Queens honors life, legacy of Tyre Nichols

“Enough is enough,” attendees say at candlelight vigil

By Jessica Meditz

[email protected]

On a chilly Monday evening, Queens leaders and community residents gathered at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens to honor the life and legacy of Tyre Nichols with a candlelight vigil.

The 29-year-old father, photographer and FedEx worker had a fatal encounter with police in Memphis, Tennessee on Jan. 7, being brutally beaten by five officers during a traffic stop.

The body camera footage of the incident was just released this past Friday, sparking outrage and calls for justice across the nation.

The fate of Nichols, a Black man, has been compared to that of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor – both of whom died at the hands of police.

The five officers involved in the beating of Nichols have been fired and charged with murder. As the investigation continued, additional officers and EMS personnel have been relieved of their duties in relation to his death.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, a Black man and father to a young son, delivered emotional remarks to the people in attendance. He recalled his own stop-and-frisk encounter at the age of 13, when he had guns drawn on him – because he fit the description of a robber.

Richards was moved to tears as he honored Nichols and reflected his own experiences as a Black man with the police.

He thanked all attendees for showing up and commended the diversity seen in the crowd.

“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do this, because we often go through this alone – behind closed doors,” Richards said with tearful eyes.

“I held my son a little tighter trying to prepare myself to watch that video. It weighed heavy.”

Richards said that even as people try to come up with theories as to why Nichols was stopped, it does not matter why – and he did not deserve to die.

“[Nichols’ mother] carried the strength of Emmett Till’s mom as I heard her speak. We’ve been on these steps too many times, and this trauma doesn’t get easier,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Borough President…it doesn’t matter how much legislation we pass, we always live with this.”

He called for the passing of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would increase accountability for law enforcement misconduct, restrict the use of certain policing practices, enhance transparency and data collection and establish best practices and training requirements, according to its summary.

Richards also demanded the end to qualified immunity, and denounced the plan of NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell to weaken the department’s disciplinary guidelines.

“This is about one standard. One law that works for everyone,” he said.

Councilman James Gennaro echoed Richards’ sentiments, calling for justice and equity for America’s Black community.

Gennaro, 65, says he remembers Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination “like it was yesterday,” and has seen much injustice throughout his lifetime and years of public service.

“Everyone here is trying to make a little bit of a difference by being here – holding onto one another, recognizing the work that still needs to be done, by joining together in prayer for the Nichols family, and all the Tyre Nichols out there that we don’t know about,” he said. “Every day, right now, somebody’s getting pulled over, something’s happening that shouldn’t happen…I don’t want to stand here at 75 years old saying the same thing.”

Richards opened up the space for members of the community to speak to the crowd, where several mothers, fathers, faith leaders and local advocates took the opportunity to grieve together.

“This is another shameful moment in America, and for all of us. When will this tragedy stop? It can stop when we all say ‘enough is enough,’ when police killings change to police protection, when hearts and minds are changed,” said Ashook Ramsaran, executive vice president at Queens Civic Congress.

“This should not happen again and we must make sure of that,” he continued. “To the Nichols family, we feel, we grieve and we mourn with you.”

Lori Zeno, executive director at Queens Defenders, has worked in the criminal justice system for 35 years. She said that she’s lost count of the amount of times clients have informed her over the years about the beatings, name calling and disrespect by police.

“Lives are being ruined, hearts are being broken and spirits are being broken, for what? Because we have a police department who, not all police, but many of our police are brutal and they think that if they are stopping you, or you are in their way, or you’re Black or Brown, that you don’t have a right to live,” she said.

Zeno is angry and appalled at the delayed response of EMS personnel to aid and transport Nichols to the hospital, as well as the fact that his mother had to see her son’s head swollen to the size of a watermelon.

She called on all those in attendance to reach out to the powers that be, including the police commissioner, Mayor Eric Adams, Gov. Kathy Hochul, all local officials and even President Joe Biden to bring police brutality to a full stop and remove all current officers with previous offenses.

Groups of attendees showed up with signs that read “Your silence is violence” and “If you were peaceful, we wouldn’t have to protest,” adorned with flowers and photos of Nichols’ smiling face.

Saxophonist Steven Salcedo serenaded the audience with familiar, sentimental music, including closing out with “Amazing Grace” in Nichols’ memory.

Six Queens and Brooklyn firehouses receive solar roofing

By Matthew Fischetti

[email protected]

Credit: NYC DCAS

Six FDNY firehouses across Queens and Brooklyn have finished their solar roof installations.

