NYCHA residents air grievances with police

April Thomas, 44, discusses the importance of saying hello to residents while on duty at public housing with NYPD Neighborhood Coordination Officer Artur Yukhananov. Photo: Emma Davis

Tensions rise between officers and tenants at “Build the Block” gathering

Although a recent meeting between Mill Brook and Mitchel Houses tenants and NYPD officers began well enough, with pizza, pleasantries, and 35 participants, it was derailed roughly 20 minutes later after rows of residents left following a tense exchange between a tenant and the officer leading the session.

The Sept. 14 gathering at the Mitchel Houses Community Center was part of the department’s “Build the Block” initiative, quarterly meetings started in 2016 to foster dialogue between officers  and their assigned communities. At this meeting, tenants drew attention to safety and sanitation issues and police conduct.

Neighborhood Coordination Officer Artur Yukhananov, who covers the Mitchel and Mill Brook Houses as part of the city’s two-year-old NCO program to bring local cops closer to neighborhood residents, hosted the forum.

Opening the meeting by declaring his unit’s concern for residents’ quality of life, Yukhananov handed out his business card, and told them, “I would like to hear from you guys.”

Resident Tyrone Hayes soon tested Yukhananov’s willingness to listen by criticizing police response to issues at the Mitchel Houses’ “Family Day” event this summer. 

“I just didn’t like the way it happened,” said Hayes, alluding to an incident involving officers and local youth. “I told [those kids] to walk away, leave y’all alone, let it be. Y’all chose to follow them.”

Yukhananov said that noise from the Family Day event had been disturbing other tenants trying to sleep, and that someone had called 911 to disperse the crowd. He and Hayes proceeded to speak over each other until another officer suggested the Family Day incident be addressed at another time. Hayes, 52, then walked out, as did several others.

Before leaving, Mitchel Houses tenant April Thomas said the tension with police in their community is a reflection of police-community relations nationwide.

“We’re supposed to teach our kids, when they’re in trouble, to come to you, and not be afraid… I’ve had my children say ‘hello,’ and the cop not respond,” said Thomas, a 44-year-old postal worker. “At least we can have the respect of [hearing], ‘Hello’… Because we [live] in the projects don’t make us no less human than anyone.”

Several residents expressed frustration over building conditions. Over the past two years, Mill Brook and Mitchel Houses have made local headlines for instances of leaky ceilings, vermin, gang activity, and violence at the complexes.

Nelson Montalvo, 56, complained of feces and urine in the Mill Brook elevators, hoping the police could help catch the culprits. Marilin Burgos, 23, said the Mitchel buildings’ exits stink of garbage, while Easter McLeod, 56 and Linda Duke, 73, said poor lighting there is hazardous at night.

Yukhananov vowed to address the lighting issue when he returned to work the following week but made few promises for the New York City Housing Authority, which holds primary responsibility for most building repairs.

“There’s a lot of residents, a lot of developments, and not everywhere they have finances to fix it right away,” he said.

After the meeting, Officer Yukhananov told The Herald that he thought it went well. Despite the tension, he was pleased that residents had aired concerns to inform his policing.