Nyack, May 7th — Bad things can bring good people together, demonstrated by the 100+ people who turned out for Wednesday’s community forum at the Nyack Center to talk about gang violence and youth issues.
It’s clear that the causes behind what happened in the park at Cedar Hill Avenue and Franklin Street on April 16th aren’t confined to the Village. What isn’t as clear is whether or not gangs were involved.
Opening remarks by Nyack Mayor John Shields, Orangetown Supervisor Thom Kleiner, Police Chief Kevin Nulty and South Nyack-Grandview Police Chief Robert Van Cura included remarks about gangs in Rockland county. Citing Haverstraw and Spring Valley as examples, Shields said “It’s a county wide issue. Nyack can’t address this all by ourselves.”
However, several Nyack residents vehemently rejected the April 16 event as gang-related. “We don’t have any gangs in Nyack,” said Nyack resident Mary Johnson. “That was just a small incident. We don’t have murder and crime like Spring Valley.” Johnny Daniels, a teenager living in Nyack Plaza echoed that sentiment. “I don’t see any gangs. I do see people hanging out. If we were white, people wouldn’t say this was about gangs — they would say it was just a little trouble.” Nyack resident Joanne Humphries-Saunders added, “Every kid of color is not a gang member.”
“We shouldn’t make statements about people if we don’t have all of the facts,” said Dr. Valencia Douglas, Nyack Public Schools superintendent. Douglas explained the school’s code of conduct and new security measures recently added by the district. Additionally, she said the schools need to balance enforcing the rules without driving teenagers away. “I refuse to come down so hard on the students and make them believe we don’t love them,” she said. “It is critical when students make mistakes they have a chance to correct them and come back into our schools.”
More than 40 citizens, politicians, outreach groups and government officials addressed the attendees for 2 1/2 hours.
One contradiction emerged early in the evening. Law enforcement is sure that are gangs in Rockland County. However, it was also clear that many of the speakers were incensed by the use of the word “gangs” because it carries connotations that most of the people in the room didn’t understand.
Regardless of whether or not gangs were involved there was Trouble In Rivertown City on April 16. Here are some of the suggestions and observations offered by the speakers:
- It will take more than a Village. “The government piece is important for funding, but it needs to be a collaborative effort involving Orangetown, the school district, religious groups, law enforcement and familes,” said Thom Kleiner, Orangetown supervisior. “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste — this is an opportunity to come together for solutions.”
- Kids are both the problem and the solution:
- “We do have gangs, but it’s not out of control,” said Salahudin Rahim, a paralegal who lives in Nyack and spent time in gangs as a teenager. “What we had last week was a prelude to what might happen this summer if it isn’t addressed.”
- Nyack resident Tiger Jones says the community needs to do a better job listening to teens in trouble. “We aren’t asking these little dudes what the problem is.” He added, “as far as our boys, there is alot of disrespect” for adults and authority which adds to the problem. “Nyack Plaza youth are disrespectful,” adds Salahudin Rahim.
- Law enforcement responded quickly to break up the April 16 “mini-riot” and subsequently coordinated successful followup efforts with the schools and other groups. “Alot of people, only blocks away, weren’t aware of this incident,” said Nulty adding that there wasn’t any looting or fires typically associated with a riot. However, law enforcement officials were caught off-guard at this meeting about how charged the word “gang” sounded to Nyack’s minority residents.Tiger Jones suggested that police need to improve their relationship with the community. “When there is a police presence, we just get aggravated,” he says. “But if the police will be in the community helping us, there won’t be [any] problems.”
- Kids need more to do. “This is about economics. They feel as if they don’t have things to do” said Robert Van Cura, the police chief for South Nyack-Grandview . Dennis Fleming, executive director of the Rockland County Youth Bureau suggested jobs as one answer: his group runs a youth employment program which offers a 50 percent match for employers willing to hiring young people.
- Fleming and Kim Cross, Executive Director of The Nyack Center noted the volunteers are needed and mentors are an important part of any solution to teens in trouble. “We aren’t going to get all of the money we need, so we need volunteers,” said Fleming.
Humphries-Saunders offered a good summary with which most speakers would have agreed. “We need to take control of this situation. We need to be sincere. Nyack needs help.”
Also see: Journal News, May 8