Saturday, January 21, 2006

Time For Hair-Trigger Dial Pads

I don't know what it is about January and February, but this is about the time last year when gang activity, most notably wearing colors and graffiti (see this and this and this and this), became more prevalent around the neighborhood. It looks like the same vandalism the same time this year, with the painting of several private and public markers on Garfield near 5th and 6th Avenues. I am sad but frankly not surprised that the attractive signs for the 5th Avenue Brownstones and Garfield Place were hit. I am surprised that they were not hit sooner. But for whatever reason, the winter months seem to be the time gangs vandalize the most.

"Salem Town" refers to the "Blood Set" gang occupying 6th Avenue between Garfield St. and Buchanan St. The inverted "C" with the "K" refers to "Crip Killers" (the "Crips" are the opposing gang occupying the Cheatham Place neighborhood). At Salemtown Neighbors meetings, gang detectives have told us in the past that the gangs in Salemtown should not be taken seriously in that they do not present a threat to residents. Seriously complicating that message are recent incidents involving arrests for drugs and guns and alley gunplay after which I found a semi-automatic assault weapon that had been hidden by fleeing individuals. Police assurances last year were fine as long as we only dealt with graffiti. That graffiti now grows more ominous in light of recent potentially lethal events, and it is becoming more difficult to take the detective's assurances seriously.

A local developer called me today in order to let me know that he is following up with Vice about the graffiti. That's a good start. But all of us who are concerned about safety in our neighborhood need to be ready to contact the police at even the slightest indication of suspicious behavior (non-emergency calls go to 862-8600). We should not take our security for granted. The convergence of semi-automatic gunfire and graffiti may be a signal that things are starting to heat up. If increased police patrols can ward off gang behavior, then calling them is the only way we are going to get more patrols. That's just the way that this police department operates.

As it stand now, I have asked the police for increased patrols because having found the gun, we feel less safe. All who live in Salemtown should be doing the same. Numbers matter. Moreover, I call the police each and every time I witness any person exhibiting the slightest suspicious behavior, and I ask them to send a patrol just to check things out. No harm in that. But I make a point to tell them of both the assault weapon that was fired this week and the graffiti, because both lend more urgency to our pressing need for patrols. The more calls they get, the more patrols they will send. We also need to drive the point home to the officers who attend the Salemtown Neighbors meeting on Monday night, for the sake of our own peace of mind.

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