The answer is yes, judging from the flyers posted all over the park, and by the nearly 100 attendees at the last City Council meeting on June 27. There was also a rally of about 75 neighbors in the park the following day.
Because of the muggings, residents are getting results. They have asked for more police in their neighborhood, the repair of long-darkened street lights, and trimming of overgrown trees.
One of the attacks left a resident of the neighborhood needing to wear braces and to have a year of reconstructive work on her teeth and jaw.
A follow-up rally is scheduled for this coming Thursday, July 12. At that rally, residents will evaluate the progress made from the June 28 rally.Attacks spur residents to attack problem
The demand for more police action may have also led to the arrest on June 25 of a 16-year-old male on charges of aggravated assault and robbery in connection to the one of the attacks.
Aside from that attack, there were four others: the assault and robbery of two people June 6 on Wayne Street; a robbery on June 17 of two men on Mercer Street (three men were subsequently arrested for that crime); an assault and robbery on June 18 of two people in the vicinity of Wayne and Varick streets (no arrests); and an assault and robbery on June 18 on Varick Street (one arrest).
Recently, the organizers of the rallies spoke about the situation, as did the victim of one of the attacks. Organizers and victims talk
"We want people to watch their backs," said Downtown resident Cat McGrath, one of the organizers, who is married with one child. "This violence should not be tolerated."
McGrath lives on York Street between Jersey Avenue and Varick Street. It is a quiet tree-lined section of Downtown Jersey City where residents sit on their stoops during summer nights.
But within a one-block radius of that area, two vicious muggings occurred a week apart.
In the June 18 near the corner of Varick and York streets, a 41-year-old Varick Street resident was mugged and knocked to the ground. She had her face smashed onto the sidewalk, resulting in her top row of teeth being knocked out, and a cut to her lip.
And a June 24 incident on York Street saw two teenage males choke a woman and slam her to the ground before robbing her. An arrest was made in connection with the attack.
It hit too close to home for McGrath's neighbor, Mariah Silva, who lives there with her family.
"When that happened, that's when we started to take action," Silva said. "This is a very close group of neighbors who like to sit on their stoops when the weather is good."
Silva continued, "This could have happened to any of us."
Soon she, as well as next-door neighbor McGrath and a neighbor a few doors down, Henrietta Shannon, became proactive in ensuring their safety and of their neighbors. They got in touch with the police, the safety group Downtown Jersey City Watch, their representative on the City Council, Steven Fulop, and then anyone else they encountered.
They handed out flyers to inform everyone that what they discovered were a total of five incidents sharing many of the same traits -- robbery mingled with assault.
And they, along with a large contingent of fellow residents, came out in force at the June 27 City Council meeting. Results within days
Both McGrath and Silva said they got results within days. They and their neighbors reported more police including an officer patrolling Van Vorst Park, trees trimmed on York Street, and at least one street light fixed.
But some requests take longer to be answered. 'I didn't see it coming'
One victim was attacked just a block from her home of ten years.
Recently, she showed the effects from the violent attack she suffered on the night of June 18 on Varick Street.
She said she was on her way home around 8:15 p.m. from an exercise studio where she teaches a Pilates class.
"I wasn't wearing business clothes, just my workout gear," the victim said. "I have lived here for 10 years, and I made it a rule to be aware of my surroundings."
She continued, "I didn't see it coming."
She said her eventual attacker was hanging out on the stoop of a brownstone on the corner of York and Varick streets.
"The next thing I know, I see him moving fast, like he was running," she said. "When I got to mid-block on Varick, I stepped off the sidewalk and then I was attacked."
She said while there were two men, only one ended up physically attacking her.
Now, she wears braces on her teeth and cannot eat solid food for at least a month, and will need reconstructive work on her teeth and her jaw over the next year.
But the consolation is that immediately after the attack, she recalled neighbors already reaching out to help. She said that the help was what enabled police to capture her 16-year-old attacker.
She also takes solace that the attack has spurred the recent activity by Silva and McGrath in mobilizing the neighborhood.
However, she still lives in fear. "I hope they arrest the second guy, because while I am happy that they arrested the kid who attacked me, I still fear for my safety." The next step
McGrath said there is more that needs to be done. She said she is working with other residents to organize activities in Van Vorst Park to involve children in the neighborhood.
"At the rally in the [Van Vorst] park, someone pointed that years ago children helped plant the gardens in the park that we see now," McGrath said.
There are also plans to work more closely with Downtown Jersey City Watch and organize a group of 12 residents to attend various community meetings during the year, who will then report back to other residents.
When asked where this organized effort will be by this time next year, McGrath said she expects the numbers to dwindle, but for there still to be interest.
"We're realistic; we know there may be 100 today, but in time there could be 10," McGrath said. "But if those 10 are still active in making their neighborhood safer, then it is a worthwhile effort." Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org