A cardboard cutout crossing guard stood guard at a busy Brooklyn intersection Thursday — the very same one where 7-year-old Kamari Hughes was fatally struck by the driver of an NYPD tow truck nearly two months ago.
Advocates with the Brooklyn Street Safety Coalition gathered at the intersection of Myrtle and North Portland avenues to denounce recent budget cuts to school crossing guards, and to call on Mayor Eric Adams to restore the budget and properly support the city’s most dangerous street corners.
“With expanded city funding, real crossing guards could be protecting our children as they walk to school,” said Kay White, co-chair of the Downtown Prospect Elementary School PTO, in a statement. “Instead, we have only these cardboard cutouts. These streets and intersections have already proven to be deadly, and we need the mayor to restore funding to the city’s crossing guards before 2024.”
Matthew Hubbard, a parent of two who lives in Fort Greene, said the lack of crossing guards has made the streets unsafe, and that crossing guards in their yellow safety vests at least provided “some type of protection for pedestrians” and cutting costs “sucks.”
“We have a lot of unsafe drivers on the road that decide that they want to run yellow lights instead of slowing down,” Hubbard told Brooklyn Paper. “We also have unsafe drivers that want to speed around corners instead of giving pedestrians the right of way, and then you have a lot of people that just like driving fast.”
The intersection at Myrtle Avenue and North Portland Avenue feels particularly dangerous, parents and everyday pedestrians agreed. Traffic is almost non-stop and the intersection has a whopping three crosswalks — one to cross North Portland Avenue and two to cross Myrtle Avenue.
On the morning of Oct. 26, 7-year-old Hughes was riding his scooter across the intersection when the driver of a police tow truck made a right hand turn onto North Portland Avenue, striking and killing him in front of his mother, Taqunda Hughes.
“I watched my baby be born into this world ever so quietly. He made not one sound. I watched him be taken. I did. And I’ve been standing ten toes down ever since,” Taqunda said.
The driver, NYPD Traffic Enforcement Agent Stephanie Sharp, was arrested in connection with the incident; witnesses said she did not initially stop after striking Hughes, only coming to a halt when bystanders flagged her down — and that she was reportedly on her cell phone at the time of the crash.
According to the commuter advocacy group, Transportation Alternatives, Hughes was the ninth child to die in a traffic incident on NYC streets this year. The group have accused Mayor Eric Adam’s administration of blocking or delaying infrastructure projects set out in the the NYC Streets Plan.
“New Yorkers have had enough with this administration’s excuses on street safety. How many more children have to die before Mayor Adams takes action?” Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris said in a statement after Sharp’s arrest.
Speaking at Hughes’ funeral, New York Attorney General Letitia James threw her support behind the need for more crossing guards.
“May the crossing guards along Myrtle Avenue stay there permanently, now and forever, so that we can keep the babies safe, keep the children safe, so that this type of tragedy will never happen again,” James said. “I know that words alone cannot console any of you and cannot console this family. But please know that God hears your cries and that I have been taught that love never dies. And that Kamari is right there. Right beside you right now. In your heart and that he will never go away.”
On Thursday, parents told Brooklyn Paper there are two crossing guards on duty at the deadly intersection each school morning, but only one in the afternoon — leaving just one person to tend to two crosswalks, and never all three.
One parent, named Letitia, said she barely sees crossing guards at the intersection, and alleged that one was only placed there after Hughes was killed.
“There are hardly any crossing guards anyway, so they are cutting what is hardly here,” she said. “You’re going to cut what we hardly have, then there will be none.”
The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Additional reporting by Jada Camille & Adam Daly