By Ivan Pereira
City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) said the city's drug-free school zones have cracked down on drug activity in Queens and he wants to increase the presence of those sites in New York.
The councilman announced during a news conference outside the Marie Curie Park in Bayside Sunday that he was preparing to introduce a bill that would not only raise awareness of the 1,000-square-foot zones in the community, but also bring that level of protection to other public areas.
Many residents are not aware that they live near a drug-free area and, more importantly, do not know the guidelines that come with it, according to the councilman.
“New York City has made major strides against drug use. It is important that we do everything we can to stem this drug problem,” said Gennaro, who was joined by families from the nearby Bayside Presbyterian Church.
The bill would place more detailed signs near the zones that would warn would-be drug users about the penalties they would face for possessing and using drugs. Anyone arrested for using or distributing illegal substances in these zones would be hit with higher fines and face more prison time than people arrested outside of the restricted areas, according to Gennaro.
In the city, drug-free zones are limited to public schools and playgrounds, but the bill would allow the city to declare public parks, private schools and churches as drug-free zones.
“Just like a school, a park is a learning ground. We don't want [children] influenced by those who use and sell drugs,” Gennaro said.
Community activist Mandingo Tshaka praised the councilman for taking the initiative to expand the program. The signs would deter criminals and teach children to stay on the right path, according to Tshaka.
“The children are prime targets to be susceptible for drugs,” he said. “The signs must be visible.”
Gennaro said the bill would not take a toll on the city's tight budget because it would propose that the signs be placed on already existing utility poles and fences.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.