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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.