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Know Your Rights
Source: Times Newsweekly
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Left in the Dark

Bushwick School for Social Justice student Mawi Roberto has one last chance to play on the school’s softball team.  

The junior didn’t participate this season because a lack of lighting at the Bushwick Campus high school complex made it too dangerous for her to walk home from practice after dark.  

After she claimed three unidentified attackers assaulted her friend outside the school one evening, Roberto’s mother decided not to let her attend any after-dark activities—even though the 16-year-old lives only blocks from the school. Her aunt even keeps Roberto’s cousin from going to classes at the campus, she said, because the student attends night school after dusk.

“Sometimes I feel like I miss out a lot in sports,” Roberto told a group of concerned parents this past weekend. “This is the reason why I say we need more lighting at our school. So at least, before I graduate, I could have at least one year to participate on the softball team.”  

Left in the dark 
The 11th-grader’s comments, which she read from a letter addressed to the Department of Transportation in charge of street lighting, echoed those of some other parents who attended a forum at Bushwick Campus this Saturday to petition the city to shed some light on their situation.  

The parents feel left in the dark because they claim the alleged scarcity of lighting at the high school complex has created a dangerous situation for students who remain active after sundown. To address the issue, they called on the DOT this weekend to provide additional street lighting that they claim will improve nighttime conditions around the campus, allowing their children to participate in evening extracurricular activities by discouraging would-be attackers. 

The group, which includes parents of students attending the Bushwick School of Social Justice—one of four schools located inside the former Bushwick High School—gathered at the Irving Avenue campus on Mar. 24 with representatives of local elected officials, a group of social workers and a representative from the Brooklyn borough office of the DOT to plot a course of action for securing more lighting around the square-block campus. 

Making progress 
So far, the parents and a group of Hunter College graduate students (studying social work) who are interning at the school have collected over 1,200 signatures on a petition requesting the additional lighting. Along with the signatures, the group also plans to forward personal testimony from parents and students to the DOT’s Brooklyn commissioner asking the department to take action. 

The group was able to elicit feedback directly from a DOT community affairs representative present at the weekend meeting, and relayed their concerns directly to her regarding the urgency of the matter.  

According to at least two other parents in attendance, they planned to remove their children from school sports teams because of fears over safety after dark. 

“If they can’t move [practice] up earlier, I’m going to take her out,” Dr. Lorriane Harris-Davis said of her 14-year-old daughter’s participation on the basketball team. Harris-Davis claimed that she often has to take time off from her job at a medical center in Weeksville to chaperone her daughter home from practice.  

Rafaela Taveras explained that even though she has encouraged her 16-year-old daughter to get involved in athletics, she worried about her safety after viewing the lighting around the campus.  

“I really like that she plays volleyball, because it’s always been my favorite sport and thought it was something very positive for her,” Taveras said through a translator. “And even though I didn’t want to oppose her playing, my wish was that she quit the volleyball team so I wouldn’t have to worry about her.” 

DOT assessment 
DOT representative Ronda Messer, who works directly under the Brooklyn borough commissioner, stated that after an initial daytime assessment of the lighting situation by department inspectors, they found the area’s hardware to be adequate. According to Messer, the assessment includes a survey of the number and height of light poles, the distance between the poles, and overall wattage. 

“The preliminary result that I got yesterday was that these streets do have sufficient hardware based on our standards that are the same throughout the entire city of New York,” she said, adding that a separate, nighttime assessment would be conducted the following week.  

Some parents took issue with the fact that the city doesn’t bulk up street lighting in student-rich areas, while others claimed that the residential neighborhood’s low-rise, set-back structures don’t shine enough extra light onto sidewalks. 

Messer did note that if the inspectors discover any burned-out bulbs during their nighttime inspection, the community can expect them to be fixed in nine to 10 business days. But as far as the number of total light fixtures around the campus’ four outer blocks—Irving, Knickerbocker and Putnam avenues, and Woodbine Street—as of now the city doesn’t plan to add more. 

Other solutions  
“Based on the inspection of the number of light poles, it is not our intention to put [up] additional light poles,” Messer stated.  

However, she did suggest that the group write to the department requesting “additional security lighting” aimed at the school—which would attach to existing light fixtures—and contact both the Department of Education and the Parks Department to request further provisions. 

The parents’ testimony was also bolstered by letters and support from State Sen. Martin Malavé Dilan, City Council Member Erick Martin Dilan and Community Board 4, and Messer recommended that the group additionally request help from some of these elected officials who could subsidize lighting through governmental funds. 

‘We’re afraid’                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Until a solution is reached, though, the parents claimed students will continue watching their backs around the campus. Jeannette Marin, who lives across the street from the school and has a son in 10th grade there, even fears for her own safety.  

“I get home very late, and I, too, feel I have to run home and constantly look behind and around me to make sure no one is following me,” she read from her letter to the department. “More light decreases crime: When people see they can easily be identified when committing illegal activities, they would think twice before attempting anything.”  

“They are trying to build up [the] Bushwick community. How we can do this without good lighting?” asked Cynthia Coleman, an East New Yorker who doesn’t like coming to pick up her 17-year-old daughter after dark.  

“We come, but we’re afraid.”