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Wills discusses public safety in South Jamaica

Ruben Wills (l.) and law enforcement officials listen to a resident's concerns at a town hall meeting. Photo by Rich Bockmann
TimesLedger Newspapers

The South Jamaica community feels as though it is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Residents near Sutphin Boulevard are tired of the drugs and prostitutes being peddled by their homes, but some say they are harassed by the police who are there to keep such elements away.

Some community members want stricter penalties for those who break the law, while others do not want a person’s future — especially a young person’s — to be marred by a criminal record.

City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) held a town hall meeting last week at the Harvest Church International, on the corner of 11th Avenue and Sutphin Boulevard, to discuss some of the neighborhood’s concerns and to offer up a few possible solutions.

A number of residents took the opportunity to tell the commanding officers of their precincts about their negative experiences with police officers.

One man said he works late nights and over the past two months he had been stopped more than 50 times as he left for work, and one woman described her dealings with officers as “borderline bullying.”

The week before the meeting, a young man had been gunned down just a few blocks away from the church, and as a result the area was flooded with police officers walking the streets and driving around.

Deputy Inspector Milt Marmara, commanding officer of the 113th Precinct, said that due to the increase in officers residents would be experiencing “a lot more interaction” with the police.

He said police are less likely to be disrespectful to the people they see talking face-to-face with superior officers, and he encouraged residents to come to precincts’ open roll calls, where they can meet the officers in less-hostile settings.

One woman, who wished to be identified only as Paula, said she sees the same young man dealing drugs by her home off Sutphin Boulevard, even after he has been arrested.

“This guy, he’s just out there. You can’t miss him,” she said. “Why should I even do anything about it if he’s going to come back out in a short amount of time?”

Wills said that with so much work done to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws, he was weary of legislating tougher penalties and possibly facing a crisis 20 or 35 years down the line with a large swath of the community coming out of prison and facing the challenges of re-entering society.

The councilman said he was planning to ask the houses of worship in the community to donate one day of their offerings to area nonprofits, such as the Misunderstood Youth Development Center, which helps young offenders expunge their criminal records.

To combat prostitution, he started the Light House Campaign, urging residents to keep their lights on at night. Con Edison pitched in by providing energy-saving light bulbs. He also sponsors a movie night at Frederick Judge Park, hoping filling the park at night will deter negative elements from gathering there.

“If you don’t fight for what you want in a place, what you don’t want will inhabit that place,” he said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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