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Association, Board 2 demand city enforce Washington Square Park rules ‘consistently,’ nip pot vending in bud

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Enforce the regulations already! Let’s go!

That’s the message of both the Washington Square Association and Community Board 2, who are each calling for a crackdown on illegal vending — including of weed and now mushrooms, too — in Washington Square Park, plus that something be done about the park’s entrenched hard-drugs corner, where a man was recently fatally stabbed, and skateboarding, as well.

Members of W.S.A., the city’s oldest community organization, last month went before C.B. 2, urging the board to come out strongly for enforcement of the park’s rules. To the association’s gratitude, C.B. 2 obliged, subsequently passing a resolution at its full board meeting in support of the group’s call.

Trevor Sumner, the W.S.A. president, sent The Village Sun a statement on the association’s position on the park issues. Stamping out illegal vending — including of drugs — by enforcing the rules on the books should be “a priority” for the city, according to the association.

“Like many issues, we ask for the consistent enforcement of park regulations to make the park accessible and enjoyable for all,” Sumner said. “From a vending perspective, there are clear regulations around what types of goods require a license to vend and how and where that can occur.

“We are against the unlicensed vending of cannabis, psilocybin and illicit drugs in the park,” he said. “The Office of Cannabis Management has created meaningful penalties that we believe would stop this activity. The challenge as we understand it is that the N.Y.P.D. is saying it’s our [Parks Enforcement Patrol] officers job, and our PEP officers rightfully think it’s too dangerous to enforce without the N.Y.P.D. assisting. There is a bureaucracy that we don’t understand preventing [the Parks Department] and N.Y.P.D. from working together on this, and they should partner immediately in a way that gives fair notice to the vendors to leave [the park] on their own accord. If this was a beer or liquor stand, it wouldn’t last an hour before being cracked down upon. Why do they let cannabis and mushroom products be sold without regulatory enforcement and, in some cases, within 50 feet of our children’s playgrounds? It defies common sense, and Parks, the N.Y.P.D. and the Mayor’s Office need to make this a priority.”

A park pot seller had his wares out — including “Wedding Cake” sativa weed and also, next to it, possibly unlabeled hallucinogenic mushrooms — atop his tabletop on Thurs., July 6. (Photo by The Village Sun)

W.S.A. is calling on O.C.M. and N.Y.P.D. “to act swiftly in announcing how they plan to enforce the regulations to unlicensed cannabis vendors in retail locations and in the park.

“We recommend a short notification period to all vendors that they will no longer be welcome to conduct their illegal activities, so that they can remove themselves [from the park], and we can minimize the need for follow-up enforcement or conflict.

“After the notification period,” Sumner said, “we recommend comprehensive and continuous enforcement of the new regulations with the fines and arrests that they may entail enforced to the full extent of the law.”

For the association’s full statement on pot sales in the park, click here.

As W.S.A. noted, enforcement against illegal vending in the park can indeed be dangerous. Last July, a PEP supervisor was put in the hospital by three pot vendors who beat and stomped him after he took their table. The PEP suffered a broken nose and needed stitches to close his gashed-up face.

Speaking last March, Deputy Inspector Stephen Spataro, the 6th Precinct’s then-commander, also warned that allowing a marijuana graymarket to operate in the park was asking for trouble, since large amounts of cash are involved. He noted there had been a couple of gunpoint robberies of pot peddlers in the park.

Police detectives at the scene of a fatal stabbing inside the northwest corner of Washington Square Park on Wed., June 21. Sources said the victim, a 35-year-old male, was bleeding from the neck and chest. He was taken to the Lenox Health Greenwich Village where he was declared dead. (Photo by © Jefferson Siegel)

Regarding the park’s high-profile, down-and-out northwest corner, W.S.A. decried it as “a clear danger” to parkgoers.

“The hard drug use, homelessness and mental illness that has congregated in the northwest corner of the park present a clear danger to those looking to enjoy our parks or, at a base level, feel safe walking through them,” Sumner said. “This was highlighted by the murder in that area last month. But the reality of violence and danger, including hypodermic needles on the pavement or in open use, or violent altercations, is well above any acceptable level. We have been grappling with the northwest corner of the park for decades. We believe we need a holistic approach that includes social services, increased presence, better lighting and consistent enforcement, and for this to be approached as a continuous, long-term strategy. One-off sweeps, while necessary at times, aren’t a replacement for a thoughtful, coordinated and long-term approach.”

