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Articles of Interest by Jay B. Itkowitz During his Journalism Career

A community in transition

Long Island Press, April 8, 1973

It is only 7 p.m. on a pleasant evening, but few people walk on the street.

In a bakery, one of the few remaining stores open, the two female workers carefully survey potential customers before letting them past a locked door. If someone looks "hopped up," one explains, "we're closed." The store has been robbed three times in the last two years.

Even during the day, housewives and older women tightly clutch their pocketbooks as they walk the street. Many take only the exact money needed for purchases. Some guard against purse-snatchers by pinning their money inside their blouses.

The scene is not the South Bronx or any other "ghetto" area of New York City; it's an area of Flushing in central Queens.

Specifically, it's a small shopping center on Kissena Boulevard running from Aguilar Road to 71st Avenue. A short away are Queens College, with its 20,000 plus commuter students, and the city's Pomonok Housing complex of low to middle-income families and the Electchester Houses, a cooperative apartment development

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Other apartment houses, garden apartments and private homes surrounded the integrated neighborhood. It's no more than a 15-minute ride to either downtown Flushing or Jamaica.

But merchants and others in the area fear the community "is going downhill." The merchants say business has dropped off in recent years, especially at night.

Petty crimes such as purse-snatchings and muggings are a daily fear to people who live and shop in the area. Many of the residents, including members of Community Planning Board 8, equate the "crime wave" with the newer and poorer tenants now dominating many of the three-story garden apartments found in the community. Long-time residents say that for the past seven years, at first almost imperceptibly, white middle-class families have been moving out to be replaced by black and Hispanic families. At the same time, they say, the conditions of the garden apartment developments have declined. The residents specifically named Carlton Gardens time and time again as a case in point.

Andrew Guthartz, manager of Carlton Gardens since it changed ownership last August, says the 504-apartment development is now 90 to 95 percent black. He added that less than 40 percent are on welfare.

Mrs. Doris Mathews, a Carlton Gardens resident director of the Carlton Gardens Children's Center, an after-school program for children 6 to 12, believes part of the problem is that "the whites around the neighborhood think we're taboo."

What they forget, she said, "is that poor black people here are ripped off many times, too. Our apartments are robbed and our kids are ripped off in the street and beaten, too."

Mrs. Matthews said the center, which takes care of 42 children at the nominal fee of $2 per week, was burglarized of $2,000 worth of equipment last July.

Mrs. Matthews blames the local crime problem basically on two things: drugs and "lack of youth services."

"You can get anything you want [drugs] in Carlton Gardens," she said angrily. "Because the outside community doesn't give a damn, the dealers feel safe here."

Planning board members are worried that the surrounding neighborhood may become ghettoized, too. They feel rising numbers of welfare families are not good for the community.

Mrs. Shirley Weinstein, CPB 8 secretary and president of the Mid-Queens Community Council, said she believes Carlton Gardens is 80 percent welfare.

Neither Weinstein nor Guthartz has any hard figures for their desperate reckoning. Officials of the city's Department of Human Resources were unable to provide statistics to shed further light on the matter.

Mrs. Matthews' charges are supported by another board member.

"It is a known fact there are drugs in Carlton Gardens," said Aldean Moore, vice-chairman of CPB 8. "A lot of kids from there are snatching purses in the local shopping areas, too."

Moore, the lone black on the 20-plus member board, believes fear of crime is driving the middle class out of the surrounding area. "It's going downhill," he said. "It's not a runaway wagon yet, but if it continues, it will be."

A liquor store salesman agrees with Moore's assessment that fear is driving some residents away. "A helluva lot of our customers have been coming in to say goodbye," he said.

The manager of a department store on Kissena Boulevard said shoplifting is a constant problem and that the customer drop-off at night had forced the store to remain open on Sundays

"If this trend continues it could eventually drive us out of business," he said. "We're large, we can take a lotta licking, but not the small stores."

Mrs. Matthews said there are no youth services for kids from 11 to 14 in the area. "These are the ones that hang out in the shopping area and beat up other kids and go shoplifting."

"There ought to be a community center around here," she added. "As these kids get older they get involved in more serious crimes," she said.

"The shame of it is that given the right setting, the children could be motivated," she said. "If you can't cultivate a kid he'll become a rotten adult" is her philosophy.

Lt. Thomas J. McCabe of the 107th Precinct, which covers the area, says crime in and around the neighborhood has been rising lately and more police have been assigned to the area.

McCabe said statistics show felonies up 24 percent in 1972 in Sector Q, which covers 73rd Avenue to Jewel Avenue and Kissena Boulevard to Park Drive East. The sector ranks fourth among the 17 sectors in the 107th, which covers 11 square miles.

McCabe said purse snatchings have declined recently in the area, and he attributed the rise in felonies to increased auto thefts.

"We're not discounting street crimes," McCabe said. But he added, "crime wave" talk is often the result of "the beauty shop syndrome." This is a phenomenon, he said, where one crime becomes magnified into a crime wave by misinformation and repeated talk.

Concerning drugs, McCabe said police have received complaints about the area and are acting on them. "Arrests have been made and investigations are continuing," he said. "On the other hand, we just can't go in and break down doors."