Union City and West New York both planned to celebrate National Night Out Against Crime on Tuesday night. Union City even got a visit from the governor.
An eight-block stretch of Summit Avenue became a family carnival for Union City’s festivities on Aug. 6. Among the many attractions were rides for kids, a petting zoo, face painting and enough food to supply a small army.
Children and adults crowded the streets, dancing to live bands, enjoying pony rides and generally having a great time with friends and neighbors.
Mixed in with the fun was an important message. “National Night Out is an opportunity for the police department to intermingle with the community,” said Richard Molinari, acting chief of police.
The nationwide event was introduced in 1984 to foster local involvement in crime prevention by promoting neighborhood camaraderie and police-community partnerships.
10,000 hot dogs. 10,000 bottles of water. And some special Spanish soda.
Gov. Chris Christie showed up for a surprise visit, strolling through the street fair, meeting with residents and offering his support.
“There is only one stop the governor chose to visit, and that’s Union City,” said Molinari. “So we’re very honored to have the governor come here today to be part of our National Night Out. I think it bodes well for Union City.”
Joining the governor in greeting residents was Mayor Brian Stack, along with numerous council members and local officials.
Serving Union City
For the past five years, Waleed Miqbel has volunteered to oversee food ordering, preparation and distribution at the annual event. How much food is involved? “Over 10,000 hot dogs. Over 10,000 waters. We had some special Spanish soda.”
“It’s a great event that brings the community together,” Miqbel continues. “It brings awareness to safer streets, clean streets. Parents look forward to this, they’re able to enjoy some time with their family, with their kids in their city. This is almost their vacation, like their mini-vacation for the summer.”
Two stages bookended the festivities at north and south, entertaining the crowd with all varieties of music, from the traditional Cuban-style dance orchestra Papo Ortega’s Cubanoson, to the high energy rap stylings of TR Blaze, to the popular Rosario & Her Stars, featuring a lineup of dancing cartoon characters to delight the kids.
Returning to play their seventh year at the festival were rockers Union Hill. As guitarist Mike O’Connor explained, “Me and the drummer (20-year police department veteran Henry Perez), we grew up here. We went through school here, graduated here, and our studio is still in Union City. So we think it’s important to come back, give back to the community that we grew up in. In the name of rock and roll.”
“I always bring my kids because they have great stuff for kids,” said singer Frank DaCosta. “Pony rides, the bouncy house. My daughter, she’s three and a half, she loved the show with Strawberry Shortcake and Barney. It’s a family-oriented event. That’s what I like about it. Cause we get to play clubs all the time. But it’s not often I get to play and bring my children. Everyone together having a good time. There’s something for everybody here.”
Partnering with the police
West New York also celebrated with a special guest: McGruff the crime dog. Their celebration was a block party at Miller Stadium.
National Night Out, “America’s Night Out Against Crime,” was founded by the National Association of Town Watch (NATW). Over 37 million people participated in National Night Out in 2012, in more than 15,000 communities from all fifty states. The 30th anniversary celebration in 2013 was expected to be even larger, with festivities taking place throughout Hudson and Bergen counties.
Asked what Union City residents can do year-round to combat crime, Acting Chief Molinari said, “The number one thing we tell you over and over is this: You live in your community, you live in your block, you live in your building. If you see something that doesn’t seem right, say something. Call the police. Just say something isn’t right in my building, something’s not right on my block. Let the police come. Let us figure out who belongs, who doesn’t, and that’s the best way. You see something that doesn’t look right, say something.”