At 50th Precinct: Residents get behind immigrant causes


More than 60 residents and activists filled up a normally sleepy meeting of the 50th precinct community council last week in an attempt to rally support for immigrant rights. 

Northwest Bronx People Power, an organization of concerned residents inspired by the American Civil Liberties Union program of a similar name, brought a horde of activists and residents to the meeting to demand immigrants get fair treatment by police.

Members of the group formed a line leading almost to the front door of the precinct house, forcing police officers to bring in any unused chairs they could find to fill a community meeting room that could very well have violated the fire code. 

At the start of his regular report, Deputy Inspector Terence O’Toole said even he wasn’t expecting so many demonstrators. 

“You guys have got to let me know before you bring this many people,” he told them. “Wow.”

While People Power is dedicated to a number of different causes, group leader Laura Chenven said they wanted to first push a nine-point plan distributed by the ACLU regarding immigration enforcement.

“We want to make sure that the police see that we have a group of people that really are concerned,” she said. “We also want our neighbors, some of whom may feel uncomfortable coming here, that we are here for them.” 

Annette DiMichele, who helped organize the event with community affairs officer Juan Ventura, said immigration enforcement is not as large of a concern in a sanctuary city like New York.

“Us being here in some ways was a little superfluous, perhaps,” DeMichele said. “The only thing that we want to emphasize is that not everyone in New York City knows that and appreciates that, and you’ve had the same policies for decades, but it hasn’t been coming to the public’s attention until recently.”

The group was formed by happenstance a few weeks ago, according to DiMichele, when the ACLU tried encouraging people angry at the current political climate to organize within communities and promote change at the grassroots level.

“I didn’t really know anyone else going,” she said. “But I attended a meeting that was about 25 folks from the area.”

The group reached out to Ventura and scheduled a demonstration for April 13, DiMichele said, and brought with them a crowd of supporters. Among them was Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who said he has happy to see so many people engaging in politics after the election of President Donald Trump.  

“It’s creating an atmosphere I haven’t seen, probably since I was a kid protesting the Vietnam War,” he said. “The fact they’re doing such horrible, disgusting things (in Washington) is the reason there’s such good turnout at this meeting. At all the meetings, one right after the other.”

People Power is the latest in a string of new activist groups in the Northwest Bronx. Last month a group called Indivisible — which includes residents within U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel’s district in Riverdale and Yonkers — even went so far as to organize a town hall panel with Engel and some policy experts. 

Before that, several groups organized trips to join the Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration in both New York and Washington. Dinowitz said he has seen more people apply for public offices like community and school boards than he’s ever been able to remember.

 “There are a lot of positive things going on,” he said. “For all the bad things going on in Washington … people are really getting involved and active in their communities.”