LES Residents Call Emergency Meeting Over Drug Problem

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:02

Increase in illegal activity said to affect schools, housing complexes

Two block associations on the Lower East Side called an emergency meeting September 25 after residents reported a sharp rise in drug activity in the area.

Ayo Harrington, president of the East 4th Street Block Association and a member of Community Board 3, initiated the meeting after she heard several reports of rampant drug activity and saw deals being made herself.

"Things have just exploded," said Harrington, "and that's why we're here today."

Harrington said she's received a number of disturbing reports from residents in the area, including a school that has to close their windows because floating marijuana clouds are making the children sick and rumors that drug dealers have keys to buildings owned by the New York City Housing Authority and are setting up shop in lobbies and vestibules.

The East 3rd Street Block Association reported a resident was recently mugged in the lobby of her building and had her wallet and cell phone stolen, a crime that other residents attributed to drug activity.

"If we don't really do something to stem the tide it's just going to get crazy, because if some people are doing this then people like them are going to come and feel comfortable doing it as well," said Harrington.

About 35 people showed up to the meeting. Residents were advised by Linda Jones-Jennah, a community affairs coordinator with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, not to give their names to the media as many of the reports they were making could involve potentially dangerous criminals. Our Town Downtown has agreed not to use the names of residents who made reports to the police and the DA's representative.

One resident said she feels the community is moving backwards in terms of drug activity, a sentiment that was echoed by another resident, who said she feels like it's 1985.

"I've got two kids, my kids are scared to walk through there, and they're 10 and 12, they're not tiny kids," said the resident, speaking of the corridor on 5th Street between Avenue C and Avenue D.

Other residents at the meeting said the Henry Street Settlement, a nearby homeless shelter for women, sometimes contributes to drug activity when those who stay there loiter or smoke marijuana in the neighborhood.

Harrington was quick to say that she and others in the community are not opposed to the shelters and drug treatment programs in the area, and called them necessary ways for people to get help, but that they can exacerbate the drug problem.

"If people use drugs, we want them to have someplace to get help, if someone's homeless we want them to have someplace to live, if somebody is mentally challenged it's really not their fault," said Harrington. "We want them to have a place where they can get the services they need to have a good quality of life."

However, Harrington said, the services that are offered in the community often don't have daytime programs so those who use them sometimes loiter in the neighborhood and are used as cover for drug deals.

Harrington also pointed to community gardens as a source of drug activity.

"There is a huge amount of drug activity, I'm told, that is going on in that garden," said Harrington, speaking of El Jardin Paraiso, a community garden on East 4th and 5th Street between Avenue C and Avenue D. Harrington said El Jardin is owned by the city and under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department. "They have been informed that that is a huge cesspool of drug activity," she said. "Nobody really wants to close a community garden that people have put so much work into, but at the same time, your 12-year-old child should be able to walk up the street without wondering whether or not he or she is going to be confronted by someone who wants to sell drugs or is high."

Harrington urged those at the meeting to make reports of illegal activity to 311 and 911 and said the more reports that are filed the more the police will pay attention to illegal activity in the area.

This strategy was seconded by Officer Givens of the 9th Precinct Crime Prevention Office, who said the police need to know specific areas where drug activity is taking place.

"The problem we have here is that if no one is calling us and telling us that something's up, we can't be everywhere all the time," said Givens. "Understandably you say the problem is getting worse, but even if you call us up and it's anonymous, you don't have to give your name." Harrington drove the point home and said, "Every single call is going to make a difference in terms of personnel that they put in this community to deal with this issue."

Harrington said the Manhattan DA's office has plans to schedule a meeting to get some Lower East Side buildings that are suspected of being involved in drug activity enrolled in the DA offices' Trespass Affidavit and Narcotics Eviction Program, which combats loitering and targets drug dealers for eviction using state law.

In an interview last week, Harrington said the geographic spread and amount of people that showed up to the meeting is proof enough that something needs to be done.

"This started out as an East 4th Street Block Association meeting, and people came from 3rd Street?and from 5th Street," said Harrington. "Obviously the issue is of concern to a growing and wider number of people and the need to gather and do something about it resonated with people, and that's a good thing."

Have you noticed increased drug activity in your neighborhood? Email us at editor.otdt@strausnews.com and let us know what's happening on your block.