BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | The party scene in Washington Square Park is supposed to be about peace and love. But a chaotic Community Board 2 meeting Wednesday night about the park’s rules mostly saw a whole lot of anger.
The board members themselves even came under fire as an anti-cop activist, along with party promoter David Ortiz a.k.a. Shaman, both ranted at them that they do not belong in Greenwich Village.
The Village board is on record supporting the park rules, including its midnight closing time and the ban on amplified sound without a permit. Rich Caccappolo, chairperson of the board’s Parks and Waterfront Committee, reiterated that position at the meeting, saying, “The rules of the park should be enforced. We support the Parks Department effort to enforce those rules.”
The big police-led meeting on Washington Square Park one month ago at Our Lady of Pompeii Church was filled by local residents who overwhelmingly backed an even earlier curfew of 10 p.m. for the park.
Wednesday night’s meeting, though, was the complete opposite, packed by mostly young people who want as few rules as possible in the park. They included musicians, a deejay, anti-police activists and Ortiz, 28, a Queens promoter known for throwing raves in the park who vows not to stop.
Throughout the meeting there was constant shouting and interruptions from the audience.
‘Get out of our park!’
At the event’s end, Ortiz marched up to the table at which the committee members were sitting and harangued them to leave the Village, shouting, “The community board is intimidating other community… . That’s not your park, that’s our park! And we’re not leaving! You’re not stopping us. If you don’t like it, go back to Long Island! Get out of our park! This is our park, not yours. Get the hell out! … Get out of the city! We do not want you here! Understand? We don’t want any of you here! You’re disturbing our peace! … We will never leave!”
Earlier, in his remarks before the board, Ortiz said that his The We Outside Crew is a nonprofit organization.
“What we do is amplify the sound and communication of the community of the park that has been there forever,” he said. “This is a place of community, of welcoming.”
He noted he had been arrested for using amplified sound without a permit but that, three days before the meeting, the case against him had been dropped.
“You want to know why?” he asked. “Because it’s bulls—.”
Tells ‘Karens and Kevins’ to leave
Ortiz then declared that all the “Karens and Kevins” who cannot deal with rave parties in Washington Square Park should get out of town.
“If you won’t accept the fact that this community won’t leave, then you better leave,” he seethed, “because we’re not going anywhere.”
Ortiz is furious that ever since Gay Pride Weekend at the end of June, police have beefed up their presence in the park and, on most nights, are enforcing the park’s traditional midnight closing time. As a result, late-night dance parties are no longer being allowed and amplified music is being policed.
Captain Stephen Spataro, commanding officer of the Sixth Precinct, was also on hand to answer questions.
One woman, who claimed she had been arrested in the park one night when police were enforcing the curfew, complained of police brutality.
“People are getting lifelong injuries,” she said.
Captain says park safer now
But Spataro responded that people were getting injured in and around the park until cops started consistently enforcing the park’s closing time. He said that, before police ratcheted up their presence, two men were stabbed in the park and a 19-year-old New York University student was hurt so badly he had to be intubated. Since police boosted their numbers in the park, he said, there have been no serious injuries like that.
At another point, Spataro said that while everyone keeps saying the police sometimes wear “riot gear” when they enforce the closing time, they are basically wearing helmets because protesters in the park have thrown bottles at them.
“We don’t have riot gear,” he said. “It’s a helmet.”
He also said police are not ready to scale back their presence in the park or remove the barriers from around the arch, which protect it from being graffitied.
Making noise on amplified sound
The other big issue at the meeting was amplified sound. A singer sporting green hair said that using an amplifier has been “essential” for her to develop her craft.
“I would like to know why harmless amplifiers are being shut down in the park,” she said.
Spataro explained that a permit has always been required for amplified sound in the park.
Guitarist Aaron Gamman, 21, who also spoke at the police-led meeting about the park last month, reiterated his call to allow amplified music.
“It’s just someone trying to express their music, their art,” he said. “I think it would go a long, long way if the park would allow amplified music and regulate it with a decibel meter.”
One man complained that cops recently took a small amp away from Kanami Kusajima, a Japanese sumi-ink dancer who regularly performs in Washington Square.
“Yesterday, her tiny handheld amplifier was confiscated by police,” he said. “You couldn’t hear it 20 feet away. We’re talking about a tiny, shoebox-size amplifier. This blanket policy is wrong for everybody.”
However, Spataro said police must do “consistent enforcement” on amplifiers or there would be “accusations of unequal enforcement.”
“I don’t make the rules, I just enforce them,” he stated.
Too many rules
However, Jess Wachtler said human rights trump the rules.
“People should be allowed to dance, drink in the street,” she said. “Why is that not allowed here, a simple human right? N.Y.P.D., leave the park now!” she demanded.
Similarly, an older woman said it’s more important to allow music and art to flourish in the park than to protect the arch from vandalism.
“Big f—ing deal!” she scoffed of graffiti on the marble landmark. “Park culture matters.”
Bill Warren, a 6-foot-4-inch 69-year-old who used to dress up in a top hat and portray Abraham Lincoln in the park, said, “It’s not reasonable to have 200 decibels at 2 a.m. every night.”
“You don’t live in the park, sir!” Shaman shouted at him.
However, Warren retorted that he had spent “seven years in the park.” He later said he sometimes has slept in the park overnight and that he has spent much of his life living outdoors. Originally from Florida, he has lived in the city for the past seven years, currently in a hotel in Chinatown. He was toting an acoustic guitar in a case and said he preferred folk music to rap music in the park.
