By Katy Gagnon
On a summer afternoon at the Marie Curie Park in Bayside, children of all ages are playing. Toddlers are pushed in swings by their parents, older children mount play structures and young teens giggle with friends from sidewalks. In many ways, the park, which lies within blocks of PS 31, MS 67 and MS 158, is a gathering place for children in northeast Queens.
Long-time community activist Mandingo Tshaka wants to protect the children in the parks — and other city parks — by naming the area surrounding schools, parks and other places frequented by children a "Drug Free Zone."
To do so, Tshaka is calling for the citywide placement of eye-level signs that plainly state the area is a "Drug Free Zone" and any offenders will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. He wants the signs placed at every park or school entrance, on telephone poles and 1,000 feet around schools or parks.
Tshaka believes it will be the first step in keeping potential drug dealers away from vulnerable children.
"It's prime real estate there with these little children," Tshaka said. "I think that if they knew it would be helpful."
Tshaka approached a number of elected officials and voiced his concerns. As a result, state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) sent a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, supporting the signs.
"One cannot overstate the importance of protecting New York's youth from the scourge of illegal drugs," Padavan said in his letter to the mayor June 20.
Padavan calls Tshaka "a tireless fighter for his community" and remembers working alongside him to stem the crack epidemic of the 1980s. Since then, the city has enjoyed success in the fight against drugs, but "that doesn't mean we can't continue to be on guard," Padavan said. "We don't want those problems to return."
Tshaka is most concerned for older children who might not come to the park with an adult.
A 13-year-old Bayside resident named Adam P., who did not wish to give his full name, frequently visits city parks and said he sometimes sees other kids smoking in the park. When walking by the parks with his mother, he sometimes smells what he thinks might be marijuana.
He thinks the signs are a good idea and might discourage drug dealers from coming near parks and schools if they saw other people get in trouble for it.
"If you see one person do it, that's all it's going to take," he said.
Reach reporter Katy Gagnon by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext 174.