QUEENSBRIDGE — Fed up after a recent pair of home invasion robberies left an elderly blind neighbor hospitalized, residents of the Queensbridge Houses held an emergency meeting Thursday night to strategize over ways to stem rising violence in the Long Island City housing development.
The meeting was called after the victim, a longtime tenant, was followed into his building and robbed twice by the same perpetrator over the last two weeks.
The most recent robbery took place Tuesday, when the suspect grabbed the 73-year-old victim by the throat, threw him to the floor and rendered him unconscious.
"This guy is targeting either people who are disabled or elderly," tenants association president April Simpson told the dozens of residents who packed the Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement House Thursday night.
Neighbors say they're appalled by the incident and its callousness, but say crime in the Queensbridge Houses is nothing new.
"I know people were really upset that it was a blind man, but other than that, I'm not really surprised," said longtime tenant Ray Normandeau, who runs a news website for the Queensbridge Houses and is himself legally blind.
Residents say it's not unusual to hear gunfire or see young men dealing drugs in hallways or on the playgrounds. Some said they try to not to leave their apartments after dark.
"We've been bragging that so far this month, no one's been shot," Normandeau said.
Cops say that while overall crime at the NYCHA complex is down, shootings are up: There have been five so far in 2013 compared to three this time last year, according to Capt. Miguel Iglesias, commanding officer for Housing Bureau Police Service Area 9.
Those numbers don't include recent spats of gunfire, which tenants say send them scrambling to the floor and away from their apartment windows for cover. Police recently erected floodlights outside one building at 40th Avenue and 12th Street after shooting broke out in a darkened courtyard there, residents said.
"Summer came with a bang, a lot of activity," Iglesias told tenants, saying he has one sergeant and eight police officers assigned to cover the Queensbridge Houses exclusively — a larger police presence than any of the other NYCHA campuses he oversees.
"This is my number one priority," he said.
At Thursday's meeting, police officers handed out grainy surveillance photos of the suspect wanted in Tuesday's robbery, described as a man in his 20s wearing a black T-shirt, blue jeans, sneakers and a Yankees hat.
The officers and tenant leaders implored anyone with information about the suspect to come forward.
Simpson said getting some tenants to cooperate with police can be difficult. Many are afraid to talk, worried it will get them labeled a "snitch" — with the phrase "snitches end up in ditches" often rolled out as a reason for keeping quiet.
"If we don't start talking, we're all going to be in a ditch. We're going to be prisoners in our own homes," Simpson told the crowd.
"We cannot wait until somebody gets hit," she said. "We've got to stop living in fear and take our community back."