Photo by Joe Anuta
By Joe Anuta

A Flushing senior who has tilled the soil for years threatened to set himself on fire Tuesday to protest new regulations at the Flushing garden he used to help manage.

The NYPD’s Hostage Negotiation Team and the FDNY responded to Kissena Corridor Park Tuesday afternoon after Bayside resident San Ok Kim stood next to containers of gasoline, lighter in hand, and threatened self-immolatation in a shed at Kissena Corridor Park, according to police sources.

Two nearby schools, the East West School of International Studies and IS 237, both located at 46-21 Colden St., were placed on lockdown until Kim was subdued and taken for a psychiatric evaluation, police said. As of Thursday he had not been charged with any crime.

Before the fiery rhetoric, Kim had been on a hunger strike last week, protesting what he characterized as a city-led coup of the Flushing community garden he formerly helped run and vowing to die if control was not returned to his group.

San Ok Kim is a member of the Korean-American Senior Citizens Society of Greater New York, which has overseen operations at the public garden in Kissena Corridor Park for decades. But in March a city program took over management of the hundreds of small dirt plots, possibly in response to numerous complaints of intimidation and harassment that transpired at the site.

“I am now resorting to a hunger strike to gain the proper attention of the people of NYC government as well as the community leaders of Flushing to stop this tyranny of the government [sic],” Kim said in a statement last week.

On Tuesday, Kim claimed to have been on Day 14 of his hunger strike, though police pegged the number at 4, and was camped out in a green trailer at the entrance in hopes he could restore the senior center as the manager of the garden — or die trying.

The center previously had a contract with the city Parks Department to run the garden, according to Kim, who contends the city is currently in breach of that contract by replacing with society with its GreenThumb initiative.

Parks did not respond to questions about the contract, how the senior center used the money it charged for plots or why Kim was still camped out in the green trailer, but a spokesman did issue a statement.

“The Evergreen Community Garden was converted to a GreenThumb garden earlier this year in order to accommodate more gardeners and implement a standard set of rules,” the spokesman said. “As part of this transition, a new steering committee, comprising a wide cross-section of the garden’s membership, including members of Community Board 7 and professional Queens Botanical Garden staff, was established.”

The GreenThumb initiative provides material and programmatic support to more than 600 of gardens across the city, but Kim characterizes its management of the garden as tyrannical.

“New policies instituted by GreenThumb created an atmosphere of terror and fear in the garden,” he said in a statement, referring to the initiative’s decision to allow certain gardeners, previously banned, from returning to the fertile plots.

But other civic leaders in the area are welcoming the prospect of new management and cited a long history of complaints about the center’s governing style.

“This group is really very barbaric,” said Dorothy Woo, president of the Holly Civic Association. Woo said her office has received countless complaints over the years that some gardeners had been exporting the fruits of their labor to organic markets, something that is forbidden under the garden’s bylaws.

Woo also recalled complaints of some gardeners being denied plots, while others were intimidated and harassed.

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