police surveillance

Cop-Monitored Security Cameras Promised for Morningside Park

Morningside Park straddles West Harlem and Morningside Heights, Jan. 27, 2020.
Morningside Park straddles West Harlem and Morningside Heights, Jan. 27, 2020. Photo: Eileen Grench /THE CITY

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Security cameras that would be monitored by police in real time around the clock could be coming to Morningside Park following last month’s killing of a college student there.

Councilmember Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) promised the security measure during a community forum in Harlem, where residents gathered to grapple with the fatal stabbing of Barnard College freshman Tessa Majors.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer speaks at Morningside Park meeting on Jan. 29, 2020. Photo: Eileen Grench/THE CITY

“I’m committed to finding the money to put in the cameras we need for sensitive areas that aren’t covered,” Levine told THE CITY after the Wednesday night meeting.

Levine, who noted the park’s current security cameras can’t be accessed in real time, said each new $35,000 Argus model will stream to the 26th Precinct.

The camera announcement elicited cheers from the capacity crowd at the Police Athletic League building on Manhattan Avenue, but the forum was about more than just security concerns.

A ‘Horrible Tragedy’

Morningside Park, which is 30 acres, logged more robberies last year than any other park in the city — save for Central Park, which is nearly 30 times larger.

Police say Majors was killed during a robbery-gone-wrong when three boys, 13 to 14 years old, set upon her on Dec. 11. That conclusion is based primarily on the statement of a 13-year-old boy who was questioned without a lawyer a day after the slaying, according to the NYPD.

The teen is still the only person in custody. On Wednesday, the Daily News reported a grand jury had been convened to consider possible evidence against two 14-year-old boys who had been questioned and released.

The young Virginian’s death sent reverberations through the Columbia/Barnard and Harlem communities, spurring calls for justice. But some warned against a rush to judgement, making comparisons to the 1989 Central Park Five case.

Police ask for assistance in locating suspects in the killing of Tessa Majors in Morningside Park, Dec. 16, 2019.
Police ask for assistance in locating suspects in the killing of Tessa Majors in Morningside Park, Dec. 16, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer had said she and Friends of Morningside Park convened Wednesday’s meeting to tackle “the larger systemic and neighborhood issues impacting our youth.”

“It often takes horrible tragedy to get people together,” Brewer said during her remarks at the event. “That’s the worst part.”

Calls for Education

Hundreds of attendees packed a cafeteria and overflowed into an upstairs classroom and hallways. They were split into groups to brainstorm solutions on topics such as “youth engagement,” “public safety” and “unity/bridge building.”

During the youth engagement breakout session, more than a dozen children from local middle and high schools crowded around two lunch tables with a smattering of older neighbors.

They eagerly shouted out suggestions to facilitator Iesha Sekou: “Cooking classes! “College tours!” “More jobs!”

Community members split into groups to hash out ideas for park and neighborhood improvements at Morningside Park forum, on Jan 29, 2020. Photo: Eileen Grench/THE CITY

One young member of the local Boys and Girls Club suggested a “mentor hall.” Others at the forum called for more social workers at public schools.

Sekou, president of nonprofit Street Corner Resources, had worried that the voices at the meeting would be unevenly represented, “but it didn’t become that.”

“We had a nice mixed group of people,” said Sekou. “Everybody was at the table together trying to give. It wasn’t about new neighbors, old neighbors.”

Organizer Aissatou Bey-Grecia said the next step will be to bring big ideas to life.

“The proof is what happens after. It’s not the end of today, it’s what happens next month. What happens over the summer,” said Bey-Grecia, vice president of Friends of Morningside Park.

The group’s president, Brad Taylor, agreed. “People are now on record and we will hold them to that,” he said.

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