Children, parents and officials rallied Sunday at shuttered parks in Midwood and Boro Park, protesting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s continued shuttering of playgrounds due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday morning, children and elected officials including state Sen. Simcha Felder, Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, Councilman Kalman Yeger, District Manager Barry Spitzer and District Leader David Schwartz gathered outside the locked gates at Kolbert Park, on Ave L. and East 18th Street in Midwood.
“After being cramped in city apartments for the last three months, playgrounds and schoolyards are essential to our children,” Eichenstein told the crowd of 80 people, calling on de Blasio to “end the madness” and “immediately reopen our playgrounds.”
Yeger recalled having spent “thousands of hours” playing in Kolbert Park as a child, and how he worked with his predecessor David Greenfield on the park’s recent $4 million renovation. “But for nearly three months,” said Yeger, “we’ve endured the heartbreaking sight of a chained park, with children longingly looking through the gates. Enough is enough. Not everyone lives near Prospect Park or Central Park. Our neighborhood parks are small oases in a concrete city. It’s time to restore New York City’s parks to New Yorkers and to take the chains off our parks.”
“Everything essential to children and healthy development is shut down,” said Felder. “Playgrounds-not essential. Camps-not essential. Schools-not essential. It’s outrageous not to prioritize their reopening considering how essential they are. Children across this city are outside playing, we cannot and will not stop that from happening. What we can do is give them a safe space, a contained space, where parents can watch them and do their best as parents to keep them safe. I believe that parents do a better job of that than the government, any day. Keeping these playgrounds chained while kids are playing in the streets, is unconscionable.”
Calls for ending the playground closure after two-and-a-half months have increased in recent days, as Black Lives Matter protestors have been permitted to gather in large numbers, often just blocks from where police were expelling children and mothers from playgrounds.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that the decision on when to open playgrounds is up to each locality. De Blasio has not yet indicated when he might open the playgrounds. A City Hall spokesperson told Hamodia Sunday, “We are watching health indicators closely and simultaneously working on a plan so when it’s safe to open playgrounds, we can.”
Advocates view the opening as even more necessary now that sleepaway camps have been banned across the state for this summer season.
On Sunday evening, a crowd of 300 people, mostly children, entered the officially shuttered Gravesend Park, better known to Boro Park families as “18th Avenue Park.” Police did not object; in fact, Heshy Tischler, a radio personality and former City Council candidate who organized the event, told Hamodia that a Parks Department official tried locking the gate, but was turned away by NYPD Deputy Chief Charles Scholl.
The event seemed more a friendly gathering than a protest; in addition to the chants of “Open our parks” and,” We want camp,” the children, led by Tischler, chorused, “We love police,” in stark contrast to anti-police protests that have rocked nearby neighborhoods, and much of the nation, for more than two weeks.
“The police are our friends,” Tischler told Hamodia. “They came today to help us, protect us, not to throw us out. Because they are our neighbors, too.”
The children rode bikes and enjoyed the grounds. Some brought bats and gloves and played baseball, on a field with months’ worth of overgrown grass.
“Happiness is not by chance; happiness is by choice,” Tischler told Hamodia. “And today we made a choice to fight back against the city, and we opened our parks, because they belong to us and our children.”
Updated Sunday, June 14, 2020 at 9:45 pm .