, because we found common ground,” she said. “FIERCE agreed there is a problem with disorder, and everyone in the room agreed that disorder’s not good.”
Although FIERCE is currently searching for a space for a 24-hour, gay youth drop-in center in the West Village, Schwartz said the best location would still be Pier 40, at West Houston St. Yet, given the economy, which is delaying the pier’s redevelopment, he noted, “Unfortunately, you’re talking years down the road.”
Schwartz also noted that a big issue in the background that wasn’t really discussed at the meeting is race: that the West Village residents are, for the most part, white, while the gay youth are mostly black and Hispanic.
Push for earlier curfew
After the meeting, Poster, who has previously advocated moving the pier’s curfew up to 10 p.m., said he now supports closing it at 9 p.m., which, he noted, is when most of the youth start coming to the pier. The main problems, he said, are when the youths come to the pier, are on the pier and leave the pier. So, he was asked, the youths basically would never be on the pier? Yes, Poster said, explaining that would be better for them since they wouldn’t be exposed to the “johns and drug dealers” that hang around the area.
Sixth C.O. responds
FIERCE leaders recently met with Deputy Inspector Brandon del Pozo, the Sixth Precinct’s new commanding officer.
Responding to Blasco’s comments at Monday night’s meeting that police are being rude to and harassing the gay youths, on Wednesday del Pozo said, “Citizens should rightfully expect the police to be polite and respectful when they instruct people to be quieter and more orderly; but they can also expect officers to be firmer and more insistent when these requests fail on the same individuals week after week.
“From the pier to Washington Square Park, we’ve been aggressively policing both crimes and minor violations. When there is a choice between issuing a summons or making an arrest, our officers will more often choose arrest. The penalties for crime and disorder in the Village must be immediate and tangible,” the commander said.
“FIERCE has an important role in our community because they do their best to represent what is largely a visiting population from all over the metro area that has become the focus of a lot of community attention,” del Pozo continued. “If there is the potential for meaningful cooperation, we should pursue it. I think a good place to start would be helping in the apprehension of the person caught on film harassing a transsexual, urinating in the street and assaulting the on-duty police sergeant who confronted him for doing so.”