Melrose protesters demand solutions for opioid epidemic

Protesters in The Hub demand the mayor act to reduce the proliferation of opioid users on the streets of Melrose and Mott Haven. Photo by Sean Sanders.

Rain and cold temperatures couldn’t stop the dozens of South Bronx residents who gathered Saturday morning in The Hub in support of a Sound the Alarm: South Bronx Community in Crisis rally.

Children and adults rallied around a pile of broken-down cardboard and a clear can of needles, marked exhibit A and Exhibit B, respectively. The cardboard was remnants of a makeshift shelter used by homeless substance abusers, and the needles are among the many calling cards left by those who use and deal drugs in the area.

“We’ve had enough of this nonsense,” said Marty Rogers, 63, a founding member of the Take Back The Hub committee that organized the event. “If the city is incapable to do something about it, then we will do something about it.”

The rally comes days after the attempted rape of a 82-year-old woman in front of her home, first reported Bronx News 12. This incident, as well as the safety of children in the neighborhood, were the sparks pushing the residents to take action.

At a September public meeting with police officers from the 40th Precinct, Rogers and other Melrose residents urged the NYPD to do more to protect them against transients attracted by numerous methadone clinics and the easy availability of opioids.

Immaculate Conception School and daycare center is a short distance away on East 151st Street.  Bianca Colon, 16, and Fanta Diop, 15, pass the Hub each morning on the way to school.

“I see it so often, I accept it as a part of daily life and I don’t want to,” said Colon.

With tears in her eyes, Diop revealed to the crowd just how traumatizing the local drug war has been for her family. She has boarded the subway to school in Manhattan  since she was 11 years old. Now, though, she said, “I can’t walk any more. My mom is scared and now I’m too scared for myself.” In the current circumstances, “I don’t want to be caught at the wrong time and be a victim of something that shouldn’t happen.”

The rally-goers said they had little faith in law enforcement or elected officials to address the situation. Organizers invited elected and appointed officials from Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill to City Councilman Rafael Salamanca to hear their concerns. No officials were in attendance. Only Salamanca responded to the invitation to attend. He cited a conflict in scheduling, but promised to attend a walk of the neighborhood, which Rogers is scheduled to lead at a later date. Neither the mayor nor the Police Commissioner responded to inquiries from the Herald about why they did not attend the rally. The absence of elected officials came as no surprise, however, to the residents.

“We aren’t demonizing the people using the drugs, we are wondering where in God’s name are the elected officials to help,” said Rogers.

Leslie Limardo, 42, is a lifetime resident who is now raising her child in the neighborhood. The crime and drug epidemic has gotten worse over the years, said Limardo, but she says she reminds herself of what the community could be.

“This isn’t just a place where people walk by, this is a place where people live,” Limardo said. She noted how the epidemic has led many South Bronxites to shop and spend money elsewhere or move to different neighborhoods altogether. “And as a mom, it’s hard. My daughter refused to come with me today because she hates this corner,” she continued.

Sister Patrice of Immaculate Conception School offered prayer and encouragement to boost community morale. Then residents ended the rally in song, with a chorus of people singing, “Our dear Lord is with us, we shall not be moved. Just like a tree planted by the water, we shall not be moved.”