Quantcast

Reform of 7th Community Council is long overdue

Last Saturday night, there was a big fight involving Hell Square bargoers at Stanton and Ludlow Sts. One man had already been whisked away in an ambulance when this bloody pair were photographed waiting to get medical attention.
Last Saturday night, there was a big fight involving Hell Square bargoers at Stanton and Ludlow Sts. One man had already been whisked away in an ambulance when this bloody pair were photographed waiting to get medical attention.
While all the police were dealing with the noise and commotion down the block, this guy was urinating in plain view on Stanton St. between Ludlow and Essex Sts.    Photos by Clayton Patterson
While all the police were dealing with the noise and commotion down the block, this guy was urinating in plain view on Stanton St. between Ludlow and Essex Sts. Photos by Clayton Patterson

BY CLAYTON PATTERSON  |  clash between two leaders has erupted on the Lower East Side. On one side is Don West, the longtime president of the Seventh Precinct Community Council. On the other is Diem Boyd, the head of the LES Dwellers, a new group only a few years old, who is a single mother with a preteen daughter.

The block Boyd lives on already had several liquor licenses on it when the empty building next to her was about to be turned into a three-story bar/restaurant and club, sparking her activism. 

As described on the LES Dwellers Web site, the area they call Hell Square is a small, four-block-by-five-block area between Norfolk and Allen Sts. and Houston and Delancey Sts. Hell Square has the largest concentration of liquor licenses in all of Community Board 3.

According to Boyd, there are 171 liquor licenses in Hell Square.

After the May 20 Seventh Precinct Community Council meeting, at which the public session was abruptly canceled, the LES Dwellers put out a press release calling for the council’s disbandment.

The release was headlined: “Lower East Side Community calls for Dissolving Fraudulent 7th Precinct Community Council; Calls for 26-Year Council Leader Don West To Resign.”

“His undemocratic action silenced the nearly 30 voices of residents and local business owners who came to address community concerns and safety,” the LES Dwellers charged.

“For the last fifteen years under Mr. West’s leadership, the 7th Precinct Community Council has long been dominated by bar and nightlife operators with very few residents participating,” the Dwellers further accused.

I live in Hell Square. I and a sizable majority of local residents understand Boyd’s complaints.  The root of the problem is the oversaturation of liquor licenses, which has turned our area into an alcohol theme park. Imagine SantaCon every weekend.

What I do not understand is the position of Don West, who does not even live in Hell Square. Why would the head of the Seventh Precinct “Community” Council want so many liquor licenses in this one area? And as the president of the community council, I thought he was supposed to be concerned with the cops’ safety and the connection of police to the residents of the community they serve.

First, there is the noise, the vomit, the urine, the petty crime associated with this blitz of bars.  Then consider the various kinds of predators who are attracted to the hundreds of barely legal drunks.

On the police side, the Hell Square nightshift has to be a nightmare dealing with the problems caused by the, mostly, privileged, drunken youths. The fights, the antisocial behavior, the anti-authoritarian bravado, the vomit. Then how many times have we heard statements like, “My father will destroy you,” “Do you know who I am?” and so on. 

Whose side is West on? The LES Dwellers’ mistake was believing that the Seventh Precinct Community Council was the right place to go looking for ways to deal with the Hell Square nightmare.

The Seventh Precinct Community Council’s anti-democratic brushoff of the Dwellers is very similar to the treatment that the late Marcia Lemmon, Elsa Rensaa and I got in the late 1990s, the only difference being that we were summarily banned from attending further meetings.

Lemmon was a Community Board 3 member, a vice president on the community council and lived in Hell Square. She had physical disabilities. She began to grow concerned at the growing number of liquor licenses in our area and all the new problems associated with them. She asked us to come to the police meetings to observe and document what was going on.

With the rise in problems associated with all the liquor licenses, she was somewhat baffled why President West — again, who did not live in the area — was seemingly so pro-liquor license. Why were her questions about the neighborhood’s diminishing quality of life being blown off?

She wanted a record of the meetings and, because the Seventh Precinct Community Council is a nonprofit organization, she wanted to see the books. Videotaping the meetings and  pushing to see the books led to all of us being banned. I’ve never been back and I see no reason to go back. 

Not long after we got the old heave-ho, on my block, across the street from an elementary school, and right next door to a fully licensed club, we ended up with an illegal strip club, an illegal bottle club, group street brawls, shootings, stabbings, drunks and so on.

Another point I found curious is that Community Council President West, who is a civilian and not a New York Police Department employee, had the use of a police parking permit, which he would throw on the dash of his car window, then park in a no-parking zone and go into a Hell Square bar for a drink. This abuse of his power was reported in The Villager.

Another bizarre question is why would the Seventh Precinct Community Council have two — not one, but two — National Nights Out at the corner of Ludlow and Stanton Sts.? O.K., it is in the immediate vicinity of the bar that West frequented, but there are very few kids in this area. The few families with kids in that area tend not to let them hang out on the street, and very few kids showed up at  either National Night Out.

If the intention of these National Night Out events was to reach as large a community audience as possible, then both were total failures.  The public-housing projects are where the larger mass of people reside.

The New York City Housing Authority developments have crime, and a National Night Out there can symbolize a police interest in the area. Meanwhile, most of the crime in Hell Square is connected with the bars — which is what the LES Dwellers had come to the community council to address, yet were never given a chance to speak.

Back to the question: Why are the Seventh Precinct Community Council and President West so in favor of liquor licenses in Hell Square? It makes no sense to me.

More from around NYC