A breathless report published recently by the American Free Press titled “MEXICAN POLICE TO PATROL NY?” told an unbelievable story. The writer, Jeff Smith, reported that the government of Mexico would soon “begin patrolling the New York City borough of Staten Island to ‘safeguard’ its nationals there.” Smith reported that the move had caused “wide notice and a storm of protests” and had been reported in various outlets, including The New York Times.
But the Mexican consulate, New York City politicians, and various news reports, including the Times, reveal a very different picture: a neighborhood plagued by a wave of assaults against immigrants, and a coalition of politicians, community groups, and civic agencies trying to do something about it. Not a national security story, but a community safety one.
The actions of Mexico come after a series of incidents the Mexican government terms “bias attacks.”
Ironically, these so-called “hate crimes” have been perpetrated by blacks and Asians, indicative of rising tensions between various ethnic groups in the U.S. The Catholic Examiner and NBC New York both reported the Mexican government’s intention to mount surveillance, patrol and police in and around the Staten Island community of Port Richmond, which in recent years has seen a large influx of Mexican illegal immigrants.
Since the Examiner’s coverage, however, councilor officials, city hall and the local press have begun to carefully de-emphasize any possible role of Mexican law enforcement or military in efforts to secure the neighborhood.
“Of course we don’t have police, so that’s for starters,” a spokesperson from the Mexican consulate who asked not to be named told TPM. The consulate has sent one employee to the neighborhood who has been “working on daily basis over there since this crisis started — until its needed.”
The consulate has a been giving extra attention to the area for the last few months, “talking with the community, letting them know their rights,” the spokesperson said.
The presence is needed because the bias attacks reported by Smith are very real, as the Times reported back in July. There have been an alarming number of attacks on Mexican immigrants in the Port Richmond-area over the last few months, and the NYPD beefed up its presence in the area in response. At the time, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced he was sending “130 additional officers, a 15-member hate crimes investigative team, horse patrols, helicopter flyovers and mobile observation towers at key intersections.” The Times did describe a section of Port Richmond Avenue as “something like an armed encampment.”
Tom McGinley, communication assistant for New York City Council Member Deborah Rose (D) of Staten Island, told TPM that Smith’s report was “really exaggerated on all accounts.”
McGinley said he was not aware of anyone having an issue with the consulate’s role. “Everyone pretty much understood why they were there,” he said.
McGinley said the consulate’s role in the area is part of a larger campaign, called I Am Staten Island and spearheaded by Council Member Rose, to address violence.
“For a while in July and August [incidents] were happening at a weekly rate it seemed,” McGingley told TPM.
Along with Rose and the Mexican consulate, other groups and officials signed on to the campaign are: the NYC Mayor’s office, the NYPD, the NAACP, NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Rep. Michael McMahon, and the Department of Justice.
The campaign’s mission page states that “this campaign was inspired by the spate of bias attacks that have taken place on Staten Island this year. Initially, we thought that these were isolated, random incidents, but that no longer appears to be the case. Something very serious is happening on the Island.”
“I’m really busy, and I don’t give that article much thought,” New York Assemblyman Matthew Titone (D), whose district includes Port Richmond and who has signed on to the I Am Staten Island campaign, told TPM. “I think it’s uninformed.”
While the situation has improved since the police stepped-up its presence, Titone said he has heard complaints from two camps: minority groups from other parts of Staten Island who want to know why they don’t warrant extra protection, and business owners in Port Richmond complaining that the area’s violent reputation is hurting business, and the extra cop cars are taking customers parking spaces.
“There are unintended consequences,” Titone said. “People are not shopping for their shoes.”
Calls to the NYPD were not returned.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com