BBN Exclusive: ‘Jail Playground’ Found at BK Public Housing Property. Design Changed.
(Originally published on March 21, 2010)
There is no kind, gentle, diplomatic way to describe the offense against a community by this ‘Jail Playground’ on a New York City Housing Authority property, located at Tompkins Houses (Park Avenue between Tompkins and Throop) in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where Black and Latino children live and play. (Disproportionately, Black and Latinos enter the criminal justice system. Encouraging young Black and Latino children to first play in Jail until they may actually get to jail or prison is playing loosey-goosey with their young, impressionable psyche and something no community should stand for or be subjected to).
Mr. Mayor Bloomberg, whether or not the word “Jail” was painted on after the City erected the apparatus or it came manufactured with “Jail” written on it, this egregious offense still falls on the City to take corrective action immediately.
Because of the nature of the offense we ask that the City of New York respond with the same urgency and expediency it would for residents – including children – who live and play in city owned-operated parks on the Upper West Side (below Washington Heights), the Upper Eastside (below Harlem), Battery Park City and definitely Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope – both in Brooklyn. We ask that the City disassemble and replace the ‘Jail Playground’ with suitable, appropriate, safe (body and mind) recreational apparatus within 24 hours (no need to drag the feet of bureaucracy on this one).
We encourage the City to review all recreational apparatus on city owned-operated housing developments and parks in neighborhoods where these offenses are more likely to occur. And, we encourage residents in and around Tompkins Houses to contact the Mayor’s Office, New York City Housing Authority and the Community Board representing the area.
BBN can’t thank enough photographer Monifa Bandele for being observant, taking the photograph and permitting us to post it.
UPDATE (March 23, 2010):
BBN visited the property at Tompkins Houses in Bedford Stuyvesant where the jungle gym stands and found that the structure is manufactured with “Jail” and the cell door. The lettering and cell door is not painted on the structure. For clarification of which city agency orders these products, BBN contacted the local representative of the manufacturer who explained that New York City Housing Authority orders these structures and that the city agency selects the items.
BBN contacted NYCHA and spoke with spokesperson, Sheila Stainback, who would only say, “We are looking into it and assessing the situation and what needs to be done.” Ms. Stainback also said she would get back to us about when the structure would be removed and replaced. As of the filing of this update NYCHA has not contacted us with a response.
BBN contacted Mayor Bloomberg’s Press Office and was told by the person who answered the telephone that someone would get back to us. As of the filingof this update the Mayor’s Press Office has not responded to us.
While visiting the property yesterday, BBN spoke with a Tompkins Houses resident, Maria (she did not give us her last name), who was walking with her five year old son about the jungle gym with “Jail” written on it. “I don’t think they should put that there in a neighborhood where many Blacks and Latinos go to jail. My son will ask me, Mommy, if I go in there, will I go to jail,” Maria said.
BBN is waiting for responses from the NYCHA and the Mayor’s Office. Among several other questions, we will ask city officials if other NYCHA properties have this same jungle gym structure on playgrounds, and who is responsible for selecting and ordering products for playgrounds.
BBN will keep you posted.
Follow Up (April 18, 2010):
On March 21st BBN was the first news outlet to report the story ‘Jail Playground at NYC Public Housing Property.’ By March 23rd all of New York news media leaped on the story that some in the press referred to as the City’s ‘JungleJail-Gate.’ Today, we report that the playground at Tompkins Houses in Bedford Stuyvesant (Brooklyn, New York) has been replaced with an Outer Space design. It took less than one month for change to come.
Though BBN was the first news outlet to report and circulate the story to its network, it was the collective effort of an observant community activist who first saw the offensive jail theme and notified a photographer who took the time to capture the image; an engaged community of residents; and the full, unrelenting, four-day force of an interested New York City mainstream press corps to bring about change from the City (NYCHA) in a relatively short period of time.
For many years residents of Tompkins Houses complained to NYCHA about the Jail theme structure and nothing was done. It took the collective-all-at-once pouncing of forces for the City to replace the jail jungle gym theme with a more encouraging and proper design for young children to play on. There are too many to name in this update, but for those who helped to bring about the change including: community and faith activists, Bedford Stuyvesant residents, concerned New York City residents who don’t live in the impacted neighborhood, journalists, Bloggers and local news outlets, we thank you for doing your part.
To the parents and children of Tompkins Houses, enjoy your new playground!
S. Toomer for BBN