Police in Bushwick briefly closed Maria Hernandez Park Wednesday afternoon because they misunderstood Governor Andrew Cuomo’s order to close down all city playgrounds to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Boys in Blue with the 83rd Precinct sent out park dwellers at the Knickerbocker Avenue green space and locked the gates at around 2 pm, before reopening them around 5 pm, according to a police source.
“We were misunderstanding, it was just supposed to be the playground,” said an officer at the precinct.
Hours earlier, Cuomo ordered the city’s Parks Department to close all of its playgrounds after youngsters in the Five Boroughs failed to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
However, the state’s chief executive noted that, for now, parks would remain open to give locals some respite from quarantining in their apartments.
Locals initially slammed the city for closing the popular park at Starr Street, since it is one of the only large open spaces the northern Brooklyn nabe has to offer.
“It’s disappointing to see that the city felt the solution without announcing was to reduce the amount of open space,” said Tara Eisenberg.
One Twitter user posted a picture of the locked gates.
i was just there its so sad pic.twitter.com/3Qi33AwEbm
— chelsea (@chelsea) April 1, 2020
Another showed police vans circling the park to get people out.
— jenn welch (@JennWelchNow) April 1, 2020
The area also has Brooklyn’s only street free of car traffic. Bushwick Avenue between Johnson and Flushing avenues was closed to cars last weekend as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pilot project to offer more space to locals by barring vehicles on one street in all boroughs except Staten Island. It will be closed again to cars this weekend.
In the meantime, the head of local Community Board 4 said that, while she understands the need for people to go outside, Bushwick residents have raised concerns about people crowding Maria Hernandez Park and defying the risk of spreading COVID-19.
“It looked like it was a normal day if you were in the park,” said the civic panel’s district manager Celestina Leon. “We’ve gotten a lot of complaints about people not following social distancing guidelines in Maria Hernandez Park.”
The park has a number of facilities, and is frequently crowded during normal times, according to Leon. At almost seven acres, it is by far the largest park in the neighborhood, which one report noted suffers from a severe lack of open space, with only 0.2 acres per 1,000 people — compared to the city’s goal of 2.5 acres.
The police source at the 83rd Precinct said that cops would only close off the playground and leave the other facilities open for now.