As a parent, how do you know when your child is in serious danger? Lifetime Lower East Side resident Maizie Torres is not the first mom to wrestle with that question. But she is not about to dismiss the violent threats being directed at her 15 year-old daughter as "kids being kids."
The trouble started four days ago, when her daughter's boyfriend was attacked outside a grocery store on East 5th Street. A group of kids wielding metal pipes struck him on the side of the head. Soon afterwards, Maizie's 19-year old son began receiving threatening AOL instant messages, apparently from one of the teens who participated in the attack. When he blocked the sender's messages, the tormentor turned his attention to Mazie's daughter. He threatened to sexually violate the girl, stab her and hurt her friends and family.
Maizie – an organizer of "Mothers & Fathers in Arms," a new anti-youth violence group – was determined to get help. She took her daughter to the 9th Precinct to file a report, but they were told the complaint would "sit in a basket" because the suspect's identity is unknown. Then a couple of hours later, the threats intensified, the AIM messenger saying, "I'm watching you, I see you outside." Maizie returned to the 9th Precinct with her daughter, and this time, they were permitted to file a report, but an officer said no action would be taken unless the suspect reveals himself.
Maizie says her daughter's a good kid, a straight A student who just wants to get into a quality college. She kept her out of school today- and went to talk to the assistant principal of her school. She has no idea who's sending the threats, but according to her daughter's boyfriend they identified themselves as members of a gang with ties to the Alfred E. Smith housing projects. In recent months, Maizie told me, teens from the Smith houses have come up above Houston Street, threatening kids in and around Tompkins Square Park.
Maizie says, given the increasing concerns about violence in the neighborhood, she's going to do whatever is necessary to protect her daughter: "Everybody says it's just a bunch of kids but to me it's not, because
these young kids are actually out here killing each other, shooting
each other, stabbing each other – so I need to take it seriously."
Maizie doesn't think the neighborhood has necessarily become more violent. What's changed, she says, is that moms like her have had enough. "We knew that it was going on," she says, "but we didn't feel like we needed to get
involved… I believe I was one of those. It didn't personally affect
me so why should I get involved. But you know, we've got to because we're
talking about our community. We need to be involved. We are raising our children in this community. They need to be safer.
It's really unfair that you have to be afraid to send your kid to
school because somebody is threatening them."