Though it hasn’t garnered nearly as much attention as the occupation of Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, which was widely recognized as the genesis of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that exploded in the years after the financial crisis, the occupation of Washington Square Park has shown no signs of slowing down, even with the Big Apple’s crowded mayoral primary just one day away.
Some have even likened the park to a “no go zone”, a reference to areas (typically outside the US) where high rates of violent crime prompt outsiders to avoid the area.
Late last week, the NYT published a lengthy piece chronicling the situation at WSP, which has long had a reputation as a haven for the homeless and for drug dealers. Since the city imposed a curfew a few weeks back, the park has become a rallying point for activists and partygoers alike who are trying to make a point about reclaiming public space. The bougie residents who live in the area surrounding the park told the NYT that the situation “felt like war”.
After the NYPD first clashed with revelers in the park on June 5, the city ordered the police to stand down, prompting homeowners and renters who live near the park to brace for “a summer of chaos and sleepless nights.”
Edith Molina, 19, came down from the Bronx. “This is the park you come to chill out,” she said. “In the Bronx, you have gang violence, and police run you out of parks. Here, police don’t do anything.”
On recent weeks, the NYT reported that the number of visitors in the park sometimes balloons to more than 1K people, packed into a 9.74-acre piece of land in the heart of Greenwich Village. With the homeless and the crowd of young revelers has come drug dealers, who have created an influx of crack and heroin dealing in the park. The Daily Mail added, in a story published Sunday night, that residents have also complained about “prostitution and public sexual acts” being carried out in the park.
Speaking on Monday, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said he believes the situation will resolve itself “naturally”.
The park is subject to a midnight curfew, but the NYPD has taken a lax approach in recent weeks to enforcing the midnight curfew, allowing revelers to party on long into the night.
While the noise has drawn most of the complaints from residents, many have also complained to police about the surge in police. Last Saturday alone, two people were stabbed, a man was beaten and mugged of his phone and a 77-year-old cook at a nearby diner was attacked after a young man drawn to the area by the park threw a tantrum after being refused access to the diner’s bathroom. A handful of overdoses have also been reported in the park seemingly every day.
Violent crime has been climbing across the Big Apple since the start of the pandemic. Felony assaults are up 8% for the first six months of 2021 vs. the same period last year, while rapes are up by 3%. Shootings in the Big Apple have increased by 64% year-on-year, while murders are up 13%.
While many of the residents who live nearby see themselves as liberals, many fear speaking out because they worry about being labeled a “NIMBY” – an acronym for “not in my backyard”. The phrase is a reference to supposedly “liberal” individuals who oppose development like multi-family housing, rehab facilities and halfway houses in their neighborhoods. Still, a growing number say they’re in favor of more aggressive police tactics as violence in the park has escalated.
Carmen Gonzalez, a dog photographer in the neighborhood, said: “Once the sun comes down, the park changes drastically. It’s time to draw the line.” Others articulated similar complaints.
Christa Shaub, who has lived in the area for 15 years, and Amy Heinemams, who has lived in there for six years, said the partying in the park is nothing new especially during the summer months, but ‘it’s exaggerated post-pandemic.’
‘This is an open park, but you need to have respect for people,’ Shaub said. ‘There needs to be regulations.’
The mostly young tourists who complain the loudest about the park being “public space” apparently haven’t put much thought into the fact that some people are now too afraid to use the space.