Brownsville’s ‘broken windows’…



Between Thanksgiving weekend and the first week in January, when the gang rape of an 18-year-old woman in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn was reported, the neighborhood could too easily have found confirmation that it was a place doomed to lurid violence, if its broader history hadn’t proved the claim.

On the morning of Nov. 27, Robert Hinton, who two months earlier had been awarded a settlement from the city, ending a lawsuit against the guards who had beaten him on Rikers Island, was shot to death in Brownsville. Later that night, a father and his grown son, said to have been gang members, were also killed. In mid-December it was determined that an elderly woman who had been found dead in her apartment several weeks earlier, presumably of natural causes, had in fact been stabbed in the neck.

The murders all took place within the bleak and dangerous parameters of Brownsville’s public housing complexes, where both crime and the Police Department’s efforts to impede it have been concentrated. The suspected rape, which has led to the arrest of five teenage boys, did not; it occurred at night, in a playground (adjacent to a school), which was neither locked nor adequately lighted.

Six days after the attack, in the early evening, the playground remained very dark, and even during rush hour, foot traffic around its borders was minimal. Three of the four lights attached to a small building of toilets illuminated a tiny section of the park, but on the night that the incident occurred all three of those lights were broken. A handball court almost entirely walls off another quadrant of the park, situated in a low-density section of Brownsville, from public view.

The case, with bizarre and conflicting details as if from a Richard Price novel, has emerged to highlight, affirm and upend common biases surrounding urban poverty. A father and his teenage daughter were drinking together on a Thursday night, in the park; you can hear the refrain of good liberals telling themselves that this would never happen among the chess-playing families of Park Slope. Some of the suspects said the father and daughter were having sex, a claim one law enforcement official felt the need to point out would not mean that the woman “was not a victim of a pretty horrific attack.” What seemed to go unrecognized was that if the assertion turned out to be true, she would already have been horribly victimized.

Beyond that, two of the suspects were turned in by their mothers, women clearly unafraid of difficult lessons in consequence. The gesture provided an image strikingly different from what we received at the hands of Tonya Couch, known to the world as the affluenza mom, who was accused of helping her privileged son leave the country to avoid probation for killing four people in a drunken-driving accident.

Although the events that unfolded at the Osborn Playground on Jan. 7 are still unclear, what seems obvious, as it did in the case of Akai Gurley, mistakenly shot to death in a dark stairway in the Louis Pink Houses in East New York when a light bulb was out, is the inconsistency with which “broken windows” policing is practiced. The philosophy behind it is that safety and civility arise as a function of well-maintained public spaces, and yet, not surprisingly, it is the challenged neighborhoods that are the most poorly tended. Playgrounds in Brooklyn Heights, for example, are locked at night, precisely, one assumes, to protect the well-established from whatever might erupt if the ill-behaved were to congregate there.

Consider the state of Osborn Playground alongside the story of Shamuel Cherry, a teenager in Brownsville who was needlessly funneled into the criminal justice system. Over a year ago, Mr. Cherry was confronted by a police officer in the lobby of a building in the Tilden Houses; he lives in the Tilden Houses but he didn’t live in the particular building where he was approached. This was apparently problematic, as was the fact that he wasn’t carrying identification. As a result, he was ticketed. When he didn’t appear in court to resolve the issue — because, he said, he felt he had done nothing wrong — he was issued a bench warrant.

Fortunately, Mr. Cherry was remanded to the Brownsville Community Justice Center, a nonprofit organization that works to help young people — through counseling, tutoring, mentoring and paid internships — who have had contact with the legal system.

One of the center’s stated goals, James Brodick, the executive director, recently told me in his office, is to improve public space in the neighborhood, essential as it is to crime prevention.

Empty lots are a problem in Brownsville. So are vacant storefronts, particularly along Belmont Avenue, where businesses have vanished over the years because of the violent feuds among neighboring housing projects. The Justice Center has spearheaded projects both to revitalize Belmont Avenue and to build a clubhouse, designed by young people, in a shipping container in a vacant lot on Chester Avenue. The idea is to hold movie screenings there, as well as games, sporting events and so on. Prior misery isn’t destiny. Over a year ago, Brownsville got a clean and bright gym on Rockaway Avenue, a branch of Planet Fitness, where membership is $10 a month. It has punctured the neighborhood’s drab streetscape of check-cashing outfits and dollar stores. If only the city could keep the rest of Brownsville looking as energized.

