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Won their nabe back from drugs and thugs

By TOM SHORTELL JERSEY JOURNAL STAFF WRITER

It wasn't hard to tell when the New York Avenue Block Association began winning the war against the drug dealers and crackheads in their Jersey City Heights neighborhood.

Ross London, who founded the group in 2002, said on two occasions bricks came flying through windows of his home. His car was repeatedly damaged and one time they even left a dead bird on his windshield as a warning.

But he wasn't alone. The properties of other residents were also damaged and one was threatened with death if he attended another association meeting, London said. "We went through hell. It was rough," London said.

The block of New York Avenue between Franklin Avenue and Ferry Street was a drug haven, said Sheena Begum, an area resident. Drug dealers roamed around at night with their car stereos blasting and conducted sales in the street, she said.

"They did it out in the open. They had this superior attitude," she said. London, a former municipal judge in Hoboken, had moved to the block in 2002 and was shocked by the crime he witnessed outside his home.

"The block had been pretty awful," said London, 59. "I figured I'd stick it out for six months and see what happened. In the meantime, I decided to do everything possible to see what could be changed."

He formed the block association. Then he rallied the police and local politicians. The association also pushed landlords to hold their tenants accountable for illegal actions.

London, now a professor at Berkeley College in Newark, set up a surveillance camera outside his window and gave police footage of crimes, he said. The pressure paid off in 2005, when an undercover drug sting rounded up some of the block's worst offenders, residents said. "The police came through big," London said.

"By building partnerships and through teamwork, police and community groups can create neighborhoods where people can live and work safely," Police Director Sam Jefferson said.
Many of the residents credit London for the turnaround.

"That's all the judge's doing," Artie Gordon said of London. "Every little spot was filled with drugs. Then he moved in." London credits all his neighbors. "The key to political power is political organizing," he said.

Now when residents look outside, they see children playing catch instead of dealers cruising the street.

"With the community and police working as a team, we can accomplish the goal of cleaning up the streets," Police Chief Tom Comey said.

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