As a procession of goggle-faced, towel-toting youngsters make their way to Marcus Garvey Park’s pool to enjoy the last days of summer, a worker warns them to watch their step as he cleans. Harlem resident Zakiya Raines-Heyden points out the familiar hazards. Littered on the ground are needles and orange syringe caps.
“It’s not safe,” she said. “I like living in Harlem because it feels like a community—I say ‘good morning’ to my neighbors. There’s parks literally all around me, Morningside, Central Park…and I have Marcus Garvey. But I would not send my children to Marcus Garvey to play.”
As she walks along the main path, Raines-Heyden notices more paraphernalia lying around—there are no syringe disposal bins currently at the park. As the local artist passes a bathroom, another park goer pulls on the facility’s door. Locked. It’s around noon.
Raines-Heyden lives just a block away, but refuses to allow her pair of 12-year-olds to play at Marcus Garvey Park unattended. She says she regularly witnesses open drug use and recalls once almost getting blindsided by a would-be attacker. Up to June 4, workers recovered 926 syringes this year around Marcus Garvey Park according to Department of Parks and Recreation data.
“Our goal is to keep parkgoers safe—the fewer syringes on the ground the better,” said a Parks Department spokesperson. “That is why our staff is specially trained to remove and properly dispose of discarded needles.
“For the safety of all New Yorkers, we ask park patrons observing syringes in parks to report them to 311 so that our bloodborne pathogen-trained staff can locate and remove them.”
Another local parent, Petrushka Bazin Larsen, also stopped taking her children to Marcus Garvey due to the playground’s lack of enrichment. She originally began going nine years ago when her oldest child was a baby but since found the park in perpetual decline.
“We go to MLK Playground, we go to Morningside [Park] and we go to Central Park, when we’re feeling more ambitious—but we don’t go to Marcus Garvey anymore,” said Bazin Larsen. “The younger side just is not equipped for younger people anymore. There was no slide for a moment…we stopped going to that smaller side because half of the playground was the slide—and it wasn’t available anymore.”