‘Gentrification is the new colonialism’…



It’s no secret that Bushwick’s been fiercely gentrifying for some time now, having won the approval of both Vogue and SantaCon organizers over the years. But one lifelong resident is so sick of watching developers try to push her and her neighbors out that she’s decided to wage war with the visual power of Christmas lights.

DNAinfo reported on the efforts of one Pati Rodriguez, who has lived most of her 33 years in a house on Greene Avenue. Rodriguez says she’s been inundated with calls from developers who’ve been trying to purchase her home, presumably to turn it into an overpriced condo building complete with an offensive name. Fellow community members, she says, have suffered the same, and she’s over it—she’s enlisted a number of long-time residents, including homeowners, tenants and small business owners, in hanging up anti-gentrification signs lit with Christmas lights outside their homes and establishments.

“We’ve been living in our home here in Bushwick since I was eight or 9 years old. My mother has been receiving letters from real estate developers for the last eight years,” Rodriguez told us. “They’re calling her at work to get her to sell her house, but where are we going to go? We understand that land is power, we don’t want to sell our home.”

Rodriguez, who is an active member of the Mayday Space artist collective in Bushwick, began collecting some of the flyers and letters from developers, initially planning to make a collage to post outside her home. “It was just going to be a piece I was going to do with my daughter,” she said. But other activists and community members expressed interest, and Rodriguez ended up getting connected with the NYC Light Brigade, who’ve been involved in a number of protest projects in the city, and came up with the idea for the lights as a form of protest. The project is dubbed Mi Casa No Es Su Casa.

About two businesses and about 15 households posted lights with anti-gentrification messages outside their homes, and though Rodriguez says some were uncomfortable about keeping them up for more than a day out of fear of angering landlords, Rodriguez says this is just the beginning. The group plans to film testimonials featuring individuals who are being displaced, for instance, and more projects are up ahead. “They’re trying to drive us all out,” she said, referring to developers. “Poor people are being driven out of all the boroughs of New York City, we’re just one of the first places that was hit hard a few years ago.”

And though Rodriguez says they’re not specifically targeting gentrifiers—”We’re attacking the developers, we’re attacking the people who are coming here to flip our houses,” she said—she does hope the project reminds moneyed newcomers to the neighborhood that their arrival has real side-effects. “Because you’re willing to pay these higher rents, we’re getting displaced,” she said. “Your luxury is our displacement.”

Nearly 50,000 East New York residents face displacement under rezoning plan…

Gentrification run amok… >>

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s bold plan to build 200,000 affordable units in New York City over the next ten years was designed to serve as a protective measure against resident displacement. Unfortunately, it’s turning out that the one-size-fits-all prophylactic it was intended for may do more harm than good.

First, let’s look at the word “affordable.” Affordable for whom?

For example, the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York– already deemed the next new target for mass development (read: gentrification)– is first up on the mayor’s list for rezoning for affordable housing. However, according to a report released today by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, these so-called affordable units (at around $1,300/mo), by the City’s own standards would be too expensive for 55 percent of the neighborhood’s current residents.

“There’s nothing affordable about a housing plan that is beyond the reach of half the community,” said Stringer.

And unlike neighborhoods like Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, which have enforceable rent regulation laws, and Greenpoint and Williamsburg which have enforceable rules prohibiting tenant harassment, East New York has zero protection for 21,788 units that house low-income tenants. In other words, once the rezoning and development is completed, it will potentially displace close to 50,000 of its current residents.

The number of rent stabilized units in the 37th Council District (which includes part of East New York and the surrounding communities) already has dropped by more than 14 percent between 2007 and 2014 —the eighth largest decline among the City’s 51 Council Districts. The rezoning will only add fuel to the fire.

Stringer noted that for generations, East New York has been overlooked and under-resourced by the City in the way of its schools, parks, public transit and affordable housing. He added, the City’s new plan to add a large number of so-called affordable and market rate units would make matters worse by effectively pushing more than half of its residents right out of the neighborhood.

