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Greenpoint Vols: Local Cops Are Only Interested In Harassing, Not Helping, Us

Volunteers who recently came out to beautify open street barricades on Driggs Avenue. Photo: North Brooklyn Open Streets Community Coalition

This is not how partners are supposed to act.

A group of Greenpoint volunteers who have been managing a pair of open streets in the neighborhood say that the only time the NYPD has shown up to get involved in the program is to harass members of the group when they were beautifying some sawhorses.

The group, the North Brooklyn Open Streets Community Coalition, came together in disrepair after the 94th Precinct neglected to secure barriers for the open street portions of Driggs Avenue (between Monitor Street and Meeker Avenue) and Russell Street (between Nassau and Driggs avenues). The volunteers also decided to beautify the blue police barricades in an attempt to make them fit Greenpoint's neighborhood identity, which meant painting them white and stenciling Polish folk art.

But during a painting party two Saturdays ago, volunteer Noel Hidalgo said a NYPD cruiser pulled up and an officer told the volunteers that they were engaging in destruction of government property.

Hidalgo, a Greenpoint resident and fan of the open streets idea, said that he and some neighbors began to shore up the barriers after drivers slammed through them and left them in shambles. The barriers for the streets were supposed to be taken care of by the NYPD, but Hidalgo said they were left to fall into disrepair, if the NYPD bothered to put them out at all.

"It puts us in a weird situation, which is that volunteers are continuing to set up and take down these barriers, but the NYPD is supposed to be the community partner on this, and this is the first time we're even having a conversation with them," said Hidalgo.

i know the pain. this was greenpoint's russell st. later that day, i brought a new barrier from another location and a neighbor BROUGHT TWO THEY MADE AT HOME. where are the resources? @NYC_DOT doesn't have them. @NYPDShea doesn't care. why are we funding the NYPD?

— noel hidalgo -??? (@noneck) June 27, 2020

"On Russell Street, people drove through the barriers and destroyed them, so myself and other neighbors got together the maintain them," added Hidalgo. "When the Driggs Avenue open street started, we put together a volunteer squad like [the Loisaida Open Street Community Coalition]on Avenue B], so we set the barriers up, we take them down, we mend them if they're broken."

The NYPD involvement had a chilling effect, as the volunteers decided that they would put off a painting party on July 18 in order to avoid further police harassment. The group also reported that the NYPD now wants to meet to discuss the open streets program, which has been active in Greenpoint for weeks. A group volunteer, Elizabeth Adams, who is also legislative director for Council Member Steve Levin, said that she urged the NYPD to talk to their neighbors instead of cracking down on them.

"I said, 'Well let's sit down here, the [painted] sawhorses are a community good,'" said Adams, "The neighbors doing this weren't doing it maliciously, so having a dialogue for how we support that and foster that is important. I think the NYPD could have better things to do than bothering people painting a sawhorse."

According to Hidalgo, neighbors were fans of the newly painted barriers, but there were still some who expressed frustration with the fact that they lacked signage to explain what the program was and that they weren't actually on the streets during the correct hours.

"We've had some complaints like we're communists and that COVID is a hoax and that we're stealing parking," Hidalgo said about some of the less-helpful complaints. "But we've also had complaints that the Russell Street barriers were up 24/7 when they're only supposed to be up until 8 p.m. every night."

Hidalgo said the volunteers have tried to take care of themselves in order to keep up community support for the program.

Like the Loisaida collective that came together to maintain community ownership of the open streets program and turn it into something that reflects the community values, Hidalgo said he was hoping the Greenpoint group could prove that community members were really interested in the car-free streets and extra outdoor room that the open streets program provides.

"I was inspired by the LES mission statement, that this should be a community statement, that these need to have community flair that shows that the community is passionate about them," he said, pointing out that the painted barricades on Avenue B are also police sawhorses.

Management of the open streets around the city has been somewhat haphazard since the de Blasio administration relaunched it after its first attempt failed under the weight of massive police presence. The second attempt has relied more on community volunteers, neighborhood groups and local police precincts to set up the barricades, which has resulted in some successes but plenty of failures as well.

In Sunnyside, neighborhood residents have so deeply embraced the open street on 34th Avenue between 69th Street and Junction Blvd. that local elected officials want to keep permanently. But as Sasha Aickin discovered when he toured Brooklyn's open streets, less than half of the listed open streets he visited in that borough were even set up. [A map of all the city's open streets can be seen here.]

The mayor has also bent to the will of drivers in the Bronx and gave up on the Rhinelander Avenue open street entirely, after a few complaints from community members who said they wanted to drive. City residents have also complained that the NYPD has been inconsistent about placing barricades that officers are responsible for, either neglecting to put the barriers up entirely or placing the barricades down after the 8 a.m. start time for the open streets. Adams said that she was somewhat frustrated by the rollout of the program, which she thinks could have been given more resources from the outset.

"There wasn't the investment at the outset that would have been good for the growth of the program, or a clear process for how to do this as a neighborhood," she said. "I'm a big proponent of this, but it does take work." Adams suggested that the city could have given community groups sawhorses to paint in order to avoid the appearance of damaging NYPD property.

The open streets volunteers are scheduled to0 meet with the 94th Precinct's community affairs unit on Tuesday, but Hidalgo remains frustrated that the precinct only perked up once it was being shown up.

"Only now when we've taken up the slack are they saying, 'We want to have a conversation,'" said Hidalgo.

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