The new panels are solar photovoltaic systems which the city says be used to make sure firehouses can remain operational during emergencies, as well as helping reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

In Queens: Astoria Engine Company 260 in Astoria, Engine Companies 291 and Ladder 140 in Ridgewood, Engine Companies 302 and Ladder 155 in Jamaica received the new upgrade. Brooklyn firehouse that got upgrades include Engine Company 254 and Ladder 153 in Gravesend, Engine Company 236 in East New York, Engine Company 309 and Ladder 159 in Flatlands.

The six firehouses were selected due to recently experienced power outages according to a press release from the Department of Citywide Administrative services announcing the installations on Monday.

Costs for the installation totaled $2.4 million and were funded by the DCAS. The panels will be managed both by the DCAS and the New York Power authority.

The new solar panels have been paired with a battery bank to keep the solar systems charged in case of an emergency. The batteries help operate roll up doors, fuel pumps, some lights, electrical outlets and more.

DCAS indicated that they are planning to expand the solar photovoltaic systems with specific focus on more firehouses, police stations and libraries.

“Firehouses are an integral part of keeping our city safe and remaining operational is critically important to the safety of our city,” Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said in a statement. “We are happy to partner with NYPA to lower our carbon footprint, and bring solar upgrades to more of our firehouses. We know this is a pathway to a more sustainable, safer city.”

$21.3M in federal funds secured for Queens projects

Platform to be extended, elevators to be added at LIRR station in Forest Hills; largest project of the bunch

By Jessica Meditz

[email protected]

The Long Island Rail Road station in Forest Hills is the most expensive project of the bunch, with $7 million allocated. (Photo: Michael Perlman)

Just before Christmas, it was announced that over $21.3 million in federal funds were allocated for 15 critical projects across Queens.

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens), New York’s senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, secured the funds in the new 2023 government spending package that passed the House and Senate late last month, and has now been signed into law by President Joe Biden.

Meng obtained a total of $21,317,066 in federal money for the projects, all of which meet many urgent needs throughout Queens.

The largest portion of the funding will go toward upgrades for the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) station in Forest Hills – approximately $7 million.

Improvements to the station will include the installation of new elevators and the extension the platform length to accommodate more train cars.

Today, the Forest Hills LIRR station accommodates only six of the 12 train cars, meaning that when a train stops at that station, only the first six cars are able to open their doors. The planned extension will be able to accommodate all 12 cars.

Additionally, the implementation of elevators will make the Forest Hills LIRR station fully accessible, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

“The MTA is fully committed to make the entire system accessible, not just subways but the LIRR and Metro-North too,” MTA Chief Accessibility Officer Quemuel Arroyo said in a statement. “With these new elevators spread throughout the subway system and across Long Island, a large number of riders with disabilities, customers with children in strollers and visitors with luggage will benefit from an easier way to access mass transit.”

An MTA spokesperson said that the station’s accessibility upgrades are still in the design phase, and that more information can be shared when there’s a timeline for construction.

The allocated federal funds will also benefit other Queens cornerstones, including Queens College, borough hospitals, local nonprofits and small businesses.

They include $2 million for The City of New York’s District 6 Open Restaurants Dining Kits, $2 million for the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty (Met Council), over $1.4 million for Queens College’s Small Business Development Initiative,  $1 million for New York City Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst for the renovation of its Infectious Diseases Clinic, $1 million for the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Legal Desk support program, $1 million for Long Island Jewish Forest Hills’ establishment of Robotic Assisted Orthopedic Surgery, $1 million for the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty (Met Council), $1 million for Commonpoint Queens, $800,000 for LIFE Camp, Inc., $750,000 for 100 Suits for 100 Men, $750,000 for Churches United for Fair Housing, $750,000 for Queens College’s Colden Auditorium, $551,210 for DOROT (which serves older adults) and $250,000 La Jornada Food Pantry.

“As I’ve said, Queens deserves its fair share, and I’m thrilled to bring back more money for critical projects here in our borough,” Meng said in a statement.

“I am especially pleased that I was able to secure more than double the amount of what I obtained in last year’s government spending bill. I am always honored and proud to fight for Queens and I’ll never stop working to ensure that our communities have the resources they need. I thank the President for signing the new spending bill into law, and look forward to this more than $21.3 million benefiting our borough, and the neighborhoods I represent, for many years to come.”

