Downtown Jersey City residents spoke out at a community meeting on Tuesday with Jersey City police and City Councilman Steven Fulop, asking for more police patrols and other security measures after a shooting near a playground on Wayne Street.
The shooting took place at around 3 p.m. on Sept. 15. According to the police report, police were told by a witness walking on the block that a gunshot was fired in front of an apartment building on Wayne Street, only a few doors down from the Angel Ramos Playground.
The playground, which many area residents say is a notorious hotspot for drug dealing, is in a mainly quiet residential neighborhood, and is located across the street from the historic Barrow Mansion and St. Matthew’s Church.
“I was the only one that came forward at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, and there were people all over the block.” – Diana Perales
Four days later, police arrested Daniel Brito, 18, of Jersey City.
The police report actually cites an interview with the man who was shot. According to the report, the victim came forward to tell police that on Sept. 15, he was allegedly approached by Brito in front of 98 Wayne St. The victim says he was shot in the leg and robbed of $200.
Strangely, the victim told police that after he was shot, he got into his own car and drove to his girlfriend’s house before taking himself to Christ Hospital in Jersey City.
The shooting, which some would consider minor, could have been more serious. So far this year in Jersey City, there have been 24 homicides, 22 of those committed with a handgun.
Drug haven, or quiet street?
Members of the Van Vorst Park Neighborhood Association gathered in front of the playground Tuesday before the meeting, in order to create a presence to deter drug dealers. The playground has a children’s play area on one side and a basketball court on the other. The neighborhood association holds its monthly meetings in Barrow Mansion.
“I moved my business to Jersey City in 1999 and have lived here since 2002, and in that time I have known this place to be a drug hotspot,” said Anthony Sandcamp, president of the Neighborhood Association.
Sandcamp then addressed the group, followed by a witness to the shooting, Diana Perales, who identified herself publicly.
“The most upsetting thing about the incident was that I was the only one that came forward at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, and there were people all over the block,” Perales said.
But some viewed the crowd of concerned residents suspiciously as outsiders, and defended the playground as a relatively peaceful place.
Among them was Jari, a young mother who did not offer her last name. She has lived on the block for 25 years and has three children ages 1 to 8.
“This place was a lot worse 15 years ago, and I wouldn’t take my kids to the playground if it wasn’t safe,” Jari said.
The people who gathered walked together later to Public School 4 on Bright Street to attend the community meeting with the police.
Residents want action
At Tuesday’s meeting, Jersey City Police Captain Brian Gallagher, who heads the East District, covering all of Downtown, told an audience of about 40 people that both Brito and the victim had a “beef” with one another that Brito allegedly settled by shooting the victim.
Gallagher also said both had criminal records with prior arrests. He did not get into specifics.
Residents at the meeting offered plenty of suggestions to stem the drug dealers, ranging from cops on foot patrol and security cameras to putting a fence around the playground.
One woman said the playground “was built for the drug dealers.”
Gallagher said police officers have been patrolling the playground and the block daily since the shooting.
Fulop said that for three years, the city has considered the idea of a fence around the park with a gate that would be closed at 10 p.m. But he said that the notion had caused opposition from the community, and there are questions about who would be responsible for closing the park.
Residents were also encouraged to call, several at a time and frequently, when they spot any criminal activity in the playground or on Wayne Street.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.