The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Q is for Quality of Life

Pink tickets. Cute and thin as tissue paper, these "quality of life" summonses can add up to a hefty headache. The Q regaled y'all with the story of my bicycling-clockwise-in-prospect-park story recently, and it's an example of the sort of silly-but-serious tack the NYPD takes on quality of life offenses. It's a pain to have to show up to civil court for these (and you MUST show up for them or you may actually do jail time), but you usually get off or slapped with a negligible fine. It's all about keeping people in line, and some might argue that it works extremely well. [For instance, public urination is WAY, WAY down since it's height in the late '80s, if that's a measure by which you gauge progress. New Yorkers For Peeless Streets (NYPS) folded years ago, it's board unanimously concluding that the practice had "shriveled" to only a "handful" of cases that could best be described as true emergencies. When they laid off its E.D. in 2002, the outgoing leader was rumored to have said "when you gotta go, you gotta go."]

Which leads us to the incredible true story of Lindsey Riddick of East 21st right here in Flatbush. He asserts, and it's apparently caught on tape, that cops told him he can't loiter in front of his own building, and when the 36-year-old Riddick was deemed uncooperative, he was given a wad of pink for his trouble. The full story here: Improbable Cause. 

Riddick's story is a great reminder of just how tricky it is for the police to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. Put yourself in Riddick's shoes for a moment - a father of two, he was required to show the cops he had a key to the apartment building and a key to his own apartment, and despite the fact his kids ran to see their daddy when he unlocked the door, the cops slapped him with citations. Of course, a more mature officer would have apologized and moved on, but let's be frank, not all cops have the wisdom of Solomon, and many are inexperienced or stressed or defensive and even accustomed to harassment for being unwanted in certain places. It may very well be that the cop in question had a bad day or was being harassed by people on the street even as he continued to press the loitering and disorderly conduct charge. BUT, and this is a BIG but, if you can manage to relate to the humiliation Riddick must have felt, in front of his very own family, perhaps you can step into a world where stop-and-frisk isn't just a policy about THEM. It's a policy about us, all of us, and how we want to pursue safety in the midst of cultural, racial and economic difference.

That loitering and other quality of life charges are leveled overwhelmingly at minorities will surprise no one. We are all painfully aware, anecdotally and statistically, that cops come down hard on brown-skinned people in particular, and that therefore majority-black neighborhoods are disproportionately affected by quality-of-life policies. And one must point out that those who decide what IS or ISN'T a quality of life crime are themselves typically whiter than than the general population. So while loitering might be considered disruptive and scary one block, another might call see it as run-of-the-mill, even welcome. And noise that one group might find intolerable, another might find festive and soothing. Excessive anything is probably unwelcome, but it's important I think to remember that one man's front hallway is another man's foyer, you know?

I may jest, but this is no joke. The soul of our neighborhood is at stake in the subtle distinction between how things change and how things stay the same. The Q regularly agitates for positive change in a neighborhood that sorely needs to recognize its own failings. But in my view, the best way to raise all boats is via a tide of consensus. If we pit own group against another, we fail the test of community and courage. When terrible things happen, like the senseless shooting of a bystander, or the negligent killing of a pedestrian, do we collectively go after the agreed-to cause, or do we blanket the neighborhood with general policies that throw out the baby with the bathwater? (such a gruesome metaphor, I know). For instance, in the case of the recent shooting on Clarkson it would be easy to decry all manner of kids hanging out in front of buildings when it's the thugs and gangs we're after. And it would be easy to fault Dollar Vans generally over criminally reckless driving as the culprit, when bad driving is in fact near-ubiquitous on the avenues and side-streets of our neighborhood. But there is probably a common-ground and common-sense way to deal with these problems. Time is of the essence, of course, but we need to find consensus wherever possible.

I leave you with this, below: the definition of loitering for most of the last century, as it reads in the NY penal code. Courts have struck parts of it down as unenforceable, including the snicker-inducing sections, and the very nature of "deviant" acts has been amended, but before we conduct a crusade to stop loitering generally, as some have suggested to the Q, it might be worth recognizing that we would in fact have to create a law that doesn't exist. It is "disorderly conduct" which most people have in mind when they seek the dispersal of unruly groups of suspected drug dealers and gangbangers. (yes, it's an ugly term, but it's the acknowledged descriptive word for young folks "acting" like, or being part of, actual street gangs.) In other words, to lawfully disperse small groups of people "hanging out," the folks must be engaging in behavior that suggests laws are being or will be broken. Lawful assembly is just that, and it's protected not only under law but expressly protected in the constitution. There is room for interpretation here, of course, and it may be helpful to get specific about how we intend to use the law to our advantage when trying to rid the blocks of unwanted activity. But we must be certain we're talking about the "bad guys," not the Lindsey Riddick's of the world. It's a tall order, BUT, if we start to trust each other as neighbors, and folks start talking and sharing what they know, we might be able to work with the cops and the D.A. as a community, rather than simply demand something be done. Maybe.

Again, here's the legalese for loitering, and I welcome your constructive comments. Any lawyers out there want to clarify?

