Op-ed | We must restore funding to city crossing guards

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Every day, over a million students swipe MetroCards at the turnstile, pedal through city streets, or ride a bus between home and school. As students walk those last few blocks towards school, they’re often both greeted and protected by crossing guards. New Yorkers in fluorescent vests create safe passages in hectic city streets, offering both visibility and physical protection for our smallest and youngest. 

It’s dangerous wherever cars and pedestrians meet – but especially so when these pedestrians are children. Since 2014, 106 children have been killed by vehicles on our city’s streets, and over a quarter of these children were walking to or from school. Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury-related death for children in New York City. 

These statistics became incredibly personal for our community in October when 7-year old Kamari Hughes was killed by a reckless driver in Fort Greene. Brooklyn Prospect Elementary School – where Kamari was a student – has a saying, “One forest, many trees.” While neither of us ever met Kamari, we know his branches bore the sweetest fruit and hosted the most beautiful birds. The preventable death of this child tore a monumental hole in each of our hearts. We’re devastated every time we think of his mother, only an arm’s reach away from Kamari as he rode his scooter on his way to school.  We’re horrified when we think of the dozens of other children that saw the NYPD tow truck hit him. 

Kamari was killed on Myrtle Avenue, in a crosswalk where a crossing guard used to guide all of the children walking to school. There was no crossing guard that morning to protect or guide Kamari. In the immediate weeks following Kamari’s death, traffic agents acting as crossing guards suddenly appeared on several long-empty corners. At Kamari’s funeral, we were told that these new agents popping up everywhere were permanent. They have since disappeared. 

It’s not an accident that there’s no crossing guard at this deadly intersection. Earlier this year – after New York City lost a Vision Zero-era record of 16 children to traffic crashes last year – Mayor Adams cut the crossing guard budget by 18%. When we personally asked him for restored funding and stronger recruitment efforts, he told us, “it’s a low-paying job.” Of course, Adams’ cuts make hiring and retention even harder.

Just six days before a reckless driver killed Kamari, another driver killed beloved crossing guard Krystyna Naprawa in Queens. Krystyna was a cornerstone of her community, known and beloved by hundreds through her service of over 12 years. She was killed by the driver of a dump truck only 1,000 feet from P.S. 60 in Woodhaven. 

Krystyna was represented by the District Council 37 union. After her crash, union Executive Director Henry Garrido said, “These heroes put their lives on the line for our kids and neighborhoods every day, and today’s tragedy makes that stark fact unavoidable. This is the third guard struck by a vehicle in just a matter of months – anything over zero is unacceptable.”

Henry’s right. If City Hall really wants to protect New Yorkers – both our children and the crossing guards who put their own lives on the line – it’s time to put money behind his words. What’s Mayor Adams waiting for? 

Inaction only ensures more New Yorkers will die. 

Kay White is PTO Co-Chair of the Downtown Prospect Elementary School, where Kamari Hughes went to school. Shaun Francois is President of DC37, and Local372 representing school crossing guards across New York City. Kay White and Shaun Francois are members of the Brooklyn Street Safety Coalition.