According to the report, the rezoning plan would add a total of 6,312 new apartments to the neighborhood. However just 1,724 of these would be affordable rental units available to existing neighborhood residents, and in certain circumstances that number could drop to low as 948 units.

The report shows East New York’s Area Median Income (AMI) at $32,815. Using City and State metrics which define an affordable rent as 30 percent of income, a family of three would have to earn at least $46,620 a year to afford one of the new units– a difference of nearly $14,000 between what it would cost and what a family actually earns.

Further, for that same family to move into a market-rate unit in that same new building, it would have to make upwards of $83,484 – more than double the current AMI in East New York and still far beyond the median income for Brooklyn, which was $47,520 in 2013.

Comptroller Stringer shared the data with the City Planning Commission on Wednesday, along with a letter addressed to the commission’s Chair Carl Weisbrod: “Instead of strengthening the affordability of this community, the proposed rezoning would serve as an engine for displacement,” said Stringer in the letter.

The Comptroller urged the commission to “amend the current proposal and chart an alternate course,” one that abandons the one-size-fits-all approach to rezoning based off a citywide standard and instead takes into full account the income levels of each local community.

Another recommendation was to included establishing clear, enforceable rules prohibiting the harassment of existing tenants to reduce the threat of displacement.

“We have to do this right,” said Stringer. “One-size-fits-all doesn’t work for New York City. We must find ways to ensure community-based development is the way we move forward together.

“When it comes to urban planning, we need to do a better job of listening to existing communities, engaging residents, and considering the long term impact of rezoning on the people who have lived in our neighborhoods most, if not all, of their lives.”

Listening to and engaging the current, local residents in the planning process.

How about that? Maybe it made too much sense.

*To read the full report, go here.*

“And a lot of these new cats, they’ll never get a chance to taste mama’s pie. What happens is they only get a chance to taste the corporate, Little Debbie version. The version that’s like 3 apples and a whole bunch of crust. When mama used to make it, we put a whole bunch of apples in there. We had enough flavor so you could taste everything…None of the fake stuff. And for the kids that never tasted mama’s apple pie, of course they don’t care cause they wasn’t around to taste the real thing. How would they know how to differentiate it from the fraudulent thing?”

Buckshot’s new interview @ KN:

What defines a “backpack rapper?”

If you were all about consciousness, culture, caring about beats� Like, if you give a damn, then you belong to the backpack crowd. We wore those backpacks for a reason, you know? Not only did we wear them for a reason, but our style was our style. So what happened was, people wound up matching the style with the culture.

What’s the flipside to that? The people who didn’t fit the “backpack” mold?

You have backpackers and then you have trap music. And they’re both in two different worlds. Those in the middle don’t know which direction to take their music. I put this new music out to shed a little light on what backpack rap is. On the other side, yeah, you have those who do “trap” music or “bounce” music and call it Hip Hop. They still count though. You can’t shun someone away or tell them they’re not doing “real Hip Hop.” Hip Hop was more than just a sound. It has always been the vehicle for us to express ourselves.

Do you feel people always see “backpackers” as �conscious� emcees?

Man, if you’re going to call me a backpacker because I’m conscious then I guess that’s what “backpacker” means. So yeah, people equate backpack to the conscious, weirdo rap. You know, all that stuff over there, that’s gentrification rap.

Do you think the industry has a lot to do with that? As far as what Hip Hop is nowadays?

What is the industry? There is no more “big bad wolf” the way it used to be, to a certain degree. There was one point in time where backpackers couldn’t get no light. Underground artists couldn’t get no light. Look at our break points though: Dave Chappelle, The Roots, Common, Kanye. Kanye was a backpacker at first, but he chose to take it to a level that’s comfortable for him. And nothing is wrong with what’s he doing. We would all be stupid if we sat there and deny a whole culture of music just because it’s cool; meaning, if you like it, you dig it. Don’t start bashing it because you think Hip Hop says it’s not cool. Don’t turn Hip Hop into a musical bully. That’s not cool.

You make a good point there. Now, going back to the album – where P-Money did an amazing job by the way, as far as production goes – how was it working with him? What is your beat selection process like?

