One of the most popular games at a Bedford Stuyvesant playground had been "going to jail." That's because one of the jungle gyms in the Tompkins Houses courtyard included a pretend jail - with bars, a lock, and a sign that read "JAIL." Parents are calling the calling the play structure inappropriate and offensive.
Though the play jail had been on the playground for six years, a recent round in local blogs had many looking at the equipment differently. Their complaints prompted NYCHA workers to remove the word "jail" and paint over the fake lock late Wednesday.
Ephraim Benton's 6-year-old daughter plays here.
"It's a blatant message like, jail is where you'll end up at," Said Benton. "We want to see positive images in the playgrounds."
Parents and community leaders note that a disproportionate number of children from this neighborhood actually do end up in jail. Cops and robbers, a long time favorite game children, is also a stark reality in this area.
"I've been to prison myself," says parent Maurice Mosley. "It's not a good thing."
The controversy came to light when a photo was published on the website blackandbrownnews.com. Editor Sharon Tumer saw the photo on facebook and was appalled.
"It's not cops and robbers. It's not 'kids will be kids.' This sends a very clear message to impressionable children."
10 year old Gerri Fletcher says she wondered whether playing jail was appropriate.
"Kids used to say why I'm locked in jail? And they used to play cops and robbers," Said Gerri.
“The fact is that this community along with six others in New York City makes up the majority of the prison population in New York State,” he said. “And to have this here under the auspices of NYCHA is absolutely insulting, Lumumba Bandele, a lecturer in black history at CUNY, told the New York Times.
Sheila Sainback from the New York City Housing Authority says the play structure went up in 2004 and they'd never received any complaints before. But responding to the complaints, they have since painted over the locks and word jail.
They are considering a permanent solution to safely replace that part of the play structure. The Housing Authority has also inspected other housing developments around the city and determined there are no other jail playgrounds.