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House arrest: Why Fordham residents are trapped in their homes

Fordham and Kingsbridge residents keep their homes heavily padlocked due to rising concerns about crime and prostitution. BIANCA CONSUNJI/The Bronx Ink

Before 19-year-old Alex Nash could drop his pants, a motion detector flooded what had been a dark, empty driveway with light.

Cursing under his breath, Nash snatched up his bundle of clothes and ducked into another garage. With no lights to deter him, Nash dressed quickly, keeping still whenever a car drove by. He swapped his baggy trousers for black tights and inflated two condoms before jamming them down his shirt.

“I’m a hot mess,” Nash said, brushing out the bangs on his disheveled wig. “Fix my boobies, will you?”

Nash is a prostitute who works the neighborhoods of Fordham and Kingsbridge in the Bronx. The tall, slender teen isn’t a transvestite, but he dresses in drag to grab the attention of potential clients who come to the area in search of sex.

“I go to Fordham because the money is easy,” said Nash, a California native who lives with a cousin in Queens. “You can always find clients there.”

He spends most of his time in the Village with his friends, a mixed group of transvestites and gay teenagers. Many of them are sex workers. In the evening, they roam around Christopher Street, but at midnight, they take a 40-minute train ride to Fordham to “get some coin,” a term they use to refer to payment for sexual services.

According to Nash, it sometimes takes hours to pick up customers, who usually drive by in cars. But on that particular night, he stood on the intersection of 192nd and Davidson for barely two minutes before a man sidled up to him to negotiate a night in a motel. They left together.

For sex workers such as Nash, who wants to become a nursing assistant, prostitution in Fordham is a way to make a quick buck. “The money is so good here,” said Nash, who charges about $100-150 for an hour of sex. “It’s better than working in a job.”

“Prostitutes and raccoons”

According to residents, the corner of 192nd and Davidson is a prostitution hotspot. BIANCA CONSUNJI/The Bronx Ink

Although prostitution has long been a problem in Fordham, with Jerome Avenue being the epicenter of the freelance sex trade in the Bronx, it’s only starting to become an issue in the surrounding residential area. But because most of the residences around Kingsbridge Heights and Fordham Manor in the West 190s are single-family houses, it’s not easy for residents to just pack up and leave as they would if they lived in rented apartments.

The 52nd Precinct, which covers Kingsbridge and Fordham, has an estimated crime rate of just 2.5 percent in the past two years, but according to residents such as Magdalena Roble, it seems higher. “I’ve been living here for 30 years, and it’s never been like this,” said Roble, a housewife.

For a handful of Fordham residents, the increasing prevalence of prostitution in the residential areas of the neighborhood has become so common that they treat it as another annoyance—just like household pests.

“Our biggest problems here are prostitutes and raccoons,” said Ben Tetteyfio of Grand Avenue, who started padlocking his gate at night after one of his tenants saw a prostitute leaving with a client. “Hookers have sex at the back of the house. They just enter the gate and do their business in the backyard.”

“It can’t be helped,” Tetteyfio said. “They leave condoms behind, so I have to sweep them up after.”

Adeline Walker-Santiago, vice president of Community Board 7, said the precinct’s crime statistics did not reflect the darkening mood of the Kingsbridge and Fordham communities, which are composed primarily of Bengali and Hispanic immigrants.

“Those areas have been hit the hardest in the past few years,” said Walker-Santiago, who has been a community volunteer advocate for 13 years. “We used to have gangs here in the ‘70s, and they’re coming back. We’ve had a rash of recent crimes, including a man some thugs beat to death, plus a 4-year-old who was shot. It’s not the prostitutes who are responsible for them, but their presence is a measure of what’s happening to the neighborhood.”

Walker-Santiago said the Fordham streetwalkers came from as far as Brooklyn and Queens, but a number of them are locals. “Some homeowners didn’t even know their tenants are the same ones they see on the streets,” she said. “Prostitutes come because they know they can get away with it. Nothing’s being done to shoo them away.”

But police officers from the 52nd Precinct said they were working on bringing down the number of prostitutes in the area, although they would not provide the official number of prostitution-related arrests. “We patrol the streets and do decoy arrests,” said Officer John Rivera. “We’re working on it.”

