Return hoops plea heard at town hall

It only took a few minutes at a town hall meeting sponsored by state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, Monday afternoon before numerous pleas were heard for Mayor Gabriel J. Campana to return the basketball hoops to Memorial Park.

One by one, people of all ages sitting on the steps and stoops of the houses along the 600 block of Second Street wanted to let the mayor know they weren’t happy and want a voice in their community.

“Put the hoops back,” said a 15-year-old standing near a video game of basketball played on a television monitor.

Campana took the hoops down last month after claiming the area was being taken over by 20-somethings, and the community did not clean the park of litter, including drug paraphernalia. Days later, when outcry reached a fever pitch, Campana, in comments to the Public Safety Committee, said he was trying to prevent a shooting and wanted to keep the park from becoming like Roy A. Flanigan Park, the site of deadly shootings.

Surrounding the town hall meeting’s lively activity that included hot dogs served on a grill and fruit candy packages given away, the deep-seeded feelings erupted. “This is crazy,” said another 15-year-old who misses playing basketball at Memorial Park.

“You take basketball away what are we going to do but get into trouble,” he said, a statement directed at Campana.

Mirabito listened to the concerns. He said the energy, a combination of hope for better days ahead and backlash of the mayor’s action wasn’t just about the loss of the basketball courts, which the state doesn’t have anything to do with, but rather it is about opening one-to-one conversations with residents from all walks of life.

“I think it’s important the citizens be engaged and have the opportunity to have their issues addressed,” Mirabito said.

One woman with children called on Mirabito to contact the landlord of the properties who was in charge of a small green space to the rear of the houses on the block. It was thought that could be a supervised area for a playground.

Mirabito said he believed in treating all people the same. “I think it’s important their issues are heard by elected officials and covered by the newspaper,” he said.

That, Mirabito said, is the best way to avoid problems and give people an opportunity to know someone is listening and giving thought to possible solutions.

For Kaiseem Pearsall, who has lived in the city for five years and the last two on the 600 block of Second Street, this has been a “great place” to raise his four children.

Pearsall, a painter and contractor, still was covered in white flecks of paint as he spoke about a neighborhood where people say, “Hi,” and is no where near as violent as when he lived in New York City before coming here.

“I’m proud of you doing that,” Mirabito said, as Pearsall showed off his children and told the lawmaker he paid taxes and would vote.

While Campana was not present, as he was attending a city Recreation Commission meeting, city Patrolman Eric Derr interacted with the youths and adults.

“I think it’s awesome for the kids and adults,” said Shana Hill, of mother of two children who considered the event to be a “positive development.”

Darrick Rizzo used a bullhorn to gather children around the state Army National Guard, represented by Sgt. 1st Class Michael Seitzer, a recruiter, and Staff Sgt. Joshua Berwanger and Sgt. Damon X. Sandle.

“It’s really a positive outlet for the kids on the block,” Rizzo said.

“This block has about 65 children,” one of the guardsmen said.

A 24-year-old who would only give his first name, Charlie, said most of those who are overdosing in the city are caucasian, not black.

Several people also said they are willing to organize a summer program for youths separate from the city recreation programs.

A woman said had Campana stopped by or even drove by, it would have gone a long way toward healing the hurt a segment of the city is feeling.