Residents both newtime and longtime were visibly upset about what went down in front of the very building in which we were sitting. Many of us have been complaining about the exact same group of guys who were the target of the August 30th shooting. I and others have personally called them out as best we could, to anyone who would listen, but I honestly feel like I failed to sound the warning loud enough. Those guys shouldn't have been allowed to hang out in front of 49 or 35 or 40, or in their Escalade drug-mobile, night after night after night, doing their business and scaring off law-abiding folk. It was a tragedy that took place in slow motion over months, and in its final moments it accelerated to the speed of bullets, from a kid on a bicycle of all get-away vehicles, a kid from outside the neighborhood, a kid who couldn't shoot to save his life, and frankly he didn't, because his life is basically over now, like the victim he later called to apologize for killing. You can't make this stuff up.
Among the mourners was the victim's grandmother, who explained her long battle with dealers over in Brownsville and how she believed the only way for a block to kick 'em out was to confront them personally. She was clearly angry and grieving, but she was honest in saying her efforts had made her a target in her own neighborhood. "They put a hit out on me," she said. Going it alone did not seem to the crowd like a good way to combat hoodlums, after hearing her story. But other residents threw out good ideas on ways to work together. Like:
- Calling 911 EVERY time you see something criminal or suspicious. While one neighbor worried about the block becoming a "police state," the majority seemed to feel that it might take regular visits by cops to make Clarkson and neighboring streets and corners safe.
- Lt. Ferber at the 70th said that with residents' help he was prepared to do regular sweeps of buildings and to follow up on leads from the community. (By the way, I have both Ferbers and Lewis' personal cell phone #s, so if you have anything to say that you want them to hear, by all means send me an email. and I'll pass it along, anonymously if you like.)
- Meeting once a month on Thursdays and sharing our experiences, intel, and encouraging regular attendance from the cops to share updates.
- Going to the Community Council meetings of the 70th and 71st precincts.
- The monthly meeting could be followed by a walk up and down the block in solidarity, letting troublemakers know we are united against trouble.
- Get the C.O.P. program up and running, and consider Bob Thomason's proven neighborhood watch idea where different citizens take an hour each to walk up and down with an eagle eye.
- Bring landlords into the mix, and demand better lighting and breaking up of ruckussy parties and gang hangs.
- Keeping up the pressure on elected officials and precincts to provide every ounce of support they can muster.
- Putting up official NYPD "buy-back" signs and tips-line signs, not just to get responses but to let people know we mean business. Sometimes the NYPD logo is enough to strike fear.
- Meet with the D.A. to ask for the maximum pressure from ALL the borough's patrols, including narcotics and gang divisions, to put the bad guys behind bars.
- While Clarkson is a vibrant and heavily trafficked street, we need to stay engaged and unafraid. Retreating into our homes actually makes us less safe, and gives the toughs more space to do their thing. There's actually evidence on this, but evidence may be tough to swallow if you're feeling scared.
Most people on my block, and I'm sure on many blocks around here, know that things are much better than they were. I myself remember life on Vanderbilt and Lincoln Place at Underhill in Prospect Heights in the 90's as tough to say the least, riddled with drugs and sporadic gunplay, though as a young man I never gave it much thought other than "hey, its NYC, what do you expect?" Things HAVE gotten better, the police have gotten smarter and less corrupt, people ARE better at talking to one another. And yes, there's a mixing of peoples like never before in neighborhoods that many pundits gave up for dead. But what if that was our strength?
Thanks to everyone who turned out. It was gratifying to see Skei, and PLGNA founder Bob Thomason and current president Martin Ruiz and Bob Marvin and many others from nearby blocks. The room was a true rainbow coalition, and even the anger seemed to come from a place of unity. To all of you, your support means a lot, and I look forward to working with you all moving forward. Peace, literally. - tim