Police Force Day Laborers Away from Queens Corner

BY DIEGO APARICIO

A Queens playground has become a battleground between day laborers who use its benches and bathroom, and a group of neighbors that want them out.

A police officer arrest a man for sitting inside Hart Playground, in Woodside, Queens, on September 2009 / Photo by Diego Aparicio

A police officer arrest a man for sitting inside Hart Playground, in Woodside, Queens, on September 2009 / Photo by Diego Aparicio

In recent weeks, police have increased their presence near the corner of 37th Avenue and 69th Street, where the playground sits and hundreds of day laborers –many undocumented workers from Latin America– congregate in search for work and food.

The animosity peaked in July, when the police arrested 10 men at once for sitting inside the park, according to Roberto Meneses, who’s been a day laborer since the 1990s.

“Not all of us are undocumented,” Meneses said. “They can’t come and take everybody and violate our rights.”

Since then, there have been at least four more rounds of similar arrests inside the park, Meneses said. In some cases, the men have been ticketed for loitering.

Juan Toro, a community affairs officer at the 108th Precinct, which polices the area, said he could not comment on how many arrests have occurred at the park or how many loitering tickets have been issued.

The police acted after a group of neighbors have complained that the laborers urinate, take showers and drink inside the playground, said Wayne Mauhlke, Senator Hiram Monserrate’s chief of staff. The size of the crowd swells each Tuesday, when a mobile food bank sets up near the park to offers free meals.

Every Tuesday, about 250 laborers congregate in this Woodside corner to get free food from a charity mobile truck. A group of neighbors want them out, while another group of neighbors believe laborers claim that harassment against laborers is racial profiling / Photo by D. Aparicio

Every Tuesday, about 250 laborers congregate in this Woodside corner to get free food from a charity mobile truck. A group of neighbors want them out, while another group of neighbors believe laborers claim that harassment against laborers is racial profiling / Photo by D. Aparicio

Among the people complaining has been the landlord of an apartment complex across from the park, in Woodside.

“When you have 300-400 guys sitting in front of your house, you can’t breathe,” said the landlord, who said his name was Nick, but would not disclose his last name. “We can’t rent apartments because women are scared, they don’t want to come to the park no more.”

On the last Tuesday in September, a group of neighbors congregated in front of the park to support day laborers.

Lucy Herschel, who has a child and lives in Jackson Heights, said rules about who can be in the park and not are arbitrarily enforced, which leads to racial profiling.

“This park is supposed to be for the community and for our children, but a lot of these guys are trying to feed their children, too, by working,” Herschel said.

The playground rules are ambiguous. A sign posted by its entrance is very specific regarding adults’ presence inside it: they must be with children.

But according to Phil Abramson, a spokesman to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, as long as adults entering alone stay away from swings, slides and equipment surrounding the playground designated area, they are not breaking rules.

There is an adult-size basketball court on the opposite side of the playground and an area in between that could fit at least 100 people.

The police have also turned to writing tickets for loitering to deter laborers from congregating in the stretch between 37th and Woodside avenues on 69th Street, said Valeria Treves, an executive director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment.

“It’s a form of harassment for the day laborers because everybody understands that they are standing there for work,” Treves said. “Once they get them day after day, they add up to amounts they can’t pay.”

Many day laborers that have received tickets for loitering often ignore them because they can’t read English, she said in an interview. One of them, Marcelino Acensio, says he has a court date in three weeks but doesn’t know what the charges are.

Added Treves: “For somebody who is low income, and right now we have very little jobs available, it’s really hard to pay those tickets; and if they are coming time after time, it becomes a form of harassment.”

A staffer for State Assemblyman Jose Peralta said his office is aware of the issue and is investigating it.

“We want to review, so we can establish and go over procedures, everybody has rights in this country,” said Yonel Letellier, chief of staff of for Peralta.

For Meneses, this and other Queens street corner have made it possible for him and his colleagues to fight poverty.

“Thanks to these corners, I have been able to give everything to my children,” Meneses said. “The problem isn’t going to go away by moving day laborers from place to place. The problem isn’t going to solve by attacking us.”

One Response to “Police Force Day Laborers Away from Queens Corner”

  1. Bodyc says:

    Greatings, Not sure that this is true:), but thanks for a post.
    Thanks

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