“Man the hood is shutdown tonight,” said a young man standing on the corner of Bergen Street and Nostrand Avenue around 11pm Sunday night. He had “only made a buck tonight.”
That young man, holding his head with his hands, was glaring down the street at a new police mobile command unit parked outside of a Chinese restaurant that saw a gruesome daytime murder at the beginning of summer.
In the past 30 days, there have been 21 homicides in New York City – 29 less than the same period last year. Twelve of the homicides in the past 30 days took place in Brooklyn. Specifically Brownsville, East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Clinton Hill – and it’s clear that more officers are on the streets of Crown Heights these days after a summer punctuated by the sound of gunshots.
This information can be found in the New York Times’ interactive homicide map, which compiles data from 2003 until present, and shows that during that time Brooklyn has seen 40% of the city’s murders. Hovering over each dot on the map through these neighborhoods produces the reasons: gang, drug and dispute. Often the perpetrator is unknown; a victim identified only by their skin color and age.
So why are officers from the Borough North command fluttering the streets with tickets?
Earlier this summer, my boyfriend and I rode our bikes from our apartment to the corner, where we headed into the street until a rookie cop duo stopped us, hell bent on flexing their new authoritarian muscles. Apparently the wiser choice is to ride your bike the wrong way down the street. That’s legal.
A few weeks before, I found out, my friend, a resident of Prospect Heights, got a summons for the same reason. Later that day, the same officers were ticketing a driver down the block.
Recently, another friend told me of how he was walking his dog recently in Prospect Heights. He strolled down the street waiting for the dog to take care of business, picked it up and started to walk to a garbage can when a man approached him and accused him of almost not picking up the business, which at this point, was in a bag. He deduced that he and a female down the block, who then vouched for his clean-up effort, were cops disguised to nab quality of life perpetrators. He got away unticketed.
On a separate occasion, another friend shared with me that she hailed a cab in Park Slope with her husband and a friend, only to watch the cab drive past a black man in a hoodie also hailing him, to pick up her and her friends. The man approached the cab and accused the driver of racism. After the cab sped down the block, the man caught up with it, flashed his badge and gave him a ticket for an unspecified offense. (Racism?)
When I was approached by the rookie officers for my offense, I asked them, why would they be wasting their time with us – who were on our way to have lunch on a sunny Friday afternoon – when there was clearly drug dealing on the next corner.
“M’am,” said the male officer, who couldn’t have been much more than 25. “Do you want to go down that road?”
At that point I shut my mouth to prevent any Gates-related simulations, but I wondered, ‘Which road was I going down?’
He offered that there had been reports of muggings by people riding bikes on the sidewalk, and they were trying to get people on the small offenses, which his commanders tell him, helps to prevent larger ones. Clearly though, my boyfriend and I are not running a purse snatching operation. We were even wearing helmets.
On the occasion of a recent shooting in Crown Heights, I chatted with an officer from the 77th precinct, who spent his evening standing around quietly on the desolate street for watch detail while detectives knocked on doors for witnesses statements. We got to the subject of my incident and asked to see my summons so I showed it to him. He snickered and showed it to his partner. “Take a look at this,” he said, confirming, “they’re rookies.”
His partner – who I sometimes see with his brethren loitering at major intersections, twisting their nightsticks – spoke longingly of his home in upstate New York. “When I open that garage door,” he said, “and I pull my car inside, and I push the button to close it behind me, I’m done for the day.”
It reminded me of something that KRS-One said at an appearance at PowerHouse Arena earlier this year. “Too many of these professionals are going to their job, instead of doing their work. They’re going to the job, as opposed to doing the work.”
That seems especially true in light of last week’s meeting about the death of Shem Walker, allegedly shot by an undercover officer in Clinton Hill.
The statistics – the numbers – are down, and the presence of authority is alive and well in this borough, yet still manages to let a culture of drug and gang-related gun violence pervade entire swathes of its reaches.
After the recent shooting, I was at a bodega when a young man came into the store in search of a blunt. “What you’ve never been shot before?” he asked the clerk. “If I had to, I would spray all you motherfuckers up in here. You don’t even know.”
And the sad part is, we don’t.