Nancy Pasley, one of the few local residents to turn out for the meeting, said people just need to be considerate of others.
Speaking afterward, she said, “My opinion is that Shaman and all the others want to do what they want to do and the hell with everyone else. Their behavior at the hearing is on a par with their behavior in the park.”
Accuses board members
Toward the meeting’s end, an anti-police activist who gave a fake name, Sean Combs (the given name of Diddy, the hip-hop music mogul), charged up to the committee members’ table. Pointing accusingly at Caccappolo, he shouted, “He’s the media! He’s the media!… The media controls the narrative in the city!” Caccappolo, in fact, is the chief operating officer of MailOnline (DailyMail.com), one of the world’s largest news sites.
“Combs” even snatched Caccappolo’s name sign from the table and waved it around in the air as he shouted. DailyMail.com has been covering the ongoing park scene, though apparently not always to the revelers’ and protesters’ liking.
“Why aren’t you in the Hamptons?” the anti-cop activist shouted into the C.B. 2 members’ faces. “Why aren’t you in Greenwich, Connecticut? You look like you’re going to go shopping on Madison Avenue. You are a disgrace to the community!”
Keen Berger, a veteran member of the board, looked aghast and shook her head in disbelief.
The man declared that the Village is supposed to be a place for bohemians but that none of the board members looked like one.
C.B. 2 members respond
Georgia Silvera Seamans, a member of the Parks Committee, responded to him, “I just found what you did to be very intimidating. I do not appreciate that. I found it incredibly rude and very intimidating.”
Seamans, who wore a “Bird Nerd” face mask, is the co-founder of Washington Square Park Eco Projects, which has mapped the park’s trees and surveyed its birds.
After the meeting, Mar Fitzgerald, another C.B. 2 member, told The Village Sun she felt the attacks on the board members were unfair.
“I’m late for my cocktail hour at the Carlyle, which I’m clearly dressed for,” she deadpanned, as she sported jeans and an Adidas track jacket over a T-shirt. “Combs” had also accused the board members of “looking like your almost dressed to have a drink at the bar at the Carlyle Hotel.”
“I wish it could have been more constructive,” Fitzgerald said of the meeting.
She, Seamans and Patricia Laraia, another C.B. 2 member who was at the meeting, are all women of color. Fitzgerald and Laraia co-chair the board’s new Equity Working Group, which was formed in the wake of the George Floyd protests.
“I, Patricia and Georgia are all longtime Village residents,” Fitzgerald said. “We are black women. I’ve lived on Bank St. for 50 years. I skateboarded in that park my whole life. It’s heartbreaking we can’t find consensus.”
Fitzgerald grew up and still lives in Westbeth, the affordable artists housing complex.
‘Tried to have a conversation’
Caccappolo told The Village Sun, “The idea was to hold a meeting after the one where not everybody had been able to get in. We were trying to enable a conversation between the different groups — the Parks Department, police and the outreach organizations. We had no agenda. We just wanted to gain a common understanding on moving forward. But the audience made it hard to control. We tried to give people a chance to speak.”
He declined comment on “Combs” accusing him of “being the media.”
Deejay’s spin on the park
Meanwhile, Subway DJ, reflecting afterward on the meeting, shrugged, “It was a bit of a circus. I don’t know if it will really lead to any substantial changes.”
Speaking after last month’s police meeting about the park, he had said he deejayed regularly in Washington Square and made a living from it. Now, though, with the heavy police presence there, he said he is on hiatus.
“Washington Square Park is dead right now,” he said. “July, I haven’t been there. I know what’s going to happen there. I saw a video of police taking a tiny Bluetooth speaker from a teenager. That blew my mind. Pride was amazing, but that was the last weekend before they started enforcing strictly.
“In the pandemic, I only played in parks because that’s where people could be social,” he explained. “You can’t beat Washington Square Park. I’ve only been playing there four years. But from what I hear, it’s always been number one for buskers.
“I think this is just a phase,” he offered of the current crackdown. “There are always going to be people who depend on the park for their craft, and there are always going to be drugs and homelessness there. Part of the reason tourists come to Washington Square Park is what they would call ‘chaos.’ There’s so many other places where you can enjoy peace and tranquility — I don’t totally buy that argument.”
The pandemic is not the only thing that has been driving the outdoor parties, though, according to the deejay. As recently as five years ago, he said, it was impossible to find a quality battery-operated amplifier. The bass would “just eat up power,” he explained. Deejays would have to bring generators or use car or marine batteries and an inverter. But technology has improved and now you can easily buy a battery-operated amp at Guitar Center, he said.
“It’s way more accessible than it used to be,” he said.
‘It’s a battle of ages’
Leeroy Johnson, a video journalist who was at the meeting and is frequently out covering the park scene, feels the enforcement is too strong right now.
“I think cops should leave it open a little late, like 2 o’clock [in the morning],” he said. “I think it’s a waste of taxpayer money. I think all these rich people came back from their homes and they didn’t want the noise anymore. It wasn’t like the noise was shaking windows. It’s a battle of ages. The old people want to hold on to the park. It’s a changing of the guard. You’ve got younger people that want to use the park.”
But Mark, who has lived near Washington Square for 11 years, sees it as more intense than that. He declined to give his last name.
“They’re very serious,” he said of the protesters. “This is political. They’re making it a political issue. The community itself is pretty complacent, pretty laid-back. This is ideologically driven. They want to undermine. They want to win. They’re being destructive.”