Stay in the neighborhood.
That was the resounding message of a community meeting held at Park Slope’s John Jay Educational Campus on Friday in response to the just-launched police initiative to disperse groups of teens wherever they gather, in neighborhoods from the Slope to Dumbo. Officers from Fort Greene’s 88th Precinct and Downtown’s 84th Precinct detailed the larger anti-teen hangout initiative in an exclusive report by this paper.
Parents, teachers, and students assembled in a cafeteria at the Seventh Avenue schoolhouse, many of them wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the message “I love John Jay” and an anti-racism logo, blasted the tactic, saying students of all races have a right to congregate in the community.
“This is unwarranted, unfair, harassment,” said Adam Stevens, an African-American Flatbush resident and parent of a sixth grader. “The moment they leave the building, they’re made to feel unwelcome.”
Parents called the forum after white Sloper Sara Bennett said at a 78th Precinct community council meeting that she witnessed police following a group of black teens down her block in a squad car last month, ordering them to leave over the loudspeaker. Bennett, a yoga teacher and former lawyer, said the scene reminded her of apartheid.
“The police were following the kids yelling at them to get out of the neighborhood,” she said. “It felt like South Africa.”
A neighbor said she saw officers shooing the youngsters that day and, though she didn’t hear the inflammatory command, she thought the tactic was the wrong way to handle the situation, and that it wasn’t anything new.
“This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen the NYPD behaving this way towards students,” Lee Solomon said.
Brass from Fort Greene’s 88th Precinct, Park Slope’s 78th Precinct, Downtown’s 84th Precinct, the police Transit Bureau, school safety agents, and managers from Atlantic Terminal mall, the Barclays Center, and MetroTech Center all met in mid-September after a group of teens brawled with cops in the plaza in front of the Barclays Center. Cops later told residents at a Fort Greene community board meeting that fights break out when large groups of teens gather, and that the precincts’ top cops decided the way to deal with the problem is to keep the kids moving. A civil rights lawyer called the strategy “straight up unconstitutional.”
A Community Affairs officer with the 78th Precinct said its officers weren’t invited to the Friday town hall forum, and none attended. A commander from the division that patrols the campus did show up, and told a reporter his officers don’t shoo youths.“We don’t tell the kids to leave,” said Lyndsey Martinez, deputy director of the School Safety Division. “We just want to make sure the dismissals are orderly.”
The claim runs contrary to an NY1 report in which a camera crew filmed a school safety agent telling students, “Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s go.” The agent then broke the lens off the news camera and, when the team reassembled it, tried to block the camera with her hat. The NYPD is investigating the behavior, according to the NY1 report.
Martinez told the crowd of about 100 that there is a problem with police-teen relations, and that he will try to fix it.
“There are clearly some issues. This is the first we’re hearing about it,” he said. “We’re not perfect. We’ll make some changes at this school if need be.”
The words did little to assuage the anger of the stream of black and Latino students who took to a microphone to talk about the persecution they feel outside school walls.
“I can’t go anywhere in the neighborhood without being looked at in a certain way,” said Phedon Thomas, a junior from Park Slope Collegiate, one of the four schools that share the campus. “It’s overwhelming.”
Ethan Edobor, another junior from Park Slope Collegiate, said he had been kicked out of a restaurant by police for a fight he had nothing to do with. He just happened to resemble the people involved, he said.
“They’re judging people by the way they look,” he said of the police and store owners in the area.
Park Slope Collegiate’s principal echoed the sentiment and said she was glad everyone turned out to sound off in support of the youth.
“They absolutely have every right to be here,” said principal Jill Bloomberg, who is white. “It was great to have community members come out and say to the kids that they are welcomed. It’s very sad that they needed to do that.”
— with Noah Hurowitz