PATERSON, NJ- Still sporting a cut lip and three loose teeth, Paterson resident Lomor Uddin stood before the Paterson City Council on Wednesday and recounted a recent attack he suffered on Union Avenue in the city’s 1st Ward on August 3. The incident, which he referred to as “the knockout game” left him unconscious for 15 minutes.
“I turned up Redwood Avenue and walked less than 100 yards,” Uddin said of the incident which happened while he was walking home from the Masjid Al-Ferdous. “Then someone punched me in the back and I fell to the concrete.”
The story was part of a nearly two hour discussion between law enforcement, city officials, residents, and business owners regarding a proposal to designate the stretch of Union Avenue, between Jasper and Kearny Street, as a “hot spot.” If given the designation, the area will be one of 12 in the city in which businesses are forced to close by midnight, and loitering after those hours is punishable by increased fines.
Uddin’s story continued and revealed that less than 24 hours after the attack that sent him to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center for treatment the 60-year-old was attacked a second time in the same area, this time with another man, Mosleh Uddin (no relation) at his side. While no injuries were reported in the second incident both men remain fearful because the perpetrators “are still walking around.”
“People are scared,” Alex Chaudhary told TAPinto Paterson. Chaudhary, the new owner of Alex and Son’s Auto Repair, a small business that sits in what would be designated as a hot spot, said that while he has tried to be a good neighbor going to great lengths to keep the area in front of his building clean and passable, he was also the victim of a robbery.
During the overnight hours last Saturday, Chaudhary recounted, someone kicked in an air conditioner on the side of his business, entering the premises and leaving with $45,000 worth of equipment, including two computers, three flat screen televisions, and tools.
“I don’t feel safe, please help us,” Chaudhary pleaded to the city council before saying that he has since spent $20,000 on additional security measures.
Not all members of the public who spoke were in favor of putting additional business restrictions into place, including Victor Lopez, a 22-year business owner who said that he follows “all the laws and cooperates with the police department.”
“I cannot help the chaos that goes on outside. It’s not my job to police the street,” he continued conveying his concern that forcing the earlier closure will negatively impact his business.
“Parents and their kids come into my restaurant for a meal,” Lopez said. “I’m concerned that if we close early, people will go to other towns, or areas, to get a drink and then drive rather than walk home.”
Calling it a “tool against crime,” Police Director Jerry Speziale, Chief Troy Oswald, and Captain Patrick Murray each spoke in favor of the curfew while presenting statistics showing that while crime has dropped by 79 percent in the areas currently designated as hot spots it has increased in the area under discussion consistently since 2016.
The number of homicides and shootings have dropped citywide as well, they said.
While 5th Ward Councilman Luis Velez spoke in favor of the curfew saying that the numbers “speak for themselves,” not all of his colleagues were immediately swayed.
Offering her support of business owners, while also clear in her own desires to see the city become safer, Council President Maritza Davilla suggested that “there are other measures we can take,” and that crime is an “outside issue, not an inside one.”
Among other solutions, Davila offered, is liquor stores that are consistently being served violations “should have their licenses taken away,”
Faced with the opposition Speziale, Oswald, and Murray continued to make their appeal with the first saying that while the Paterson Police are doing all they can “some things are out of control.”
“We can’t allow a situation to continue when blood will be on our hands.”
Murray followed with his own plea recounting a recent incident in which at least 40 people congregated in the area during early morning hours to shoot a rap video without any permits. The scenario, he said, was “ripe for a shooting.”
While saying that business owners must also take some responsibly for the activity that happens in and around their establishments the curfew, especially in the summer months, Councilman Al Abdelaziz said, encourages people to go home rather than “hang out.”
“If you don’t change the culture, people will do whatever they want,” Councilman Flavio Rivera retorted while suggesting that more can be done to address loitering by addressing the laws already on the books.
“People continue to use marijuana at Eastside Park,” he said. “Does that mean we should close that down early?”
Rivera’s argument was supported by Councilman Michael Jackson who shared his concern that the new regulations don’t necessarily solve the problems, but rather simply moves them, as he claims is the case in the area of Belmont Avenue and North 9th Street following the implementation of a hot spot just blocks away.
Referencing the two recent non-fatal shootings on Union Avenue Councilwoman Lilisa Mimms said that “we’re not here to close businesses down but we can’t turn a blind eye and a deaf ear.“
“We can’t wait until someone gets killed.”
After listening to the two hours of, at times, heated discussion, Mayor Andre Sayegh, who has often spoken of the success of the hot spot designations, legislation he championed while on the city council, offered his support of the measure saying simply, “statistics don’t lie.”