Sept. 11, 2023 By Michael Dorgan
Mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa said that prostitution is rampant in Corona and Jackson Heights in part because, as he claimed, dirty NYPD cops are on the take and not enforcing the law.
He made the comments — without presenting evidence — at a march for safe streets and an end to prostitution in the neighborhood on Sunday, Sept. 10, where one counter-protesting woman spat in his face and threw trash at him as he walked alongside demonstrators in the pouring rain.
“The police could end this tomorrow,” a rain-soaked Sliwa said to supporters after the march concluded at Corona Plaza, a public space located at 103rd Street and Roosevelt Avenue.
“I’ll be very blunt, they’re getting paid to look the other way, this is the way prostitution operates not just here but all over the world,” Sliwa claimed, adding that he will deploy Guardian Angels to tackle the issue
Sliwa, who was wearing his famed red beret and red jacket, said there was a similar problem with prostitution in Flushing in the past and that police officers there were busted for taking bribes in order to turn a blind eye to the situation.
“There were Asian police officers on the take to allow the brothels and the massage parlors to operate and the women would stand outside — the same way they are here — and bring the men inside until they were busted,” Sliwa alleged. “Until police officers were brought up on charges nothing stopped, you must keep the pressure on.”
Sliwa did not say if he had evidence cops were on the take in Jackson Heights and Corona.
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment in response to the allegations when contacted by the Queens/Jackson Heights Post.
Sunday’s rally, which was delayed by around an hour due to a torrential downpour, was organized by a group of local residents who called for an end to illegal brothels operating in the area and for the streets to be cleaned up and made safer.
The demonstrators marched from the corner of 78th Street and 37th Avenue and along a section of Roosevelt Avenue to Corona Plaza on 103rd Street. The organizers held a similar rally in Corona last month.
The neighborhoods of Corona and Jackson Heights, particularly along Roosevelt Avenue, have become a known hot spot for illegal prostitution, with trash-filled streets and unauthorized vendors taking up sidewalk space and often blocking pedestrian crossings.
Sliwa said members of the Guardian Angels — an unarmed crime prevention group he established in 1979 — will go after the pimps who control the prostitutes and the johns who pay to have sex with them. He said they were last deployed to the area in the 1980s.
Sliwa slammed local politicians, as well as Mayor Eric Adams and Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz — with whom Sliwa was previously in a relationship, and had children — for letting conditions deteriorate in the neighborhood. Organizers of the rally said they contacted and invited all elected officials who represent the area to attend the march but none of them responded to their requests.
“Your borough president does nothing. Your DA, who happens to be the mother of my two youngest sons, does nothing,” Sliwa said. “And Eric Adams, the swagger man with no plan, said he was going to do something about it.”
Katz, and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Adams said the mayor addressed the issue over the summer and visited the area. The mayor at the time said he was putting a plan in place to tackle the issue.
Sliwa said Guardian Angels will soon be patrolling the streets of Corona and Jackson Heights to pressure pimps to stop their illicit activity.
“We’ll find out who they are, the police may not want to deal with them, but we have our own ways of dealing with sex traffickers and these monsters,” Sliwa said in a follow-up interview with the Queens/Jackson Heights Post after he spoke to the crowd.
“They don’t want to mess with the ‘ángeles guardians‘ I’ll tell you that.”
Sliwa said the johns who pay for sex workers will also be targeted by the Guardian Angels. The Guardian Angels are trained in basic martial arts, conflict resolution and communication, among other skills.
“The johns are the easiest to intimidate. They’ll come off the 7 train, we’ll take their picture, we’ll say ‘hey, you want your wife and kids to see that you’re coming into Corona to solicit for prostitution, go back to where you live, go back before we let your wife and kids know what’s going on,'” Sliwa said.
He also warned during his speech that there would be consequences if anyone retaliated against the protesters who are calling for an end to prostitution.
“They better not harm the hair on one of these women, one of these grandmothers, one of these children, or there will be a hell of a price to say,” Sliwa said to cheers from the crowd.
A hostile welcome
Earlier in the march, a rain-drenched woman was seen throwing cardboard packaging up into the air and over the crowd.
Sliwa walked over to the woman and appeared to ask her to stop before she shouted at him “Go, get out,” and spat at him twice.
She then shouted, “Get out, get out” and she spat at him for a third time after Sliwa put out his hand to calm her down.
The woman, who didn’t speak good English, then threw more cardboard trash on the ground and said to him, “Are you clean now”?
