“This is ludicrous” was the emphatic comment of community activist Salema Davis, speaking about the New York City Police Department takeover of the Arnold and Marie Schwartz Community Center, a 25-year-old East New York PAL Center and the only youth center in the area. “But because the building needed work, they had to close the building and put the NYPD in there as a training facility.”
“The building is huge” she continued. “There is a library, studio, basketball courts, and the basement areas have old little courtrooms. What they need to do is bring enrichment programs in there for young people and for the seniors. Bring a training facility. Their failure to do that says they’re looking for this community to fail.”
Ms. Davis spoke of the four housing projects in the area, the high crime rate and the numerous gangs in the area. “The young people don’t have many enrichment programs. When you have more children than community centers, what do you do?”
Carolyn Walker Diallo, Executive Director of The George Walker Jr. Community Coalition, Inc. said “I was born and raised in East New York and recalled going there as a teenager. About two years ago we heard rumblings that the PAL was out and the building was unsafe for children and the building was closed. With the population of over 90,000 mostly low-income people in the East New York community we need this Center to provide much-needed services.”
A coalition of several groups contacted the city to see what could be done with the building to provide a multi-service center for the community. “We got the run-around and the next thing we know, the response is that there is so much work to be done that the NYPD will come in and take over the building. At the same time, they are requesting money from the community board to fix the building.”
Ms. Walker was perplexed by this, asking “If we have money to fix the building for the NYPD, then why don’t we have money to fix it for our seniors and our young people?” Speaking more on the young people of the area, she says, “We have a very high crime rate. The gangs are out of control and when you speak to these children, a lot of them just don’t have anywhere to go.”
“It’s absurd,” said Councilman Charles Barron, who’s district is nearby. “How are you going to take away youth services? The reason you need the police is because we have no youth services.”
Ms. Davis and Ms. Diallo both described Councilman Erik Martin Dilan, as a supporter, but we were unable to reach the councilman before press time.
A coalition that includes the George Walker, Jr. Community Coalition, Inc.; East New York United Concerned Citizens, Inc.; Brooklyn East New York Crisis Team and We The Kids Foundation has come together and held a rally in front of the Schwartz Center.
Ms. Diallo reported that at their Wednesday meeting, Brooklyn Community Board #5 passed a resolution in support of retaining the location as a community center and in opposition to the NYPD bringing in offices and a training center.