As police tower looms over Tompkins, petition calls for its removal

Photos by Gerard Flynn
Photos by Gerard Flynn

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON AND GERARD FLYNN | Updated Fri., July 24: On Tuesday, the police rolled one of their portable observation towers into Tompkins Square Park.

The immediate suspicion was that it was a response to the reported spike in homeless people lolling about in the park on cardboard boxes on the lawns and sleeping on benches during the daytime. According to police, the tower is there to keep watch on things like drug activity and public urination.

Over the past two weeks, Mayor de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro have all visited the East Village park after articles in the New York Post quoted residents and park workers saying that the homeless situation in Tompkins was getting out of control. One article featured a photo of a group of six homeless men sleeping on the grass. The New York Observer subsequently published an editorial, “Take Back Tompkins Square Park. And New York City.”

The Observer’s publisher, Jared Kushner, also happens to have extensive real estate holdings in the East Village.

This Wednesday afternoon, however, beneath the tower’s looming presence, things were quiet in the park. Crusty Row, where homeless “travelers” and heroin addicts have traditionally hung out — and nodded out — was empty.

The chess tables area near the park’s southwestern corner — where beer drinkers typically sit among the occasional chess players — were also more lightly populated than usual.

Asked about the observation tower, one man sitting at the chess tables, said, “I don’t think it’s appropriate.” He said he figured it was there “for drugs.”

Meanwhile, an online petition posted at Care2 petitions – “Take Down the Police Tower in Tompkins Square Park” — is calling on Mayor de Blasio to remove the observation tower from the park. There are currently nearly 300 signatures.

Also, a Facebook page called “Tompkins Square Park Campout” announced plans for a “weekend-long campout” in the park on Aug. 7-9. It’s BYOFB — Bring Your Own Fire Barrel:

“Protest the NYPD ‘sniper tower’ in Tompkins Square Park with a weekend long campout to celebrate the 27 years since the bloody NYPD riot that injured hundreds of innocent and unawares local citizens in our neighborhood,” the page read. “The arrogance of the NYPD was never greater since the recent erection of the ‘sniper’ tower outfitted with cameras and recording equipment. A clear and blatant violation of First and Fourth Amendment rights to public assembly, free speech and privacy. Bring a tent, firebarrel for warmth and noisemakers. Support the right of homeless people to enjoy a public park. It’s real estate maggots like Jared Kushner who are destroying our community. Let’s show him it won’t come easy.”

On Friday, the campout’s name was changed to Camp New York Post.