A woman picked up her son from the Roosevelt Island Day Nursery on January 12 and confronted a man she believed was smoking marijuana outside the playground adjacent to the school.
According to the parent, who requested not to be named for security reasons, she asked the smoker to stop, as the children playing nearby could smell the smoke. She says he cursed at her in response. She told him she was calling the police, and while walking away, she stopped to take a picture of him. She says he then ran over to her, knocked her down, kicked her, took her phone and threw it on the ground before leaving. She called the police and filed a report.
Many on the Island have expressed outrage over the incident. The victim emailed her account of events to the Roosevelt Island Parents’ Network, an email group devoted to Island families, generating close to 100 responses and triggering multiple related threads with just as many responses.
In response to the attack, Public Safety Department Director Jack McManus said, “The safety and security of the Island’s children and their parents is paramount to the efforts of the Public Safety Department. We are working closely with the staff of the [New York Police Department’s] 114th Precinct to identify and arrest the individual responsible for this heinous act. We are making progress and I’m optimistic that we will be successful in that regard.”
The chair of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association’s Public Safety Committee, Erin Feely-Nahem, also responded, saying, “This attack is apparently an isolated incident, [yet] some are saying that the public use of marijuana in these areas, and on the Island in general, is more widespread than has been reported to the Public Safety Committee.”
So – has pot smoking become an acceptable part of Island life?
According to McManus, it has not. “Smoking marijuana in public view is against the law,” emphasized McManus. “An individual observed by a law enforcement officer – this includes the Island’s Public Safety Officers – smoking marijuana in public view, is subject to an arrest or summons returnable to Criminal Court.”
“To my knowledge there is not a rampant marijuana problem on Roosevelt Island,” said new RIOC General Counsel Jacqueline Flug. However, it’s also not unheard of. According to Chief McManus, the Public Safety Department reported approximately 40 incidents in 2016 where an individual was observed smoking marijuana in public view and was either summonsed or arrested.
McManus says the department does provide additional patrols during the times of day when kids are traveling to and from school. “On a daily basis, we deploy a minimum of one supervisor and three to four officers to the arrival and dismissal of the Island’s schools,” he said. “Additionally, we now deploy officers specifically to the area around the Roosevelt Island Day Nursery along with the west seawall where this terrible incident occurred.”
Efforts at Legalization
Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing to legalize small amounts of marijuana possession. According to his State of the State book, released last week, “The illegal sale of marijuana cannot and will not be tolerated in New York State, but data consistently shows that recreational users of marijuana pose little to no threat to public safety.” He also cited the national trend of removing criminal penalties for small infractions. Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized pot for recreational use, including New York’s neighbor, Massachusetts. “This measure reflects the national trend and dramatic shift in public opinion,” Governor Cuomo wrote.
Recent survey results by Pew Research Center, published earlier this month, indicate that more than two-thirds of the nation’s police officers believe marijuana should be legal for either personal or medical use, while about half of civilians believe it should be legalized across the board.
In 2014, NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio put into effect a new policing policy mandating that a person possessing less than 25 grams of marijuana gets a ticket instead of being arrested – as long as they have identification and no outstanding warrants. The policy does not mandate that the police look the other way or refuse to follow the law in regards to marijuana use. Rather, it encourages them to take a different approach to the procedures involved in making accusations, which is in their discretion.
Smoking marijuana is still a crime.
Of her committee’s efforts to curb pot use on the Island, Feely-Nahem said, “We hope to educate anyone involved that public marijuana use remains illegal and that summonses can and are issued for this. Our aim is to create totally smoke-free zones around schools, daycare centers, playgrounds, and so on. In light of the January 12 incident and the concerns that have been raised, the Public Safety Committee will draft a new policy statement and submit it to the RIRA Common Council for input and approval.”
Chief McManus also advises residents to let trained officers handle violators. “If you observe anyone committing an offense or crime including smoking marijuana in public view on Roosevelt Island, please immediately call your Public Safety Department at 212-832-4545. If you wish, you may call 911 as well. If you experience or observe an incident or serious crime or a life threatening medical emergency, please call 911 and your Public Safety Department.”