In the wake of one of the most horrific crimes in the borough in some time, ideas are being proposed to help youngsters in trouble.
The murder of 15-year-old Lesandro ‘Junior’ Guzman-Feliz, who was dragged out of a bodega at Bathgate Avenue and East 183rd Street and attacked with knives and a machete by a gang mistaking him for someone else, rocked the borough.
Guzman-Feliz has inspired a new proposal to protect youth who run into businesses seeking a safe haven from an attack.
Senator Luis Sepulveda and Assemblyman Victor Pichardo held a press conference on Tuesday, July 10 to announce the introduction of legislation called “Safe Havens for Endangered Children.”
The legislation, which in not law yet, calls for small businesses to “provide a safe refuge for a child who had physical injury inflicted upon him or is in imminent danger of such injury,” creating safe passages to and from schools.
If enacted, it would also require businesses with less than 50 employees to maintain a first aid kit.
“While the bodega owner where the incident occurred did try to help, and did call 911 twice, according to police, we want to make sure that any business owner or their employees who encounter a situation involving a minor who has been abused or may be in danger has a duty to try to help,” said Sepulveda.
Businesses could be fined for not complying, according to the legislative filing.
The proposal would be called “Junior’s Law” if enacted, and the young man’s father, Lissandro Guzman, spoke in favor of it, saying, “I hope this bill that carries my son’s name gets passed so it can prevent situations like this from happening again.”
Joe Thompson, who founded an all-volunteer Safe Haven Program with merchants in Allerton, Pelham Parkway and Morris Park said he liked the concept of the proposal but feels that a voluntary program would be more effective.
“It has worked,” Thompson said of the east Bronx Safe Haven Program, adding that he has received reports of youngsters who were being bullied or threatened getting help after entering one of the stores displaying the program’s posters.
Thompson said he believes that any such ‘safe haven’ program with businesses should be voluntary, and that it also should be universal (covering the entire city) and not include premises that sell alcohol.
The first aid kits could prove problematic, said Thompson, because business owners may not be able to provide the right kind of first aid, possibly opening the door to litigation.