Though drugs are sold openly, residents say they feel safer
By Felipe Cabrera
NYCity News Service
When law enforcement officers stormed the apartment building at 621 Manida Street on Nov. 10 in a major drug bust that netted 24 members of an alleged drug gang, it was a case of history repeating itself.
Seven years earlier police had closed out months of undercover work on Manida Street between Spofford and Randall avenues, just where the raided building stands, by arresting 19 men.
In both cases, the authorities said the suspects were gang members who were distributing crack, cocaine and heroin. In both cases they held press conferences to announce, as U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara put it in November, that they had “shut off yet another distribution channel for the poison that threatens New Yorkers and their communities.”
As the two raids at virtually the same location indicate, though, the drug trade continues to flourish in Hunts Point. All-told, the latest indictments name 33 people. Four are still being sought.
Still, residents say things are better than they used to be.
Jose Basilas assists the pastor of Hunts Point Seventh Day Adventist Church, near where the busts took place.
“Twenty years ago this place was a disaster,” Basilas said in Spanish. To walk around the neighborhood was an invitation to get mugged, he said. “Now the kids go out.”
While police did not offer specific statistics for drug arrests, NYPD records show that serious crime, such as murder, rape, robbery, assault and grand larceny, is down nearly 8 percent in the 41st Precinct over the past nine years and more than 60 percent since 1993.
Down Spofford Avenue from Hunts Point Seventh Day Adventist Church, Gilbert Valle runs The Candy Box, a bodega.
“Good people live here,” Valle said of the neighborhood. “It’s not real–not like back in the day.” According to Valle, people used to line up around the block not far from his store to slip money into a hole in a wall in order to buy drugs.
November’s arrests followed months of drug buys by undercover cops. All-told, said Bharara at a press conference, police made more than 100 purchases of crack, powder cocaine and heroin at markets that operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The drug trade flourished along Manida Street from Randall to Lafayette avenues; on Hunts Point and Lafayette avenues and on Coster Street, Irvine Street and Spofford Avenue, according to the indictments.
But Debbie Melendez, who runs Dancers DreamZzz on Saturday, a dance studio located across the street from Bridges Juvenile Center on Spofford Avenue and three blocks from one of the open-air drug markets where undercover police made numerous buys, said she and her students didn’t feel threatened.
“It’s quiet here,” Melendez said. “There’s people to watch out for, but it’s not dangerous.”
Marianne Kraft, the principal of St. Athanasius School, on Southern Boulvard, two blocks from another of spots where undercover police made purchases, also agrees that her school and the neighborhood are safer now.
“Thirty years ago I had 8th grade kids come in stoned,” Kraft said. “Things have improved tremendously.”
A version of this story appeared in the January 2011 issue of The Hunts Point Express.