Parks Enforcement Patrol officers walked through Washington Square Park’s northwest corner last July after a park supervisor was brutally assaulted by three pot vendors. After the violent incident, Parks beefed up the number of PEP officers in the park. (File photo by The Village Sun)

In addition to the stabbing murder, there have been a couple of other recent violent and dangerous incidents, W.S.A. noted. Less than a week after the murder, during a Pride celebration in the park, a woman who reportedly bumped into two people arguing was slashed with a knife three times by one them. And, for the second straight year, Pride participants in the park “fled in a stampede” reportedly from false reports of gunshots.

Finally, W.S.A. said it’s high time skateboarders are kicked out of the park.

“We concur with the recent C.B. 2 statement calling for consistent enforcement of the existing regulations regarding skateboarding,” the association said.

Board 2, at its recent June 22 full-board meeting, considered a resolution “Requesting Consistent and Complete Enforcement of Rules in Washington Square Park.” The Greenwich Village board nearly unanimously backed the motion by a vote of 42 to 1. The one “no” vote was cast by progressive Ryan Kessler, who ran against Deborah Glick for Assembly in June 2022.

“Washington Square Park is a vibrant and extremely well-attended park visited by crowds of both residents and visitors to our neighborhood,” the board’s resolution states. “The NYC Department of Parks and Recreation has tried to balance enforcement of citywide rules with requests from the local community to allow free expression in the park. Community members have expressed concerns about park rules and city laws being broken, even [flouted], by visitors who skateboard, ride bicycles through the park, smoke and vape (tobacco and cannabis), sell illegal drugs and openly peddle other products, sometimes setting up tables for this purpose. C.B. 2 is very concerned about the safety of park visitors who are put at risk by skateboarding activity in the park, as well as the damage [to the park] this activity is causing. C.B. 2 is aware that Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers and, when available, assigned NYC police officers do try to curb these activities but face challenges when doing so. C.B. 2 is aware that the recent, changed state cannabis laws may be contributing to a lack of clear understanding by visitors concerning sale and use of such products in Washington Square Park. Other Manhattan parks, such as Madison Square Park and Central Park, do not appear to allow or abide vending as seen in Washington Square Park.”

In Washington Square Park in early July, a vendor sold jewelry that was labeled as being handmade. (Photo by The Village Sun)

The C.B. 2 resolution concluded by calling for “stronger and more consistent enforcement” of the rules for Washington Square Park — but also development of a set of customized rules for the landmark park.

“…NYC Department of Parks and Recreation [should] work with the local police department,” the Board 2 resolution urges, “to find ways to control these disturbing and dangerous activities, including stronger and more consistent enforcement of existing park rules, while working with C.B. 2 and park users to develop approaches tailored to the special needs of the park, and…the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation [should] review its current policies and consider changes that would reduce activities that endanger the safety of visitors, particularly senior citizens, e.g., skateboarding.”

However, according to Robert Lederman, president of A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response to Illegal State Tactics), under the existing park rules, there actually should be no vending whatsoever allowed in Washington Square Park. For starters, he said, according to the current rules, no vending is allowed in the park’s entire central fountain plaza area without a permit — although this is, in fact, exactly where the vendors prominently hawk their wares under large, colorful beach umbrellas. Also, the activist noted, while all vendors are required to use tables, there is no spot within the small Greenwich Village park where a table can legally be set up, due to rules stating that tables must be a certain distance (50 feet) from the Washington Square Arch, or (5 feet) from a statue or a park bench or because the park’s paths are not wide enough. Book vending, though, is allowed and police don’t enforce the table rule for it, he said.

Lederman has fought all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend artists’ rights to vend their work in parks and on the city’s sidewalks, and he is confident he has a correct understanding of Washington Square Park’s vending regulations.

