In a community board meeting Thursday evening, local politicians, activists and community organizations stood in staunch opposition to New York State’s planned redesign of Marsha P. Johnson State Park.
People close to Johnson, a prominent leader at the 1969 Stonewall uprising and renowned activist for LGBTQ people, unexpectedly dropped in during the monthly meeting of Brooklyn Community Board 1’s Parks Committee to oppose the state’s plans. They spoke up on behalf of the activist, who passed away in 1992.
“It will not be there,” said Mariah Lopez, executive director of Strategic Transgender Alliance for Radical Reform, the forebearer of the advocacy organization Johnson had founded more than 50 years ago. “It will not be this.”
“We will not allow our beloved Martha P. Johnson’s name to be exploited for political or personal gain,” said Anika Dorsey Good, Johnson’s great-niece, shortly afterward.
The meeting followed more than a month of outrage over the state’s planned renovation of Marsha P. Johnson State Park, which includes the installation of a large, environmentally-friendly, plastic mural in honor of Johnson on one of the park’s two concrete slabs. The park, whose name changed from East River State Park less than a year ago, has been partially closed for construction since mid-January.
Prior to Thursday evening’s protests against the state’s construction plans, activists had been organizing to halt construction on the tract of open space that borders the East River. A coalition of locals recently formed a group called Stop the Plastic Park and released a petition calling on the state to halt construction and go back to the drawing board. The petition has garnered more than 1,500 signatures, and the coalition has also sent two letters to the state, one signed by four local politicians and the other signed by more than 25 community organizations.
“It’s a violation of the public trust to not have consulted the community about it,” said Steve Chesler, a member of Stop the Plastic Park and the local community board, during a phone interview. “It resulted in horrible park design.”
He explained that the state, which owns and operates Marsha P. Johnson State Park, is not legally required to meet with the local community board about planned park redesigns, in contrast to the city’s obligations.
In addition to criticizing the state’s rule-by-fiat approach, Chesler thought the large ground mural it plans to install is tone-deaf. “It’s sort of dissing Marsha that we’re walking over her legacy,” he pointed out.
Jane Pool, another member of Stop the Plastic Park, added that she believes the city’s $14-million redesign is a missed opportunity to rethink the two concrete slabs that occupy part of the park.
“We have enough concrete,” Pool said during a phone interview before the meeting.
After sitting through a chorus of criticism Thursday evening, Leslie Wright, the New York City regional director for the New York State parks department, responded diplomatically: “I really want to thank you all for being honest, in some cases, brutally honest, in sharing your feelings.”
The parks department has yet to respond to a request for official comment from Greenpointers, and as of Friday morning, construction was still continuing at the park.
However, that may not be the case for very long, according to James Carey, Marsha P. Johnson’s cousin.
At the end of the meeting, he said:
“It would look real bad for the administration us leading a protest in front of the park.”
Update: According to the New York State Parks Department, construction on the park has been halted as the state reaches out to the local community and other stakeholders, like Johnson’s family, for input.