Monday, August 10, 2009

Bullets and Block Parties

It was another eventful weekend on Franklin, though not as originally planned by residents. On Saturday, eight days after someone opened fire on Franklin and Dean and seriously wounded a delivery man from Sushi Tatsu II, several rounds were fired on people mingling in the crowd outside of B&B Sports Club between St. Mark's and Bergen, a little over a block away. The Brooklynian Crown Heights message board has been awash with chatter over the latest incident (three victims were hit, but their medical conditions remain unknown) and the recent series of shootings in the vicinity. Theories proposed include the effects of the economic downturn and the historic summer spike in crime, but poster Mister Softee was most convincing, using links to local crime statistics and the NYTimes homicide map to demonstrate that the bounce in murders is concentrated in northwest Crown Heights.

The refusal of the local precinct (the 77th) to grant the Dean Street Block Association a street-closure permit to host their annual block party on account of the recent violence is potentially another piece of supporting evidence for Mister Softee's extrapolations. Though an unofficial version of the event was flyered on Dean on Thursday and Friday, it was to be a significantly scaled-back version of the original plan, and the organizers expressed their frustration that their permit was denied despite an overall decline in crime in the area over the past year. Pointing to similar events that have gone ahead in areas with comparable levels of crime this summer, they suggested that recent shootings may not have been the deciding factor. Zachary Goelman of Epichorus illuminates:

The party was planned for Saturday, but didn't go ahead without the closure permit. Rodney Duncan of the Dean Street Block Assn. said he felt frustrated, and discriminated against, by the police department's decision. "We applied for our permit in March, but they didn't tell us it had been declined until the last week of July. The DJ's had been paid. We're out money," he said. The police position that there had been too much violent crime in the neighborhood rang hollow to Duncan. "Other streets in this neighborhood have had parties this summer," he said. The Franklin Flea Market at Franklin and Sterling had a successful run on July 12.

Duncan and residents of his block between Franklin and Bedford Avenues say they feel isolated and singled out. Crime in the neighborhood has fallen precipitously in the last year. The 77th Precinct's most recent CompStat numbers show a 35.7 percent drop in homicides over the same period last year, from 14 to nine. The numbers also show a 26 percent drop in robberies and a 32 percent drop in grand larceny. "We're a block of good, working-class people. Just because some knucklehead with a bad idea and gun shoots someone around the corner, we lose our permit?" he asked. "We have a very successful track record of running block parties," Duncan said. He understands that any public event comes with risks. But the decision doesn't reflect the value of public safety. On July 18, Darrien Delk and Vance Rock were gunned down, execution-style, at an unofficial block party a few streets over at Washington Avenue and St. John's place while sitting in a car.

Duncan asserts gun violence doesn't explain the decision to deny Dean Street a permit. He says it might be political. "Our block is currently involved in a class-action lawsuit against the city," he explained. Residents have filed suit in protest of city hall's plan to bring a homeless intake center to the Atlantic Armory around the corner at Bedford and Atlantic Avenue. "I don't know if this is retaliation for the lawsuit," Duncan said, "but their other reasons don't make sense." The block association has a cordial relationship with the 77th Precinct's community affairs officers, and do not believe that the decision came from the precinct, which is all the more puzzling for residents.

Detectives with the 77th Precinct's community affairs department declined to comment.

Even if the armory suit had nothing to do with this (and I'm not guessing either way), it's a problem from hell. The police certainly don't want a block party to devolve into a shootout, and if they honestly believed that they couldn't keep the area safe, they made the right call. At the same time, this is a block that already feels ignored and betrayed by city officials who've shown what many residents see as callous disregard for their security and comfort on their own street. If there was a time to go the extra mile to give a block club a safe, enjoyable block party, this was it. The police are doubtless trying to keep residents safe by canceling what they believe would become a dangerous event, but the safety of the locked door is a poor substitute for the freedom from fear that comes with living on a safe street. Residents who are afraid that their neighborhood is being slated for decline by city polices want the police to keep them safe in their free enjoyment of the neighborhood, not just to tell them that it's too dangerous to live the way they want.

A number of community groups are preparing events and responses to build a dialogue to counter the violence and the destructive cycle of frustration and alienation it fosters. I'll do my best to help publicize them.


  1. "We're a block of good, working-class people. Just because some knucklehead with a bad idea and gun shoots someone around the corner, we lose our permit?"

    While I understand his frustration, and that block does seem to be full of nice, good people, I think he is understating the problem here... more like some knucklehead(s) with bad ideas(s) and gun(s) have shot six people around the corner, just in the past 2 months or so.

    To be fair, he said this before the latest incident outside that club the other night, but between that and the incident with the sushi delivery man it's pretty well illustrated that these guys aren't shy about letting bullets fly around innocent people- and if this were to happen during a block party it would be disastrous.

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  3. I walked past the kids who opened the fire hydrant of my way to A Slice of Brooklyn yesterday. The scene reminded me so fondly of Do the Right Thing that instead of buying a slice I threw a trash can through the window.