DA Ken Thompson talks guns, gangs and the wrongfully convicted at Brooklyn Heights Association Annual Meeting
Also discusses crime near Brooklyn Bridge Park, gang shooting in DUMBO
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, a former Brooklyn Heights resident, was the featured speaker at the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) Annual Meeting Wednesday night at St. Francis College.
Thompson, who heads the largest DA’s office in the city and arguably the third-largest in the country, described his groundbreaking work in the exoneration of wrongfully convicted individuals, stopping the flow of guns into the city, and keeping gang members off the streets.
He also discussed crime in and around Brooklyn Bridge Park, and a gang shooting in DUMBO.
Thompson displayed a map of Brooklyn where hundreds of pins marked the site of deaths by gunfire.
“You may say, hey, there’s not one pin in Brooklyn Heights. But you have to be concerned about gun violence because these guns are not confined to one neighborhood. These young men are on the move,” he said.
“We just did a takedown of a violent street gang called the Folk Nation,” Thompson said. “We indicted 18 young men, from 18 to 27 years old, for terrorizing the streets of Brooklyn. They are mostly based in Flatbush, in the 67, but they’re at war with the Crips. And they’re taking their dispute to the streets all over the borough.”
This gang warfare is “affecting Brooklyn Heights — these guys had a shootout right in DUMBO and they drove right through this neighborhood,” he said.
Thompson explained how the October 2015 DUMBO shootout went down.
“The gang learned that one of their members went to Hollywood, California and was shot in the face. So his boys back here in Brooklyn wanted to get back at the Crips. They learned they were in DUMBO at Gleason’s Gym. There was a video being filmed for the movie ‘Creed’ — a music video by Meek Mill, a popular rapper.
“These Folk Nation guys drove right by here and circled Gleason’s Gym and waited for their enemies to come out,” Thompson continued. “When they came out . . . they engaged in an all-out shootout. And some of the Folk Nation members were hit. They jumped back in their car and they drove right through this neighborhood and they drove through Carroll Gardens, they drove through Park Slope, throwing their guns out the window, and they ditched their bullet-riddled car.”
“We have to pay attention to this violence. And we are paying attention to it in the Brooklyn DA’s office,” he said.
Brooklyn Bridge Park concerns
In response to a question from Brooklyn Heights resident Joan Goldberg, Thompson said that his office was aware of another incident where shots were fired in Brooklyn Bridge Park in April 2015 by gang members.
“Yes, I know what’s going on in Brooklyn Bridge Park,” he said. “We put two young men to the grand jury. They chose not to indict one and they did indict the other. I intend to hold that young man accountable for that gun.”
Thompson said his office was aware on “ongoing activities” in and around the park.
“That’s why I wanted Fran Weiner to be here, because if there’s something that we don’t know about, I want you to tell us, so we can investigate. I’m determined to keep every part of Brooklyn safe. And so, if there’s an issue with that park, if you think that park is a magnet for criminal activity, you should tell us,” he said. (Fran Weiner’s number is 718- 250-2000.)
The crowd broke into applause when he added, “We want that park to be used by people who are not going to bring crime into Brooklyn Heights.”
Reversing wrongful convictions
Thompson received more applause for his work in reversing wrongful convictions. To carry it out, he created a Convictions Review Unit, which now has 10 prosecutors and a $1.1 million budget. When he came into office, 100 murder convictions had to be reviewed, he said.
“The majority were okay, but 18 cases — 17 men and a woman — were wrongly convicted,” he said.
The most recent wrongful conviction reversal involves Vanessa Gathers, now 58, who has served 10 years for manslaughter. Gathers has maintained her innocence, regardless of the fact that maintaining that stance kept her in jail longer than she would have otherwise.
An ‘eventful year’
BHA Treasurer Daniel Watts said the group was in a fine financial state again this year, but a problem could crop up with the demise of the Brooklyn Heights House Tour, which brings in roughly 30 percent of the group’s revenue. The tour won’t take place this year because, in this era of Instagram and Twitter, owners felt their privacy might be compromised.
“The House Tour is a victim of the modern world,” he said.
BHA President Patrick Killackey said, with some understatement, that it had been an “eventful” year. He outlined the progress BHA has made in projects such as installing speed-humps as part of Brooklyn Heights’ designation as a slow zone.
Other issues he touched upon included the dangerous intersection of Columbia Street and the BQE entrance, the upcoming multi-billion renovation of the BQE cantilever under the Heights Promenade, the fight against helicopter noise, further development in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the huge crowds coming to visit the park (25,000 people on weekdays, 135,000 on weekends).
Killackey said BHA was setting up a Brooklyn Development Committee. “While we’re not reflexively against housing development, we take issue with the way the city fails to plan for the specific needs of a community” during development, especially in the realm of education, he said.
He was confronted by Michael D.D. White, co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries, who repeated asked Killackey if the BHA would reconsider its stance on developing a 40-story tower on the site of the current Brooklyn Heights Library, in light of claims in the New York Post that the winning bid was lower than some of the other bids.
Killackey said BHA had weighed the issue, and felt it had to choose between a set of bad choices. “We made our best effort to do our best for the neighborhood,” he said. “We are not changing our position.”
Regarding the still-busted Squibb Bridge connecting the Heights to Brooklyn Bridge Park, Killackey said that BHA is “a bit frustrated by the lack of flow of information” from BBP.
Community Service Awards
WNET Channel 13 Announcer Tom Stewart presented the BHA’s Awards for Outstanding Community Service. This year there were four award recipients:
BHA’s Business of the Year Award was presented to Mark Lahm, owner of Henry’s End Restaurant in the north Heights. Lahm has owned Henry’s End for 30 years.
Stewart said that Henry’s End “is known for its wild game menu, its wonderful food, its superb wine menu, its cozy and informal setting, and its impeccable quality of service . . . But what makes Henry’s End a favorite restaurant is owner Mark Lahm, who greets you at the door, makes you feel incredibly welcome, and truly knows everyone’s name… or virtually everyone’s.”
BHA’s Outstanding Community Service Award went to Toba Potosky, founder and president of Cadman Park Conservancy. Under his leadership, the Conservancy has attracted hundreds of volunteers over the past three years to remove trash and leaves, plant some 3,000 tulip bulbs, and do the unglamorous work of weeding, painting and sweeping, Stewart said. His advocacy has led to public funds being committed to upgrade the park’s facilities and attracted the initial capital to restore the War Memorial.
The Good Neighbor Award was presented to Robert Sage and Marilyn Brainin, board members of the Whitman Owner Corporation, representing the owners of 75 Henry Street. The co-op turned down a developer’s offer for Pineapple Walk. “Above all, they listened to the concerns of their neighbors – both those in their building and throughout Brooklyn Heights – and rejected the offer,” Stewart said. “We don’t see too many examples of such a decision, which combined pragmatism with selflessness.”
The Martha Atwater Award for Outstanding Community Activism went to Steve Guterman, founder of Save the View Now.
Stewart said, “This last award goes to someone who boldly undertook the ongoing fight to protect the view of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Harbor from the Promenade, a beloved treasure of Brooklyn Heights and an attraction known around the world.” Guterman’s efforts “have attracted over 7,000 supporters and galvanized the support of our elected officials,” Stewart said.
The Martha Atwater Award was named after the BHA’s late board member, who was a tireless supporter of the BHA and the community. In particular, she viewed these Community Service Awards as a way to recognize those who contribute most to their neighborhood.
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