WEST SENECA, NY (WIVB) - Neighbors in West Seneca staged a protest Saturday afternoon outside two group homes on Leydecker Road, in which the state recently placed seven registered sex offenders.
They were impossible to miss, standing with their signs along the roadside.
“We’re not done here. We’re watching them. We’re not leaving; they’re leaving!” organizer Tony Fischione told the crowd gathered through his megaphone.
“What do we want?” “Move out!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” they chanted.
These neighbors say they won’t tolerate the state blindsiding them, with its decision to place seven Level 2 and 3 sex offenders in the group homes. The sex offenders were moved from a secure facility in Monroe County which was recently shuttered. Neither the neighbors, nor town officials received any notification that the state was placing the offenders right in the middle of this residential neighborhood.
“We’re not gonna put up with the dumping of pedophiles in our neighborhoods, next to our parks and playgrounds,” Fischione said. “All these neighborhoods around here have kids. We’re all family-oriented neighborhoods. Our kids play here; this is where we come for recreation.”
“We have two parks, Sunshine Park and Fireman’s Field. All summer long, these parks are filled with baseball players, young kids on the playground, people walking their dogs. We have a day care right across the street from Sunshine Park,” noted Phyllis Barker, who lives directly across from the group homes.
Since the sex offenders moved in, she said, her life has been turned upside down. She is constantly in fear for her two teenaged daughters.
“My daughters aren’t free to walk the streets [any]more, to visit their friends,” Barker explained. “I’m frightened for my children and the little kids up the street. I feel that I’m a prisoner in my own home.”
West Seneca has a town ordinance that prohibits sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of a park, school, church or certain other places where children and families gather. But protesters had to march only 600 feet from Sunshine Park to reach the two group homes.
“Usually a local municipality can’t create a law that supersedes state law,” explained Assemblyman Michael Kearns, who says he came to the protest to show his support for the residents. “However, what we’re looking into is that, there are ways that we can change that.”
“What does it take for people to finally wake up and realize?” asked an exasperated Fischione. “Do we need to find a body in the woods? I don’t want to see that. I’m not willing to take that risk.”
Most of the people who live nearby have no issue with the presence of a home for the developmentally disabled in their community.
“My brother is in a group home. There are good organizations out there, doing good work,” said Kearns. “We don’t want this to hinder other group homes going into neighborhoods in the future. Sex offenders are a different category, a whole different thing. We’ve never seen a high concentration of sex offenders in one place.”
“We’re not gonna take the chance of somebody getting attacked. We don’t want this anymore. We’re not gonna put up with it. We want it to stop, now. We want these guys in a secure facility, and away from our playgrounds,” said Fischione.
“We need the state to take these people and put them in a secure facility, and not move them somewhere where another town’s going to have the same problem,” Barker agreed.
Fischione organized this peaceful protest in hopes of helping his neighbors feel like they can take back some control.
“If we stand silent, like we’ve been, we’re not going to be heard. And at this point in time,” he said, “we need to stand up, be heard, and tell the powers that be: we’re mad.”