Eastchester Gardens residents express safety concerns at precinct meeting

Police and residents discuss crime at Eastchester Gardens at the 49th Precinct Council meeting on Oct. 26.
Photo Jason Cohen

While Eastchester Gardens is home to the largest gang takedown in NYC history and has had its share of violence over the years, residents are still fed up with the crime in the area and feel unsafe.

On Oct. 26, community members voiced their displeasure with the violence at the 49th Precinct Council meeting. A few recent incidents include two teens that were shot in May and a shooting in September.

Theresa Oyola and Denise Wright, lifelong residents of Eastchester Gardens, spoke to the Bronx Times about the crime.

Wright, 43, whose brother was murdered up the block, said she appreciates the Police Department wanting to hold events with kids such as barbecues, but the real issue is the lack of funding and programming. She said children need mentoring, tutoring and safe things to do after school and on the weekends. Even the community center where the meeting was held is outdated, she said.

As a youth, Wright remembered how the schools and churches partnered with the housing projects much more than they do today.

“When I grew up it was more of a community place where people looked out for one another,” she said. “That community feeling is gone. You don’t even know half the people that live here.”

Going forward, she hopes the residents and the police come up with a plan to turn things around.

Oyola, 43, added the violence has gotten worse over time and claimed that the police don’t do much to help people. Oyola said there needs to be more cops walking throughout the development getting to know the residents.

“When I grew up it wasn’t like this,” she said. “There’s no police out there. They stay in their cars and don’t come out at all.”

With four kids, Oyola doesn’t feel safe and might have to look at moving if things don’t improve, she said. Her anger was not only directed at the police, however. She also pointed out that NYC Councilman Kevin Riley was not at the meeting and wanted to hold his feet to the fire for the violence in the Gardens.

“You got all these people you vote in and they do nothing,” she said.

However, in a separate interview, Riley, who grew up with a father in jail and often got into fights as a kid, told the Bronx Times that he understands why many kids turn to violence. While Eastchester Gardens and other parts of the borough have always been known for crime, things are different today because of social media, he said.

Often, beefs brew on Instagram or Facebook, which leads to 13- and 14-year-olds killing each other, the councilman said. He added that recently a kid was on Instagram Live and shortly after, was murdered by a rival gang. He told the Bronx Times that since being elected to the City Council in December 2020, he has been in Eastchester Gardens on a weekly basis.

“When it comes to addressing the violence, we have been working with the stakeholders in Eastchester,” he said.

According to Riley, the problem is the division between young people and seniors as many youths feel they aren’t listened to. Like Wright, he agreed that there must be more programming such as game nights, basketball tournaments and after school clubs.

Riley said times have also changed. When he was a teenager in Baychester it was about going to the movies, playing sports and Xbox or going to a school dance; today, it seems kids would rather pick up a gun.

“If we actually want to make a difference and help these kids, we have to figure out what they need,” he said.

Detective Jay Sturdivant, of the 49th Precinct Community Affairs Office, told attendees at the meeting he planned to meet with his Commanding Officer Deputy Inspector Andrew Natiw and work with Riley and the residents to make things safer.

Reach Jason Cohen at [email protected] or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes. 

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