Jason Kendall
William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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Community Alert, June 11, 2011

Note to all who would like to come on up to the Park after dark. There was a major incident at the Dyckman Fields on Friday night, June 10. A woman was raped at the north end of that section of the park down by the Hudson river. The story was reported here on DNAInfo. At this time few details are known, and as a precaution I'm suspending evening activities deep in Inwood Hill Park until more is understood about what happened.

It is my deepest hope that the woman who was sexually assaulted will get to see justice done on her attacker. Far too long as a community and as a nation have we tolerated the degradation of women and assaults on women. Protecting our wives, daughters, mothers and sisters is a top priority. We wish to protect because we wish life to better for all. Why? So they can grow up to be (or continue to be) doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs, astronauts, mothers, friends and just all-around good people. One of the first steps to keep that possible is to make our living spaces safe so our daughters and sisters can achieve and our wives and mothers feel good about the home in which they live.

To that end, I firmly believe that the Inwood community's response should be to increase our responsible use of Inwood Hill Park after dark. If we do not go out and use it after dark with friends and family, we cede the Park to the miscreants. We cannot allow that to happen. The Police will do their job and scrutinize all people using the Park, giving stern looks to all who think that a Park is to be used by the community for the community both day and night. They are right to do so. But they don't live here. We do. So it is our responsibility to simply use the Park after dark in groups to show that we mean to keep it safe. If we don't use it, then the drug dealers, prostitutes, muggers and other violent criminals will have it all to themselves while we huddle indoors, scared to take our kids or dogs or dates out into our beautiful park at night. Inwood Hill Park should not become like Fort Tryon Park at night: unused and abandoned by its community after 10 pm. There, the "light crimes" are rampant, and obvious to the most casual observer. Let's not let that happen here. Go out at night with friends, and go for nature walks at night: with friends. Take a cell phone and call the precinct if you see something odd. Wave hello to the police that will inevitably be assigned to our park as they sit in their cars or drive through the park at night shining their lights at everyone.

A great excuse to use the Park after dark is to go out on a clear night to look at the stars through a telescope. It's educational, hopeful, free and uses our Park for the purpose it was intended: to make the residents of the community feel better about its existence. It's either that or chop it all down and build apartments and shopping areas. I prefer the dark Park, because of the unique wildlife, the mysterious trees, the clean air and the pure feeling of escape that we somehow get even though we are living in Manhattan. And yes, Saturn is in the sky all Summer long, and it is wonderful. Please be safe, and use the park in groups, and let's help make Inwood Hill Park safe so that these attacks stop.

We have a big park in our neighborhood. We can either use it and keep it safe, or we can abandon it. I say we use it.

On Wednesday, June 15, we Take Back The Park. It's a stargazing event in support of community safety. Please click here for more information.

A short list of ideas for groups:

  • Dog walks.
  • Checkers or chess at the tables.
  • Moonlight tennis with glow-in-the-dark balls.
  • Owl and bat-watching. (seen them!)
  • Nighttime tag football on the fields.
  • Cigar tasting. (Don't light up in the park...)
  • Seeing the ducks with their heads under their wings.
  • Listening to the wind in the trees.
  • Picking up trash (!)
  • Juggling lessons.
  • Night-time yoga.
  • Stargazing on the baseball diamonds. (Here is a starmap.)

About Jason Kendall

I am currently adjunct faculty at William Paterson University teaching astronomy. I hold a Master of Science in Astronomy from New Mexico State University. I am also a board member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. Since 2008, I have led the Inwood Astronomy Project which brought over 200 events of stargazing and public astronomy outreach to upper Manhattan, including the historic Inwood Star Fest, where Inwood Hill Park lights were turned off as part of the 100 Hours of Astronomy event in IYA2009. This was the first time in New York City history when park lights were turned off for an astronomy event. I've also focused on park safety due to an uptick in sexual assaults in Washington Heights and Inwood during 2011. I've worked to make our parks safer by encouraging public use of parks at night through night-time events with Park Rangers. I have led numerous "starwatching parties" and astronomy events in New York City, New Mexico, Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut and Texas. I am also proud to have been part of the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Program from 2009 to 2012. It all started way back in the fourth grade by the encouragement of two noted astronomers, Charles Schweighauser and Bart Bok. I saw Saturn through Charlie's telescope at then Sangamon State University on a clear Illinois night, and Bart encouraged me under those stars to study hard to come visit him at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I finally did make it down there about a decade after Bart passed away, and I found the favorite spots in Tucson, Arizona, where Bart and his wife Priscilla would spend when they were not gazing at the stars. Bart and his wife were pioneers in the study of the Milky Way, and their studies of the starforming regions called Bok Globules. It's even in my family. My great-grandfather was a Midwestern minister who used to preach his sermons out under the dark, cloudless nights. He always believed that getting out and experiencing the wonders of the natural world was a central part of being human. My family has always been inspired by his words: "We look up to look within." I hope that you'll join me under the stars or at one of my talks.

Come see what's up in the sky!

Jason Kendall

We look up to look within

William Paterson University Department of Physics American Astronomical Society Astronomical Society of the Pacific Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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