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City Was Warned That Illegal Party Would Trash Morningside Park

By Jeff Mays | July 3, 2014 7:39am
 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 — The Friends of Morningside Park told city officials that a massive party would fill the green space with trash and debris Saturday and jam streets with double-parked cars, but their warnings went unheeded, the group said.

The unauthorized event, called "Dear Summer," was an annual barbecue, according to a flier advertising the June 28 event, which also claimed it was sponsored by Hennessy. The party was tweeted about using the hashtags #FreeFoodFreeHenny and #Dearsummerbbq.

"'Dear Summer' has drawn huge crowds in the past so I gave Parks a heads up on this," said Brad Taylor, president of the Friends of Morningside Park who saw details about the event on social media.

"I sent both the NYPD and Parks an email about this event on Tuesday."

Parks officials thanked Taylor for the information in an email but listed no action they planned to take. NYPD officials did not respond to Taylor's emailed warning.

"I was hoping that Parks and the NYPD would sit down and figure out how to make sure this didn't happen. I didn't have an expected outcome except that they would do something about this," said Taylor, who is also a member of West Harlem's Community Board 9.

Instead, witnesses estimate 500 people jammed into the park between 114th and 115th streets on Morningside Avenue. Double-parked cars from event participants crowded Morningside Avenue and Manhattan Avenue.

A permitted all-female performance of "Romeo and Juliet" was drowned out by the event's loudspeakers, said Sarah Eismann, 36, artistic director of the Manhattan Shakespeare Project.

"We were screaming just to have the audience hear us. It sounded like the music got louder as the performance went on," Eismann said.

"It was frustrating to know that we had gone through the correct avenues and that we had permission and permits and they weren't supposed to be there."

Philip Abramson, a spokesman for the city Department of Parks and Recreation, acknowledged receiving the warning from Taylor.

The department's special events office determined that no permit application had been received for the event, he said. Permits are required for park gatherings of more than 20 people. An NYPD permit is required for the use of amplified sound.

"The large scope of this event was not known to us at the time," said Abramson.

"On Saturday, a Parks Supervisor observed the group assembling and immediately notified the NYPD. Moving forward, we will continue working with the NYPD when we learn of large-scale unpermitted events."

Councilman Mark Levine, chairman of the council's Committee on Parks & Recreation, was upset that city officials did not act more aggressively when they received the warning.

"When NYPD or Parks receive advanced notice that someone plans to willfully disobey the rules, they need to proactively inform the event organizer that they cannot proceed," said Levine.

"In case this warning is not heeded, additional PEP and NYPD officers must be in place for enforcement rather than waiting until community complains and the damage has already been done," he continued.

Taylor said the event has been held in the park for the last few years and that the same event last year caused a similar ruckus.

Police said Tuesday that officers issued summonses to double-parked cars but they were unaware of who was responsible for the event.

Police are also investigating their response to the event after receiving complaints from local groups and politicians. Officials from the 26th Precinct and Hennessy did not respond to requests for comment.

Two men listed as contacts on the flier declined to comment.

"Wrong Person. I wasn't there," said one of the men listed on the flier before hanging up the phone.

Levine said the unauthorized gathering exposes "broader policy failures," mainly the lack of Park Enforcement Patrol officers and a shortage of maintenance and cleaning staff.

Morningside Park does not have a dedicated PEP officer. There are 162 PEP officers for all of the city's parks. During any given shift there are only two PEP officer available to patrol all of the parks in northern Manhattan, Levine said.

The PEP officers "could have been there at the earlier stage before there were 500 people. The goal in any situation is to diffuse it before it gets out of hand," Levine said.

And the issue of filthy parks after use on summer weekends affects the entire city, he said.

Some help is on the way thanks to a $16.25 million increase in the Department of Parks and Recreation budget in the city's recently approved budget. The department will use $5 million to add 80 new PEP officers. Another $8.75 million will be used to add 200 full-time gardening and maintenance workers.

"What happened in Morningside Park was pretty extraordinary but unfortunately it's not unique," Levine said.