The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cops and Residents Share Thoughts & Tactics on Clarkson

Last night about 80 people crowded into the basement community room at 40 Clarkson Avenue to talk turkey on safety. The Q invited folks from the 71st AND 70th Precincts, and though they left me hanging til the last minute, they showed up in large numbers and with the patience to listen to our complaints and questions. The one thing they couldn't promise, except for perhaps the next few weeks, was more regular patrols of the neighborhood. The familiar refrain is tough to hear, no matter how often you hear it: "we're stretched thing," "there's only so much we can do," "we know who they are but we need your help catching them doing the serious crimes." Calls for curfews or better enforcement of loitering laws, we were reminded, run up against a little thing called the Constitution, so even basic crowd control stuff is difficult. Deputy Inspector Lewis reminded us that if even one member of a crowd lives in the building, there is little way to stop folks from hanging out. (The Q wrote about that just recently.)

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.
It may be (let's hope) that the problem goes into "remission" on Clarkson, and maybe that's a good thing psychologically. However I can't stress enough that what happened here can happen anywhere. Until this went down, I was always able to keep the reality of shootings and violence at arm's length. Denial? Most definitely. I've spoken to plenty of people who would rather not know what's going down, where and by whom. But truth be told, there are so many things that can happen, no matter how remote the possibility, that frankly,we would live in constant fear if we let it get to us. It's the stuff we CAN control, like vigilance, information flow, better traffic calming, holding leader's feet to the fire, calling landlords out on bad behavior...these things make a difference. You can start by calling 911 whenever you see, as the Lieutenant put it, people hanging out doing things that would make you cringe were your grandmother with you. (Um, that assumes that your grandmother is familiar with urban life and not, say, a full-on racist, but I think we got the point!)

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


Alex said...

In light of this post and other information I learned today, I am trying my best to be hopeful about the neighborhood, but I'm not having a ton of luck right now and I need some encouragement!

I contacted CB9 today to find out if I could be added to the agenda for the next CB meeting to talk about the Lincoln/Flatbush/Washington intersection. I got the usual runaround about the process for getting on the agenda, etc, but then I received a call from Pearl Miles, who was very nice to talk to and truly interested in the traffic situation. She was quite knowledgeable on the subject as well.

HOWEVER. Pearl let me know that a large scale traffic calming plan has been developed, and can be viewed at the CB9 office. I am going to make it up there one day for a look. The reason that none of the components of the plan have been implemented is that the plan was deemed unacceptable due to cost (because saving lives isn't worth it? I know). I got the impression that the plan has been idle for quite some time.

To me, this means that there has been no effective advocacy for the cause of traffic calming. Whomever is in the position to advocate - City Council, State Senate, State Assembly - no one has been able to make it happen. Not even close, apparently, because the Flatbenue has been untouched for years and years.

I'm frusrtated because I feel like no matter how much we turn ourselves into grassroots advocates, our elected officials are not going to come through and turn our initiatives into reality. It's even more disheartening to think that the same thing could happen with citizen led initiatives to reduce crime.

Thoughts anyone?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

I think we're beginning to get some attention, and I was heartened by last night's performance by the NYPD. They may not do exactly what we want, but they can't ignore us. We were too many, too strong.

Go talk to Pearl, Alex. She's great and has tons of knowledge and experience. Hell, join the board, we could use you! That DOT study is gonna be huge - we have to stay on that. The excellent Ed Fanning of Ocean Ave is CB9's Transportation chair, and we never let him forget how much we need traffic looked at.

What else is looking up? There's going to be some potentially cool new joints opening soon (sorry to be cryptic); according to Shelley of PlayKids trash is getting picked up more regularly; tickets are being handed out to flagrant violators. We got traffic calming on Empire at Flatbush, a plan's in the works for the green concrete trees and that whole crappy parking lot at Flat/Ocean/Empire, they improved the Ocean/Parkside intersection, a really nice proposal went in to spruce up Parkside Station's plaza, they're making big progress on the old Caledonian Hospital at 123 Parkside, the new Parkside Playground is a big bonus and we were there just there the other day and had a great time amidst good vibes (working on getting it closed up every night), Lakeside is opening soon, two great local preschools, lotsa public transport(the Q was voted the best line), the people are beautiful and outrageous, the bourgie thing hasn't eaten up local flavor, you can still get a relatively big relatively inexpensive place (i know, i know that seems absurd to say, but it's true with emphasis on the word relatively), the place is electric with young people doing their NYC thang, the joyful Caribbean attitude is infectious, music everywhere, bargains galore, entrepreneurs from around the globe, get the idea. I'm bullish on Caledonia, on PLG, on Flatbush, even when it looks like things move sideways. And I blame the blogosphere (myself included) for turning us all into envious neighborhood watchers, comparing ourselves to things we aren't, and expecting the same sorts of changes at the same speed that are becoming commonplace and predictable elsewhere. Disagree with me if you like, but if I really think about my experiences here in the last decade I wouldn't trade 'em for anything. Wherever you go you take yourself and all your baggage with you. Onward, upward and all that rah rah blah blah blah.

And thanks Alex, for all your informative and constructive comments here.

Anonymous said...

Alex said: "I feel like no matter how much we turn ourselves into grassroots advocates, our elected officials are not going to come through and turn our initiatives into reality."

Yep. When or if we vote for incumbents around here it's only because the alternatives offered are worse.