2011-12-29 / View From the Middle

View From The Middle

The Year In Review: All-In-All, It Wasn’t Bad
By Charles Rogers

As the Canarsie Courier started its 91st year, we found that 2011 wasn’t too bad; not the greatest, but not too bad. A victory for the school community was a feather in our respective caps, there was too much violence, and we had a bunch of political problems, what with one nearby U.S. Congressman quitting in utter disgrace and a state senator in lotsa trouble (unproven, so far), but, as we’ve done in the past, we came through without too many frowns on our faces and, for the most part, with our heads held high.

Unfortunately, the year started out with our headlines telling of the death of eightyear old Billy Grice who passed away as a result of faulty wiring in his home on East 57th Street in Mill Basin. Family members and other tenants in the two family home were taken to the hospital and survived, but, according to firefighters, it was too late for the P.S. 236 student.

The Community Education Council (CEC) for School District 18 held its first meeting of the year and officials told a large crowd in attendance that they expected more parents to take an active part in their children’s education and, while they were at it, asked that they continue to attend the CEC’s meetings.

It didn’t take long for the gunplay in the community to start, as one man was shot on East 84th Street just after midnight on January 1st and then, two days later, a man was found on East 92nd Street with bullet wounds to the chest. Neither man died and police are continuing to investigate both cases.

Members of the CEC began negotiations with the City Department of Education (DOE) in mid-January regarding the status of P.S. 114, the 100-year-old school on Remsen Avenue. Seemed that the DOE wanted to close it at first, then they wanted to discuss making way for a charter school on the premises. In either case, CEC members organized parents and held a strategy confab preparatory to meeting with the DOE. Then, a week later, a deputy schools chancellor met with parents, teachers and CEC people and told them that, because of their efforts, the proposals for change would be “taken under consideration.” Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Bloomberg blasted teacher seniority as he attended a service at the nearby Christian Cultural Center with his new chancellor — Cathie Black — by his side. She lasted in her job for precisely 92 days and couldn’t stand the heat, later to be replaced by Dennis Walcott.

A couple of weeks after those community meetings, City Councilman Charles Barron figuratively set up his microphones in front of the Remsen Avenue school alongside City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and they both announced that P.S. 114 would indeed be taken off the DOE’s schools-tobe closed list! “This is a major victory for this close-knit school community,” de Blasio said.

At a press conference in Manhattan in mid-March, the U.S. attorney for the southern district announced a criminal complaint against State Senator Carl Kruger and seven other defendants in what he called “a broadbased bribery racket.” Kruger, along with Assemblyman William Boyland and six others, surrendered at federal court amid a bevy of clinging, clamoring media. At the time, the 16-year legislator declared he was not guilty of bribery and corruption charges. Boyland, was later acquitted of the charges, and Kruger pleaded guilty in December.

Teachers and other members of a “This Is It” committee at Canarsie High School announced they would hold a “celebration,” of sorts, as word came of the demise of the school as we know it. It was to be closed at the end of the school year and divided thereafter into three separate institutions. The celebration would highlight the positive legacy the school has proudly brought — justly so — through the years. Spring brought all sorts of dignitaries, including Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Marty Golden, Councilman Lew Fidler and former N.Y. Yankees manager Joe Torre to Marine Park to officially spark the beginning of the Little League Baseball season. Just as the program was ending, along came Congressman Anthony Weiner to lend his approval too.

We didn’t blow out any candles, nor did we have a cake, but quietly the Canarsie Courier celebrated its 90th birthday on April 21st, with the hope that the community continues to thrive and will be around for another 90 years and gratitude to all our loyal readers and advertisers.

Officials of the South Canarsie Civic Association met during May to announce their displeasure with Community Board 18, noting that the board has been “ignoring” the Canarsie community and many of its problems. The civic group officials accused the board’s members of not paying attention to happenings “because most of the members live someplace else,” such as Mill Basin or Bergen Beach or Marine Park. One member suggested CB18 should be disbanded.

When word came this month that Osama bin Laden had been killed by Navy Seals and a rash of patriotism hit the community, displayed beautifully by Canarsie’s Bravest firefighters from Engine 257, Ladder 170 and Battalion 58 as they mourned the 343 fellow firefighters who perished in the World Trade Center attack engineered by bin Laden in 2001. In a touching gesture, they attached Flags to their engines and rigs.

Members of the community and the 69th Precinct Community Council were saddened to see Deputy Inspector Milt Marmara depart the area as commanding officer of the 69th Precinct but welcomed Captain George Fitzgibbon as he took over the position. He promised to continue the fine policies of Marmara and said he would be using more foot patrols in covering the precinct boundaries. A few months later, Fitzgibbon was also promoted to the rank of Deputy Inspector.

Along about the middle of the year, all the sensational magazines, newspapers and, yes, even the most conservative periodicals, were blaring the peccadilloes of Rep. Anthony Weiner, whose Congressional district covered parts of Queens and, yeah, Brooklyn, as he twittered pictures of his crotch and, ahem, other regions on the Internet to some ladies he’d never even met personally. First he denied broadcasting the photos on the Internet. Then he couldn’t deny it. Everyone — from Seattle, Washington to, uh, Canarsie, Brooklyn — laughed themselves silly and then, disgusted, cheered when Weiner resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives because of his misdemeanors and subsequent shame. His Congressional seat was vacated temporarily until a new election would take place.

