The March against Gentrification, Racism and Police Violence on Saturday, September 9, 2017 was a success for the many organizers despite the long journey in central Brooklyn. It was a seven-mile trek starting downtown and finishing in Bushwick. It was a loud and visible display of “a commitment to community cohesion”.
The planning committee included members of the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BAN), Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), Black Lives Matter, Equality for Flatbush (E4F), Flower Lovers Against Corruption (FLAC), Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP), New York Communities for Change (NYCC) and The Crystal House Project (CHP). There were over 90 endorsers of the march.
This was a trek through neighborhoods that have been experiencing the scourge of displacing longtime residents of color and replacing them with higher-income Euro-Americans. The organizers and marchers said it plain: The problem is racism. People of color are being priced out from their longtime homes and businesses to make way for Euro-Americans and chain coffee shops, chain restaurants and chain department stores.
The route had six landmarks of which four were designated for scheduled addresses. The landmarks were Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn, Bedford Union Armory and Ebbets Field Apartments in Crown Heights South, Herbert Von King Park in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the Myrtle Avenue and Broadway intersection, and the plaza in front of the Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenue/Myrtle L subway station.
There was a challenge to obtaining the sound permit for the Barclays Center Brooklyn stop from the 78th Police Precinct. MTOPP’s Alicia Boyd submitted the sound permit application within the prescribed time. The application was first approved and later denied. In fact, the 78th Precinct directed the group to assemble across Flatbush Avenue. An e-mail sent to persons and groups in BAN’s directory that asked people to call the precinct made the difference. The 78th Precinct received an impactful number of inquiry calls and the precinct issued the permit.
Each of the four stops were selected to bring out an issue facing Brooklyn. Barclays Center–as well as the Atlantic Terminal Mall and several high-rise apartment buildings—came into being due to eminent domain. This gives New York City or New York State the right to determine the existing real estate to be blighted and the right to take private property from the owner(s) for public use; e.g., to build a hospital, school, highway or bridge. The private owner is paid the fair market value for it. What makes eminent domain contentious is that there are many instances in which what is constructed does not appear to be a public good. Rather, the projects are profitable real estate developments with some features that support the community. For example, Barclays Center Brooklyn is the venue for many school graduation ceremonies.
Ebbets Field Apartments is located where Ebbets Field Baseball Stadium served as the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The massive, high-rise complex contains 1,317 apartment units. Its construction was completed in 1962. The current owner, Fieldbridge Associates, is on a drive to turn over the renter profile to a higher income. In the past three years, about 1,600 households have been evicted from it.
It was here that MTOPP’s Alicia Boyd; Victoria Davis, sister to Delrawn Small, who was killed unjustly by NYPD Officer Wayne Isaac; Donna Mussman, associated with the Crown Heights Tenants Council; FLAC’s Janine Nichols and candidates for the 35th Council District Ede Fox, Christine Parker and Jabari Brisport talked about the September 12th Primary.
NYCC member Rachael Rivera came to the microphone to support the “Kill the Deal” campaign, which is the remodeling of Bedford Union Armory, and as a show of comradery. Rivera is a resident of East New York and said, “My neighborhood faces the same displacement pressures as Crown Heights”. BAJI’s Albert St.-Jean talked about the immigrant experience in New York City and the negative impact of gentrification in ethnic communities.
Herbert Von King Park is located in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which is experiencing extensive turnover in homeownership, renters and skyrocketing housing prices. Long-standing restaurants, clothes shops and businesses are feeling the push-out from retail chains. Von King Park contains an amphitheater where the marchers could sit, refresh themselves and listen to different speakers.
It was here that homeowner Eyvette Simmons discussed her battle with Ozone Development. Simmons explained how she came home one day to find that the front of her row house on Hancock Street had been painted black without her permission. The entity that painted her house was Ozone Development, which she describes as “one of the new developers grabbing up properties”. After contacting NYC agencies about her home and not receiving help, she contacted BAN to learn what could be done to get the black paint off her building.
Ms. Simmons acknowledges BAN for getting Ozone Development to restore the original color of her home. BAN leader Imani Henry put a twist in thanking those involved in the march’s planning. He acknowledged the people who distributed flyers, signed petitions or babysat for someone who went to the planned meetings.
The march to the last stop, the plaza in front of the Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenue/Myrtle L subway station, seemed to be the most arduous. It was also the miles with the most neighborhood residents that reacted so positively to the spectacle of hundreds of people holding banners, painted signs and placards with such messages as “Brooklyn No Se Vende”, “Stop Killing Black Men”, “Who Protected Us from the Police?” and “Whose City? Our City!” People came out of their homes and businesses to cheer the group.
The march grew at each landmark. It seemed as if the main streets were being flooded with more marchers. By the time the march reached the last stop, there was a throng of approximately 400 people. MTOPP’s LaShaun Ellis recorded the march somewhere before the Myrtle Avenue and Broadway intersection. She counted roughly 300 marchers pass by her cell phone. At Myrtle and Broadway, more people flowed into the main body. After walking the many miles, sitting in the plaza to hear more speeches was a deserved pleasure.