THE BRONX — With music blasting and barbeques blazing, Bronx residents poured into the streets Tuesday evening to celebrate the 29th annual National Night Out, an event organized by community groups and police precincts across the country to promote crime prevention.
“It’s symbolic of taking back the streets,” said Capt. Philip Rivera, head of the 41st Precinct in Longwood, “the community and the police together.”
Each Bronx precinct, as well as some public housing developments, planned festivities that brought free music, children’s games, food and prizes to streets and parks around the borough.
But amid the dunk tanks and cotton candy, there was also serious talk of community-police relations and gun violence, which has spiked this summer throughout the city and in The Bronx, where 4-year-old Lloyd Morgan was killed by a stray bullet last month.
“This year in The Bronx has been really rough with kids killing kids,” said a Claremont Village resident who provided only her initials, CG.
At the 42nd Precinct event Tuesday in Morrisania, about a mile north of the Forest Houses where a stray bullet fatally struck Morgan, young boys flailed about in a dance contest, while community affairs officers passed out plastic badges and toy police cruisers.
The event has taken on a more festive vibe than in the past, when residents would carry candles and march through the streets, trailed slowly by a hearse, but the message remains the same, said Carlos Ruiz, head of the 42nd Precinct Community Council.
“Stop the violence,” Ruiz said. “Our children are dying.”
While Bronxites and police agree that gun violence is a scourge that must be stopped, they sometimes differ on how to achieve that goal.
Inspector Jon Bloch, commander of the 42nd Precinct, which has seen 29 shootings this year, said that residents must be willing to work with the police, including by sharing information about crimes.
“It can’t just be us doing everything,” Bloch said.
But Morrisania resident Rita Jones, 66, said officers must earn community members’ trust by interacting with them regularly and respectfully before they can expect their cooperation.
“You can’t come in there as a gangbuster, then ask people to give you information,” Jones said.
Assemblyman Marcos Crespo said that many of his constituents recognize the tough task that cops face and some even support the use of the controversial stop-and-frisk tactic. But still, everyone expects to be respected.
“More so than being stopped,” Crespo said at the 41st Precinct event, “I think people don’t want to be approached aggressively and inappropriately.”
At that event, held outside the Police Athletic League center on Longwood Avenue, an ice cream truck passed out free cones as children scaled a mobile rock-climbing wall.
While some police officers at the festival chatted among themselves, others doled out hamburgers or operated children’s games.
Capt. Rivera said he hoped the event would help residents see those officers in a different light.
“It’s not that we just arrest people,” Rivera said. “We’re part of the community, as well.”