By Alexander Dworkowitz
Day laborers looking for work on Flushing’s 40th Road have been arrested and hit with summonses because they prevent people from passing by, the commanding officer of the 109th Precinct said last week.
“It is not against the law to look for work,” said Inspector Owen Monaghan at a Friday news conference. “But it is against the law to block traffic.”
The meeting at Councilman John Liu’s (D-Flushing) office was an attempt by police and Liu to reduce tensions surrounding the day laborers who congregate on 40th Road near Prince Street. Chinese businesses dominate 40th Road.
In January, police and Liu’s office started getting an increased amount of complaints about the day laborers on the street, most of whom are Chinese immigrants. Dozens of laborers come to the street to be picked up for temporary work.
In response to those complaints, police began cracking down on the workers.
Some of the laborers were served summonses, while others were arrested. Although police did not have figures as to how many people were taken into custody, dozens of people have been arrested at 40th Road since January, sources said.
Monaghan said the day laborers were allowed to stand on the street for as long as they wanted. But when the laborers block the sidewalks and the narrow street, the department must take action, he said.
“It hurts business, and it’s intimidating to people walking by,” Monaghan said.
The police action, however, has raised some controversy.
On Feb. 7, a casually dressed Chinese professional who spoke little English was accidentally arrested along with day laborers, Liu said.
“He spent the day in jail and at the end of the day was released and told he had nothing to worry about,” Liu said. “That was a mistake.”
On Jan. 21, another Asian man was given a disorderly conduct summons while waiting to meet his wife on 40th Road, Liu said. The charges against him were later dropped.
“I don’t think that there is a pattern of mistakes being made,” Liu said. “I think that they were more of an exception. But even if there was one mistake, that’s one mistake that needs to be avoided in the future.”
Liu expressed confidence in the police.
“If people are conducting themselves in a disorderly way, if anybody is behaving inappropriately, the police should be on top of it,” he said. “If that type of activity is continuing, I would hope that the arrests are still being made.”
But some in the Chinese community were more critical of the arrests.
“I don’t think the cops should arrest them,” said Fred Fu, president of the Flushing Chinese Business Association.
Fu met with some of the day laborers last week and said they were well-behaved.
“Police say they’re noisy. I heard airplanes. I heard the cars. I heard the birds. I didn’t hear anything from these people.”
Fu said he believed the problem lay not with officers from the 109th Precinct, which covers the area, but with the city Housing Authority. The Housing Authority patrols Bland Houses, a public housing complex that faces Prince Street at 40th Road whose residents are mostly black.
Complaints from Bland residents as well as Chinese business owners on 40th Road fueled the police activity, Liu said.
Donald Henton, president of Bland’s tenants association, could not be reached for comment.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.