 NY PENAL LAW: 240.35
A person is guilty of loitering when he:
 1. Loiters, remains or wanders about in a public place for the purpose of begging;  or
 2. Loiters or remains in a public place for the purpose of gambling with cards, dice or other gambling paraphernalia;  or
 3. Loiters or remains in a public place for the purpose of engaging, or soliciting another person to engage, in oral sexual conduct, anal sexual conduct, or other sexual behavior of a deviate nature;  or
 4. Being masked or in any manner disguised by unusual or unnatural attire or facial alteration, loiters, remains or congregates in a public place with other persons so masked or disguised, or knowingly permits or aids persons so masked or disguised to congregate in a public place;  except that such conduct is not unlawful when it occurs in connection with a masquerade party or like entertainment if, when such entertainment is held in a city which has promulgated regulations in connection with such affairs, permission is first obtained from the police or other appropriate authorities;  or
 5. Loiters or remains in or about school grounds, a college or university building or grounds or a children's overnight camp as defined in section one thousand three hundred ninety-two of the public health law or a summer day camp as defined in section one thousand three hundred ninety two of the public health law, or loiters, remains in or enters a school bus as defined in section one hundred forty-two of the vehicle and traffic law, not having any reason or relationship involving custody of or responsibility for a pupil or student, or any other specific, legitimate reason for being there, and not having written permission from anyone authorized to grant the same or loiters or remains in or about such children's overnight camp or summer day camp in violation of conspicuously posted rules or regulations governing entry and use thereof;  or
 6. Loiters or remains in any transportation facility, unless specifically authorized to do so, for the purpose of soliciting or engaging in any business, trade or commercial transactions involving the sale of merchandise or services, or for the purpose of entertaining persons by singing, dancing or playing any musical instrument;  or
 7. Loiters or remains in any transportation facility, or is found sleeping therein, and is unable to give a satisfactory explanation of his presence.
Loitering is a violation.


Ceelledee said...

Tim, you deserve a hug for this! All the work you do for community -- identifying problems, researching solutions, investigating relationships, building relationships, volunteering time, blood,sweat and tears, meeting and organizing meetings, marching, then blogging about it all, and most importantly CARING -- well, it's just phenomenal. Especially given the very real obligations you have of your own family, career, personal life, etc. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you for bringing wisdom, compassion and humor to what you do and to all of us. Are you sure you can't be persuaded to run for political office? Hmmmm

Alex said...

Tim, this is a great rundown of problems with the way that NYPD enforces quality of life issues and is sometimes misdirected in their efforts.

For me, the particularly frustrating aspect is that there is no traffic enforcement, as you note. Yesterday, I was crossing Lefferts and Washingtonin front of a car stopped at the light, and another driver went around the stopped car and ran through the red light without hesitation. Based on the look on his face, it was apparently my fault for crossing the street when he was trying to run a red light. It was unreal and there was no cop there to witness it.

At the same intersection while I was on my way home, two cars came down Washington going the wrong way on the one way section, one after the other. Again, no patrol car to witness or enforce.

Both situations could have caused pedestrian injury for obvious reasons.

Unknown said...

Thanks for drawing our attention to this. Even with all the focus on Stop and Frisk recently, I am still flabbergasted by these incidents every time they occur.

The real outrage, to me, is that having our neighbors out on stoops and sidewalks actually makes us safer. So for the NYPD to harrass the people who are making our streets safer is really frustrating.

You got me thinking so much about this topic that I wrote a blog post of my own about it:

(This was supposed to be a home renovation blog, but I'm slowly being drawn into community affairs....)

Ceelledee said...

In another thread, someone wanted to know how the citizenry can be so divided on NYPD's "stop and frisk" policies when most of us are united in wanting to see an end to crime in our communities. Recently, WNYC aired a great example of investigative journalism on this very subject. It includes street interviews of young Black men who have been stopped and frisked by the police as well as a probing exchange with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly re the policy. The reporters are two teens who are participating in WYNC's "Radio Rookies" program. If you're at all interested in this very brief, but very lively report, I strongly recommend it. Check it out at:

Meanwhile, I couldn't agree more with your post, Cameron! I also went to Nostrand South and liked very much what you have written there. As with Tim, it looks like you are contributing much to the betterment of the community . . . both inside and outside your own house. Thanks much and welcome to our general neck of the woods!

Anonymous said...

With both stop and frisk and loitering, the police are being asked to do an almost impossible task. It is not easy for the cops to distinguish between those who are up to no good and those who are simply hanging out with friends or involved in some other generally innocent activity. The cops will not be perfect. I am generally for much stronger police enforcement because safety in the hood is my main concern right now. I also completely agree that the police need to be trained to be polite and understand that stops are humiliating for those who are innocent.

That being said the quality of life issues including insane traffic on Flatbush are a major problem. Is there a way for the community to get a meeting with the DOT regarding additional traffic calming efforts. I know Tim mentioned there was some review underway but will there be a chance for community input. I think it will be especially important for the businesses along Flatbush to speak out. The safety issues are keeping potential customers off the Avenue.

Anonymous said...

I just don't know why the NYPD can't tell the difference between a guy hanging on his own building's stoop, and a known drug corner where the same guys loiter all the time. Is the NYPD moving officers all around so they don't know the areas they serve? Are they staying in the station house doing paperwork until they're sent somewhere? When a neighborhood doesn't have regular patrols, when there aren't beat cops used anymore, this is what results - not knowing anything about a neighborhood and who lives there or commits crimes there.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:56 raises a really important point.

There are known drug distribution points. It should not be confusing to figure out who is up to no good and who is not.

Something is up with policing in our area. The dealers are given a pass, the innocent are given a hassle (or they get hit by cars due to unpoliced traffic). Is NYPD in bed with the dealers? Is there any other explanation? Surely they cannot be so poor at their jobs as to not know that dealers hang out at Ray's, Little Papas, etc?