Crossroads

Condolences - Bed-Stuy

Condolences – Bed-Stuy

 

“Patrick!”

“Yo!”

“Come in here.”

“Everything alright?”

“Yo, Patrick. Two cops got shot down in Bed-Stuy today.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, they were ambushed. One of our drivers isn’t back yet either. You guys better watch out tonight – the NYPD ain’t gonna be fucking around with anyone.”

“No shit…”

And so began the last Saturday before Christmas.

It didn’t come as a complete surprise to some that this was the result of the animosity felt towards the Police after the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases but the manner in which this retaliation against the force in blue occurred was enough to make national headlines on the Monday morning news shows. Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were taken out point-blank by a deranged gunman who had come up from Maryland via bus earlier in the day. The suspect later took his own life in a nearby subway station as the officers were rushed to Woodhull Hospital. Immediately, fingers were pointed as for who was to blame for the execution-style attack, as two of NYPD’s finest became the first officers killed in the line of duty in over three years.

It wasn’t a surprise why this took place, as tensions between the Police and public were at the highest levels in Gotham in recent memory. Even before the Grand Jury decision in the Eric Garner case became public, the Occupy Wall Street movement pitted those committed to protect and serve against those who resisted the control over their right to free speech, petition, and assembly. Riots were common in the city’s history, from those in Union Square against the draft during the Civil War to those that set the inner city of Brooklyn and Bronx on fire in the 1960’s and ’70’s but these were the first that were taking place in the 21st Century and had a much broader undertone to both the message and those doing the protesting.

No one knew who was to blame for the tragedy that took place days before the last major holiday of 2014. Some thought that the Reverend Al Sharpton was the cause as he had relentlessly attacked New York’s finest for months on end, calling out their brutality and callousness. Letters to New York’s daily newspapers and PBA President Pat Lynch put the blame primarily on the Mayor, since he allowed dissenters to march on end through the streets as they disrupted businesses and traffic. Some were even heartless enough to call out the Police, saying that they had it coming and that the payback was inevitable. In the midst of the squabbling, two offices lay dead with it being found out later that Liu was covering another officer’s shift that day.

Officers - Bed-Stuy

Vigilance – Bed-Stuy

 

It’s no secret that those of us driving Taxis around the city are not the best of friends with the NYPD. In the few times I’ve encountered them during traffic stops, they have been quite forceful, blunt, and not the easiest of types to deal with and other drivers in my garage have had more than their fair share of gripes against them as well. While I do not find them to be the easiest of people to deal with, I have tremendous respect for them and what they do, knowing that they have to make split-second decisions on a daily basis in a city of over 8 1/2 million people that hail from nearly every corner of the globe. In addition, the current Police Commissioner (William Bratton) has plenty of experience in his current role as he held the same position under Mayor Giuliani throughout much of the 1990’s, back when the city was still recovering from the Crown Heights riots and the end of the surge in crime resulting from the crack epidemic.

These are different times however and a different response is what will be needed. The Mayor called for a halt in protests until the funeral and burials for the two officers but many felt that these words were too little and too late. For weeks on end, De Blasio gave the green light for those that felt like the Police force had overstepped its bounds, while those concerned with the rise in anger and resentment wondered why dissenters were given a free pass. Anyone who lived in New York long enough could see the writing in the wall as history had started to repeat itself:

24 years ago, a three-term mayor was denied a fourth chance to lead New York.

24 years ago, an outsider arose out of a crowded field to take the title of Hizzoner.

23 years ago, riots took over Brooklyn while the leadership in City Hall was unable to handle the rising tensions, as the thin blue line frayed dangerously close to breaking.

21 years ago, that person ended up becoming a one-term mayor.

With the exception of the latter statement, all of those were becoming true once again in the Big Apple with the link between the two being Sharpton.

Rising to prominence during the Tawana Brawley case in the late 1980’s, Sharpton became the de facto voice of the oppressed in New York and ultimately, America. Many accused of him being a race-baiter but his role took on a whole new meaning earlier this year when he was seated next to Blasio, Bratton, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan at a tension-quelling meeting at City Hall. While few doubted that he needed to attend, many wondered exactly when Sharpton was elected to a municipal office and deserved to be at the same table as officials that were entrusted with leading New York through the tumult. Some even questioned whose side the Mayor was on, feeling that he turned his back on those entrusted with defending citizens against criminals and wrongdoers.

Officers - Bed-Stuy

Officers – Bed-Stuy

Whatever the Mayor’s stance was, he staunchly called out those upset with the NYPD until after the anger and unrest from the force would calm down, giving the slain officers a chance to be memorialized and interred in peace. Liu’s widow was visibly shaken when giving her first public appearance since the slayings, saying that she was a newlywed that had big plans of a family with her husband. Ramos’ son wrote a touching letter saying how his Dad meant everything to him, humanizing the face of a force that many felt was out-of-touch with those they were entrusted to watch over.

As the year winds down the holiday decorations are put away, many questions remain unanswered. Most feel like this is not going to be the last incident of backlash and that the protests will inevitably start up again, bearing a dramatic plunge in January’s temperatures. One thing for sure is that for all the blame and vitriol, a man selling loosies on Staten Island and two on-duty officers in Brooklyn were heartlessly taken away from us far too soon. with tragic results.

The city deserves better than to have nothing of good come away from this, as has been the case so many times in the past.

