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Morningside Park Trashed After Unauthorized Weekend Party Draws Hundreds

By Jeff Mays | July 2, 2014 7:09am
 Police from the 26th Precinct are investigating their response to a massive, unauthorized gathering in Morningside Park this past weekend that area residents say jammed two avenues with double parked cars and left the park filled with trash and debris.
Morningside Park trashed after Unauthorized Weekend Party
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HARLEM — A massive, unauthorized party in Morningside Park this past weekend jammed two avenues with double parked cars and left the space filled with trash and debris, residents said.

Doug Robinson, 63, a project manager for Citigroup who has lived across the street from the park at 114th Street with his family since 1999, said people started gathering at 6 a.m. Saturday, claiming tables and setting up barbecues.

By 6 p.m., Robinson estimated that there were more than 500 people barbecuing and playing loud music.

"It was horrible," he said. "The music was so loud that when you closed the window it only slightly buffered the sound." He said smoke from the grills seeped into his apartment.

A video Robinson took and pictures from photographer Pearl Perkins, a neighbor, showed mounds of trash on the ground, including uncooked hamburger patties, used charcoal and Styrofoam plates.

Another picture shows hundreds of people crowding the park, which stretches from 110th to 123rd streets at Morningside Avenue and Manhattan Avenue.

"I felt like I was on a different planet," Perkins said.

"To me I don't have words. It was disrespectful. I don't know how people can behave like that."

When police arrived they had to drive onto the sidewalk to get near the park entrance because the streets were so packed with cars.

It's unclear who organized the event but Philip Abramson, a spokesman for the city Department of Parks and Recreation, said it was unauthorized.

"This gathering did not receive a permit from NYC Parks and we notified the NYPD upon observing it," he said.

A special event permit from the Department of Parks and Recreation is required for gatherings of more than 20 people in the city's parks. A permit for any type of amplified sound in city parks is required from the NYPD.

Officer Johanna Urena, the community affairs officer for the 26th Precinct, said police responded to complaints and issued several summonses for double parking.

"No crowds were permitted because they didn't have a permit," Urena said. "They were told to move and they were given several summonses. We don't know who was who."

Urena said police could have used loud speakers and ordered the crowd to disperse because of the lack of a permit. It's unclear why that was not done. The precinct is looking into how officers responded after receiving several complaints from local groups.

Abramson said the park was cleaned by 10:30 a.m. the following day.

People trashing area parks on summer weekends in Upper Manhattan is a perennial problem.

Last year, residents said Morningside Park was trashed after a July 4 barbecue hosted by singer and Kanye West protégé Teyana Taylor. Taylor and her family said they cleaned after her event.

On another weekend last summer, someone inflated a bouncy house in Morningside Park for a child's birthday party.

Some have called for an end to barbecuing in the park, but other residents consider it a tradition that deserves to stay.

The Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, chairwoman of Community Board 9, said she began meeting with the Parks Department and community groups after the Taylor barbecue last year. That has resulted in clearer signs on how to do such things such as dumping hot charcoal. She's hoping to relaunch those meetings.

"The park has to be respected, so we want to come up with ways for the public to enjoy the park but we also want people who live around the park to have a quality of life during the summer months," she said.

Robinson said other steps also could be taken, such as moving barbecue areas that are located directly across from neighborhood apartment buildings.

The real problem, said Morgan-Thomas, is that there are not enough Park Enforcement Patrol officers to enforce the rules.

"We are going to have to invest money in our city parks," said Morgan-Thomas.

"We have so many folks utilizing the local parks that we have to put in additional manpower."

For Robinson and Perkins, those changes can't come soon enough.

"There wouldn't be a problem if someone had a barbecue in a designated area and cleaned up," Perkins said.

"But people just keep overstepping the boundaries and maybe it's time to be more strict."