She continued to fling the trash across the sidewalk and when she was asked why she was doing so by the Queens/Jackson Heights Post she did not respond and then threw trash at this reporter. Two individuals wearing masks, who did not appear to be with the demonstrators, then blocked this reporter from following up with the woman.
‘We deserve to have clean streets’
The demonstration was organized by local residents Massiel Lugo, a mother of two, Guadalupe Aguirre, a coordinator with Casa San Judas, a local group that hosts programs for youths in the area, and Ramses Frias, who are all of Latin American descent, as were most of the marchers.
Around 60 people marched in the rally, but organizers say a lot more people would have turned out had the weather been better.
The demonstrators, which included many young children, held signs that read: “Prostitution shouldn’t be my role model,” and “We deserve to have clean streets.”
Lugo held a sign containing the names of several elected officials with remarks penned next to their names. For instance, her sign read that State Sen. Jessica Ramos wants to legalize prostitution and the sign read wrote “photo-op” next to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s name.
Ocasio Cortez, Council Member Shekar Krishnan, and Assembly Member Catalina Cruz were also named on Lugo’s poster. Of the four, only Ramos responded to a request for comment.
“Every constituent of mine certainly has a right to express their concerns,” Ramos said in a statement. “I do wish, however, that instead of inviting Curtis Sliwa and his anti-immigrant rhetoric into our community, they had attempted to actually speak with me about them.”
“Many of the organizers know how to reach me. We could have discussed the difference between decriminalization and legalization or how I, as a single mother who lives off Roosevelt with her two young children, am also concerned about the amount of survival work we are seeing on our streets,” Ramos added. “Instead, they chose to demonize our neighbors.”
Lugo said that the group did not approach Sliwa to take part in the rally; instead, the former mayoral candidate heard about the event and turned up before the march and asked organizers if he could joint them. Lugo said the group agreed and emphasized that the rally was not about immigration. The topic was not brought up by any of the marchers.
Sliwa has been involved and arrested in several protests again migrant shelters throughout the city. He told the Queens Post/Jackson Heights Post that those rallies are in opposition to illegal immigration and not legal immigration, which he said he welcomes.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Council Member Franciso Moya said he was dealing with a family emergency and could not attend. Moya attended the last rally organized by the group and has been the only representative from the area to publicly supported their goals.
The demonstrators marched east along 37th Avenue for a few blocks chanting: “What do we want? Clean streets! When do we want them? Now!” They also chanted out various slogans in Spanish.
They then turned south onto Roosevelt Avenue and marched along that street until they stopped at Corona Plaza. The aim of taking this route was to highlight the several massage parlors allegedly operating as brothels along Roosevelt Avenue and to show the sex workers standing outside. At least two police vans flanked the protesters throughout the match.
However, many of the sex workers who typically stand outside the establishments were not there and demonstrators said the prostitutes were not out soliciting sex due to the heavy rain.
Nevertheless, the demonstrators stopped at several junctions and pointed out some establishments they say are operating as brothels.
For instance, Lugo pointed out alleged brothels while stopped at the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and Whitney Avenue, and at Roosevelt Avenue and 95th Street.
“Theres at least three [brothels] on every block, on both sides as well,” Lugo said. “From 78th Street past 103rd Street.”
Pointing out an alleged brothel on the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and 95th Street, Lugo said that on one recent occasion, she and another protester witnessed around 10 men going into the establishment in the space of a few minutes.
“We are here as very concerned mothers, as residents. We want to protect our children. Our children should not be exposed to this,” Lugo said. “I lived and grew up here my whole life and was not exposed to these things. This is not fair. This does not happen to other communities.”
Along the route, piles of trash were commonplace. There were also dozens of unauthorized vendors selling food and clogging up the sidewalks.
The number of vendors operating — and people eating under gazebos — on the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and Warren Street was so vast that it was difficult to walk on the sidewalk there.
A food vendor operating under the steps to the Junction Boulevard subway station left very little room for straphangers to access the steps.
Frias likened the conditions to a third-world country and said it was unacceptable in a developed nation. He said that conditions are worse in the area when the weather is good.
“The main problems in the area are congested streets, a lot of illegal street vendors,and way too much prostitution,” Frias said. “The rally was a success. I’m sure we got our message out to a lot of people and we’re going to continue to press forward and to make sure that politicians and other residents of this area understand that we are here and that we are going to represent them and that we are going to keep pushing forward for a better community.