A community forum convened Sunday to discuss responses to last month’s assault of a 9-year-old girl in Seward Park Library drew together local elected officials and community leaders from diverse organizations, eliciting promises to work together to fight crime and producing a pledge from a library official that security cameras will be installed there.
Angela Montefinise, the public relations manager for the library system, told the group assembled at The Educational Alliance building on East Broadway that there is a plan to add cameras at the library, which has only one security guard.
“It’s going to happen,” said Montefinise, who took some heat at the forum from one Seward Park co-op parent who openly criticized what she perceived as a lack of action from officials in the wake of the May 6 incident.
In a follow-up interview by e-mail Monday, Montefinise provided some details of the plan. The cameras will be installed in the common areas by the fall, she said, after the library system’s security office evaluates the space and determines how many cameras are needed and where they should be located.
In the 17 New York Public Library branches that already have cameras, there are between six and 12 in each, Montefinise said. The cameras cost between $60,000 and $80,000 per branch, plus upkeep. For the Seward Park Library, the money would come from existing capital funds, and securing approval to transfer money and spend it will take a few months, she said.
In the wake of the May 6 incident, several community groups have offered to donate or help raise money to cover the expense of the new cameras; Montefinise said Monday the library system’s development office would have to review procedures for that.
Meanwhile, the NYPD had no updates to report on its investigation of the assault, in which a Chinese girl told police that a stranger approached her in the children’s section, where she had become separated briefly from her family. The man, described as a white male in his 40s, spoke to the girl and groped her before she was able to escape. Don West, the president of the 7th Precinct Community Council, told the crowd that the police “have been doing line-ups” but have not identified a suspect. A police officer identified as a community affairs liaison spoke briefly to the crowd, offering pamphlets outlining personal safety tips in multiple languages. He declined to be interviewed.
The event, which drew support from more than 30 community organizations, was praised by participants for crossing cultural boundaries.
State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, City Councilmember Margaret Chin, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez were among the dignitaries who joined the discussion, which followed another neighborhood event across the street, the official grand opening of the Hester Street Fair.
“This is a constant day of contrasts–a celebration of the wonderful things that are happening in our community, and a chance to discuss challenges like this one,” said Squadron, noting that in addition to the fair event, many of the same leaders also had spent that morning discussing ongoing efforts to help the residents displaced by the Grand Street fire that destroyed three Chinatown apartment buildings in April.
Looking around the room at leaders of a local synagogue, the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, the Seward Park co-op and other community organizations, and recalling this spring’s spate of assaults on elderly Asian women in the Lower East Side, Chin stressed the need for bridging cultural divides.
“Neighbor needs to help neighbor,” she said. “When someone sees something, they need to say something, even if they don’t speak English.”
Along with other panelists, Chin lamented proposed cuts to the city budget that she says will close fire houses, senior centers and carry many other negative impacts for LES residents. She encouraged audience members to get involved in the city’s budget process, which includes a public hearing at 2 p.m. today.
The forum was co-sponsored by the Seward Park Co-op, the 7th Precinct Community Council and The Lo-Down. Organizer Julie Huang called the forum “a starting discussion.”
“To have this group here talking about this is great; it’s not a thing people like to talk about,” she said.
A full list of participants is posted on The Lo-Down’s Facebook page here.
Numerous video clips from Sunday’s event have been posted on YouTube.