A Community Past Change

A Crime Finds Roosevelt Island at Unplanned Crossroads

Updated 1 year ago David Stone
Sparse crowd listens to Commander Nunez on Monday night.
Sparse crowd listens to Commander Nunez on Monday night.
Photo courtesy of Frank Farance

Farris Koroma committed a stupid crime, firing random bullets across the East River in the middle of the night to impress his girlfriend. And he exposed Roosevelt Island to a defining moment in the sunlight. Nothing we saw should be a surprise, but it probably was.

A Reflection on Crime

114th Precinct Commander Osvaldo Nunez, Ozzie, reached out to Manhattan Park's management, arranging a meeting intended to put residents' minds at ease in the immediate aftermath of a shooting that did no more damage than a couple of broken windows in a ritzy apartment building that could easily afford to have them fixed.

The greater harm was the emotional impact.

For the public, as with terrorism, it's the fear of random violence, of being victim of something with which you have no genuine connection or control. For Roosevelt Islanders, it's a loss of innocence, an unwanted awakening, an exposure.

A Crime Finds Roosevelt Island at Unplanned Crossroads

Community Board 8 Member and RIRA Common Council Vice President Lynne Shinozaki made it clear. We, Roosevelt Islanders, never expected guns to be part of what little crime we have.

But they already were, Nunez explained. Of crimes committed by the small, not very active crew police keep an eye on here, a crew of which Koroma is a member, four involved weapons.

No, he told the audience, Koroma's gun had not been recovered. 

We learned some interesting things about our 22 year old neighbor, Farris Koroma: his record includes 17 arrests, some involving violence; he's already out on bail; he's an American citizen, although his family has diplomatic ties; and he's part of a small Roosevelt Island crew, a club of social outsiders inclined toward criminal activity.

The Roosevelt Island crew is relatively benign, having gone nearly a year without an arrest. Before Koroma's firing of reckless shots in the air, the most recent was of a member caught breaking into apartments. He twice broke in where people who recognized him were home and is now serving 14 years in prison for his blunders.

Roosevelt Island, Nunez said in trying to calm any still frayed nerves, is the safest neighborhood in the 114th Precinct. Of nearly a thousand index crimes this year, involving thefts, rapes, assaults, etc., we get credit for only 21.

Given human nature, which assures us that we'll never live in paradise, that's pretty decent.

And realistically, it ain't bad.

Of greater concern, as Paul Lenner made clear in a question for Nunez, a young man who'd been arrested 17 times is out on the streets. Where's the justice in that?

Frank Farance reminded Nunez that crimes like these have far reaching effects, spreading fear well beyond the immediate impact. The police should throw the book at this guy.

Nunez diplomatically let it be known that the men in blue have limited influence on the criminal justice system. In short, punishment often does not fit the crime.

Commander Osvaldo Nunez flanked by Brian Weisberg, who hosted the meeting, and Jack McManus, his local counterpart.
Commander Osvaldo Nunez flanked by Brian Weisberg, who hosted the meeting, and Jack McManus, his local counterpart.
Photo courtesy of Frank Farance

Reflections on Roosevelt Island

As an objective observer, I was impressed as much by who was there as who was not. Attendance made a statement about who we are as a community nearly 18 years into the 21st Century.

In spite of a week of publicity that included news vans setting up live broadcasts from Manhattan Park, less than 100 of our 12,000 residents showed up to listen to what Commander Nunez had to say. That's about .8% of us.

Not very impressive.

Some of that can be explained by exceptional factors. A lot of people are away on vacations the last two weeks in August. And because the talk originally targeted Manhattan Park's residents and wasn't otherwise publicized until the day before, some folks didn't learn of it in time.

But .8%?

A scan of the crowd told a story that many Roosevelt Islanders probably don't want to hear.

First, the regulars who always come out were present again... Matthew Katz and Sherie Helstien, Shinozaki, Farance, Roosevelt Islander Rick O'Conner recording the full event to make it publicly available, Vicki Feinmel, Lenner...

Less familiar faces stepped up to express concerns about crime and to question how PSD, NYPD and Manhattan Park planned to deal with it, including better attention to burned out lights, more patrols, security cameras...

These were all the right things to talk about, and Nunez, PSD Chief Jack McManus and Manhattan Park Property Manager Brian Weisberg were respectful and responsive. Each brought their chief assistants as a show of force and commitment.

Yet, they were not addressing a microcosm of our community. They were addressing a small subset of those who care passionately about life here.

That subset is shrinking.

Who wasn't there filled out the story. 

Not a single elected official showed up, even though they're critical to lasting changes. Were they content to snooze once their wealthier Gold Coast constituents in One East River Place were satisfied by an arrest? Whatever the reason, the local optics for Kallos, Seawright and Brewer weren't good.

Apart from Chief McManus, who worked around the clock for a week as his staff played a critical role in identifying and arresting Koroma, no executives from RIOC were present. Not surprising after 5:00 p.m. Bad optics, but expected.

But the real vacuum, the missing presence in the room, was created by a demographic that's rapidly changing Roosevelt Island from a stable community to one that's young, transient and Asian.

Students who flock here to take advantage of cheap housing while attending classes at Fordham and NYU skipped the event. They occupy a substantial portion of Manhattan Park, the complex most affected by Koroma's gunfire, and were notified well in advance by management.

That tells us something about who we are, these days, and by we I mean all of us, pioneers and other permanent residents as well as the ever-changing population of students who come here to learn at the best schools in America.

We have not and are not integrated. That's not the Roosevelt Island we once knew.

Point fingers and place blame were you may. Unless the dynamics change, the identification with tolerance and diversity with which we've identified from the day they opened the doors at Rivercross will continue to melt into something weaker, diluted with indifference.


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