United Bodegas of America x NYPD

Growing up between Washington Heights, Harlem, and The Bronx, I was no stranger to bodegas. All kinds of bodegas too - from the very strict, very clean, no cats, old Dominican uncle-type bodegas to the open 24 hours, Plexiglas covered counter, loosie-selling bodegas. Some are both at different times of the day. If I have ever felt unsafe in the street past midnight, an open bodge has brought solace.

On June 20, 2018, a 15-year old named Lesandro Guzman-Feliz ran into a bodega when he noticed some young Dominican boys were after him. The bodega owners couldn’t understand the kid and kicked Lesandro out of the bodega. At one point, Lesandro was so scared that he tried to hop the bodega counter to take cover. A bodega employee pushed him back, and by that time the gang of boys made their way into the bodega, dragged Lesandro out and stabbed him eight times in a case of mistaken identity. This incident sparked conversations and debates about bodega owner responsibilities. What can and can't they do?

Today in the Bronx, the first ever NYPD safety summit for bodegas took place with more than 75 bodega owners and police in attendance. “We feel insecure sometimes,” said Radhames Rodriguez, President of the United Bodegas of America. I feel that. Bodegas aren't easy. People are SUPPOSED to come in and 90% of the time, you won't know who they are. Another owner, at another point, said: “We need the training so we know what we can and can’t do,” said Mateo, President of United Bodegas of America. “And once we know that and we’re trained on that, then we can put it into practice.” Here is what bodega owners and cops both want and believe can be helpful in their long-term goal for safety in bodegas:

Bodega owners want:

Crisis training

Panic buttons behind the counter

Live surveillance video feeds that would be streamed back to local police precincts.

Better lighting and clear windows

The ability to lock doors remotely

Cops want:

For us to know our neighborhood coordinating police officer or NCO to call for help

Clear windows for an easier glance inside during patrol

I share this to let you all know that no matter how discouraged and scared we might feel at times in our world, the work is being done. People like Lesandro are NOT being forgotten, and we are a big part of what goes on in our neighborhoods and communities.

What we can do as citizens is be kind, if you see something,say something, don’t assume someone already did.