They’re the Real Housewives of Fighting Crime.
A band of Manhattan moms are trading luncheons and playdates for political lobbying and police meetings — all in the name of protecting their kids from rising crime, bail-reform loopholes, aggressive panhandlers, and what they see as a general return of lawlessness.
The 2,600-mother movement formed on the Upper West Side in the fall, when a string of high-profile muggings and a playground shooting put the family-oriented neighborhood on edge — and one woman decided to do something about it.
“My background is in finance and non-profit. I’m not like an activist or a crusader. I’m home with three kids,” said Upper West Sider Elizabeth Carr. “I started in the last year feeling like we were seeing homeless encampments pop up, regular panhandlers in our face … and walking through clouds and clouds of marijuana smoke with my kids at 8 a.m.”
Armed with branded literature, a professionally produced website and personal stories of coming face-to-face with unruly youth and mentally-disturbed New Yorkers, the moms secured meetings with a slew of community leaders, from state lawmakers and Gov. Cuomo’s office to NYPD brass and City Councilmembers.
“We came together as just a group of parents who have seen a considerable change in our neighborhood, and obviously the shooting was a major incident, but there has been a deterioration for some time,” said Nicole Palame, an Upper East Side mom to a 5-year-old girl and 7-year-old boy.
“What prompted me to join the group was my son and I were on the way to his bus stop last April, at Park and 68th, and we were approached by a clearly mentally ill person, and she began to try to attack me. She was wielding a bag and swinging it at me,” Palame said.
Group member Veronica Vargas Lupo, a NoMad mom to two boys, ages 4 years and 10 months, said her tipping point came on Nov. 11 inside the Duane Reade at 28th Street and Park Avenue, when she witnessed a menacing man stealing.
“My son’s stroller was facing me, and a man came in with a clear plastic bag very clearly not right of mind, and he started filling up his bag and was staring straight at me, almost daring me to do something,” said Vargas Lupo, a technology consultant. “I have never felt more scared and more so for my son.”
She didn’t react, but afterwards, “I got mad. I got real mad,” she said.
NYC Moms for Safer Streets offered a way for her to channel that anger. After she met with the NYPD’s neighborhood coordination officers, the Duane Reade hired a full-time security guard, she said.
“Knowledge is power, and that is something we are working really hard to inform our members — how you can make a difference, how you can get involved,” she said.
Carr has been personally targeted for her activism.
A group of homeless people who lived for weeks on the sidewalk outside the old Ansonia Hotel at Broadway and West 73rd taunted her by hanging a cardboard sign in front of their encampment that said, “Elizabeth Carr Homeless Center.”
Cops have lauded Carr’s efforts.
“She has boundless energy,” said Timothy Malin, Commanding Officer of the Upper West Side’s 20th Precinct. “She has brought so much constructive attention [to community issues].”
Harlem home organizer Megan Helvie, mom to 10- and 13-year-old boys, said she joined Carr’s group after her older son was randomly attacked by a pair of teens at Marcus Garvey Park in October.
“They ended up punching him in the face five times and kicked him,” she said.
Her involvement in the group allowed her to personally share her story with state Sen. Robert Jackson, who was “very supportive.”
“It really lit a spark for me,” she said.