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To the Barricades Over a Police Barricade

May 11, 2003. New York Times

Danny Chen cannot invite friends, or even relatives, to his apartment anymore. That's because Mr. Chen, a software engineer, lives in Chatham Green, a 21-story co-op on Park Row that sits just inside a police barricade installed after Sept. 11 to protect Police Plaza across the street.

This barricade extends north on Park Row from Frankfort Street to Chatham Square, and New Yorkers may not breach it to enter Chatham Green or a nearby co-op, Chatham Towers, except for the co-ops' 2,000 residents, he said.

Mr. Chen is allowed to park his car in the co-op garage only after passing though a police checkpoint, showing proof of residence and having his car searched. For months, ambulances, fire trucks and Access-a-Ride shuttles have submitted to the same searches. All others, including tour buses, are turned away.

"I know the city is different after Sept. 11, but we're way different," Mr. Chen said. "We're living under police occupation."

Residents' resentment over this arrangement, and the city's seeming refusal to publicly address community concerns, boiled over last month when the city told local officials that the so-called emergency perimeter would soon be made permanent and might be expanded with concrete barriers. Right now, idling police cars and sanitation trucks block intersections.

On April 30, Councilman Alan J. Gerson, who represents parts of Lower Manhattan, joined other officials and the Chatham co-ops in filing a lawsuit against New York that calls for it to analyze the impact of the barricade on residents and nearby businesses. Two weeks ago, Mr. Gerson also introduced a bill to require the community to be notified when a street is closed for more than 45 days.

"The worst part about this closing is the police's callous disregard for the community living here," Mr. Gerson said. "Everybody recognizes that security comes first, but let's at least make a plan and give valid reasons for closing a major route and isolating an entire community."

Detective Thomas Kuchma, a police spokesman, said he could not comment on the barricade because of the lawsuit.

But Jack Lester, a lawyer for Chatham Towers, said the police had already made one concession. After a meeting last Monday between lawyers for the city and for the Chatham co-ops, e the city agreed to allow emergency vehicles through police checkpoints without being searched.

While Mr. Lester hopes that residents' concerns can be resolved, Chinatown businessmen like Paul J. Q. Lee remain skeptical. Mr. Lee, who manages the 32 Mott Street General Store, said businesses like his would suffer as long as Park Row is closed to deliveries and tour buses. His own store, also hurt by rumors of SARS, is down 80 percent since Sept. 11, he said.

"We have a great Fifth Precinct and crime is low, but I'm cynical because we're dying from this occupying police force," he said. "For months, we came as citizens and got no dialogue. Now, the reason the city is stepping up is because we sued them. How much good faith do you see in that?"


Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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