The ownership of Canarsie Cemetery was finally determined officially as the City Council voted to approve its sale to the owners of Cypress Hills Cemetery in Queens. One of the key conditions, of course, was that it remain “a non-sectarian burial ground for persons of all races, faiths and ethnic origins” and that the character of the site remain as it has for the past 100 years. Work has already been started on refurbishing and beautifying the area.

The 69th Precinct Young Explorers took shovels and brooms to the area outside the precinct station house on Rockaway Parkway at Foster Avenue to spruce it up preparatory to a local artist doing special work on the white wall surrounding the building. Artist Kenny Altidor has already started work on two murals depicting likenesses of slain officers who had been assigned to the precinct, P.O. Cecil Sledge and P.O. James Cannon. Altidor is doing the job in his spare time and it’s still a work in progress.

As with all of Brooklyn, if not the entire city, violence took its toll in Canarsie, and the middle of summer was no exception. For example, our issue of July 21st featured a number of stories where gunplay was the culprit. It started out with the beating death of an East 102nd Street 18-year-old girl by her stepfather, who allegedly struck her repeatedly with a hammer. He was arrested and charged with her murder. During the same week we told of a Breukelen Houses resident who was shot in the foot while witnessing an armed confrontation between two gangs. At the same time, a shooting took place on East 77th Street near the Wendy’s Restaurant on Flatlands Avenue. Then another man was shot on East 92nd Street during an attempted robbery a couple of days later. While we were telling these stories, residents in East Flatbush were mourning the death of 15 year old Dequan Mercurius who died after being shot near the corner of East 39th Street and Avenue K, adjacent to P.S. 119.

Officials of Walmart Stores met with some business leaders and elected officials in late summer to discuss a possible move to an area near the Gateway Center east of Starrett City, sparking a number of protests from local residents and mom and pop store owners. Councilman Barron joined forces with protesters and vowed he would do his best to defeat any moves by Walmart to come to the East New York territory. The argument is continuing.

The Roy H. Mann School in Mill Basin was the scene in mid-August where a teen was killed after falling from the roof of the building, which was under repair. Apparently, Nick Gryak, 15, got caught in some of the scaffolding and netting surrounding the building. Grieving friends said Gryak and other teenagers had been known to climb to the roof during the summer to “hang out.”

Canarsiens and other residents in the Northeast U.S. got a short shock on August 23rd when, well, the ground shook under them. Yes, the ground shook as a result of a small earthquake that centered in a town in Virginia, but sent ground waves traveling all the way up to our territory. Nobody was injured and a few bricks were dislodged from a building in Red Hook, but at least we can now tell our grandchildren we were there during “The Big One” (all right, “The Little One”) in 2011!

Canarsie and the surrounding areas didn’t fare too badly as a result of Hurricane Irene, which hit the Northeast pretty hard. We can be thankful there were few injuries, but trees were uprooted and wires entangled to a fair degree, but the brunt of the storm hit the outer sections hard, where flooding was a huge culprit.

The spectacular West Indian American Day Parade that took place over the Labor Day weekend featured fantastic pageantry, as marchers trekked along Eastern Parkway and through Crown Heights and Flatbush to the delight of watchers and partygoers alike. Unfortunately, there was some gunplay again, and police had to take a hand in rounding up some of the people allegedly responsible. Many said the police were a little too rough and that’s still under discussion with authorities.

Remember when Congressman Anthony Weiner, a Democrat, stepped down from office in shame earlier this year? Well, seems that a Republican was voted into his spot — at least until official elections are held next year. Oh, it’s official that Bob Turner is now the representative from the district, as he defeated Democrat David Wepner. Of course, the entire election could be moot because the 9th C.D. — which includes Sheepshead Bay, as well as parts of Queens — could be wiped out as a result of census-related redistricting next year.

More than 250 angry residents gathered at the Hebrew Educational Society building in September to voice their disdain for the city’s Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) maintaining of sewers and catch basins that had been overflowing and flooding area homes during a spate of storms during the summer. As a result of community outrage, believe it or not, the DEP blinked! They took the blame, noting that pumping station malfunctions were responsible for some of the backups and said they were trying to fix any problems so flooding would not occur again.

Unfortunately, the year’s final months contained a couple of murders, giving more credence to the fact that violence just doesn’t go away, no matter how hard we try. Local detectives joined with Brooklyn Homicide Unit officials to pursue clues and investigate circumstances involving the shooting death of 17-year-old Shaquille Jones, a South Shore High School basketball star who was gunned down on a Friday afternoon in the community driveway between East 78th and East 79th streets near Flatlands Avenue. Then, two days later, a 25- year-old man was gunned down near the corner of East 83rd Street and Flatlands Avenue. Cops have a suspect in the teen’s fatal shooting.

On December 20th, Senator Kruger appeared in federal court to plead guilty to corruption charges leveled last March. He automatically lost his job as a legislator and will face sentencing early in 2012.

As 2011 comes to an end, we can look back and say we stood strong this year as a community — and that’s important, whether fighting a monstrous Department of Education or letting the Department of Environmental Protection know who’s really boss when it comes to democratic principles. We can therefore be glad to look back and say the year wasn’t too bad after all and, as the birthday cards say: we might be a year older, but we’re a year better too!

Happy New Year!

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