Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Killing in East New York Reverberates in Crown Heights

(a shrine at the Dean Deli Grocery on Franklin and Dean in memory of Duane Browne, a former resident of the area who was shot and killed by NYPD officers last Thursday)

It's always unsettling to read of someone's passing, but when articles began to appear on Thursday night with photos of Duane Browne, who had just been shot to death in East New York, I was particularly affected. The 26-year-old smiling at me from my screen, his young son in his arms, looked eerily familiar. Browne had died in East New York, a neighborhood where I worked in elementary schools from 2008-2010, and I wracked my brain for some memory - had he been at a PTA meeting? An after-school track meet? Two years on, would I really remember him if he had?

As it turned out, I recognized Duane Browne because he had lived less than a block from me for many years, and, like me, had frequented the Dean Deli Grocery. I realized this on Sunday, when, with the permission of the owners, Browne's friends erected a memorial against their wall. Inside, friends gathered occasionally to warm up and tell stories as the owners/clerks nodded sadly and kept everyone supplied with loosies. When I asked about the memorial, the young man (roughly my age, and Browne's) behind the counter shook his head and said "You remember him, right? He was always in here. They kill you in your own home . . ." He trailed off.

The circumstances surrounding Browne's death remain murky - officers responding anonymous 911 calls reporting a home invasion claim they encountered him armed and uncooperative, while his family report that he was defending his half-brother from robbers and posed no threat to the police. The NYPD argue that their use of deadly force was justified by the pistol Browne carried (particularly after the shooting death of Officer Peter Figoski last month), while East New York residents, in an interesting piece by Liz Robbins (who reportedly has a piece on Crown Heights in the pipeline) cited this as yet another instance of police violence in a neighborhood that has developed a deep distrust for the NYPD. The Department has opened an investigation, but regardless of what it reveals, Browne's son must now grow up without a father.

I'm not posting this to pass judgment. I just think it deserves notice that any life lost affects countless others across time and space, and that even as Crown Heights attracts attention for becoming safer and shinier, there are many in the neighborhood who live every day with the tragedies of gun violence.


  1. Someone please explain to me how an officer should react, after responding to an Anonymous phone call about a a home invasion, to a man with a gun (Duh yell Freeze!) It's a tragedy, no doubt. And the circumstances are murky, but it sure sounds like your passing judgement. It's not like the victim turned out to be holding a wallet, it's not like the officer fired dozens of rounds will nilly, it's not like they took him into a back room and sodomized the man, and it's certainly not like they expected the "bad guy" holding the gun to actually be the good guy. Guns are generally illegal in NYC for a reason: So this doesn't happen.

    And why I'm in general agreement with the Times piece, the fact is NYPD punishes cops for engaging in community relations unless explicitly told to.

    Let the hating begin.

    1. *And stop and frisks are BS, no doubt, I think everyone knows this except the politicians who like to have 'good numbers'.

    2. I think we're in agreement - like pretty much everyone else, I wasn't there. I'm certainly not blaming officers (who just lost one of their own in similar circumstances) for reacting when someone comes out of a building armed. At the same time, the matter is being internally investigated because, from what I understand, the mere presence of a firearm in this instance doesn't necessarily justify the use of deadly force. The question then becomes what happened, and in that case, its the family's word against the NYPD's (and my judgment is about as worthless as can be). I cited the two NYT articles because I think they, too, do a good job of straddling this issue. I said this back in September, but as far as I'm concerned, once guns are fired, we've already lost.

      I often write about policing with an axe to grind, but in this instance, I merely wanted to note the impact of a shooting in East New York (which for many people, particularly relatively new arrivals, might as well be another planet) on our own neighborhood. Gun violence has a way of being marginalized when it takes place "out there," and this shooting was a reminder for me that "out there" isn't half as far away as a lot of us (myself included) might like to think.

  2. Glad to see this post. I too saw the notices in the papers about the shooting in East NY, and felt sad that these kinds of things will likely to continue for so many in the poorer areas of Brooklyn even as the situation changes in Crown Heights. As a resident of CH, I've suffered through the murders of neighbors, and know the kind of grief this can bring to a neighborhood. It's sad, whatever the circumstances. No one should have to live as if under siege.

  3. Most of us try to live in the safest neighborhoods we can afford.

    For some, that neighborhood is ENY.

    An effective attempt to make that neighborhood safer, SNUG ENY, was recently defunded. The law of scarcity, and how it is enforced, may be the cruelest law of all.


    I hope we are in this for the long haul. This struggle predates us, and will out last us. Our collective attention span is very short.