In response to the killing last month of Tessa Majors, an 18-year-old Barnard student, Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, held a town hall-style event on Wednesday night in which she renewed her demand that that every public school have a full-time social worker.
The suspects in the case are three teenage boys, only one of whom has been charged. All three were reported as attending P.S. 180, a school on 120th Street across the street from the Morningside Park, where the deadly stabbing took place.
Brewer said that in response to a request she made to the city's schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, she had learned that P.S. 180 would now have a full-time social worker. The school, which serves more than 500 students in grades kindergarten through 8, has been staffed with a part-time social worker.
In an interview with Gothamist, Brewer argued that had there been a social worker at a school, maybe officials "could have discovered" possible problems with the three suspects.
She said that the mayor told her that he would consider her request. "He didn't say no," she said.
A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The borough president has long advocated for more social workers in city schools as a way of addressing students' mental health issues. According to her office, there are 716 city schools (out of roughly 1,600) that do not have a full-time social worker. Last year, amid pressure from Brewer and City Council member Mark Treyger, de Blasio included $30 million for 285 new social workers as part of the city's $93 billion budget. Brewer estimated it would take $94 million to completely fill the gap.
More than seven weeks after Majors's death, elected and community officials are still searching for ways to allay concerns about safety in the park as well as the broader neighborhood.
During the town hall, City Councilmember Mark Levine said he was "doubly devasted" by the young age of the suspects. "We are not doing enough for the young people of Morningside Park," he said.
Wednesday's event, organized at the urging of Friends of Morningside Park, a coalition of residents dedicated to improving the city park, drew a packed crowd of more than 200 people. Attendees had to be split into two different rooms, and city officials made sure to deliver their announcements twice. Following their statements, residents took part in workshops about public safety, community relations and youth programs.
In addition to social workers, Brewer said the city needs to also provide more after-school activities for young New Yorkers.
Since the killing, police and parks officials have dramatically ramped up their presence in Morningside Park, with more patrols and additional parks staffing.
"We don't want the park to go back, we want it to go forward," said William Castro, the Manhattan borough commissioner for the Parks Department.
Complaints of broken or low lighting have plagued Morningside Park. Castro said that eight new LED lights have recently been installed and 25 more are coming in the next two weeks. The LED-replacement effort is a city-wide initiative led by the Department of Transportation.
Castro said the Parks Department is also looking to install additional cameras for Morningside Park, to add to the five that are currently in the park. Levine later said that he would ask the city to buy several higher-end cameras that allow police precincts to view the park in real time.
Although many people said they came to learn about safety measures in the park, some have found the heightened police presence and flood lighting near entrances unsettling. Although robberies had picked up in the park last summer, the stabbing shocked many longtime residents, who said the park was considered safe.
Carolyn Halpin-Healy, a resident who has lived on 116th Street across from the park since 1994, said she could hear the noise of the generators for the flood lights from her apartment. That noise pollution, added to the bright lights and police cars, "compounds the grief," she said.