By Andrea Swalec
GREENWICH VILLAGE —Rising crime and a riot at a Greenwich Village Dunkin' Donuts has created a rift between residents demanding increased police patrols — and those who claim extra vigilance is creating an environment hostile to gays.
Some locals say lawlessness is making Christopher Street a no-go area, and it's increased because police and legislators have been too lenient to crowds of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths who hang out in the area.
But critics say targeting the youths could seem anti-gay in a neighborhood that is nationally important to the gay rights movement — and has an historically contentious relationship with police.
"What's the difference if they're gay or straight? They're still breaking the law," said Greenwich Village resident Joe Hopkins, who is gay and was one of the witnesses to the Dunkin' Donuts attack, along with his partner Frank Shaffer.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and community leaders have publicly confirmed that violence has increased in the neighborhood. Kelly's spokesman recently said the commissioner is taking a "personal" interest in the security of Christopher Street in the wake of the riot.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said last month that the 6th Precinct, which oversees the area, has a new commanding officer and will be getting additional resources to keep the area safe.
"We've had these problems for years, but the violence, the wildness, is getting worse and worse," said Greenwich Village resident Dave Poster, who is president of the Christopher Street Patrol.
Three people have been charged so far in connection to the Dunkin' Donuts incident, authorities said.
Dwayne Jones, 20, was charged with charges including attempted assault and rioting. Mark Wright, 19, of Brooklyn, was charged with attempted assault, criminal mischief, menacing, rioting and criminal possession of a weapon, police and prosecutors said Monday.
A 15-year-old was already arrested.
Wright, who is identified in the criminal complaint as part of a group of two dozen transgender teens who allegedly vandalized the store, told authorities it was sparked by a fight between Wright and someone who ran behind the store's counter.
Some in the community, including Poster, blame the collection of youths on Pier 45 as part of the problem. Poster has sent hundreds of letters to elected officials over the past two decades asking for Pier 45 to close at 10 p.m., hours earlier than its current 1 a.m. closing time.
But youths who spend time on Pier 45 say they feel scapegoated by police, particularly in the wake of the Dunkin' Donuts vandalism.
"I felt like it was bad, but it didn't have to affect everybody who was out here," said DeSean Irby, a homeless 20-year-old who spends his days on Pier 45 and identifies as gay. "It doesn't represent the whole community."
Irby said he has seen a lot more police on the pier in the last two weeks, and he's not thrilled with their presence.
"I've had several cops from the 6th Precinct call me a f----t," Irby said. "They're very disrespectful. The way they talk to us is the part I really can't stand."
His friend Hakeen, a 17-year-old Brooklyn resident who declined to give his last name for fear of upsetting his family, said police and upset community members are overreacting.
"If we're going to come down here and laugh, and be loud and have fun, and we're not bothering anyone, what's the problem?"
Irby and Hakeem said they go to Pier 45 because they feel accepted there.
Balancing that acceptance with an unwillingness to tolerate illegal behavior has become a touchy subject that sparked allegations of racism against those in the community who have been pushing for NYPD enforcement.
Robert Ziegler, who runs a gay bar on Christopher Street, and who has collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition in support of making Christopher Street safer, said he received an angry call recently from the Chelsea organization FIERCE, which serves LGBT youth of color.
An unnamed representative of the organization complained that Ziegler was unfairly targeting certain LGBT youth because of their race, he said.
"It's not about race," said Ziegler, who is gay. "It's about the community and keeping respect for the community to keep it safe for people who live here. I don't want to chase the kids away, I just want them to behave."
FIERCE did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday and Thursday.
Reports of felony assault in the 6th Precinct, which covers Christopher Street, have risen almost 14 percent in the past year, according to the NYPD's CompStat reports. Reports of robbery and rape have also risen, while overall crime has fallen by more than three percent in the same period.
Hopkins, who is gay, said he wants police to crack down on the violence with the same diligence whether or not the perpetrators are LGBT people, because he fears that turning a blind eye to LGBT-driven violence could hurt the ongoing struggle for gay equality.
"I think violence only makes the case for the acceptance of homosexuality worse," Hopkins said.