A community meeting about safety in Westchester Square and Zerega quickly turned into something else entirely.
The meeting on Wednesday, August 11, organized to discuss crime prevention and protection, became emotional for those who are upset over what they see as the decline of the neighborhood, and lack of police involvement.
Several community leaders and about 30 area residents came to the meeting, which was held in the Sanctuary Fellowship Community Church on St. Peters Avenue.
“The reason we’re here is because I think we’re under attack,” event organizer Cynthia Figueroa said, before listing a series of muggings and shooting that occurred in the area during the past few days.
“This will continue to get worse,” she said, “so we need to strategize to show them we aren’t going to take it.”
Figueroa and others at the meeting asked the elected officials and their representatives that attended the meetings, ‘What can you do for us?”
Requests started at the basics, such as helping the group get safety equipments like flashlights, jackets and walkie-talkies.
At the suggestion of Senator Jeff Klein, who attended the meeting, the group also discussed incorporating the organization as a 501-C3 so it will be eligible for state and federal funding.
Attendees raised concerns about some residents turning a blind eye to the ongoing criminal activity, and voiced concerns with the police department’s practice of prioritizing minor violations, like parking and littering, over major crimes like muggings, shootings and drug trafficking.
“We think the precinct isn’t doing what it should be doing. I’m tired of picking up dope bags on the Square,” said Louis Rocco in a heated exchange with Senator Klein.
“We have been dumped on and neglected,” Rocco said. “We have homeowners that want out and renters that are leaving to Throggs Neck. Either you address this problem here or it’s going to go to Throggs Neck next, because that’s where the trash is heading.”
At the end of the meeting the crowd broke into groups, based on what street they lived on, to begin brainstorming about their needs and electing captains for patrols.
According to Sammy Pomaro, co-organizer of the event, ten community members volunteered for the patrols on Wednesday. He said he is hoping to get about 40 volunteers before they start making regular patrols.
“We need to select a captain and patrol the streets together,” Figueroa said. “It’s up to you to protect your street, just like it was in the old days.”
For Kenneth Kearns, district manager of Community Board 10, the community can take a major step towards solving the problem by continuing to report crimes to police, and by contacting elected officials frequently about expanding the number of officers in the 45th Precinct.
“You need to call Mayor Bloomberg to advocate for additional officers to come to the 45th Precinct. Email the commissioner and call 311. All that makes a difference,” he said. “You have a very good captain here and the precinct will be very productive when it’s back at full strength. If you keep up the pressure downtown, you will get them.”
Community members are planning another meeting to deal with crime in the area, to be held at 7:30 p.m., August 24, at Santa Maria Church on Zerega Avenue.