A rowdy band of about two dozen Bronx residents marched through Williamsbridge Oval Park Tuesday evening, chanting and waving signs with hand-drawn messages saying “Hey Thugs, Stay Out!” and “Keep Our Park Safe!”
The demonstration came in response to a recent spate of muggings in the park during the last few weeks. Within the past month alone, at least five people have been assaulted at the park in broad daylight, police said.
The rash of assaults has caused longtime residents such as Dilleta Pina, 61, to become concerned about their safety. Pina lives just two blocks away on Hull Avenue, and came out to the demonstration Tuesday to voice her frustration.
“I’ve never seen anything like this here,” Pina said. “The park’s always been the place in the neighborhood that parents can send their kids without having to worry, so it’s really unsettling to have this happening.”
Columbia University graduate student Nathaniel Hertz, 24, said he was walking near the basketball courts one afternoon in early September when two men punched him, stole his phone and took $10 from his wallet.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Herz, who was unable to yell for help quickly enough to stop the thieves from getting away. “It was the middle of the day.”
Lt. Mike Donnelly with the NYPD’s 52nd Precinct said he believes the muggings are somehow related, since each of the attacks has followed a similar pattern.
“Right now we think it’s the same group of guys who are just coming up to parkgoers, knocking them over, taking their money and running,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly said that while an investigation into the assaults remains ongoing, police have assigned additional officers to patrol the park. The victims have all been adults, Donnelly said.
For Annette Melindez, a mother of three who lives nearby on Bainbridge Avenue, the ramping up of police presence in the park comes as a welcome development.
“We desperately need more police here,” said Melindez, who often allows her kids to travel in groups to the park after school. “Just the other day one of my friends was taking her daughter to a girl scouts meeting when a man mugged her in the middle of the park, and there were no police around to stop it.”
But frequent parkgoer Eileen Markey said she believes there’s a better solution to the Oval’s mugging problem than bringing in more police officers.
“What we need to do is let these thugs know that we won’t tolerate this behavior by continuing to come out to the park and not letting them scare us away,” said Markey, a local resident and reporter for CityLimits Magazine. “Having lots of people in the park at all times is the only way to stop what’s been going on”