Working with P was incredible. P has a sound that’s just comparable to that whole Golden Era � people from my era � sound. The 90′s, he captured a style that had its own swing to it and brought it back. People miss that swing. If you listen to Mobb Deep’s “Eye For An Eye,” it had a certain swing to it. [If you match that with the lyrics, you’re just on another level. It’s crazy. A lot of people miss hearing that. So when they listen to the Buckshot and P Money album, they get it. It’s like “Wow! There’s nobody left around to do that, but they did it.” It’s almost like everybody left the building. Who’s still around to make mama’s famous apple pie? So, ok, we have a guy named Buckshot who’s still out there. He still got mama’s favorite pie for you.

And a lot of these new cats, they’ll never get a chance to taste mama’s pie. What happens is they only get a chance to taste the corporate, Little Debbie version. The version that’s like 3 apples and a whole bunch of crust. When mama used to make it, we put a whole bunch of apples in there. We had enough flavor so you could taste everything.

Yes! And it was made with REAL ingredients too.

Exactly. None of the fake stuff. And for the kids that never tasted mama’s apple pie, of course they don’t care cause they wasn’t around to taste the real thing. How would they know how to differentiate it from the fraudulent thing?

Speaking on the youth of today and Hip Hop, you feature Joey Bada$$ on the project. What’s your opinion of him and the whole Pro Era crew?

They represent the new Brooklyn while bringing the old Brooklyn sound back at the same time. They represent not only the new Brooklyn, but they’re the East Coast answer for us. They are the TDE of the East Coast. You know, Kendrick Lamar kicked down the door and really, really made it great. [He] made it acceptable for the underground rappers to get their love back. And these Pro Era kids are the Boot Camp Clik of today.

�So when you’re choosing these features for a project, what’s your criteria? What do you look for in an artist?

Whatever comes natural. Real talk, I don’t sit back and try to look for these guys. I don’t sit back and hire them on some record company tip. Whatever comes naturally, truthfully. Joey’s from Brooklyn, I’m from Brooklyn. He’s around the way, I’m around the way. It made sense. As for Ras Fresco, I was also looking for some international love so I got this kid from Toronto. That connection came naturally as well. David Dallas came from Australia and that was all natural too.

You mention Brooklyn a lot, which you like to call “Bucktown.” And I’ve been listening to your music for a while now and you never fail to proudly mention where you’re from. So in your eyes, how has Brooklyn evolved, culturally and musically – throughout the span of your career? I can only imagine that you’ve seen a lot in your life.

We, Duck Down, were the first East Coast record label to be independent. Think about it. We were independent, so we had to have the help of our whole borough behind us. We had to scream our borough because we needed the help of our borough and all the people. We really are the people’s champ. Fo’real, fo’real. We’re the small guys. We’re the David that battled Goliath. And we did it because nobody believed we could actually make a stand in a major label market. They laughed at us in the beginning. We proved them wrong and that wasn’t easy.

I could imagine. What would be a piece of advice you would give some of these newer cats who are trying to break into that market? Not necessarily mainstream, but still reach the masses by staying independent.

When you put out a lot of work, you learn the business. You learn the machine. You learn how every single component in the machine works. You learn to love it. You learn to push buttons. You learn how to spin, how to jump. You learn everything. Then you’re on your way. And one last part – when you find yourself crying at the steering wheel of your car, that’s when you made it!

Are you speaking from a personal experience right there?

Yeah. I�ve been through a lot. All I can say is that when you�ve been through a lot, that�s when you find yourself and you�re ready to take it to the next level. That�s really where everything has come to for us as an independent label. As an independent label, we�ve gotten to the point where we show so much love to the people and so much dedication.

I think it has a lot to do with the fact that you guys have a more direct contact with your fans. There is no middle man between you and your fans. You guys are pushing out your music and things like that.

