(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.