Volume 22, Number 53 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 14 - 20, 2010
Rowdy teens raise concerns among Seaport residents
BY Aline Reynolds
The local Seaport community is feeling victimized by groups of teens, reportedly from Murry Bergtraum High School, who are inciting violence among themselves and area residents.
Altercations between Bergtraum High School youths are nothing new: in 2008, student fights broke out in and outside of the Fulton Street Burger King. But last Wednesday, Southbridge Towers resident Michelle Lorentzos was hospitalized after being assaulted by a group of teens just outside of her residence in South Street Seaport.
According to Community Board 1, this is one of four incidents that have occurred in the past two weeks in or around Southbridge grounds. The other fights occurred among youths and allegedly did not result in serious injuries.
“The community has been held hostage by these kids,” Seaport/Civic Center Committee Chairperson John Fratta asserted at last Tuesday night’s meeting at the Community Board 1 office near City Hall.
A Southbridge resident for 11 years, Lorentzos, 35, suffered cracked ribs and wounds on her upper body. She has been hospitalized twice since the May 5 incident, and was diagnosed yesterday with hematoma and bruising to her spine. She is now physically disabled and in need of physical therapy.
Last Wednesday afternoon, Lorentzos recalled, she was walking back to her apartment and saw over 100 students fighting in small groups. “I was coming from the community room to go to my building,” she said, “when the groups split up, a girl came in my direction and she slammed into me.”
Lorentzos told the unidentified teen to settle down, and the girl replied with an insult. The two then began fighting, and Lorentzos was kicked in the back and stomach.
Lorentzos said that a school safety official promised to follow up with her last Wednesday about reviewing photographs to identify the assaulter, but she has not yet heard back.
A male student involved in the fight was seen loitering around the building the next day. A Southbridge security official recognized the student and phoned the NYPD. The student, currently out on $1,500 bail, according to Lorentzos, was indicted by a grand jury yesterday. “There is enough evidence to take it to trial,” she said.
Wally Dimson said that the cops that monitor the public thoroughfare area surrounding Southbridge Towers were not on duty that evening because they were called to another assignment elsewhere in the city. “Southbridge security officers are not trained or authorized to break up fights,” said Dimson, president of Southbridge Towers, following the meeting.
The Committee passed a resolution asking for an increased police presence during the school’s two dismissal times to maintain order and ensure safety of the students and neighborhood residents. The Committee will present the resolution to the full Board for its approval at the May 25 meeting.
“I don’t see why we can’t ask that two or three officers who know the kids escort them down through the area and through Southbridge,” said Paul Hovitz, a C.B. 1 member. Fights could be prevented to begin with if security personnel the kids know ushered them to the subway stations when school lets out, Hovitz said during a phone interview.
“We should demand, not ask, for the police to escort the kids,” Southbridge resident Joseph Morrone said. “I’m totally appalled that the First Precinct isn’t at this meeting. This is disgusting.”
First Precinct Community Council leader Liz Williams, at the Board 1 meeting, urged community members to attend the next Community Council meeting on Thursday, May 27, at 6:30 p.m. to voice their concerns. A large group of concerned community members, she said, will get the new commanding officer’s attention.
“We don’t want anyone to get hurt, nor do we want students to be criminalized,” added Harmon Unger, the Department of Education’s deputy C.E.O. for Safety and Security.
Unger explained that the school is not responsible for students once the teens are off school grounds, but promised to “work collaboratively with NYPD to provide extra coverage.”
“It’s too late,” mumbled Lorentzos, who was wheeled into the building in a wheelchair.
Community Board 1 hopes to schedule a meeting next week with NYPD School Safety officials, as well as First and Fifth Precinct officers, and to discuss how to proceed. The date, time and location of the meeting have yet to be determined.
Okolo Thomas, a 1995 graduate of Murry Bergtraum and a resident of Southbridge Towers, said that further counseling for the children to rectify behavioral problems is just as important as added security. “We really need to talk to the kids and figure out why they are so angry and attacking people,” Thomas said. She intends to visit the school in the next few weeks to encourage participation from counselors and teachers.
“Murry Bergtraum has become a dumping ground for children who aren’t getting into the smaller, more-selective schools,” said Fratta, who pulled out records of Bergtraum receiving “C” and “D” report cards from D.O.E. in the last few academic years. “To me, it’s a failing school that is not being given proper resources that it needs to deal with difficult children,” he said.
Fratta said that the Board’s Youth and Education Committee would likely be writing a letter to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to re-evaluate the purpose of the school.
Community members at Tuesday night’s meeting were angry at the NYPD and Murry Bergtraum High School staff for not showing up. Unger, speaking on behalf of school Principal Barbara A. Esmilla, said the principal had another commitment that she couldn’t back out of. Esmilla is investigating the incident, he added, and wishes to follow up soon with Board 1.
The police might be neglecting violations, such as unlawful assembly, inciting riot and urging others to engage in violent conduct, according to Salvatore Sottile, owner of Sottile Security Company. “Either the officers were uninformed, or they don’t want to cooperate with us,” he said.
DeLury Square Park, which will open this summer, is another potential breeding ground for altercations without proper security, Board members and residents said.
“If they become rowdy or disorderly, how do we handle that?” said Elena Fratta. “You can’t take them out of the park or tell them to leave.” Board members agreed that police officers or Parks Enforcement Patrol officers should be on duty to actively order youths out of the park should they start to act up.
Meanwhile, Fulton Street Burger King’s days are numbered. Southbridge Towers, who owns the land, has granted the Fulton Street Burger King a month-to-month lease extension until August 31. Southbridge chose not to renew Burger King’s Lease once it expired in January because the restaurant resisted providing extra security following the incidents.