The money that Meng secured is allocated under Congress’ Community Project Funding.

In last year’s government spending bill, Meng obtained nearly $10 million for projects throughout her district.

Shootings decreased in Queens and Brooklyn: police

By Matthew Fischetti

[email protected]

Police Commish Keechant Sewell at an unrelated press conference in September. (Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

Citywide shootings have decreased due to drops in Queens and Brooklyn, according to the most recent data from the NYPD.

Recent data compiled by the NYPD shows that in the month of December, citywide shooting decreased by 31.8 percent (101 vs 148) with some of the most significant reductions occurring in Queens and Kings counties.

Comparing data from Decmber 2021 and December 2022, new COMPSTAT numbers show that overall crime decreased by 11.6 percent with drops in murder, rape, robberies, burglary and grand larcenies all seeing decreases. Felony Assault and Grand Larceny Auto, two of the seven major crime indicies,  increased compared to the same time last year. Throughout 2022, overall crime was up with a high of 22.4 percent compared to 2021 (126,537 to 103,388) while citywide murders dropped by 11.3 percent (433 to 488).

New York’s bravest also pulled 7,135 guns off the street last year , a 27-year high for gun arrests. The seven major crime index also increased

“This work was reflected in the year-over-year declines we saw in the hundreds of fewer shooting incidents, shooting victims, and murders in 2022 – and our neighborhoods are safer because of it. As we turn the calendar over, the NYPD is confident about the future of our department, our city, and all the people we serve. Our team is in place, and we are stepping forward to meet and overcome any challenges we may face in 2023 and beyond,” Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said in a statement.

In a January 5 press conference, Hizzoner defended the number stating that he didnt get better results due to Albany not following his agenda.

“Well, I think the commissioner and I, we have both made it clear what our thoughts are in that area. But I think it would be a grave danger if we believe that’s the magic bullet,” Mayor Adams said in response to a question regarding establishing dangerousness standards in setting bail.

“I’ve stated it over and over again, the bottlenecking of the criminal justice system, the failure to put trials in place in an expeditious manner, the recidivism of people carrying crimes over and over again. I’m going to return to Albany this year to add onto the success we’ve had last year, to talk about things like how do we look at recidivism, the numbers chief has pointed out,” he continued. “”There’s a small number of New Yorkers that are repeat offenders and our focus is to lean into those areas we agree on. And I’m looking forward to the conversation I’m going to have with the leaders of Albany as we talk about these issues.”

Queens’ top news stories of 2022

By Jessica Meditz

[email protected]

Given the events of the two years previous, 2022 was a year of opportunity for many.

It had its ups, but also its downs – and the borough of Queens was no exception.

The beginning of the year started with discussions of innovations in transportation, with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s announcement to move forward with the Interborough Express as part of her 2022 State of the State.

The proposed 24-mile Interborough Express would use existing tracks to connect 17 subway lines, four commuter rail lines and dozens of bus lines, with end-to-end travel time expected to be less than 40 minutes.

The year began with discussions of innovations in transportation, with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s announcement to move forward with the Interborough Express as part of her 2022 State of the State.

It would extend from Co-Op City in the Bronx to Bay Ridge in Brooklyn and could serve as many as 100,000 riders per day.

“It’s time to invest in the bold, cutting-edge infrastructure projects that will make a real difference in the lives of everyday New Yorkers,” Hochul said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve reliable public transit that connects them from work to home and everywhere in between. The Interborough Express would be a transformational addition to Brooklyn and Queens, cutting down on travel time and helping neighborhoods and communities become cleaner, greener and more equitable.”

The conversation extended to more Queens residents advocating for the use of abandoned rail lines – such as the QNS plan, a proposal to reactivate and repurpose freight rail along the Lower Montauk Branch which runs through central Queens; and the QueensLink, a proposed 3.5-mile long transit and park corridor in the same space, which would connect northern and southern Queens.

The latter became a controversial issue in September, when Mayor Eric Adams came to Forest Hills to announce that the city plans to spend $35 million to begin phase one of construction for the QueensWay, a linear park along the 3.5 miles of abandoned railroad tracks, in place of the QueensLink.

Eric Adams paid a visit to Forest Hills for the announcement.

Friends of the QueensLink argued that the implementation of the QueensWay would shut out any future use of transit on the line and deprive Southern Queens residents of a faster commute and less traffic while reducing pollution and carbon emissions.

