Police snub Jackson Heights day laborers

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State Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Corona) said as many as 10 of the day laborers who wait for work along Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights receive tickets every week for infractions ranging from obstructing the pedestrian way to disorderly conduct. Peralta also said the workers are often taken in for line-ups without their consent.

Oscar Paredes, executive director of the Latin American Workers Project, which represents the interests of many of the day laborers in Jackson Heights, said the fines per incident can range from $50 to $500 or more.

Peralta and organizers from the Latin American Workers Project called for the meeting to give police an opportunity to talk with the mostly immigrant workers and explain what laws if any they were violating.

Capt. Matthew Whelan, commander of the 108th Precinct, arrived at the meeting at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, along with community affairs officers from the 115th, but refused to enter when he realized that the press was present, Peralta said.

"What is there to hide?" Peralta asked. "You're going to be discussing rules and regulations."

Peralta said Whelan agreed to come inside if the media left.

Organizers, however, decided to continue the meeting with the press still there and some 25 people in the audience. Several workers displayed tickets they had received and described being transported to police stations where they were kept sometimes for hours without charges being filed.

Whelan did not return phone calls requesting comment, although a police spokesman said there is no citywide policy that would have prevented him from addressing the gathering.

"There's not a blanket policy on that," the spokesman said, although he speculated that Whelan may have expected a private forum.

On any given day, more than 1,500 day laborers congregate along a heavily trafficked stretch of Roosevelt Avenue near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway waiting for contractors who hire them by the hour or day for odd jobs and construction work, Paredes said.

In recent months, the workers have become the object of what Peralta and organizers said is overzealous and targeted enforcement from the police.

Romueldo, a day laborer who gave only his last name while addressing the meeting, said he and five others were approached by two white men in a red truck at the intersection of 72nd Street and Roosevelt Avenue in August 2003. The truck's occupants, whom Romueldo said turned out to be police, offered several of the laborers work but instead took them to the precinct were they spent more than an hour, he said. They were photographed and later released with $10 each, Romueldo said.

"They tricked us into going to the precinct," Romueldo said in Spanish.

Another worker showed a March 18 ticket issued at 71st Street and Roosevelt Avenue by officers from the 108th precinct.

The tickets, Peralta said, come almost exclusively from the 108th Precinct even though they are often issued within the confines of the 115th Precinct, which he said begins on the east side of 69th Street.

A police spokesman said no rule prohibits officers from issuing summonses in another precinct.

During conversations aimed at instituting a ticketing moratorium until police could meet with day laborers, Peralta said Whelan told him the tickets were being issued in response to neighbors' and businesses' complaints.

But Peralta disagreed, saying there are few businesses or homes in the area around Roosevelt Avenue and 70th Street where workers most often congregate.

Peralta said he and his staff would continue to press the issue, directly with police headquarters in Manhattan if necessary.

Addressing the laborers in Spanish, Peralta warned that police might retaliate after the meeting by issuing more summonses, but he promised to stick by them.

"Tomorrow the battle begins," Peralta said in Spanish.

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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