The RIRA Column - Community Policing

February 4, 2017

Jeffrey Escobar, President
Roosevelt Island Residents Association
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As most of you are aware, on January 12, a Roosevelt Island mother was assaulted while walking her child home from school after taking a photo of a man she had asked not to smoke marijuana near a Manhattan Park playground. Community reaction, support, and a coming together was quick, culminating in a forum that I asked our Roosevelt Island Residents Association Public Safety Committee (PSC) to lead last week with the RIOC Public Safety Department (PSD), the NYPD 119th Precinct, RIOC President Susan Rosenthal, various board members of RIOC, representatives of our electeds, building managers, including those from Westview and Manhattan Park, and many, many of you – our Island community. Thoughtful, respectful, and reflective dialogue between neighbors and Island stakeholders was had as our community came together to discuss our mutual and different concerns, to truly listen and hear the concerns of our neighbors as we work together towards finding a solution.

For those who were unable to attend, the following excerpts are from the comments of both myself, below, followed by those of the RIRA Public Safety Committee Chair’s, Erin Feely-Nahem:

Today, the calling of this forum is the first of many steps that need to be, and will already have been, taken as a community. For some, they may feel that tonight will serve no purpose and that a building-specific solution is required – which I can respect and understand insofar as problems and issues some buildings face can differ from others. I would say to those who share this sentiment, however, that the January 12 incident, and the issues that led to the incident, clearly show that this is a community-wide issue [for which] I do believe a solution cannot be found alone by one person, one building, or one group, and that an Island-wide foundation must be built.

What I do expect to happen tonight, and what I hope that each and every one of us here will do, is to respectfully listen to, not just hear, each other’s concerns. That each and every one of us will take the time tonight to truly learn what issues differing segments of our community faces. That we will express our concerns, questions, and issues in a respectful and thoughtful manner. And that tonight will result in a healthy, respectful dialogue between and amongst all of us as stakeholders, as neighbors, and as a community. What I hope is this dialogue will continue well past today.

I will close by saying that many of our neighbors across the river in either direction may say, in hearing our holding of tonight’s forum and the issues we are discussing, “get over it, you live in a big city, what do you expect?” But they’re wrong. We live on Roosevelt Island, our Roosevelt Island. And we will simply not get over it. There is a reason why each and every one of us chose to live here, raise our families here, to be a community together. Unlike our neighbors, we will find a solution that works for all of us, together, as Roosevelt Islanders.”

And from the Chair of the Roosevelt Island Residents’ Association Public Safety Committee:

Although the violent attack remains an isolated occurrence, the first of its kind to have been reported to us, the question of the public smoking of marijuana was first brought to our attention last May, by a parent who expressed exasperation at having encountered a man publicly smoking a joint while she was on her way to work. We began working on this project until the summer break, and continued in September, then again in November when the new Common Council members came aboard.

Our discussions, supported by articles shared among committee members, indicated that an educational campaign would be a good starting point and would supplement the efforts of law enforcement, in light of the recent changes to the laws in both New York State and in New York City. Director McManus, who attends our monthly meetings regularly, was helpful in our discussions, educating us on the laws and on the challenges officers encounter when enforcing them.

Our efforts focused on halting public smoking in areas where children congregate. The committee voted to produce a flyer that was readable, educational, and respectful, targeting adolescents and young adults. Our message wasn’t telling them what not to do in a righteous tone, but rather educated them on the law and the consequences of ignoring it, then asked them to respect our children, and their rights to play in a smoke-free area.

Clearly the violent incident on Jan 12 unsettled the community. Undoubtedly the alleged perpetrator should be held legally accountable for his actions.

Tonight’s Public Forum provides a vehicle to identify our next steps. You, the public, concerned parents, should now seize the opportunity to be part of the solution, sharing your ideas with the PSC on the ways in which to move forward on this question.

We have a not-so-distant history on the Island that taught us the consequences of a punitive, “Zero Tolerance”, swat-team approach around issues like this. Under the prior administration, mothers were arrested at the Tram for pushing their strollers through the gate, or others brutalized for making a U-turn on Main Street. We can deal with this question of illegal, public pot-smoking, especially in areas where children congregate, without going back to that misguided era.

Under Chief McManus, transparency is strived towards, and open communication encouraged. Following this Public Forum, the PSC will be taking your ideas and incorporating them in our effort to continue to create smoke-free areas where children congregate.

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