However, Abdur Rahman Khan, 57, said the NYPD’s efforts to eradicate prostitution and crime were insufficient. “From midnight until 5 a.m., a minimum of 10 to 15 prostitutes—men and women—are out in the street outside my home,” said Khan, who lives on Davidson Avenue.

“Where there are prostitutes, there are pimps and drug dealers,” said Khan, the imam of the Bronx Muslim Center. “This area is dangerous.”

All houses, old and new, take extra security precautions to secure their homes from intruders. BIANCA CONSUNJI/The Bronx Ink

A dream house turned into a prison

In a public brainstorming session in November, Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera and Council Speaker Christine Quinn suggested installing security cameras in high-risk areas. But some residents, including Roble, had already installed hidden cameras in their homes. Sophisticated security systems are increasingly becoming a common feature in this part of town, where nearly every first-floor window is barred with metal rods. At first glance, the streets look harmless enough: a string of brick houses with picket fences and flower pots in pocket gardens. But there are no children playing in the streets, and gates are secured with padlocks and metal ropes.

Mohammed Solaiman Ali, who moved to Fordham in 2002 after living in Astoria, Queens, for five years, pointed out hidden wires in his living room—evidence of a $1,600 burglar alarm and surveillance system that costs him $100 a month to maintain. For Ali, currently an unemployed real estate broker, the expense is crippling but necessary.

“I have no income, but I have no choice,” said Ali, 45, a Bengali immigrant and a member of Community Board 7. He said the increasing crime and prostitution rates made him want to leave the neighborhood, but increasingly low real estate prices prevented him from doing so.

In December 2006, Ali took out a mortgage of $675,000 for a house on Grand Avenue. In 2007, a young woman entered his home through a window and took $3,000, plus some jewelry, and held a gun to his wife Johanara’s head. In a separate incident that same year, Ali said an alleged prostitute and a male companion assaulted him outside his home. According to Ali, police arrested the woman, who was eventually imprisoned for three years.

Unfortunately for Ali, who now takes on odd jobs to make ends meet, the 2008 collapse of the housing market cut the value of his property in half, forcing him to stay in a house he no longer wanted. His two-story residence is spacious and airy, with toys laid out on the front porch and pastel walls marked with crayon scribbles from his three children. “It was my dream house,” he said. “But now, it feels like a prison.”

Despite facing financial struggles, Mohammed Solaiman Ali invested in a $1,600 security system and pays a monthly fee of $100 to maintain it. BIANCA CONSUNJI/The Bronx Ink

Ali said some of his neighbors, particularly those from the Bengali community, felt the same way. His friend, Mohammad Karim of West 192nd Street, is burdened with property that is currently valued at $394,000, considerably less than the $740,000 that he paid for it in 2005, and lower than the street’s median property price value of $457,000.

Transient residents are considered lucky to be given the chance to leave; “Some people have just started leaving,” Walker-Santiago said. “Two people I know moved out because they worked late hours, and they were just too afraid to go home late in this area.”

The wary, frightened atmosphere that festers in the neighborhood is ideal for sex workers such as Nash, who said that residents mostly leave him alone to do his business. He said he had been arrested on numerous occasions for prostitution and disorderly conduct, only to be released after two or three days when his family bailed him out.

Clutching a brown paper bag that concealed a can of fruit punch Four Loko, a caffeinated alcoholic beverage, he admitted that his work was occasionally dangerous and led to rough encounters with law enforcers. “I hate cops,” he said. “They tried to frame me for cocaine possession, but all I had was Vicodin that wasn’t in a bottle. Didn’t stop them from scratching me up or calling me names.”

Nash does not see himself as a danger to the community; all he knows is that it is an easy way to scrape together cash for his vices, and perhaps get to save up to train for some real work in the future. “But no matter how broke I am, I’m never going to beg for change in the streets,” he said. “That’s what my ass is for.”

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Drug money-funded athletic center in Morris Heights takes off — NY Daily News

A new athletic center funded by proceeds seized from local drug rings opened its doors to teens in Morris Heights, said a report in the New York Daily News.

