“We’re all busy, so we have to break down the task that’s in front of us,” State Senator Eric Adams (pictured) told the crowd amassed at the Hope City Empowerment Center for a community forum on Monday night. “There are common denominators that I’ve found over my 22 year policing career that make a safe community. One is participation.”
His message: it’s up to you, people. Senator Adams, a veteran of the NYPD and a founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, was summarizing his five point “holistic approach” (video below) to building a stronger, safer community in Prospect Heights and Crown Heights.
With the historic election of Barack Obama almost a year behind us, and a new generation of proactive central Brooklyn politicians in place working to engage residents as best they can, the message was clear: citizens, engage your community and get involved or these tough times will only get worse. Mr. Adams urged residents to contact his office with tips on crime or quality of life issues in the district.
The senator called the forum on Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights in response to the latest of many homicides that have plagued the neighborhood in recent months, and invited Councilwoman Letitia James, nearby Assemblyman Karim Camara and Deputy Inspector John Cosgrove of the 77th Precinct to speak to residents. Though the topics varied – schools, policing, city budgets, the crowded homeless shelter at Atlantic and Bedford Avenues – they all came back to the same conclusion: it’s time to work.
“Congratulations Prospect Heights I’m protecting the character of your neighborhood,” said Ms. James wryly as she took to the podium to review some of the area’s pressing issues, “The next project we will be engaging in is the rezoning of Prospect Heights. We’re attempting to put in place contextual zoning all throughout Prospect Heights, and you will probably get some information in the mail.”
Where action was once demanded of its leaders, now it’s the leaders that demand action of their constituents. Central Brooklyn politics has a history of machine democrats – who had little chance of opposition – running excited elections and eventually settling into inaction, but a new tide seems to have turned in the area, where in recent years Assemblymen Hakeem Jeffries and Karim Camara, in addition to Mr. Adams and Ms. James, were elected.
“If we don’t become the community to raise these children, many of them are going home to no one,” Senator Adams had said earlier, “And that child that we abandoned, they’re going to be the child that’s out on the corner hurting the good children, hurting the community. So we must engage them, we must engage them.”
“So what I am asking in my conversations with Deputy Mayor Walker,” Senator Adams continued, “is that we need to make our schools more accessible after school, and all I would need from you is an hour, an hour a week, half an hour a week, or sit down and tell me Eric, here’s my profession, I’m a banker, I can teach children financial literacy.”
The discussion soon turned to the matter at hand: rampant gun violence. Ms. James stood at the podium in a cream colored ensemble and gold rimmed glasses.
“I do know that over the summer there’s been a number of homicides and a number of shootings, the one that comes to mind in particular – a number of them come to mind – but I will tick off the ones I can recall: St. John’s Place, the block party, Franklin Avenue we’ve had at least four, Nostrand Avenue we’ve had at least five, just a couple of days ago, Classon and Prospect,” she said, concluding, “It has been a long, dangerous and violent summer.”
“The reality of the situation is that the crime has only moved,” she added, gesturing her right hand north past Washington Avenue.
“The reason why I’m here,” said Mr. Camara, who stood up after Ms. James was done and represents the neighboring district, “is because the challenges and issues that we’re faced with – you can’t reduce that to a geographical boundary.”
“This is not an issue that is limited to this particular area,” he continued, “it’s not a Crown Heights issue, it’s not a Washington Heights issue, this is an issue that is a national epidemic.”
Mr. Camara pointed to a recent YouTube video of a young man killed in Chicago, which sparked national outcry.
“We are not doing enough with the mostly black and Latino children that are killing each other in the street,” he continued. “Nine times out of ten when you hear about someone killing in your local community, that was street violence, then it’s a 16-24 year-old African-American, Latino, normally male – the numbers of woman are increasing – males killing each other over colors, over sneakers, over possessions, but nothing worth dying for.”
Deputy Inspector Cosgrove followed Mr. Camara, referring to a double homicide in late July that Ms. James had alluded to earlier in the evening.
“The alleged perpetrator – I don’t think he’s gone to trial yet, but he’s only 23 years of age,” said Inspector Cosgrove. “Young man just was honorably discharged from the Navy, spent three years overseas defending our country. There was a dispute, young men, young women, guys from out of the neighborhood, young women around the neighborhood, it’s a beautiful block party, perhaps some word was said offensively, perhaps it’s courtship in the new era, I don’t know. There was a fistfight that followed between local men, local young men, and the out of town young men. When the out of towners won, the local kid ran home – 23 years old – he came back, fired three rounds, killed two people.
“Why did he do that? Because he had a handgun, an illegal handgun.“
Inspector Cosgrove made sure to hand out cards with the tip line 1-866-GUN-STOP and to remind residents of monthly citizen-led precinct meetings. Ms. James offered later that she is sponsoring legislation in the city coucil to allow for tips to be registered online, providing more anonymity to residents with information about a crime who might fear for their personal safety should they report it.
Gun violence is one of many issues facing the Prospect Heights and Crown Heights communities. On Thursday October 22, at 7pm at PS 9 (Underhill Avenue between St. Mark’s and Bergen), a Town Hall meeting sponsored by the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council will be held with Senator Adams, Councilwoman James and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries to address traffic, transportation, the local economy and the proposed Atlantic Yards project.
Read: there’s a lot of work to do, and Senator Adams knows it.
“My colleagues in government asked me what was wrong with me to move on Prospect Place, they said why would you want to live there?” Senator Adams said in his opening remarks. “But I knew that if we started the process with the building at 425 Prospect Place, which is a co-op and an anchor on that block, I said ‘If we just start the process of saying we are not going to leave and we are not going to allow people to run us out of the community, we can turn the entire community around, but it’s a holistic approach.’”