Saturday, July 14, 2007

Reaching out to the should be a lot easier to do from now on

Several people have posted comments about ways in which the PLG community can reach out to members of the 71st Precinct (and specifically to the family of PO Russel Timoshenko, who remains on life support at the Kings County Hospital Center). There are several community members in touch with Officer Martinos, the 71st's community liaison; as soon as there's information about a fund set up, I'll post that info.

In the meantime, everyone can do little things -- like tell cops patrolling the streets that their work is appreciated and how much their presence means to us. I've made it a habit of talking to cops whenever I see them (and almost all of the time it's not due to my being in some sort of trouble). It can seem surprising at first how much the guys on foot patrol respond to this...but on reflection it makes perfect sense. Cops are used to having people treat them as bad news; as an added bonus, during the summer they're stuck wearing multiple layers of clothing (and oftentimes bulletproof vests) in tropical heat. A little positive human interaction can go a long way.

If you do decide to chat up some of the boys in blue, you shouldn't have a hard time finding them: last night at midnight, I could 11 cops on Flatbush between Empire and Maple, which works out to approximately one cop per .002 miles. The heightened level of traffic stops, particularly in the Lincoln-Lefferts-Washington-Flatbush triangle, has also been hard to miss.

This could very well be an example of the NYPD's "Compstat on Steroids program, where 1,000 rookie officers have been teamed up with 200 vets and struck out on foot patrols in particularly sticky areas, some of which can be as small as a specific building. The sudden influx is fairly obviously a response to last Sunday's shooting; it'll be interesting to see how long it stays operative for.

Other local reports appear to show that this effort could be aimed at a significantly larger swath -- perhaps even going all the way to Grand Army Plaza. Two nights ago there was a significant drug bust down in Prospect Heights (GMAP) that has resulted in plenty of local chatter.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

PPLG and Monday morning's shootings

I know: I've been shirking my duties. (And, to all you lefferts listserve members: I feel the love. Oh yes I do.) A combination of the heat, a now failed effort to get through the summer without AC, some travel, and huge piles of backed-up work have all conspired to create a quasi perfect storm of non-blogging conditions.

But it'd be hard to continue to stake any claims to being a community blogger and not post about yesterday morning's brutal shooting of two cops at the corner of Lefferts and Rogers Avenues (GMAP) Some of the coverage has, predictably, been focused on what this means for the neighborhood/the neighborhood's identity/the local real estate scene, etc. All of those are issues worth discussing, but before we do that, let's all remember that the most important facet of this story is that two men have been shot and one of them may or may not make it. I'm sure readers have had all sorts of experiences with the local police,* some of which have been less than positive. That shouldn't keep anyone from recognizing that cops -- especially New York City cops -- have a dangerous, often thankless job that pays poorly and has crappy hours. Slogans and mottos so often ring false, but the police's duty, in a very literal sense, is to protect and serve. They perform a function (along with garbage collectors, transit workers, and teachers, among others) that lets the rest of us go about our daily lives in relative peace and comfort. The fact that two cops humping the overnight shift got ambushed at a traffic stop is something we should all stop and think about, just as we should all think about the sacrifices American troops are performing in Iraq and Afghanistan regardless of our individual feelings about the war effort. (I'm opposed to it, for what it's worth.)

As far as our neighborhood goes, one of the things Monday's shootings has done is highlight the inchoate nature of PLG itself. Traditionally, PLG is thought to stretch from New York to Ocean Avenues and from Empire Blvd to Clarkson Ave. Lefferts Manor is a significantly smaller rectangle within that (from Lincoln Rd to Fenimore St and from Rogers Ave to Flatbush); the boundaries of the historic district, meanwhile, looks like they were drawn by a drunken city planner. (Suffice to say that if the shooting took place on either of the northern corners of the Lefferts-Rogers intersection it'd be within the historic district; if it was on either of the southern corners, it wouldn't be. To get a sense of just how odd that is, consider that the majority of the historic district is to the south. Here's a map of all these sundry boundaries.) This incident forced me to think about my conception of PLG, which I've long thought of as the manor with its southern border stretched down to Clarkson. It's also served as one more reminder of how stark the shift can be block to block (or even house to house) in all of New York City. The area around Chelsea's Maritime Hotel, on 16th St and 9th Ave, is a perfect example of this: the Maritime, on the east side of 9th, is run through with models and other assorted glitterati; across the street, on the west side of 9th, is an extremely large housing project. The public housing that rests between the Boerum Hill and Cobble Hill is another place where extreme gentrification sits next to a community that's been more or less ignored by the city's exploding wealth.

These boundaries are more fluid in PLG. In an odd way, this points to one of the things I like most about the neighborhood: the ways in which it is more integrated -- and not just racially -- than many other parts of the city that have witnessed an influx of new residents and a surge in million-dollar plus properties. In one of the Times stories, a local resident is quoted as saying, "It’s block by block around here. The next block over can be a different world." That's unquestionably true. (Turning on to Midwood from Flatbush often feels as if you stepped from a busy city to a pindrop-quiet suburb.) What's crucial for the entire neighborhood is to work to effect change throughout the area, and not just in the Manor (or the historic district, or whatever).

Finally, in regards to everyone favorite topic, I don't think this incident will effect real estate in any significant way. The area around the Rogers/Lefferts intersection hasn't seen the exponential increases of other parts of PLG, and the blocks that have $900,000 limestones will continue to find plenty of interest. (Think of other neighborhoods, from Fort Greene/Clinton Hill to the Lower East Side, where rising prices preceded a wholesale drop in crime.) What this means for the area on the border of PLG and Crown Heights is a whole other question, and one that's worth watching, for any number of reasons.

* One thing worth noting: whenever anyone gets pulled over, you'd do well to keep both of your hands on the steering wheel until the cop gets up to your window. Today's Times story begins, "Few actions police officers take are as routine — or as potentially deadly — as stopping a car. The hands of those in the stopped vehicle are hidden, and they can come out shooting, surprising an officer who only sought to check a minor infraction." Those aren't just words; I've spoken with policemen who've told me they get nervous every time they make a stop, whether they're in Westchester or East New York.