View From The Middle
We can fervently hope history is not repeating itself now. It’s not hard to remember what it was like in East Flatbush and Crown Heights and Bed Stuy back when street demonstrations were relatively common in Brooklyn.
Many can recall instances, just like we’ve been seeing in recent weeks, where rioters got caught up in protest marches and didn’t even know what they were demonstrating about as they ran along Church Avenue and Eastern Parkway and Nostrand Avenue and Bedford Avenue wreaking literal havoc on everything.
It didn’t matter whether a store owner who might have gotten caught in the path of destruction was a good guy or a bad guy — all of a sudden he or she became just a THING that got in the way. We saw that last week as the frightened owner of a flower shop saw marauding rabble-rousers pushing over vases and grabbing handfuls of flowers just because they were angry and HAD to strike out against something.
We saw it when the same rioter, along with at least 20 more, stormed into a Rite Aid pharmacy on Church Avenue near East 30th Street and knocked over a minister, grabbing the cell phone from his hand as he fell, and then pulled the cash registers off their mountings and pushed merchandise from racks, spilling valuable items along the aisles, while other customers huddled in corners, afraid to move or speak. We saw it as the demonstrators broke the front windows of stores and windshields of parked cars as they virtually careened along the street, headed to East 28th Street and Snyder Avenue, the site of the 67th Precinct.
They were aiming to destroy. Something. Anything. More especially they wanted to hurt cops — because they felt they had been hurt by cops. They wanted vengeance.
The demonstration centered on the killing of Kimani Gray, a 16-year-old boy who, on the previous Saturday night, was standing on the corner of East 52nd Street not far from Church Avenue talking to neighborhood friends. The youth lived in Crown Heights, but grew up in East Flatbush, and he and his friends had gone to a baby shower and were just hanging out on the corner.
Two plainclothes police drove up in an unmarked car and, as soon as they did, Kimani was seen backing away from the crowd, adjusting his waist in a suspicious manner as he walked, according to the police. When they called out to him and told him to stop, he allegedly pulled out a gun from his waist and aimed it at them. And they shot him several times in the legs and torso. He died at the scene.
Now the community residents are up in arms and demonstrating. They say the 16-year-old didn’t have a gun, yet a .38 caliber revolver with four bullets in it was found at the scene after the shooting. They say they want justice, but the kind of “justice” they want comes directly from the streets.
For so long, the streets have been relatively quiet because somebody has taken hold and wisely made them safer than they’ve been in at least the last 20 years. Those shopkeepers have been able to spread their wares along the sidewalks without fear because community leaders — although some won’t admit it — did NOT take the law into their own hands and left it to the professionals. Most of them remember the ’80s and, yes, especially the ’90s when anarchy was a watchword that was on everyone’s mind, but they were afraid to say it. They didn’t want to even open their stores and, most of the time there was no reason to because shoppers stayed away from this dangerous area.
And now look at it. It’s getting dangerous again. The stores are shuttered when they should not be shuttered. The shoppers are not coming here because they’re once again afraid they’ll get caught in a melee.
And what are those community leaders doing? They’re BLAMING the police! Where have they been all this time? Now it seems they’re using the same mindset that the demonstrators are: They’re trying to convince their constituents that the police are the bad guys because they want the crowds to think of them as being “on their side.” Wouldn’t it be nice if once — just once — we could hear these political blowhards tell their constituents they MIGHT be wrong; that THEY might be breaking the law!