Tension in Alphabet City After Residents Clash With Police

As Alphabet City copes with its second stabbing in a week, many are still talking about a chaotic incident last weekend that is said to have increased tension between residents and the police.

A fight involving a father, his son, and a police officer last Saturday grew into a melee that took over Avenue D and spilled into a police station house, said residents of the neighborhood. Videos obtained by The Local offer a glimpse into the clamorous street scene.

The Local spoke with several people living in the Jacob Riis Houses or nearby who said they had heard that a 14-year-old boy and his father were stuck in the head by a police officer. Ashley Serrano, another 14-year-old who was involved in the tussle, said that the father’s face was bruised and cut. “They made his whole face bleed,” she said.

“It was a hot night out there,” said Lieutenant Steve Nusser, one of the officers of Police Service Area 4 who responded to the incident. “There was a fight between a couple people, a crowd of people came over, and the cops I’m sure did something to halt that action, and it escalated from there,” he said. “When the crowd surged, some people came to the PSA [station house] and we had to control the crowd. Some were out of order.”

A witness said that a police officer had stopped the boy at Ninth Street and Avenue D, near his home in the Riis Houses, and was fighting with him when the boy’s father, known to others in the neighborhood as Baldy, confronted the officer. (The Local could not ascertain Baldy’s full name or reach him for comment.) The witness, who did not want to be named because he lives and works in the neighborhood and was wary of scrutiny, said that hundreds of onlookers gathered on Avenue D.

“I was across the street, and I saw cops beating up a lot of people and macing them,” he said. “People were running out of the precinct, grabbing them and arresting them – even a 14-year-old girl, young kids getting arrested.”

Video contains explicit language.

Ms. Serrano said that she was pepper-sprayed by a police officer who had also confronted her the previous day.

“The same thing happened on Friday. They arrested all of us and then they let us go. On Saturday they did the same thing, and they beat a 14-year-old boy and his father up.”

Lt. Nusser said the situation on Avenue D was under control by the time he arrived at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday. He estimated that 200 people were on the street at that point, and said that three people were arrested at the scene.

Two more people were arrested for their conduct inside or near the station house at Eighth Street and Avenue C, the lieutenant said. He didn’t know exactly what sparked the initial fight and couldn’t confirm that a father and son were involved. During a follow-up call, he declined to indicate whether officers used pepper spray to control the crowd, referring inquiries to the police department’s press office.

Deputy Inspector John Cappelmann, the commanding officer of the Ninth Precinct, also confirmed the incident, but did not go into detail, since it was under PSA 4’s jurisdiction. “There weren’t any serious injuries to police officers or civilians, or any serious crimes that came out of the incident,” he said.

Jeffry Solomon, a psychologist who recently served as a counselor at a basketball program in Campos Plaza meant to reduce youth crime, heard about the showdown from teens in the area. “There’s a tremendous amount of animosity between police and the neighborhood, as well as a lack of compassion, understanding and empathy on both sides,” he said. “It just came to a head. It’s like a very dry tinderbox and all you need is a spark.”

Lt. Nusser said that he had spent time since the incident talking to neighborhood residents. “There is a lot of misinformation in the community,” he said, admitting that he had received negative feedback. “But there’s no community unrest.”

The incidents have caused Aida Salgado, who lives on Ninth Street between Avenues B and C, to believe the atmosphere around Jacob Riis and Campos Plaza has only gotten worse since her son Keith was shot and killed near Campos Plaza last October. Ms. Salgado started a group called Mothers in Arms to attempt to stop violence in the area.

“You can feel the tension in the street, you can feel the animosity in the street. There is a lot of anger, and people are still talking about it,” she said.

An Eighth Street resident, who didn’t want his name used because he knew people involved in the fights, said, “Cops are all over the avenue now. The past three days, after it happened, they’ve been stopping everyone.”

Jose Quiles, who teaches art to at-risk youth in the neighborhood, said the police were working with community members to curb violence such as the stabbing that occurred in East River Park last Saturday. The knife fight came up during church service that weekend, he said. “They talked about the stabbings and the pastor mentioned that the police don’t know what to do with all the violence that’s taking place and they’re looking for help,” he said. “They talked about training people to send out in the streets, especially on Avenue D.”

Earlier today, another stabbing occurred on East Fifth Street between Avenues C and D. Corey Capers, a 31-year-old resident of the Baruch Houses, died from a knife wound to the chest.

David Sosa, a longtime resident of Lillian Wald Houses south of Sixth Street, said he was grateful to see a heightened police presence. He hadn’t heard about the Saturday fight, but said he could tell that conflicts with police had been increasing in the area. “It has been a little bit out of control,” he said. “Lately, it has been kind of chaotic here.”

Ms. Salgado said, “This is just a feeling of what the summer’s going to be like here, and I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Additional reporting by Melvin Felix.