Thursday, December 10, 2015

"Like being in a shark tank": Prospect Heights woman reports construction worker harassment, "dry hump' from drunks leaving Barclays boxing event

While the the bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting last night was supposed to focus on designs for 664 Pacific Street, the B15 tower that will contain a new public school, it was derailed significantly by a large crowd expressing concern and dismay about arena operations and construction impacts.


Perhaps the most dramatic complaint was conveyed secondhand, by two women who reported that a Dean Street resident they know--I'll refer to her as DSR--has been experiencing sexual harassment from construction workers who are building Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park towers.

"I'm really concerned about her safety," said Sarah East Johnson, who later shared the document below recounting the issue. 

She noted that DSR (who describes being around construction workers as "like being in a shark tank") one morning was called "an ugly bitch" by a worker, treated poorly by a group of workers around him, then stymied when she tried to speak with a supervisor at Tishman Construction.

DSR also was "sexually assaulted by drunk people" leaving an arena boxing event, who tried to "dry hump" her. (Note that the behavior certainly seems to qualify as sexual misconduct, such as forcible touching, but criminal sexual assault does not always match the colloquial definition.)

What's the response?

"What are you going to do about this, what's the street harassment training"? Johnson asked at the meeting,  held at 55 Hanson Place.

Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton said she'd learned of the incidents about an hour earlier, and said it was "incredibly upsetting." She said Forest City was arranging a meeting with the 78th Precinct next week. (The police were on the agenda but not at the meeting.)

"It is absolutely not tolerated" by workers, she added, threatening termination for bad behavior.

Johnson and Marci Blackman both asked if the precinct had training in responding to sexual harassment incidents, and wondered if a "more sophisticated" approach was necessary. Cotton said she'd take that issue into consideration, given corporate resources regarding harassment.

Cotton said that Greenland Forest City has regularly tried to ensure that construction workers are good neighbors, saying they should stop sitting on people's stoops. (That hasn't worked too well, as residents say it's a regular problem during lunch hour.) She again promised to look into it quickly.

Later, after Johnson and Blackman spoke at length to Forest City and Barclays Center officials, they told me they were encouraged by the response. Clearly, the developer was on red alert.

Managing the fans

A separate resident at the meeting suggested that the behavior of arena-goers was tougher to manage. "You can't fire the Islanders fans," she said. "The tenor in the neighborhood has changed since Islanders have started playing...The tension is one of violence... So, how are you going to reeducate Islander fans... Are things going to be said to fans in the arena?"

(She didn't know at that point that the "dry hump" incident involved boxing fans. I'd say that anecdotal evidence is that boxing attracts a more rough and male crowd compared to other events, and that the extended length of the event, with many undercard bouts, offers the opportunity for a lot of drinking.)

Cotton said she'd speak to the arena general manager, saying such behavior is not acceptable. In response to a question about whether the Barclays Center would hire private security to act beyond the arena perimeter, Cotton said they'd have to check with the local precinct. 

(Note, however, that Forest City will not be the majority operator of the arena for long.)

Another resident asked if the various screens at the arena might be remind arenagoers that it's inappropriate to harass residents.

"We do make public announcements about" issues like littering, Cotton said, musing that it might be possible.
Dean Street resident's account, cited at meeting

The harassment episode


According to DSR, she regularly deals with daily catcalls, and a construction worker writing a heart shape on her car window. But on December 2, she had just returned to Brooklyn on a red-eye flight from Seattle.

At 9:30 am, she wrote, "the neighborhood is swarming with construction workers. As a female it is like being in a shark tank just to walk down your own street."

While DSR typically responds politely when construction workers say good morning, that day she was in a hurry and just wanted to be left alone. Reacting to her non-response, the worker who said good morning got upset and called her an "ugly bitch" as she stepped out of a store.

They argued heatedly. Some 20 other construction workers nearby "sat around and laughed along with each other." And when she tried to speak to the site supervisor, "he didn't even want to shake my hand when I introduced myself. I feel this was because I am a black female, and that to me was the ultimate disrespect."

DSR wrote that she would not stop until the worker "is fired or removed from the neighborhood."

Three days later, it got worse. Walking home after a visit to the bank, she was "ambushed" by three drunk men leaving the arena after the night's boxing match.

One man danced in front of her and grabbed her in a bear hug. A second grabbed her from behind, and "proceeds to dry hump me from behind." The third was "laughing and yelling in the street."

She sought to escape to the nearby firehouse, on Dean just east of Sixth Avenue, and the men let go. But after she entered the sanctuary the men didn't leave. "They continued to harass and knock on the firehouse door. The guy who'd grabbed me from behind asked the firefighter 'can I just leave my number with her.'"

Ultimately the firefighter walked her home.

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