STATEN ISLAND — The death of a boy in the waters off Staten Island demonstrates the need for after school programs to keep youth occupied, activists said.
Watched by the grieving parents of Vaughan Mitchell, 15, local leaders demanded Mayor Michael Bloomberg scrap plans to cut after school services at a press conference on Wednesday.
Vaughan drowned in the waters near Jersey Street and Richmond Terrace on June 5.
"Vaughan's untimely death and the circumstances surrounding it speak to an issue of crisis in this city, and that is services available for our youth," said Dr. Rev. Victor Brown, founder of the New Brighton Coalition for Concerned Citizens and a senior pastor at Mount Sinai United Christian Church.
"I suggest ... that if the after schoool program was open at P.S. 31, or maybe if Cromwell Center was not closed, the Vaughan Mitchell's of New Brighton and the surrounding vicinity would not have to invent way of spending recreational time outside."
Mitchell allegedly ran through a hole in a fence near the water, ripped off his clothes and jumped in, the Daily News reported.
However, family members told DNAInfo.com New York last week that they couldn't understand why Mitchell would jump into the water because he never learned to swim.
"He never took a swimming lesson in his life," said Keesha Tart, 41, Mitchell's mother. "I don't understand why the detectives told me he just went for a swim."
Bloomberg's proposed 2013 budget plan would cut after school and child-care services for more than 47,000 children across the city. Nearly 2,000 parents of children enrolled in this program would quit their jobs if they lost access to these programs, according to a survey by the Campaign for Children.
"While taxes are going up, while property taxes are going up, while water bills are going up, forcing both parents to work, we are cutting the services to our youth," said Community Board 1 chair Leticia Remauro.
"Somebody has to say stop the insanity."
Edward Josey, president of the Staten Island chapter of the NAACP, said, "If the parents do work, that might mean the child is not being attended to for so many hours a day.
"This might give the child additional time to get into trouble, so it's very important that we somehow get the mayor to restore the budget."
Brown said, "Rather than expending energy and time on a campaign to downsize soda orders, this mayor needs to redirect his energies to the effort of increasing services for our youth here on Staten Island and across this city."
Family members of Mitchell sat in tears during the conference, as local leaders and community organizers urged residents to write letters to council members and the mayor to fight the cuts.
The family may pursue a lawsuit against the owners of the fence, Brown said, to find out why it was left in disrepair.
"Clearly there should have been some inspection procedure in place to ensure that the fence, if it was seen to be in disrepair, was in fact repaired," Brown said.
"If it had been repaired, or if there were no hole, chances are they would not have gone there to play."
Vaughan's family did not want to speak during the conference, but remembered Mitchell last week as a quiet, intelligent teenager who loved playing basketball.
"He was a very bright kid," said his aunt, Doreen Tart, 41. "He loved basketball.
"He was everything to me."
A wake for Mitchell will be held on Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon in Mount Sinani United Christian Church, 16 Pike St. A funeral service will follow at the church.