Meanwhile, Captain Jason Zeikel, the current commanding officer of the 6th Precinct, during a recent interview with The Village Sun, said he has gone through the park carefully with the Police Department’s Legal Unit to determine which vendors are legal and which are not. He stated that if pot is displayed atop tables, it will be confiscated — though added that the venders are now skirting enforcement by selling their drugs outside of the park. Zeikel maintained that selling handmade crafts, like jewelry and candles, is allowed because they’re so-called “expressive matter,” protected under the First Amendment. But Lederman disagreed, saying handmade jewelry and candles actually are not allowed under the regs because they have “functionality,” meaning they have a functional purpose.


  1. Anon Anon July 28, 2023

    This is a direct response from NYPD and Pep officers 👮🏼‍♀️ to #defundthepolice campaign. They are successfully not doing a damn thing until we beg them to come do something, increase funding and make their point. Sick politics that police have lagged on their jobs and the public suffers.

  2. Erjon Marku Erjon Marku July 25, 2023

    Life is beautiful and what you make it! Those are some of the pieces of art I sell as an expressive-matter vendor in Washington Square Park. I have followed all the rules set forth by the PEP officers and NYPD, but they still have been harrasing me daily and issued 2 summonses for a $5 price tag on my art. Goes well with my promotion of 50 push-ups per free print, 10 cents a push-up, $5 prints. I’m not selling drugs just art!

  3. C Holly C Holly July 20, 2023

    There’s a lightbulb joke here:

    How many agencies does it take to write a resolution and have another pat it on the back? Duh.

    And now you want more police involvement? Where were you for the last half decade?

    This crap has been going on in the park for years. And now suddenly folks are taking action? The increase in violence recently has shed light on these do-nothing bureaucrats and lame elected officials. It’s time to to elect people who can put forth commonsense legislation and support effective and consistent enforcement of laws. Village residents deserve far better representation and not this political posturing. People are just plain fed up. Get it done or get out.

    Bravo to the press for highlighting the crimes and people who allow it to perpetuate.

  4. Kathy Slawinski Kathy Slawinski July 18, 2023

    The police have never been shy about exerting their presence in the park before, in my experience. I have witnessed them doing their “stop and frisk” routine where Black youths had their pants pulled down in public–and have had cops intrude on my domino games (strictly legal, no betting). I even had a (female) undercover cop dive into my bag (completely illegal) because she thought I had drugs–of course I didn’t. I’m surprised they are suddenly reticent about actually enforcing the law–although maybe I shouldn’t be. They seem more interested in bullying the public than actually keeping the peace. Sad.

  5. Robert Lederman Robert Lederman July 18, 2023

    The confusion over what exactly the rules are for vending First Amendment expressive matter in NYC Parks is due 100% to the deceptive manner in which the Parks Dept altered the rules in 2010 and again in 2013. Due to the fact that artists won the right to vend in all NYC Parks without a license or permit in 2001
    the Parks Dept crafted a new set of rules intended to make a mockery of the Federal Court ruling. When artists sued over the new rules, City lawyers and Parks officials committed numerous acts of perjury, lying to the federal judge about virtually every detail of the new rules, including about the actual text, in order to win. The vast majority of potential vending spots were eliminated by the new rules requiring a 50-foot distance from any monument, 5 feet from any tree or sign and a minimum 15-foot clearance on a park sidewalk for a stand to be legal (12 feet of clearance from the edge of a 3-foot-wide stand or table). Since there are virtually no 15-foot-wide sidewalks in NYC Parks, this made legal vending almost impossible, especially in little Washington Square Park. Vending jewelry without a license or Park permit has been illegal since 2006
    Tables or stands are a requirement of all vendors and prices must be posted.
    The enforcement is done by officers with little or no knowledge of any of the rules. It’s often an arbitrary, knee-jerk reaction to complaints or media reports. That the Parks Dept does not enforce the actual rules is because, if they did, not one artist, performer or musician could legally work in WSP, which would expose the rules as being illegal and unconstitutional and would embarass the WSP Conservancy, which likes to pretend it supports free speech and artists. The solution is to revoke to 2010 Park rules, reinstate the reasonable rules that were in place before 2010 and then enforce the actual rules consistently, which would allow artist vendors and performers, but not jewelry, pot or mushroom vendors.

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