Parents Want Safety Improvements at East Harlem Mall
HARLEM — A group of Harlem parents is joining the growing chorus of voices looking for changes to security and the design of barriers at an East Harlem mall where two 12-year-old boys pushed a shopping cart off a foot bridge, critically injuring an Upper West Side woman.
Real estate broker Marion Hedges, 47, was hit with the shopping cart on Oct. 30 while at the East River Plaza mall with her 14-year-old son. Two boys from East Harlem have been charged as juveniles in the incident and are being held in the custody of the Administration for Children's Services.
In the wake of the incident, neighborhood parents have begun a petition for increased security and higher barriers at the mall.
"I've seen kids horsing around and the barriers are very low so anything could happen," said Moikgantsi Kgama, who lives in Harlem with her husband and has a 1-year-old son, about why she is spearheading the petition drive.
Security at the mall was increased after the incident with guards being placed on all of the mall's foot bridges. East Harlem City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito said that there was a security "lapse" at the mall that allowed the incident to occur.
Lawyers for the boys have said they did not intentionally hit anyone.
Hedges' family says she has months of rehabilitation ahead of her before she recovers.
The wife of a doctor who revived Hedges said a Costo employee at the scene was upset because she claimed her earlier complaint about the boys allegedly throwing Slurpees off the bridge was ignored by security officials at Target. Target is on the fourth level of the mall, where the boys allegedly were, while Costco was on the ground floor, where Hedges was standing when she was struck.
Target has declined to respond to the allegation and representatives for Blumenfeld Development, which manages the mall, said they have no knowledge of a complaint.
Mark-Viverito said she is working with Bronx City Councilman James Vacca, chairman of the Transportation Committee, to close a loophole that would have required the foot bridge to have 8-foot-high fences as are required on property owned by the city, but not for private developers.
Kgama is using the parenting website Harlem4Kids to organize the petition. She said she wants to present it to area politicians as well as mall management. Kgama received an overwhelmingly positive response from parents on the site when she proposed the petition.
One parent on the site talked about how their daughter started to climb the rail outside the Target the day Hedges was struck with the cart and how easy it would have been for her to fall over.
Kgama said the design, location and policing of the mall are the major issues.
"This mall is in the middle of a neighborhood, but it is not constructed for safety," she said. "Any time you have a big space like this there is a chance for kids to do mischief."
Among the changes Kgama said parents are asking for is increased security patrols. They also want higher barriers to prevent kids from climbing over or throwing items to lower levels.
"There is a place for the role of parents in this discussion, but the mall has a responsibility to try and foresee these types of issues," said Kgama.
Gary Lewi, a spokesperson for mall owner Blumenfeld Development, said the barriers were built according to city standards.
"Those were built to code. It wasn't a function of what looks good, they were designed to code," he said.
Asked if the company would consider changing the height of the barriers, he said that's something they would have to discuss further.
"We welcome hearing directly from our customers. One only has to walk through the mall to see there is more security since the incident," said Lewi. "We would be happy to receive phone calls and petitions from our customers and we would listen to them."
Kgama said parents and customers can vote with their wallets if changes aren't made.
"I want to feel comfortable in the mall. I'm nervous about going there now," said Kgama. "At the end of the day, if they don't make sure we can shop safely, we don't have to shop there."