We are. The difference between us and a lot of other artists� You know, again, for us to even have these opportunities to speak to the people with my album out right now is an incredible thing. For me to be in the position right now where I�m doing this, it�s a beautiful thing. People feel our label is on point because we�re independent. We�ve gotten straight to the people, you know? And putting out music that the people can respect. So when you listen to this P-Money album, nothing on that album is fluffy. Nothing on that album is phony or sugar-coated. There was no, �Oh, I�m going to record this type of song or do that type of song.� For me, it was more like go in and do the album from your heart. There shouldn�t be any problems when you do that. Everything should come out the way it�s supposed to come out. For me, accomplishing that, when I listen to the album, that�s a big thing for me. So many people have made albums today, from my era, and they try to make these new trap records to try and sound relevant. My thing is this, I love all styles of Hip Hop. I love bounce music, I love trap music, I love boom bap music. I love Hip Hop!

That’s definitely apparent in your music, especially your lyrics. The lyrics on this project in particular are extremely bold, to say the least. “Let’s get it started. Who rocks the hardest? Buck is the smartest.” Would you say that cocky delivery is a reflection of the whole Bucktown attitude?

Yes it is. When I say stuff like that, I’m conscious of it. I mean, if it comes off cocky, dope. But it’s really just confidence. In the rap world, people want to be known for how much money they got, how much dope they push, you know what I’m saying? And that’s all great and gravy but me, personally, I want to be known as the smartest. I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with that. You wanna be the dope boy, you wanna be the trap boy. I just wanna be the smartest emcee. I wanna be known as Business Buck. The guy who came in and stood for independent business in the game.

Speaking of the game or the industry, the track “Killuminati” on the new project has lyrics from you that pretty much calls a lot of dudes out by saying: �A bunch of clowns in a circus act who got the nerve to rap.” Do you feel like a lot of people are rapping to rap just because they can do it?

Of course. A lot of people are rapping for the money.

People seem to be really fascinated with the illuminati, especially when it comes to Hip Hop. Why is that?

Well, when it comes to that particular topic, everyone knows about that topic. They know it’s real. The song opened up more of the topic, but we’ll be doing it the right way. I think a lot of people know what we mean when we say “Killuminati,” because we’re killing the illumanti like Tupac. I lived with Tupac for a while, so we used to talk every night about how we were about to attack this subject matter.

I want to bring up another feature you have on “Backpack Travels” because I actually got a chance to interview him as well. While only Steele was on the project, I discussed with both him and Tek about their earlier influences in Hip Hop and they mentioned how influential Enta da Stage was for them. Could you ever have fathomed how much an impact that album would have on people to this day?

No. We were the first independent dudes at that time to have a gold record. No one knew we were kids and all we knew was that we wanted to be the best. We wanted to battle the beast. We wanted to battle the machine and we got the chance to do it. We came later and wanted to battle the machine even more as an indie label battling a major label like Def Jam and Universal. Now, I have my own sneaker company and we’re battling big companies like Nike. It’s almost like this is in my blood.

Now, there’s a difference between trying to stay relevant and just trying to jump the bandwagon. Thoughts?

All I gotta say is, respect your level. You gotta respect the level of shifts or else you fade out.

�In order to not fade out like you said, what can fans expect next from you?

I’m just enjoying the flow of thing right now. We’re actually officially bring Joey [Bada$$] out right now. He has a lot of things going on like mixtapes and what not. This is pretty much the first time people are seeing Joey on a playing field. This is the first time people are going to get an official single from him.

Through Duck Down?

Yeah. Between him, T’Nah and Chelsea, they all have dope projects coming out under our label.

Collaborative or separate projects?

Together. That project is going to be ill. When you are a fan of an artist, it’s different. T’Nah and Chelsea are the dopest female artists I’ve heard in a very long time. I kid you not, there’s a very few artists that I’m a fan of and I’m a fan of them.

Ok, so now that the project is done and released, and I’m sure you’ve listened to it numerous times – if you could go back and re-do the project, are there any tracks you’d want to do over?


Any tracks you want to add?

Nope. I’m not that type of person to regret anything that I do on that level. That’s phony to me. Do it, get it done and feel comfortable about it.

Okay, my final question is something I always end my interviews with when I speak with Hip Hop artists. If Hip Hop were a person, what would you say to H.E.R?

Watch how many people you fuck with. Watch how many people you sleep with. Eventually your body will change, ok? Eventually you will lose that nice shape!