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By Josmar Trujillo
Is a block in Harlem a ticking time bomb between the NYPD and the residents who live there? After a recent incident where over 100 cops and dozens of police cruisers filled the intersection of 125th street and Lexington ave, some think that the worst is yet to come.
On the night of April 28th a fιght brοke out between two women, according to police and eyewitnesses. One of the two, a 38-year old woman named Adela Leon, allegedly stαbbed the other one in the arm, according to police. Police shortly arrived on the scene. One man who witnessed the incident, confirmed the fιght to Your Black World, but argued that the police began to get aggressive with Leon, whom he identified as “Angie”–angering onlookers.
Lik, 19, lives a few blocks away from where the incident occurred and says he and the woman are part of a group of people who hang out on that block. He says that once the police threw a handcuffed Angie against a car, a crowd of onlookers began to approach the police. “It was a group of about forty, I’d say… and they were all pιssed” he said. As police began using pepper spray and “knocking people off their feet”, police called for backup, he said– including an NYPD helicopter.
While some are calling it a “near riοt”, not much is known beyond what the NYPD has said. A YouTube video shows some of the incident after the arrest, including the sounds of bottles being thrown at cops. Another video, taken from a rooftop, shows the extent of the police presence. Longtime Harlem community activist Joseph “Jazz” Hayden says that this block of Harlem has had issues with police for a long time. “They’ve always harαssed the kids on that block”, he told YBW.
A store owner on the block who says he witnessed what happened says that police were aggressive–but that they were justified. “Those people that hang out there–they don’t do anything. They sit around and rob people”, he explained. A two block strip on Lexington avenue from 123rd to 125th street, where the incident took place, has become a place where many homeless black youth and Methadone addicts spend their days. A bus to Randall’s Island, where a homeless shelter is located, makes its last stop just around the corner. Single Room Occupancy (SRO’s) living arrangements make up a notable amount of the apartments on the strip as well.
But on the corner of 125th and Lexington there is also a busy subway station, a large chain pharmacy, a McDonald’s and large supermarket, as well. There are also luxury condos, built in the last few years, scattered throughout the neighborhood. Hayden points out what many residents have known for years: that sections of Harlem are being rapidly gentrified. But anti-police sentiment and riots aren’t perhaps new to the neighborhood. Harlem is still a fixture of the anti-police brυtality movement: the annual October 22nd National Day Against Police Brutality begins on 125th street. It has also been the scene of historic race riots in the 30’s, 40’s and 60’s.
Still, many feel that the relatively recent expansion of high end real estate into the neighborhood adds to the tension between police and some of the most vulnerable members of the community. Hayden added,”You got these fancy buildings creeping their way into the neighborhood… it makes things worse. They want us out.”
New mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on a promise to “end the Stop and Frisk era” in 2013. With that, many New Yorkers, including activists and highly visible advocates of reform, felt that the NYPD, along with its racially discriminatory policy, was on a road towards reform. But de Blasio surprised many last December when he appointed Bill Bratton, known for his zero-tolerance approach, for his second (he was commissioner during the Rudy Giuliani era in the 90’s) tenure as NYPD commissioner.
Bratton was known in Los Angeles, when he headed the LAPD, for cracking down on the homeless in Skid Row–a neighborhood with a large homeless population that was also being gentrified. Just this past winter a homeless black veteran, Jerome Murdough, died in his Riker’s cell after he was arrested for sleeping in a public housing staircase in East Harlem.
This year the NYPD, under Bratton, has increased its arrests of people for panhandling and dancing on subways even as he promised to repair the relations between communities of color and the department. But Hayden says that new police commissioner Bill Bratton’s promises of “collaborative policing” aren’t the reality for many residents.Lik suggested that race is a big part of the police brutality he says he saw that night. “It’s all about this–the color”, he said as he pointed to his skin.
The latest statistics around Stop and Frisk, the recent bell-weather issue around police-community relations, show that while the NYPD reports that the overall numbers are down, there is “almost no change in the racial breakdown of those being stopped.” Hayden believes Bratton’s rhetoric is misguided:”He says they want to form a relationship and partner with us. We have a relationship with police–they work for us.”
Meanwhile the young people who congregate on that strip of Harlem aren’t likely to be clearing that area anytime soon. The neighborhood around, however, may be. A deal to sell the large supermarket on the corner where onlookers confront police last week was signed this year. Extell properties, one of the city’s largest developers of luxury condos, bought the property for $39 Million back in April.