Bedford-Stuyvesant

10 miles and 7 hours: A march against gentrification moves across Brooklyn

"Before it’s gone take it back! Brooklyn’s not for sale."

September 23, 2019 Lore Croghan
Protesters begin their march in Downtown Brooklyn, an area that has seen rapid development of luxury high-rises and office buildings since a 2004 rezoning. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

More than 100 protesters took to the streets on Saturday to march nearly 10 miles around Brooklyn, starting in Downtown and ending in East New York, in a seven-hour demonstration against gentrification, racism and police violence. Along the way, they stopped at businesses, intersections and buildings that they felt embodied those things they were fighting against.

Their voices rang out above the roar of the traffic on busy streets.

“Before it’s gone take it back! Brooklyn’s not for sale,” demonstrators chanted. They marched on the sidewalk, holding signs that said “Gentrification Is Violence Against People of Color” and “City Planning Stop Your Racist Planning.”

Emergency lights flashed on five marked police vehicles and one unmarked NYPD car that rolled alongside the marchers. Several uniformed officers brought up the rear.

The peaceful Saturday demonstration — organized by the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network — was billed as the Brooklyn March Against Gentrification, Racism and Police Violence.

BAN is a grassroots coalition led mainly by people of color; this is their third year leading the march.

Gabriella Ansah of the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network helps lead the march. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Gabriella Ansah of the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network helps lead the march. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

Many participants marched the entire way. Others joined the procession when it made stops in their communities.

At some of the stops, marchers spoke about specific issues that have sparked Brooklyn residents’ opposition, such as proposed rezoning in Bushwick.

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BAN sent out a statement about the overarching purpose of Saturday’s protest:

“The City has squandered and mismanaged public assets to enrich developers while the people they serve face impoverishing rents and landlord harassment, loss of small affordable businesses and crumbling public transit and parks systems.

“Our neighborhoods are being torn apart by skyrocketing rents and terrorized by police brutality. Low-to-middle income New Yorkers are being priced out or displaced by gentrification while our city is being made over into a playground for the super rich.

“BAN challenges the de Blasio administration and politicians who run on platforms of fighting inequality while perpetuating the tale of two cities.”

The protesters gathered outside Barclays Center. They began their march at 11:33 a.m.

The protesters pass Whole Foods, which opened its Fort Greene store adjacent to an Apple store in January 2018. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
The protesters pass Whole Foods, which opened its Fort Greene store adjacent to an Apple store in January 2018. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

After looping around the Atlantic Avenue side of the arena, they headed across the street to a Chick-fil-A fast-food restaurant that recently opened at 166 Flatbush Ave. The fried-chicken chain was a protest target because of company President Dan Cathy’s much-publicized opposition to same-sex marriage.

“Chick-fil-A is anti-gay! Boycott Chick-fil-A!” the marchers chanted on the sidewalk outside the restaurant.

Then the demonstrators marched up Flatbush Avenue and turned onto Livingston Street, shouting all the way.

“Fight! Fight! Fight! Housing is a human right!” they chanted. Women inside a Livingston Street nail salon stared through a window at the marchers.

At 12:06 p.m., the demonstrators arrived at Brooklyn Housing Court at 141 Livingston St. A police officer inside the Downtown Brooklyn courthouse locked its front door as they assembled on the sidewalk.

Crown Heights Tenant Union member Esteban Giron told the protesters that city officials hear their voices.

“Look at the police response,” he said.

Giron said completed rezoning on Crown Heights’ Franklin Avenue and proposed rezoning of the nearby Spice Factory site have “created havoc” for tenants in the neighborhood.

The marchers head through changing Brooklyn neighborhoods. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
The marchers head through changing Brooklyn neighborhoods. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

Activist Alicia Boyd has challenged the Franklin Avenue rezoning with a lawsuit against City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, various government officials and agencies and developer Cornell Realty Management.

Justice Reginald Boddie, who is presiding over the case, is scheduled to conduct settlement talks with the parties in the suit this week.

“We are being removed from our neighborhoods,” Shaunya Hartely, a tenant in one of Cornell Realty Management’s buildings, said Saturday to the marchers outside housing court.

Next, protesters and police headed to Fulton Street and turned onto Duffield Street, where the last surviving abolitionists’ house in Downtown Brooklyn is located. They arrived at the house at 227 Duffield St. at 12:28 p.m.

Marchers pass signs of Brooklyn’s gentrification. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Marchers pass signs of Brooklyn’s gentrification. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

“Black landmarks matter! Black history matters!” the demonstrators shouted.

In the 1850s, 227 Duffield St. was the home of abolitionists Harriet and Thomas Truesdell. It is widely believed to have been used by the Underground Railroad to help runaway slaves to escape to freedom.

Grassroots groups are demanding that the house be designated as a city landmark instead of being demolished and replaced with an apartment building. The current owner has applied for a demolition permit.

A petition with nearly 4,100 signatures calls on the city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s Executive Director Lisa Kersavage to get the house designated.

Next, the marchers headed back onto Fulton Street, zigzagged through Downtown Brooklyn and wound up on Myrtle Avenue in Fort Greene. Along the way, organizers handed informational flyers to people in the streets.

“What do we want? Affordable housing. When do we want it? Now!” the demonstrators chanted.

At 12:54 p.m., the marchers arrived at the steps beneath the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park. They sat and took a break.

