Greenwich Village On Halloween Night – Policing Run Amok? Washington Square Park Closed; Access to Parade Limited; Streets Dangerously Barricaded

Washington Square Park Gated and Locked Halloween 2011

Police Barricading the Arch Around 6 p.m.

Joe Mangrum Halloween Sand Painting before Park shut down

Empty Pathways Washington Sq Park

Eastern Entrance to Park Closed

NYPD shutting South entrance to Park

Lonely Arch

Updated — So… the famous Greenwich Village Halloween Parade occurred last night – hard to miss as it’s an institution at this point, no longer on the fringe but part of the mainstream, and now in its 39th year.

Of course, one of the best places to get the true Greenwich Village flavor before, during and after the parade would be … the famous Village park that resides a mere block away. And yet… Washington Square Park – the entire public space – was gated, cleared out, locked, and closed as of 6:30 p.m. yesterday. This is only in more recent years under the Bloomberg Administration*. Not even Mayor Rudy Giuliani closed the Park for Halloween. The Bloomberg Administration is the first to do so, as part of its ongoing encroachment on the accessibility and use of public space.

As I left shortly after the park was closed off and walked around the perimeter, a young man asked a police officer inside, “Is the park closed?” She responded, “Yes, temporarily.” He asked, “‘Til when?” She said, “I don’t know.” She paused. “Until they tell us.”

Venturing up to Sixth Avenue, I found a spot with a friend along the parade route between West 8th and Waverly on the eastern side. We decided to seek out a spot with better sight lines thinking heading north might be better.

As we ventured a few steps north, we could not get very far. 8th Street was closed off and barricaded – you could not cross it but you also could not turn east onto it except via a narrow, barricaded passageway along the sidewalk right up against Barnes & Noble. There was a packed crowd there all trying to get somewhere with little space to navigate within. The crush of the crowd – fortunately very good-natured but growing restless and angry at being caged in – was intense. Despite having created this dangerous situation where the teeming crowd was all forced into this small space via excessive barricading, there were no police to be seen at that location.

A man standing against the wall at Barnes & Noble said if we could get 1/4 of the way down the block, the barricading ended and we could walk freely. That is exactly what happened. Except, next, they started blocking off all of 8th Street. I said to a police officer, “Why are you closing the street? This is crazy.” He shrugged, “Do I look like I’m in charge here?”

We then got to Fifth Avenue where the overflow crowds from this untenable scenario had all headed. Every block between 5th and 6th Avenues was closed off and we were all directed to 14th Street. Except when we got to 14th Street, that too was closed off, and, over a bullhorn, a police officer announced, “Attention: Access to the Parade Route is Closed. You’re Late. The Parade Is Over.” (It wasn’t.) We then ventured to 17th (or 18th?) 19th Street and were finally able to head west to 6th Avenue except the parade ended a block further south so nothing was visible.

Now, this might sound like NYPD crowd control – as in a way to make things “ordered” – but it was not. It is creating a potentially pernicious situation. I kept saying, “This isn’t safe.” My friend shook his head and said to me, “This isn’t about safety. It’s about their control. The higher ups use these parades to practice their logistical command.” Then, it seems to me that it’s control at the expense of safety. We are just lucky there wasn’t an incident of some kind because their “system” of barricades and blocked off streets is not set up to accommodate it. Someone I know who was there agreed, stating: “I felt the same way. They trapped people in.”

People are cooperative and yet the city does everything to assume the worst of everyone and in the process makes the parade, while still fun and with great energy, a negative and potentially harmful experience – because of the City’s actions.

The media are given up close access, as are the politicians, so no one is reporting on this. It’s possible even the event organizers are not aware of the extent to which the NYPD is harming their parade and the experience of it. If I had stayed in my relatively cozy spot on Sixth Avenue off Waverly, I might not have realized the scope of this NYPD insanity.

There needs to be a hard look at how this parade, a Village tradition, is now being managed by the Bloomberg Administration and the NYPD.

As far as the park being closed, people ought to have access to this public space. If it’s public safety that the city is worried about, stop blocking off virtually every single street along the route with barricades and sending people on elaborate ruses and corralling them into narrow passageways. People want to have fun and be playful on Halloween – assuming the worst of them is just so wrong and so Bloomberg.

Bottom line: Washington Square Park should be open on Halloween night.

*Someone called the Bloomberg Administration “the control freak administration” in a comment at the Villager piece on no musical performances near the park’s fountain, benches. Couldn’t agree more.

Two Recent Attacks At Washington Square

I noted last week how empty Washington Square Park was as I walked there but at no time did I feel nervous walking through. Yet, A Walk In the Park Blog reports that two people (one a Parks Department employee) have been attacked in the last month in Washington Square, one attack occurred last week.

On February 10th, a Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officer patrolling the park was assaulted, and, a few weeks prior, a tourist was apparently attacked in the men’s room. People leaving comments at A Walk in the Park Blog have stated how “dangerous” they believe Washington Square Park is and suggested that the New York City Parks Department is keeping these incidents quiet.

With redesigned Phase I in place and the other three Quadrants of the Park closed for Phase II (and now, also Phase III) reconstruction, IS Washington Square Park dangerous now?

From A Walk In the Park Blog:

New details have emerged in the attack of a female Park Enforcement Officer (PEP) in Washington Square Park on Thursday, February 10th. PEP Officer Brooks was attacked by a homeless male described as an emotionally disturbed person (EDP) at approximately 11:30am.

The officer, working solo, was sitting in a vehicle when she was approached by multiple park patrons complaining of man harassing people in the park, according to city sources.

The man was reportedly going up to people making gestures like he was going to hit them. One patron said “Hey this guy is going to hurt somebody, you have to say something to this guy. “

The piece continues, reporting that the officer, a female, told the man to stop; he approached her and was “irate.” The officer called for back-up which did not arrive in time to assist her. No one from the public intervened. After some words, the man kicked her in the stomach and then fled the park.

In addition, A Walk in the Park writes of the other attack at the park:

This incident follows a vicious assault on a tourist by an EDP in the men’s bathroom a few weeks earlier in the park. The tourist, believed to be French, was punched in the face and left bloodied, and knocked out on the floor. The assailant is reportedly a park regular. No arrests have been made in that incident either. – Geoffrey Croft

This brings up a lot of questions: Are these isolated incidents? Is having 3/4 of the park closed at one time leading to a more insecure and vulnerable situation there? Has the climate of “safety” in the city changed in general? Are other parks experiencing this?