On a recent sunny Tuesday morning when I toured the golden 9-mile stretch of Rockaway Beach, the largest oceanfront in the state, with Chief Lifeguard Janet Fash, I was shocked to see that almost all the beaches at the affluent western end of Belle Harbor and Neponsit were open. Each beach on Rockaway's western Gold Coast - where houses go for millions, where there is no subway service, no public boardwalk, and where parking permits are required - had four lifeguards protecting the sparse, vastly white bathers.
These are public beaches that essentially function as private beaches for the white locals affluent enough to access them.
Beach disparity in Rockaway is a black and white issue
In contrast, several miles to the east in the less affluent area of Far Rockaway - serving a largely minority community where more than 100,000 people are squashed into 2 square miles of housing projects, multiple dwellings, and single family homes - only two beaches from Beach 25th St. to Beach 72nd St. are open to the public.
On Beach 25th St., at 11:15 a.m. on the sunny Tuesday I trudged the sands, well over an hour after the beach's official 10 a.m. opening, there was but one lifeguard to safeguard the entire bay. There are supposed to be three lifeguards and a supervising lieutenant. (A second lifeguard, transferred from Belle Harbor, showed up as I was leaving.)
These two Rockaways couldn't have been more different than, well, black and white.