Christopher St. Late Night Flap

West Village community board puts off vote on plan to blockade exits from Hudson River Park

A West Village community board meeting showcased the tensions between residents in that neighborhood and the queer youth of color who for many years have gathered in the Hudson River Park at the end of Christopher Street.

“This has nothing to do with race or gender,” said David Poster, president of the Christopher Street Patrol, at the November 7 meeting. “It’s about unruly behavior… We need some law and order.”

Exactly what the problem is remained unclear after more than an hour of discussion at the meeting of the Committee on Waterfront, Parks, Recreation, and Open Space of Community Board 2. In his opening remarks, Arthur Schwartz, the committee chairman, said the issue concerned “noise and being jostled” on the streets.

A major complaint is that when the park closes at 1 a.m. large groups of people who are hanging out there stream through the Village, on Christopher Street in particular, to get to the subways, and in doing so disturb the residents. Others who spoke had more serious complaints.

One woman, who identified herself as Carla, said that she and her husband had been attacked by a group of ten assailants and her husband’s leg had been slashed with a knife.

“This is not an issue of being gay,” said Carla who added that she has a gay friend. “If everybody acted with respect, we wouldn’t be in this position.”

A resident named John, who said he had lived in the Village since 1954, said he had also been attacked.

“I see posters here about youth,” he said. “There is also old. I am old… I have been mugged twice, once at the point of a gun… We have to get this under control or there will be a demand for even stricter action.”

Police department statistics show that crime in the Sixth Precinct, which patrols the West Village, has fallen dramatically from 1990 through 2004, and that decline has continued into 2005. Only felony assault, one of seven crime categories the department tracks, has gone up. There have been 81 such assaults in the precinct so far this year compared to 75 during the same period last year. Roughly 65,000 people live inside the confines of the Sixth Precinct and it remains one of the safest precincts in the city.

One proposal to deal with the late night crowd noise, however, prompted the Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment, or FIERCE!, to pack the meeting with dozens of queer youth, many of whom spend time in the park.

“The story that we got was going to mean blockading off Christopher Street all the way to 14th Street,” said Rickke Mananzala, a FIERCE! campaign coordinator, at the meeting. “We are here to show opposition to this proposal.”

That idea, or something like it, came out of a meeting held at the Sixth Precinct in October that included residents, representatives of local elected officials, and Connie Fishman, president of the Hudson River Park Trust, which administers the park that runs along Manhattan’s West Side from 57th Street to Battery Park. Fishman said she suggested trying to find a way to disperse the late-night crowd more widely.

“The purpose of the idea was to get them to leave from other exits,” she said at the community board meeting. Other proposals included closing the park at 10 p.m. or sending a social services agency into the park to speak with people who pass the time there, Fishman said.

FIERCE! has proposed closing the park at 4:00 am to allow people to exit the park over a longer period of time and in smaller groups.

“We have a solution,” Mananzala said. “We have a unique idea…Clearly, the few ideas that have been put out there don’t work.”

Earlier in the community board meeting, Fishman said a later park closing time would require city approval and an earlier closing time would result in sections of the park closing at a different times.

None of the solutions appear to be responsive to the complaints about crime in the West Village and, after the meeting, Mananzala said that crime and the park were unrelated

“That’s what we’re getting blamed for,” Mananzala said.

But on this particular evening, FIERCE! out-organized the opposition.

In a widely distributed e-mail, FIERCE! wrote that the residents “want LGBT youth of color out of the pier and off Christopher Street…they have no answers, other than discrimination, to tell the difference between us and the people who pay for property in the West Village.”

Dozens of supporters showed up nearly an hour before the meeting began and occupied all the chairs. While they gave up chairs to older attendees, members of the community board were left to beg for a place to sit.

The FIERCE! supporters literally surrounded the meeting and held up posters that read “Apartment $500,000, Car $37,000, The Pier, Priceless,” “Hell No We Won’t Go, Off the Piers,” and “Curb AIDS, Not Youth.”

While the city’s community boards act in advisory roles only, they can influence elected officials. On November 7, Schwartz chose to postpone the issue. He opened the meeting by announcing that there would be no vote on any proposal related to the park.

“There’s a lot of people here tonight to talk about the Christopher Street situation and the park,” Schwartz said. “One of the things we’re not going to do tonight is vote.”

Schwartz said the committee would take up the issue again on December 6.

The FIERCE! supporters celebrated outside the meeting.

“They backed down tonight,” Mananzala said.

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