The Teen Impact Center, an extension of the Summer Play Street Program, was created by the Police Athletic League to “keep children busy and off the streets,” said parent Stephanie Rubio. It’s open to teens aged 12 to 16, and has facilities for basketball, volleyball, dance, and cultural events and will run until May 28, 2012.

Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, whose unit helped take down 22 drug dealers from the River Park Towers Housing Complex, joined the opening. The Teen Impact Center provided a chance to improve relations between the NYPD and the community, said NYPD Assistant Chief Carlos Gomez, Bronx borough commander.

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Man charged with slashing girlfriend’s face — NY1

A man was arrested this weekend after allegedly slashing his girlfriend’s face after an argument, said a report in NY1.com. Victor Ramos, 21, was charged with assault and criminal possession of a weapon four days after cutting his 28-year-old girlfriend’s face in her Morris Heights apartment on Wednesday evening.

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Woman fatally shot in Bronx nightclub — NBC News

An unidentified gunman fatally shot a woman and injured another person at a Hunts Point nightclub in the Bronx early this morning, said a report from NBC News. Monique Rodriguez, 33, was pronounced dead at the scene from a gunshot wound in her head soon after gunshots were fired at 4 a.m. at Club Heat.

Juan Troche, 28, was shot in the right arm, but found an ambulance in parked along Randall Avenue and was brought to the Lincoln Hospital. He is said to be in stable condition.

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Jane Addams High School to close next year — NY Daily News

The Department of Education plans to close the F-rated Jane Addams High School next fall, reported the New York Daily News. It will be one of the 12 public schools that the city plans to close due to students’ poor academic performances.

Jane Addams, a South Bronx school with a 45 percent graduation rate, made the news last week after Principal Sharron Smalls allegedly gave students course credits for classes they didn’t take. Smalls faced even more controversy after students plastered photos of her dancing with a bare-chested man, covered in chocolate syrup, around the school.

Despite its dismal performance, teachers said that the school should be given another chance. “The city should beef up our programs instead of shutting us down,” said one teacher. “This used to be an excellent school.”

 

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38 Trinitarios gang members caught — NY Daily News

Officers caught 38 members of a gang and charged them with drug dealing, racketeering, and gun trafficking in an undercover raid today. They recovered $25,000 worth of drugs and 12 firearms, said a report from The New York Daily News. The NYPD, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Homeland Security rounded up the Dominican-based Trinitarios gang after a two-year probe into their activities.

Federal prosecutors said that the gang members, mostly from the Bronx and upper Manhattan, were responsible for assaults and murder to protect itself from rival gangs. They also sold firearms and sold them across state lines.

Captain Lorenzo Johnson, commanding officer of the NYPD’s Bronx gang squad, said that the gang was responsible for trafficking firearms around different states. “We believe we put a big dent in the Trinitarios gang,” he said. “Anytime we can help the community feel safer is a good day.”

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South Bronx boxing gym to close after 30 years — NYTimes

John’s Boxing Gym, a Westchester Avenue institution, is closing its doors after 30 years, said a report in The New York Times. The gym, which used to be called the Jerome Boxing Club, will be demolished to make way for a new building.

Famous boxers such as Joshua (The Hitter) Clottey and Joseph (King Kong) Agbeko trained at the gym before making a name for themselves in the international boxing circuit. “Boxing is like religion here,” said Edwin Viruet, a trainer at the gym. Owner Gjin Gjini said that he plans to reopen in another location. “This has helped a lot of kids get off the streets,” he said.

 

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Petition to use public schools for prayer meetings rejected — NYTimes

The Supreme Court upheld a lower-court decision that backed New York City’s decision to ban the Bronx Household of Faith from  holding its Sunday services at P.S. 15, reported The New York Times. The evangelical church had been holding its Sunday services at the school since 2002.

The decision was in line with the city’s regulation, permitted under state law, of blocking the use of public schools as a venue for worship. However, roughly 160 congregations used school buildings for religious services in the 2010-11 school year alone. Officials expect to end the hundreds of prayer services in schools by Feb. 12, 2012.

“A worship service is an act of organized religion that consecrates the place in which it is performed, making it a church,” said the decision.

Jane Gordon, the senior counsel of the New York City Law Department, said in a statement that it was “a victory for the city’s schoolchildren and their families.”

 

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