2003-07-18 / Columnists

From the

By Howard Schwach
From the Editor’s Desk By Howard Schwach

The July 4 beach party on Beach 130 Street has become a media issue that has spread far beyond Rockaway and has grown as an issue far beyond the 10 or 11 summonses that were issued that day.

They say that "hindsight is 20-20," and they are right. Looking at the incident ten days later brings into focus the fact that the event and the reporting about the event raise more questions than answers.

Some of those who planned the party say that it was a fundraiser for the families of those who died on both September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center and for those who died in the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 two months later.

Others say that it was a fundraiser for the new park being built across the street from St. Francis de Sales Church on Beach 129 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard.

And yet, the on-line application submitted by the group to the NYPD lists the party as a "Social affair" and as a "July 4 party."

There was no mention of a memorial for either September 11 or for flight 587. There was no mention of a memorial at St. Francis.

When I called Father Martin Ger-aghty, the famed pastor of St. Francis, earlier this year to ask him about rumors that his new garden was a memorial to those who died in flight 587, he told me that it was simply a "prayer garden" and not a memorial to anything, although people will be allowed to buy memorial bricks in the prayer garden.

He wanted to make it clear that it was simply a place for religious people to go and meditate. He was obviously embarrassed by the implication that he and his church were building a community-based memorial on their own.

In the on-line application, which was turned down initially by the police and then granted for a "non-alcoholic" party, the event sponsors said that there would be no charge for entrance. How can anybody hold a fundraiser when there is no money coming in?

It seems as if the idea of slugging the party a fundraiser for the park or for the victims of the World Trade Center came after the police closed the party down, confiscated the coolers and issued its 10 or 11 summonses. It is possible, as some suggest, that the event’s sponsors had a fundraiser in mind all along, but did not want to tell the police about it, but that would make little sense given the circumstances.

Those at the party told the daily press that "dozens of police officers, dressed in SWAT uniforms and riot gear descended on the party.

Pictures taken by participants at the party (one published in The Wave last week) bear out the police contention that no more than 20 officers were at the beach, some in plainclothes and some in regular uniforms, at the height of the altercation.

Police officials say that "seven or eight" approached the party at about 1 p.m. Police say that the event’s coordinators were told that no beer or open fires would be allowed on the beach.

At 8 p.m., with the party at its height, about 20 officers went to the party and began to close it down.

All in all, official records show, only 11 "C" (Criminal Court) summonses were given out at the party. Seven were for consuming alcohol or having an open can of beer; one for possession of alcohol and one each for possession of fireworks, disorderly conduct and unreasonable noise.

Those at the party say that the police were "rude, disrespectful and condescending" to the partygoers.

Palmer Doyle, a retired firefighter who was at the World Trade Center that day in September, 2001, was quoted as saying, "The whole incident was disgraceful. It was inappropriate for 50 cops to stormtroop the beach during a memorial for 12 people."

Police, on the other hand, say that the officers at the scene were cursed by the partygoers, many of whom refused orders to refrain from drinking on the beach."

Captain Charles Talamo, the commanding officer of the 100 Precinct, who has become the target of many of those who decried the police action, said that one man challenged him to take off his badge and his gun so they could fight it out.

Other cops told The Wave that they were cursed at and told that there was nothing they could do about the drinking.

"Verbal abuse is one of the unfortunate hazards of police work," Talamo said. "My officers handled themselves in a restrained and professional manner."

As usual, the truth is probably somewhere between those two statements.

Partygoers also questioned whether the "raid" on this year’s party was as a result of the problems that police had at the party last year, when many locals complained of the noise and the fights on the beach late on July 4 evening.

The partygoers say yes, the police say no.

"When we got the calls last year and responded to the party, we found 50 drunk, disorderly and combative people," Talamo says. "The group was ready to fight, making proper enforcement of the law nearly impossible."

The controversy might have stayed in Rockaway had not the daily press quickly picked up the story.

When they did, they got it mostly wrong.

They reported the story that dozens of cops in riot gear had descended on a "9/11" party to honor those who died. They widely reported that the rally that was held on the boardwalk last Wednesday night was in response to the July 4 controversy when, in fact, it had been planned weeks earlier to address the beach and boardwalk access rules.

It was a true media frenzy that led to a story that The Wave has been talking about for several months – the disparity in the way Rockaway is treated in relation to the rest of the city.

In June, we wrote about how the rules were enforced on Rockaway’s beaches in relation to the beaches in Coney Island. Last week that became a huge media story.

The mayor chimed in with a ridiculous statement that Central Park (where parkgoers are regularly allowed to drink alcohol) is safer than Rockaway Beach. He talked about drownings in Rockaway without realizing that none of them in recent years were alcohol-related.

Adrian Benepe, the Parks Commissioner, chimed in, speaking about how the people on Beach 130 Street "have a history of disruptive behavior."

What was he thinking?

Probably that those beer-guzzling low-lifes in Rockaway don’t deserve the same consideration as those fine, wine and champagne-drinking folk who go to concerts in Central Park or even those fine tourist-types who go to Coney Island.

All in all, Rockaway got the short end of the media stick once again.

Who is right? Who is wrong? That depends on your individual outlook and has little to do with truth.

Think about it. There are just too many questions without answers.

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