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Marchers in Brooklyn Map a Geography of Gentrification

Dean Patterson Sep 12

In 2004, Jerry Campbell received notice from the Forest City Ratner development firm informing him that it was in possession of his house near the intersection of 6th Avenue and Dean Street in Brooklyn. The house had been in his family for three generations but now the real estate giant was intent on building on the same spot. New York’s political establishment had its back and after a lengthy legal battle, Campbell lost his home to the state via eminent domain.

“Developers want my story to be an aberration, a dispute solely about money that overlooks the systemic role they play,” said Campbell, who was among thousands of people displaced from the area surrounding Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards by what eventually became the Barclays Center. “Displacement is part of the history of the African people.”

On Saturday, Campbell was not alone, as hundreds of Brooklynites rallied outside the stadium, which has become an emblem of hypergentrification in the borough. From Barclays Center, demonstrators set off on a five-mile march across several rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. Their demands: ending tax credits that subsidize the construction of luxury housing, creating community land trusts and ending real estate speculation and profiteering by prioritizing the building of affordable housing.

“Developers want my story to be an aberration, a dispute solely about money that overlooks the systemic role they play.”

A diverse coalition took part in the march, organized by the Brooklyn Anti-gentrification Network (BAN) and endorsed by almost 100 community-based organizations — small businesses, tenant associations, families impacted by police violence and local chapters of national anti-police brutality groups.

The march was routed to go through “ground zero for gentrification,” said a BAN activist who asked to not be named due to her immigration status. By passing from Atlantic Yards to Bushwick, the protest moved through neighborhoods, “plagued by rising rents and tenant harassment,” she said.

The sound permit for the Barclay’s rally was denied by the NYPD’s 78th Precinct on Friday, leaving protesters to use human microphone tactics in which a speaker’s words are repeated loudly by those in the front of the crowd. The police department’s actions didn’t prevent protesters from denouncing the NYPD for abusive policing policies directed against people of color in gentrifying neighborhoods.

“Cops are used to occupy neighborhoods and force evictions in order to colonize them for developers’ schemes,” said a BAN activist from Coney Island who gave his name as “Izzy.”

Upon leaving Barclays Center, the crowd made its way to the intersection of Bedford Avenue and Union Street in Crown Heights, the site of the Bedford-Union Armory, a massive city-owned property and source of a fierce controversy over whether it will be given over to developers or be placed in the hands of the community.

Jabari Brisport, who is running on socialist and Green Party ballot lines for City Council District 35 this November, addressed the crowd. Brisport described gentrification as a “crisis of capitalism” that he says has displaced too many people from their homes in Crown Heights and left public housing renovations unfunded. Thirty-one percent of households in Crown Heights are “severely rent burdened,” according to NYU’s Furman Center.

Brisport pointed towards the armory, its doors draped in a large white sheet reading “Kill the Deal,” and cited the luxury condos private developers want to build there as a prime example of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s much-touted affordable housing initiative. Rather than rezoning, selling off city property and subsidizing luxury highrises in exchange for pledges to build affordable housing, as de Blasio has sought citywide, Brisport wants to see disused properties like the Bedford-Union Armory be turned into community land trusts.

“Cops are used to occupy neighborhoods and force evictions in order to colonize them for developers’ schemes.”

Ede Fox, a Democrat running to unseat incumbent Laurie Cumbo in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, was also on hand. While her campaign staff distributed leaflets through the crowd, Fox spoke of the necessity to defeat the Bedford-Armory deal but had little to say about how to produce more affordable housing.

Marchers later stopped in front of the controversial restaurant Summer Hill that has been accused of cashing in on Crown Height’s violent past by advertising supposed bullet holes in the restaurant’s walls. Making their way from Crown Heights to Bed-Stuy and onto Bushwick, demonstrators passed a vacant lot under construction by Cornell Development, one of the prime condo builders driving the gentrification crisis. As protesters headed through Bushwick’s Puerto Rican and Dominican neighborhoods their ranks swelled as bystanders joined in chants of “Estamos presente, Bushwick no se vende!” (“We are here, Bushwick will not be sold.”)

As the lengthy, six-hour march concluded at the activist-friendly Starr Bar, participants acknowledged that their varied demands are a distant ways away from being implemented by those in power. They contend, however, that the radical nature of the gentrification crisis demands radical solutions and members of BAN say they are committed to building the grassroots political pressure necessary to see their vision implemented.

“I don’t want sympathy,” said Jerry Campbell. “I just want justice.”

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Photo: Anti-gentrification activists outside the controversial Summerhill restaurant in Crown Heights. Credit: Dean Patterson.