Marching Against Crime in Mott Haven

By Lennin Reyes

Bronx Journal Staff Writer

The Mott Haven and Melrose sections of The Bronx are historically known for being high-crime neighborhoods. Although there has been a drop in crime between 1990 and 2010, residents fear the return of those days thanks to increase in crime. Residents in the Patterson housing projects decided to hold a March Against Crime on December 3, 2011. The march came with several surprises. At one point, the marchers met up with an Occupy the Garden protest that was rallying in support of a community garden.

Patterson Houses in Mott Haven

The Build Up

Between 1990 and 2010, residents in the Mott Haven and Melrose sections of The Bronx enjoyed a 76.1 percent decrease in overall crime in the 40th Precinct.

Between 2010 and 2011, the NYPD reported increases in every crime except robbery and grand larceny. Residents fear the return of the high-crime days of the 1970s and 1980s.

“Women have to look behind them to see who’s coming,” said Carmen Rodriguez of Mott Haven. “Kids have to stay indoors during after-school hours.”

Wallace Hassan, head of the Patterson Residents Association (PRA), says, “There are family problems within the projects. Parents want to be friends to their kids instead of being parents.”

Hassan and the PRA decided to do something about the increase in crime and other quality of life issues.

The Protest

The March Against Crime started at 2:00 p.m. at the corner of Alexander Avenue and East 138th Street, in front of the 40th Precinct. It ended at East 148th Street. and 3rd Avenue, at the start of The Hub shopping district.

Protesters, such as activist Gregory Nichols, chanted, “Stop the violence, increase the peace! Stop the violence, increase the police!”

Surprisingly, the PRA’s protesters were accompanied by those from Occupy the Garden. They happened to be at the 40th Precinct protesting the arrest of several protesters, who protested against developers bulldozing community gardens in favor of building more affordable housing.

“There’s a demand for housing,” said Mott Haven resident George Nelson. “More and more people are getting out of jail, or coming back from war.”

Activist Rafael Mutis of the Occupy the Garden group added, “The definition of affordable is different for developers, the city and the residents.”

Both groups decided to march together to fight gun violence, crime and police brutality. “We need to show solidarity,” Shellyne Rodriguez of Occupy the Garden said. “Both groups want to resolve interwoven issues, such as housing and crime.”

Brother Treach said of the PRA and Occupy The Garden merging their marches, “One hand washes the other, both hands cleanse the face. From head to toe, the entire body gets cleansed.”

The Politics

At 148th Street and 3rd Avenue, the two groups split up. While Occupy the Garden marched east to the site of the occupied garden at East 147th Street and Union Avenue, the PRA remained at the corner.

However, not everyone was on board. Activist Gregory Nichols and others felt that the march should go to the Patterson Houses on East 143rd Street and 3rd Avenue to address the residents.

The permit only allowed the group to march between East 138th and East 148th streets. Wallace Hassan and the protesters asked the officers if they were able to march to the housing projects, only on the condition of not using the bullhorn.

“There are several church groups across the street from where we are standing,” said Nichols. “I doubt they have a permit, but cops allow them to speak easily, and with several microphones! We only have one bullhorn. Cops say that if we use the bullhorn in our own projects, we would be violating the noise code.”

In the end, the protesters went to the projects without the bullhorn. They got noticed by several passersby and those playing basketball in the court on East 143rd Street.

“We don’t want to mess with the cops, we want them on our side,” said Counce Eagleton, on the politics of marching against crime.

Wallace Hassan: "I am 73 years old. I'm running on my last legs. This is in my blood. A community leader I am, a community leader I will die."

The Future

Despite the abrupt end to the protest, Wallace Hassan promised that this will not be the last time that The Bronx and New York City will hear from him and the PRA.

“We are planning to confront Commissioner Ray Kelly on the crime increases in the 40th Precinct,” Hassan said. “In May, there will be a Morality Day in observance of Mothers Day to signal people of senseless crimes and how mothers are being hurt.”

In addition, Hassan, Nichols and other protesters pledged to do another protest next month. They hope that they will be able to use the bullhorn at the Patterson and Mott Haven housing projects, so residents could hear their calls for a decrease in crime.

“I hope more residents will not only attend future protests, but also the tenant association meetings,” Hassan added.

Patterson Residents Association’s March Against Crime

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