Crossroads - Bed-Stuy

Crossroads – Bed-Stuy

 

 

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Brooklyn’s Finest

The Oculus - Barclays Center

The Oculus – Barclays Center

“I can’t stand it.”

As I made my way down Flatbush Ave. time and time again, I asked anyone and everyone that I was taking home to Brooklyn what they thought of the building pictured above, as it was under construction. Doctors, teachers, parents, artists, office workers, waiters – nearly all of them had an opinion on it and it wasn’t good. They were afraid of the crowds, traffic, loss of character in neighborhood, and the rise in property values. With much fanfare last fall, the Barclays Center finally opened and the long-awaited redevelopment of the Long Island Railroad yards finally had some concrete results that people could see and judge for themselves. Of course, I was one of them since I attended one of Coldplay’s concerts there right before New Year’s.

I’m not a huge fan of stadiums and arenas from an economic development standpoint. As much as I love my sports teams and the facilities they play in, it’s more of an aesthetic and design standpoint that I judge them from, and not whether they can bring a neighborhood back from a decline. As any New Yorker could attest to, the centerpiece of the greater project known as Atlantic Yards was more than just an arena for an NBA team. It was supposed to be a Frank Gehry-designed sports facility with loads of housing behind it and a skyscraper that would have been dubbed “Miss Brooklyn”, since it would have been the tallest in the Borough once completed. Most of those plans were scrapped in favor of the arena that SHoP ended up designing (to rave reviews) while the housing is still in limbo. What the final appearance of the yards will be remains anyone’s guess but the site already had a story that could be seen underneath the LED lights and exterior.

For starters, there’s been a huge re-branding of the team that formerly resided in my home state. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that their primary color was chosen to be black since it’s a timeless color that doesn’t go out of style. The concourses and seats inside were this hue as well, leading me to believe that it was a done deal long before the team announced their new name and color scheme. Along with that was a huge proclamation that professional sports had returned to New York’s most populous Borough, long after the Dodgers had bolted for the West Coast half a century earlier and left Brooklyn without its own team to root for. Unfortunately, pro sports *had* returned to the Borough a few years earlier, just not at the Major League Level.

The irony of the Nets rechristening as “Brooklyn” was the tale of the Dodgers and how they left the East Coast in the first place. Nearly everyone knows that Walter O’ Malley wanted a new Stadium for his team to replace the aging Ebbets Field. Robert Moses, who controlled nearly every City and State development agency in New York in the late 1950’s had a site ready for him…but it was in Queens. O’ Malley nixed the idea, packed up everything, and the following season, the Dodgers were playing their games in Wrigley Field (no, not that one in Chicago) before Dodger Stadium opened in 1962. Two years later, the expansion Metropolitans moved into a facility on the same Queens property that Moses had envisioned for “Dem Bums” and by then, there was a whole world of excitement next door with the World’s Fair going on in Flushing Meadows Park.

What many don’t know is that none of this would have happened had O’ Malley had his way. As hated as he remains to this day, he wanted to keep the team in Brooklyn. His goal was to have a concrete, state-of-the-art Stadium built right in the heart of the Borough, on the largest undeveloped parcel that remained in Brooklyn. The team would have only moved a little over a mile away, the Dodgers would have stayed in New York, and maybe Horace Stoneham would have sought a simliar replacement for the Polo Grounds. The new field would have been built on top of the railyards just beyond the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues…

…which is precisely where the Barclays center opened 55 years later.

This isn’t a lesson on how the blackmailing of cities over sports venues can come full circle but rather, one in urban planning. Much like the MTA yards on the West Side of Manhattan, Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn represents the aspirations of a place looking to move into the future on one of the last blank slates in its cityscape. Cultural attractions, improved mass transit connections, housing, parkland, and open space are seen as the magnets that will draw the professional and affluent residents that 21st Century Cities will need in order to survive and maintain the tax base. Naturally, someone will end up being displaced and dismayed at the whole environmental and review process, which will ultimately turn out to be the residents and drivers (including yours truly) when all it said and done. Much of the traffic patterns around the new Arena were screwed up for months during the construction of it, which had to be done on time for the Jay-Z concert that marked its opening. There still isn’t anywhere good for Yellow drop-offs and pickups, although the black cars have their own space for those functions. After all, Brooklyn is an Outer Borough!

The locals who decried the monstrosity that arose over the railyards have no choice but to live with it now, and the high rises that are planned to go on the back side of it. Even if the entire project was cancelled, the wave of development that has crept over the Lower East River Bridges and settled in Downtown and Boerum Hill has already changed the appearance of the Borough forever. Rents are closer than ever to those in Manhattan and more people are commuting within Brooklyn now for work than ever before. As evidenced by the high ticket prices and cost of concessions at the Barclays Center, it’s not the only way that Manhattan has reared its ugly head in the former “Outer Borough”.

As I’ve said before, a cabdriver told me once that when he used to drive people to Brooklyn, cops would tell him where Manhattan was and how to get back there since they thought he was lost. That’s no longer the case and as more people want to call the Borough home, the onslaught of high-end apartment towers, chain stores, and cultural amenities geared towards the rich will only continue to proliferate. Even though the Barclays Center is largely clad in weathered steel designed to invoke the surrounding industrial past, there’s no doubt that the building on the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues is from the future, and a harbinger of more change yet to come.

Barclays Center from across Flatbush Ave

Barclays Center from across Flatbush Ave