Volume 17 • Issue 6 | July 2 - 8, 2004

Letter from the editor

Police arrogance on Park Row

In the weeks and months that followed Sept. 11, 2001, the sight of automatic weapons, police checkpoints and military personnel became as familiar to Downtown as views of the Statue of Liberty, the Hudson River — and before the attack, the Twin Towers. Now almost three years later, we have much more freedom of movement and many of us also have a feeling that we are better protected from a terrorist attack because no American police force spends as much time, effort and money on anti-terror measures as the N.Y.P.D.

It appears that effort is paying off. Last year an Al Qaeda suspect believed to be plotting to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge was arrested and reportedly, he told his supervisors to scratch the plan because of tight bridge security in Downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn.

But that does not mean every security measure proposed by the police is warranted. The residents and workers in Lower Manhattan understand far too well the need for precaution and One Police Plaza, the police department’s headquarters, obviously needs protection. However, the fortress around the building also encloses the residents of Chatham Green and Towers and looks like an extreme overreaction that doesn’t appear to serve the department’s stated goal of security.

Residents of the two housing complexes, who have joined others in two lawsuits against the city, have pointed out in court papers that cars and pedestrians can get far closer to headquarters on the south side of the building than they can on the Chatham side – where Chinatown begins. It is no wonder that some residents see race as the police’s motivating factor since the barricades are more restrictive for Downtown’s mostly-Asian population.

We are not accusing police officials of racism. But it does look to us that the private parking needs of personnel at One Police Plaza have become an important factor in the Park Row closings. Park Row is the main way to get from the Civic Center area to Chinatown and the Lower East Side and by keeping the street closed the police have secured a vast parking area for themselves while cutting off a major thoroughfare that residents and businesses depend upon.

Police have behaved arrogantly in their dealings with residents and three witness have told or written us that in a settlement negotiation meeting, one police anti-terror official gave the ridiculous explanation that private cars are needed to block a rocket or bazooka attack on headquarters. Henry Stern — Parks commissioner for a mayor who was never given high marks for racial sensitivity, Rudy Giuliani – and others have said that the police might have acted differently if the street closing were proposed on mostly-white, mostly-wealthy Park Ave. rather than Park Row.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has not been willing to meet with residents and listen to their concerns — even before lawsuits were filed. And the lawsuit is no excuse. The street closure affects tens if not hundreds of thousands of people who are not party to the lawsuit. Police and other city officials owe it to the public to discuss the closure and not act only under the threat of discovery in a lawsuit.

Judge Walter Tolub, a state Supreme Court justice, has so far shown sensitivity both to the hardship the police actions have caused and to the city’s security needs. He is right to be cautious about ordering the street reopened, but police need to explain the apparent security contradictions. They have used the security trump card to try and finagle out of doing an environmental impact statement. Their perfunctory environmental assessment had questionable elements and – surprise! – concluded that the police don’t think the street closure has had much impact.

We know they think that. They don’t live there and they don’t rely on customers being able to get to the front door.

It’s high time for Mayor Bloomberg to instruct his police departments to level with the constituents that have been hugely inconvenienced, and in some cases, put out of business, by the heavy handed and inconsistent police actions around Park Row and Chatham Towers and Green.

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