At NYCHA’s most dangerous development, tenants wonder: Is the city doing enough?
One year since an unsolved double murder at Bushwick Houses, neighbors still live in fear.
When Dominique and her children moved into their new apartment in the Bushwick Houses in December, no one mentioned that two tenants in separate apartments down the hall had been shot to death in their homes that past spring – and that no one had been caught for the murders.
One of the victims, Ana Del Valle, was found by her daughter on May 11, 2018, bound and shot to death in her apartment at 140 Moore St., according to police. Two days later, Del Valle’s next-door neighbor, Basil Gray, was also found shot in the head and killed. No one has been arrested for the killings, which police believe are linked and consider a double homicide.
“Housing never even told me two people was murdered on this floor, which I think they should be required to say,” said Dominique, who declined to give her last name out of fear for her safety. “Who would want to live on the floor where two people were murdered and the murderer is still at large?”
Dominique’s critique of NYCHA echoes larger concerns among the residents of the Bushwick Houses – who number almost 3,000 – about the failure of the city’s embattled housing authority to provide adequate security at the development.
One year after the fatal shootings, the case has gone cold. Police recently released a video pleading with the public to come forward with any information.
At the Bushwick Houses, a year has done nothing to abate residents’ fear. Instead, it’s been compounded by the July 2018 slaying of a 15-year-old boy. And this past April, a woman was killed and partially decapitated by her friend’s boyfriend, who attacked her with an ax.
In the 90th Precinct, which covers Williamsburg, East Williamsburg and parts of Bushwick, three of the four murders in all of 2018 happened at the Bushwick Houses — the highest number of murders at any NYCHA development last year, a NYCHA spokesperson told the Eagle.
The Eagle spoke to several residents and workers at the Bushwick Houses. All declined to give their last name out of fear for personal safety.
On May 10, Del Valle’s son, Hector — who asked that his last name not be used — held a vigil for his mother outside her apartment building. He taped fliers to her old building asking people to call him if they had any information on his mother’s murder.
Hector remembered Del Valle, who brought her three children to New York from Honduras in 1983, making textiles in sweatshops in order to care for him and his siblings.
“She thought that moving into housing would help her. People live in fear. It’s just scary because I’m afraid for my brother, my sister. They’ve taken enough — and we’ve got these people out there who don’t give one iota for other people’s life,” Hector told the Eagle.
His brother and sister – who lived with Del Valle – did not have housing for a year after their mother’s murder. “They’re supposed to be living there. But how could you? There’s a hole in my mother’s living room where the last bullet went.”
Hector said he was not surprised that the Bushwick Houses saw the most murders of any NYCHA development in 2018. “I used to joke around with people that projects have a bad name to begin with, but that [the Bushwick Houses] is the perfect example of a project. It’s a nest of freaking vileness.”
Dominique put it even more bluntly. “I want to get the fuck out of here,” she said. “This is the worst NYCHA project.”
On the fifth floor of 140 Moore St. at the Bushwick Houses, where Del Valle and Gray were killed, wary neighbors want cameras installed in the hallways.
“They should immediately put a camera on the floor. Make us feel secure. Make us feel like our lives matter,” said a woman who lives on the floor.
“They need cameras cause you can’t see who, what, where,” Dominique said. “Hell yeah, cameras in the hallway.”
“There’s only cameras in the lobby and on the side of the building,” said Cappy, a home health aide who works at 140 Moore St. “Definitely put cameras on the floor, ’cause that will cut down a lot of the stupidness.”
Cappy said that she was assaulted in the lobby of 140 Moore St. on Jan. 8 by a man wielding a block of wood, a story confirmed by a police report. She said the heightened police presence at the complex after the murders is not enough to drive down violent crime.
“You would have to have cops roaming around 24/7, ’cause things happen at night as well,” she said.
NYCHA does not traditionally provide funding for CCTV systems at developments, but the Bushwick Houses recently received a $4.56 million investment in new lighting, cameras and “layered access control” doors, a NYCHA spokesperson told the Eagle. That funding is generally provided by local elected officials, agencies and community partners.
“While new security systems at NYCHA are typically funded by elected, agency and community partners, we are committed to working with all stakeholders to ensure the safety of our residents in their homes,” Chester Soria, a NYCHA spokesperson, told the Eagle.
