Closing system

Weekday nights, weekend crackdown in Washington Square

Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld / Getty Images

Dorothy Maskara, a high school student, skateboarded to Washington Square Park on Wednesday afternoon and wrote NO C * PS IN WASH in purple chalk on the floor next to the fountain. She was reacting to what she saw on the night of May 22, when police vans and dozens of baton-wielding cops in riot gear arrived to clear the park of people at midnight. “It was Saturday night! It was just a bunch of teenagers and stuff, ”says Maskara, 17, who said she saw officers use a bicycle to push an older man to the ground, and spent part of the evening trying to find a doctor for someone who has started having an anxiety attack after the relapse. “It was just an abuse of power.”

The following weekend, the NYPD came out in force to close the park two hours earlier, at 10 p.m., and police have since announced that they will maintain this curfew on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for the future. immediate. An NYPD spokesperson said the large and sometimes violent gatherings of people who refused to leave the park made a crackdown necessary.

The decision to shut down one of Manhattan’s most lawless spaces at the same time as your average Grist has annoyed many, like Maskara, who sees the park as a second home. Many have also questioned the logic of closing an open space like Washington Square while a pandemic is technically still in progress. But others who live in the neighborhood believe the answer is long overdue – and still insufficient. “It’s gnarly,” says Kim Hastreiter, a writer and editor who has lived near the park since 1995 and used a park bench as a desk during the pandemic. “It’s definitely like a wild rave or something like that every night.” Others told Curbed they were fed up with trying to fall asleep with fireworks, booming PA systems and dirt bikes, only to wake up with a garbage strewn landscape in the morning.

Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld / Getty Images

Washington Square Park has become a flashpoint for debates about policing and public space in the city as hot weather and vaccine-fueled optimism rekindle spurts of debauchery among New Yorkers after the longest year. “Per square foot, it’s one of the most used parks in the world,” says Adrian Benepe, the former Parks Commissioner who now sits on the board of directors of the Washington Square Park Conservancy, the public-private partnership that management and maintenance assistance. “I think the problem here is that the city has basically allowed an all-out policy for the past year due to the pandemic and the protests, and now they’re trying to bring it back. “

Loud weekend evenings seem to be the focus of this fight. A guy who sells Nutcracker in bright bottles in the park Wednesday night told me that some are planned ragers that get the word out on social media, while others are dance parties that erupt spontaneously. A park regular who calls himself Grimmey Sheisty and sells edible herbs from a folding table said he sees people filming loud music videos on weekends, which often get loud and could be the source of some complaints.

However, many park regulars and neighbors wonder if things are wilder than normal June. On a Facebook group for the neighborhood, some members speculated that the Citizen app, which blows up users with unconfirmed crime reports, can amplify these fears.

Park parties may start to run out of steam now that the bars are open until 4 a.m., but other complaints aren’t as easy to deal with. Neighbors say they are worried about the increased presence of homeless people and drug use in the park. This discomfort was fully displayed last week in a classic new York To post featured story, titled PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK and alleging the flower beds were full of syringes, along with photos of mostly black people smoking unidentified “drugs” (which could be newly legal weed). After the To post The story ran, the parks department fenced off the park’s northwest quadrant, the dimly lit section known as a place to buy, use, and sleep hard drugs. The conservatory posted on facebook that the area was closed so that it could be deep cleaned, but there was no sign of any cleaning going on this week.

But police say it was not the outdoor drug use that precipitated the closures. When questioned for official reason, the NYPD provided a list of five specific incidents of “disorderly behavior” that led to the 10 p.m. closures, including one on April 10 when officers clashed with a group who refused to leave and threw about 15 bottles and other items at the cops, according to the NYPD. (The other four incidents on the list occurred after police were dispatched to clean up the park during the first crackdown in May.)

In contrast, the weeknights since the crackdown have offered a totally different scene, a scene with barely any cops. I spent several hours in the park Tuesday and Wednesday night and couldn’t find a single policeman, even as fireworks fell on the fountain and a crowd of about 100 people danced on ” Gasolina ”Wednesday around midnight. This has actually been a sore spot for nearby residents. “There are no fucking cops,” says Joanne Milazzo, 75, who has lived one block from the park for 50 years. She says the park is in worse shape than she has ever seen it. “I never saw cops patrolling the village on foot, ever.”

The largest police presence, according to Hastreiter, actually appeared to emerge last June, when a host of officers guarded the ark after it was vandalized during the Black Lives Matter protests. She’s pro-anarchy, she says, but was afraid to walk her dog in the park after a neighbor shared a video of a shirtless man maniacally throwing empty beer bottles into the plaza in the morning. “It may not be fixable because it has a lot to do with social services,” she says.

At past midnight on Wednesday, no one came to close the park and the crowd dancing near the fountain grew. Several people hoisted illuminated nutcrackers into the air and poked their fists along with an Icona Pop song coming out of a giant speaker, shouting the chorus into the night: “I don’t care, I don’t care. ‘love.”

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