“They’re talking about transit, but they’re not doing anything about it. So the key is, if you really do care about public transit, and it’s not just a campaign slogan, then you need to take it seriously and study the integration of a Transit Link, which would be a subway and a park,” Rick Horan, executive director of QueensLink, said.

“Our goal is to try to see if there’s enough value in this project to get it there. But the only way we can do that is to study it,” he continued. “So we’ve been promoting an Environmental Impact Statement for QueensLink, which includes rail entry.”

An advancement in transportation that came to fruition was the completion of the massive Kew Gardens Interchange project after what feels like forever – 12 years, four phases and $739 million later.

The Kew Gardens Interchange is the complex intersection of the Grand Central Parkway, the Van Wyck Expressway, the Jackie Robinson Parkway and Union Turnpike. Its reconstruction allows for faster travel, safer merging and exiting and more reliable connections for travelers to get to JFK Airport and other prime destinations.

12 years, four phases and $739M later, the massive Kew Gardens Interchange project is complete.

The interchange serves nearly 600,000 vehicles daily.

Within the political sphere, the gubernatorial election between Democrat Kathy Hochul and Republican Lee Zeldin was a hot button issue statewide, but also in Queens – with a rise in fears of crime and Zeldin’s tough-on-crime campaign approach.

While Hochul came out victorious, Zeldin’s visit to Glendale and another to Middle Village resonated with many locals.

Lee Zeldin paid a visit to Glendale during his run for Governor.

Even neighborhoods that were once considered “more tame” by residents, such as Forest Hills, were the setting for true crime stories right here in Queens.

The spring for Forest Hills was particularly somber this year, following the grisly killings of two individuals: Orsolya Gaal and Zhiwen Yan.

Gaal, a 51-year-old mother of two from Forest Hills, whose body was discovered in a sports duffel bag near Forest Park in April.

David Bonola was sentenced to 25 years in prison following the murder of Orsolya Gaal.

Forty-four-year-old David Bonola of South Richmond Hill was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the slaying, and police say the pair had an on-and-off romantic affair for two years while Bonola worked at her home on Juno Street as a handyman.

The community came together to mourn the life of Zhiwen Yan, a food delivery worker who worked at Great Wall Chinese Restaurant in Forest Hills and resided in Middle Village with his wife and three children.

The community showed much support for Zhiwen Yan’s family during their time of grief.

Yan, 45, was fatally shot on the night of April 30 while riding his scooter on his way to deliver food in Forest Hills.

Glen Hirsch, 51, of Briarwood was charged for the killing, but eventually got out on bail and then committed suicide before he could do his time.

The murder of 61-year-old FDNY EMS worker, Alison Russo-Elling, in Astoria shocked the entire city.

The murder of Alison Russo-Elling left Queens in a state of shock.

The 25-year veteran of the FDNY, who responded to the 9/11 attacks in 2001, was brutally stabbed in September near EMS Station 49 in an unprovoked attack.

Peter Zisopoulos, 34, was charged with murder in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.

In terms of Astoria news, Innovation QNS – a project that seeks to rezone five city blocks to build a mixed use residential and commercial district in the neighborhood – was definitely the most talked about issue.

Rendering via Innovation QNS.

The project quickly became a controversial topic among residents, as concerns about displacement, lack of affordable housing, gentrification and not enough community outreach arose.

Councilwoman Julie Won, who represents that section of the district, pushed for 55 percent affordability for the 3,190-unit project recently, but indicated her support for the project at 45 percent affordability after negotiations with developers.

The project was ultimately passed by the City Council in November, with 46 votes in favor and one against. Its plan now features 1,436 affordable units – more than double the 711 units originally approved by the City Planning Commission.

“From Day 1, I have stood with my community in demanding deeper affordability from this development–and because we held the line, the Innovation QNS project has doubled the number of affordable units than initially offered, from 711 to 1,436 affordable units,” Won said in a statement.

More recently, locals clamored at the announcement of a new 25,000-seat soccer stadium for the New York City Football Club – slated to open in Willets Point in 2027.

The plan – spearheaded by Councilman Francisco Moya – includes 2,500 affordable homes (with no market rate components), a 650-seat school and a 250-room hotel.

Mayor Adams’ office projects that the development will bring in $6.1 billion in revenue over the next 30 years, as well as over 14,000 construction jobs and 1,550 permanent ones.

Fill the Form for Events, Advertisement or Business Listing