Neighborhood resident Sandy Reiburn told the group about a lawsuit she’s involved in that challenges the city Parks Department’s plan to cut down 83 mature shade trees, pave green space and destroy historic features of the landmarked park.

The planned $10.5 million makeover of the recreation area is part of the de Blasio administration’s Parks Without Borders program, which is intended to increase accessibility to the city’s green spaces for people with limited mobility.

“This is not about repairing the park — that’s the scam,” Reiburn told the demonstrators. “This is about gentrification.”

The park opened in 1850 after famous poet Walt Whitman, who was the Brooklyn Eagle’s editor in the 1840s, campaigned for its creation.

The demonstrators left Fort Greene Park at 1:45 p.m. and headed back down Myrtle Avenue. A drummer named Terrence Fraser pounded out a rhythm that matched the cadences of their chants.

Protesters say development and rezoning are a threat to their livelihoods. Right: Nancy Torres of Mi Casa No Es Su Casa talks about proposed rezoning in Bushwick. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Protesters say development and rezoning are a threat to their livelihoods. Right: Nancy Torres of Mi Casa No Es Su Casa talks about proposed rezoning in Bushwick. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

“Our streets! Our blocks! We don’t need no killer cops!” the protesters shouted.

As the marchers passed two NYCHA projects, the Tompkins Houses and the Sumner Houses, they shouted, “Hands off NYCHA, or we’ll fight-cha.”

Last year, the city announced a plan to put the management of one-third of NYCHA housing into private developers’ hands.

As the protesters reached the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Broadway in Bushwick, they chanted, “I say once I pay my rent, damn! All my money’s spent.”

They headed along Broadway. At 2:57 p.m., they stopped at the corner of Broadway and Stuyvesant Avenue. There, they were joined by 10 members of the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a marching band that plays at protests.

Mi Casa No Es Su Casa fights against a potential rezoning in Bushwick. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Mi Casa No Es Su Casa fights against a potential rezoning in Bushwick. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

Shortly afterward, demonstrators from the neighborhood arrived with a banner that said “Battle 4 Bushwick” and signs shaped like a gigantic hand giving the finger with the slogans “Rezone This” and “#BattleForBushwick.”

Members of anti-gentrification group Mi Casa No Es Su Casa spoke out against the planned rezoning of Bushwick. The organization opposes proposed rezoning that was formulated by the Department of City Planning as well as rezoning concepts in the Bushwick Community Plan, which area residents created.

“The brown and black people still want to live in this neighborhood,” Mi Casa No Es Su Casa member Nancy Torres told the marchers.

“Rezoning is illegitimate,” another member, Pati Rodriguez, said.

Pati Rodriguez of Mi Casa No Es Su Casa speaks to the crowd after the march reaches Bushwick. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Pati Rodriguez of Mi Casa No Es Su Casa speaks to the crowd after the march reaches Bushwick. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

At 3:30 p.m., Mi Casa No Es Su Casa protesters and the marchers who’d come from Downtown Brooklyn headed off together on Stuyvesant Avenue towards Bedford-Stuyvesant. They chanted sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English.

“El pueblo unido jamás será vencido,” they called out. Then they shouted the slogan’s English translation: “The people united will never be defeated.”

The Rude Mechanical Orchestra played tunes to accompany the chanting.

At 3:44 p.m., the marchers stopped at Do the Right Thing Way — the Stuyvesant Avenue block between Lexington Avenue and Quincy Street where director Spike Lee filmed his famous movie.

“You see this garbage they’re building right here?” said Imani Henry, founder of Equality for Flatbush, as he pointed to a big new apartment building on the next block.

March organizer Imani Henry hands out information to bystanders. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
March organizer Imani Henry hands out information to bystanders. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

He said developers are damaging elderly people’s houses that are located next to construction sites. The elders have to hire lawyers to fight to keep their homes.

“This is precious to us. This is Bed-Stuy. It can never die,” Henry said. “And we’re going to say, ‘Fight the power’ all the way through. Because we mean it.”

The marchers continued walking along Stuyvesant Avenue. At 4:08 p.m., they arrived at the corner of Chauncey Street, where Fulton Park is located. It was time for another break.

At 5:02 p.m., the protesters got up from the park benches and prepared to head for Broadway Junction in East New York. They set off down Fulton Street — and then made an about-face so the police cruisers who were following them had to circle around and catch up.

“Poverty is not a crime. Swipe it forward! Spare a dime!” the marchers called out as they continued along Fulton Street.

Their chant echoed a guerrilla ad campaign that mocks MTA advertisements telling New Yorkers not to turnstile-jump in city subways.

“Public transit is for the people, but not everyone can afford $2.75. So when you see someone in need, swipe it forward,” one of the fake ad signs says.

Protesters gain support from residents along the march route. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Protesters gain support from residents along the march route. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

After a long walk, the marchers ducked in and out of Callahan-Kelly Playground on the corner of Sackman Street in East New York. At 6:02 p.m. they ended up on Van Sinderen Avenue outside the main entrance of the Broadway Junction subway station.

“Being poor is not a crime! Being black is not a crime! Being brown is not a crime!” the demonstrators chanted. People standing on an outdoor subway platform high above the avenue took cell-phone photos.

Black Alliance for Just Immigration organizer Albert Saint Jean and other advocates spoke out against the 2016 rezoning of East New York.

“We live in a state of corporate welfare,” he said.

At 6:27 p.m., the speeches and chants concluded. For demonstrators who were far from home, a subway ride awaited.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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