Safety in Recreation: Violence in the Park/personal safety while working out.
I am an avid runner of over 20 years. I have run Central Park, Bronx Park, and various other parks all over the US as well as abroad. In Central Park, I mostly have to fear being hit by cyclists riding in the runner’s lane, or the occasional Parks and Rec truck almost “snowplowing” at full speed into me. However, in what could and should be considered “suburbia” as well as the outer boroughs, as a woman, I have to be more concerned about being attacked while trying to keep myself healthy.
In the Bronx, as well as certain areas in Brooklyn, personal safety has been a major issue. Gang violence. Random shootings in and around parks. In May 2018, i was assaulted In a park I have run for 15 years by a 13-year-old boy on a busy Saturday when there were at least 50 or 60 other people near my running path. He smacked me on the head hard, twice, because he wanted to steal my headphones (which were all of $10, but looked expensive I guess). For about 2 months after the incident, I have worn disguises, or changed my running route altogether, especially after seeing signs for a recent gang assault, as well an attempted rape along the path that I run. The Officers from the 47 insisted that I file the report, as the kid who attacked me had a history of “doing this”, and they were trying to get him out of his home. The 47 also said that “this area” between East 211th and East 217th streets had “issues”.
But the DA office mailed me a letter that they “let him go”, even though I gave her a video, and the headphones, which should have had his fingerprints on them. I did not feel safe for a very long time.
Two years had passed since that incident, and during the Coronavirus Pandemic, I felt more than safe running in Bronx Park as very few people were out. There are a core group of exercisers who come to the park to run, and use the bars/benches to do push-ups, pull-ups, and other activities. Once the weather improved, more people were out, and people began having 30 person barbecues, and would leave the trash all along the river. It took MONTHS to get the parks department to clean this up. But I would run one day, and do step aerobics the next, alternating my workouts. I would even put out all of my weights, and do my weight workout right there on the pathway of the north end of the park.
But on Monday the 26th, after working on set (I was a stand in for a child on a film), I wanted to do my run. It was chilly, and getting dark, so I wore my running light. I did NOT go into the Park, but on the outside of the park. I did, however, go to the lit area of the upper park of Bronx Park around East 211th through East 214th. There were people out, as it was 6:30pm through 7pm, as well as another jogger, and someone walking their dog. I made the mistake of taking out my phone, as I heard a ding that would mean possible work for me. I felt I was not alone. I turned around, and there was a stocky guy on a moped with his light and motor cut, and a woman (she had reddish hair, even though she was AA). They walked the moped up to me stealthily, so I knew I was in trouble. She said something like, “Are you with TMZ”. I did not feel safe so I ran out of the park towards the buildings. Like vampires from “the Lost Boys” they were suddenly circling me in an instant, and there was now a third guy. I started screaming, “Help! Police!” and dialed 911. A bike delivery man came to my aid, and the three of them started arguing, which gave me the chance to escape. I ran up a hill, and to a whole other area, and thanked the delivery man for his help. I did NOT bother waiting for the police to arrive. Who knows what would have happened to me by then.
I also play music in the park in Tuckahoe. This is one of the most suburban, and seemingly safe areas. However, last Saturday, I was approached by a pervert, possible, no, confirmed sexual offender. Many people approach and talk to me, as well as tip me while I play music, but this 6 foot something, stocky man, spoke in a weird whispery tone. It took me a minute to realize that not only was he standing way too close to me, but he was saying things like “what else can you do”, “you like like you are good with your hands” and misinterpreting words of songs like Norah Jones, “Don’t know why I didn’t come” and he said the word “come” in a creepy way. Although he threw me a few bucks, I did what I could to keep playing and not engage, as he was HUGE. I then realized his zipper was down. He asked “if I wanted to come over right now and give him a lesson”. I lied and said I had to get ready for a show and he left.
We all remember this case:
https://www.chipchick.com/2019/06/the-whole-story-of-what-happened-to-karina-vetrano-the-murdered-nyc-jogger-found-by-her-father.html, which as a female runner sends shivers down my spine. Another “kid” attacked a beautiful young woman who happened to just want to go for a run.
As of late, not one, but three attacks happened in one day in Queens. https://abc7ny.com/attempted-rape-queens-forest-park-rapes-woodhaven-drive/7901101/
It seems that they may have a suspect in custody. But in my areas, the police have fallen down on the job, it seems. Although I saw one of the 52 in the south end of Bronx Park last night, the 47 seems to be AWOL right now from their side of the park.
It is not right for those of use who want to get outside and be healthy in the Bronx and other similar areas to have to fear for our lives. We deserve a safe space to work out, walk, see beauty, without fear of violence.
Children (as well as adults) need parks, where we can feel safe to run and play without fear of being killed by guns. Women should not have to worry about being attacked while they exercise.
I am doing my best to write to the politicians, as well as 311, but it seems like my pleas are falling on deaf ears. I managed to get the park cleaned up, but it seems like public safety has otherwise fallen by the wayside while gyms remain closed, or have limited access. I guess I will just run with pepper spray if it is dark and steer clear of the park after 5pm until the Spring.
Kama Linden is a singer-songwriter with 4 studio albums, the newest being, “Everything In Good Time”, releasing in Summer 2020. She is also an actress, fitness instructor, freelance photographer, and has a fitness book: “Healthy Things You Can Do In Front Of The TV”.