HARLEM — A phone booth on Frederick Douglass Boulevard attracts crack-smoking “zombies” that use the booth to light up, eat, and go to the bathroom, residents said.
For decades people have been buying drugs on 114th Street and smoking them on Eighth Avenue, said local resident Randi Klein.
“Every single person in the neighborhood knows it’s there but nobody does anything about it,” she said.
Klein has called 311, gone to community council meetings, and tweeted pictures of people smoking from crack pipes to the 28th Precinct and elected officials. But officers on the street have told her that unless they see it themselves, they can’t do anything about it, she said.
The 28th Precinct did not return inquiries about drug use on 114th Street.
Now, Klein is trying to solve the issue by asking the city to remove the phone booth.
“Why can’t we take the phone booth down?” she said. “It doesn't even work.”
Residents who are out early taking their kids to school or walking their dogs see the drug users on a regular basis, said Toni Brown, who has lived in the neighborhood for 45 years.
“You see them in the wee hours of the morning,” she said. “They look like zombies.”
When people first move into the neighborhood they are shocked, but once they see it more and more they just turn their heads and keep walking, she said.
Although the problem has improved over the years, it still happens daily. Removing the phone booth would help, she added.
People usually come out of 114th Street, in front of the Philip Randolph Houses, and smoke on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, neighbors said. The development was raided for drugs five years ago, according to the Columbia Spectator.
A resident of the Randolph Houses acknowledged that people buy drugs outside their building but said that she did not have an issue with it.
“It’s been happening for years, since the 60’s it’s been happening,” said the woman who declined to share her name. “We don’t have a problem with them. They just buy it and leave.”
Lota Ramos, who has lived right in front of the phone booth since 2000, said it’s common for her to see people there throughout the day.
“I see them on the phone booth, maybe they are eating, maybe they are peeing, I don’t know,” she said.
Ramos said she would prefer not to have people pee a few feet away from the door to her apartment but is not too bothered by it because they keep away from the residents, and the neighborhood has improved significantly in the last 15 years.
“When I moved in it was a dangerous place,” she said. “It was a place for drug addicts and drug dealers. I was afraid to go out in the afternoon.”
But the fact that the problem has been going on for so long makes it that much more frustrating for Klein. It’s as if the problem has just become part of the neighborhood, she said.
“It’s almost as if everyone has resigned to just know that it’s one block, they do what they do and that’s it,” she said. “That’s pretty sad.”