Councilmember Antonio Reynoso – whose district includes the Bushwick Houses – said he is working with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, NYCHA and the NYPD to try to stem the violence at the development.
“The goal is for city agencies and on-the-ground groups to collaborate and root out violence through innovative policies and neighbor-to-neighbor advocacy,” Reynoso said. “I am committed to addressing the violence in Bushwick Houses, and I will continue to assess the measures that we are taking and what can be done to improve their impact.”
Reynoso did not respond to a question from the Eagle about whether he would support installing cameras in the hallways if residents request it.
NYCHA does not install cameras in hallways due to residents’ privacy concerns, the spokesperson said.
“It’s public housing — so, not to say that people can’t have privacy — but you don’t live in the hallway, right?” said Hector, who agreed that cameras in the hallways was a “perfect idea” to driving down crime in the Bushwick Houses and solving crimes like his mother’s murder.
Police made arrests in 55 percent of Brooklyn’s murders in 2018, a review of police statistics shows. (That percentage does not include arrests made in 2019 for murders that occurred in 2018.) This is called the “clearance rate,” or the percentage of murders in which an arrest is made or suspect died on scene..
The clearance rate on murders citywide was 70 percent between 2013 and 2017, but varied widely depending on the race of the victim and the precinct where the murder occurred, according to an analysis of police statistics by the Wall Street Journal.
In the 90th precinct – the one that encompasses the Bushwick Houses – four people were murdered in 2018, three at the Bushwick Houses. And in 2019 to date, there has been just one murder in the precinct — also at the Bushwick Houses.
“It’s unthinkable. It’s unacceptable. It’s just completely outrageous,” Hector said. “Unfortunately, this sort of violence took my mother.”
Of Brooklyn’s 98 murders in 2018, only six victims were white, police statistics show. Police solved every single Brooklyn murder in which the victim was white.
Those same statistics say that 19 Hispanic people were murdered in Brooklyn in 2018. Police made arrests (or the suspect committed suicide or died on scene) in 17 of those cases. Del Valle’s is one of the two unsolved.
In murders of non-Hispanic black people in Brooklyn in 2018, police made arrests in just 48.5 percent of the 68 cases.
“That just points to the other part of the problem, which is if it’s low-income people of color, the powers that be, or the people in charge are even less inclined to do anything about it,” Hector said.
In NYCHA developments in Brooklyn, more than 93 percent of residents are non-white.
“It’s an all too common picture where it certainly seems that the police department put more resources into solving crimes where the victim is a white person. The numbers to me are not surprising,” said Robert Gangi, director of the Police Reform Organizing Project.
Hector compared his mother’s murder to the high-profile killing of Karina Vetrano in Spring Creek Park in 2016. “I find it amazing that that story was in the papers almost every day for like two weeks,” he said. “Because she was a pretty white woman from a nice neighborhood? A colored person from the projects was a one-day story.”
The fact that Gray and Del Valle’s murders have gone unsolved for a year worries neighbors who feel that the police do not work as hard to solve murders in their community.
“I think it’s a racial thing. Not everybody’s racist, but the police force? Definitely,” said Dominique. “A white person gets more attention than us all the time. It starts to make you think, well, why is white people better than us?”
A man who lives on the fifth floor at 140 Moore St. and goes by the name of Cookie said he thinks cops haven’t done much to solve the murders of Del Valle and Gray. “I don’t think [police] really care. They just here to do their job,” the longtime Bushwick Houses resident said.
“They on the corner, but soon as the situation dies down, where are they?” asked a woman who also lives on the fifth floor.
She said that after the murders of Gray and Del Valle, there was a heightened police presence at the Bushwick Houses — but that it has died down in the months after the murders. Now, one police van with a couple cops sits at the street corner outside the complex.
Police “regularly conduct directed and interior patrols at the Bushwick Houses,” said Sgt. Jessica McRorie, an NYPD spokesperson. “There is also a footpost stationed in the vicinity of the location. Additionally, Neighborhood Coordination Officers pay special attention to the location.”
But Gangi – of the Police Reform Organizing Project – said more police will not necessarily benefit Bushwick Houses residents.
“A more effective approach to providing safety would be for the city to allocate more services and programs to that community that would meaningfully engage people in productive activities,” he said. “More cops is all too likely to result in more unnecessary arrests and more applications of broken windows policing.”
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