For over three months, a Latino street gang named the “Netas” has been occupying an area of benches and tables on the Hart Street side of the Heritage Row Playground located in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, NY. The Heritage Row Playground was named in recognition and on behalf of the Heritage Row Houses. The Heritage Row Houses is a 12-row-house complex of 1 family–3-story houses built by Habitat For Humanity’s year 2000 “Jimmy Carter Work Project.” President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn Carter helped build the houses, which climaxed in the dedication of Habitat’s 100,000th house. This was the first time in the history of New York City that a children’s playground has been named in dedication of houses. Historically, parks, playgrounds, streets and bridges were only named after “persons,” with almost (if not) all being dedicated “posthumously.” This street gang has been unlawfully assembling in and around the playground. They have been vandalizing the area with graffiti; they erected a shrine (adorned with empty liquor bottles) for a deceased member who did not live or die on Hart Street. The members have been urinating in and around the playground in open site of the children, disturbing the peace, selling drugs and being an overall “menace” to the people that live on the block and in the surrounding neighborhood. The playground is located nearby to three family shelters. The children in the shelters frequently play in the playground, along with the neighborhood children.
Countless complaints have been made via 311 and 911 to the NYPD and to the New York Department of Parks & Recreation for assistance. The New York Department of Parks & Recreation has responded by removing the benches and tables from the occupied area. Yet, the Parks Department has not removed the shrine. Now the gang members are sitting on milk crates and personal folding chairs in clear defiance of the Parks Department’s desire to remove them. On three separate occasions, park employees attempted to remove the shrine from the fence in accordance with Parks Department regulations, but all three times the gang members (anticipating the Parks Department’s removal of the shrine) have threatened the park employees with bodily harm. The gang members even placed a “safety cone” next to the shrine as a warning to anyone trying to remove the shrine.
The local Police Department (79th Precinct), albeit responsive to the 911 calls, “have not” enforced §240.10 of the Penal Code: UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY. A person is guilty of unlawful assembly when he assembles with four or more other persons for the purpose of engaging or preparing to engage with them in tumultuous and violent conduct likely to cause public alarm, or when, being present at an assembly which either has or develops such purpose, he remains there with intent to advance that purpose. Furthermore, the NYPD “has not” enforced Penal Law 220.44 (2) CRIMINAL SALE OF A CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE IN OR NEAR SCHOOL GROUNDS. This law makes it a Class (B) Felony to sell a controlled substance in or near school grounds. SCHOOL GROUNDS means (a) in or on or within any building, structure, athletic playing field, playground or land contained within the real property boundary line of a public or private elementary, parochial, intermediate, junior high, vocational or high school, or (b) any area accessible to the public located within one thousand feet of the real property boundary line comprising any such school, [or any parked automobile or other parked vehicle located within one thousand feet of the real property boundary line comprising any such school]. An “area accessible to the public” means sidewalks, streets, parking lots, parks, playgrounds, stores and restaurants.
According to block residents who wish to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, “when the police show up, the gang members hide the drugs in the playground flower beds,” effectively eluding capture. The gang members assemble every afternoon, upwards of 20 or more members until early the next morning; selling marijuana, making noise, drinking, urinating and disturbing the peace of the community. The residents of Hart Street are under siege. Their quiet block has been changed into a haven for thugs, drug dealers and all manner of criminals. Will it take another innocent person to be shot dead, caught in the cross fire of drug dealers for the NYPD to enforce the law? Will the Heritage Row Playground be the site of the next child shooting victim? God forbid. Schools, playgrounds and family shelters should be “safe zones” for children. For all three to be within a one-block radius and for these activities to be allowed is nothing less than “scandalous.”
Eric M. Deadwiley is a Freelance Op-Ed Columnist and Investigative Reporter