May 27, 2016 By Michael Florio
A shaken community gathered Thursday night to discuss a recent spate of gang activity in the area and how to stem the violence.
More than 100 residents attended the town hall meeting put together by State Sen. Jose Peralta and Council Member Daniel Dromm at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights.
The town hall was organized following an attack on May 9 at Travers Park.
A group of kids were playing basketball in the park and approached one man, questioning him about what gang he is in, Captain Nicola Ventre, Executive Officer in the 115 Precinct, told town hall attendees. That individual left the park and shortly returned with a group of men, who attacked the basketball players.
The suspects were armed with chains, bottles and a knife. One of the kids playing basketball was stabbed, according to Ventre.
“The kid who was stabbed is not a gang member, but unfortunately he associates with gang members,” Ventre said.
Police have interrogated suspects in the incident but an investigation is ongoing.
Peralta stated that this incident hit close to home, as his son often plays basketball at Travers Park.
“We have to ensure that this does not become the norm,” he said.
“We have to say no to gangs,” Dromm said. “We do not want to be run out of our community.”
Residents in attendance emphasized the need to patrol parks, particularly Travers, at night. One resident suggested funding increased lighting in the park and to lock the gates every night. Peralta said they will certainly consider this option.
Ventre added that the precinct is aware of the issues that occur at the park overnight. He said the precinct increases its patrols around the park from about 6 p.m. through the overnight hours. There is an increase in both patrol cars and plain-clothes officers, according to Ventre.
Ventre also spoke about two different kinds of gangs in the neighborhood.
There are small groups who just want their own section of the neighborhood, or “turf,” he said. Then there are gangs that are well known throughout the city and country, which he described as more problematic. While they are not into major drug trade, they do sell drugs on the street, as well as committing robberies, breaking into cars and graffiti.
Ventre also told residents to be on the lookout for graffiti, which gangs often use to mark their territory. Residents should call the precinct when they see graffiti that they believe to be gang-related.
Parents were also urged to keep an eye out for specific signs, such as their child wearing the same color every day, and to keep a close eye on children’s notebooks and book bags.
Kids are being introduced to gangs as early as third or forth grade, according to Jay Findling of the Department of Education Gang Prevention and Intervention Unit.
At that age they steal candy, before moving up to video games, cell phones and eventually onto serious crimes. In some gangs, a member’s child is born into the gang.
“They grow up under the influence of gangs,” Findling said.
Ventre added that there are two types of gang members: the younger members who are manipulated into the gang, and the older members who do the manipulation.
Peralta and Dromm both emphasized the need for more afterschool programs and a recreational space.
They have been in talks with the Boys and Girls club to open a center in the neighborhood, they said. However, they have had issues finding a space that is big enough. They are also considering having the organization host events at numerous locations in the neighborhood, such as community schools.
“Kids need a safe place to go during the evening,” Peralta said.