Stephen: Kimani Gray shooting means more tense times in East Flatbush

Protests that took place in Brooklyn on Church

Protests that took place in Brooklyn on Church Avenue & East 46th Street. (CS Muncy) (Credit: Protests that took place in Brooklyn on Church Avenue & East 46th Street. (CS Muncy))

On a 15-block stretch along Church Avenue in East Flatbush early Tuesday morning, more than a dozen New York City Police Department vehicles were parked curbside, lights flashing. Cars from the 67th Precinct cruised by, and officers stood guard under storefronts and churches. The atmosphere was tense.

Hours earlier, around 100 residents assembled at a rally for Kimani Gray, the 16-year-old who was fatally shot by two plainclothes officers Saturday night. Their peaceful gathering was overshadowed when a smaller group broke off, and reportedly looted a drugstore and threw objects at officers and parked cars. A second vigil Tuesday night stayed peaceful.

The NYPD contends that at around 11:30 on Saturday, Gray pointed a .38-caliber revolver at the officers. Witnesses claim otherwise. What's undisputed is that the incident has rattled police-community relations in a neighborhood where they've long been precarious.

As trendy Brooklyn neighborhoods garner international attention, the view from East Flatbush and Flatbush is mixed. While mostly working-class, both areas face long-festering problems: gangs, unemployment and pockets of poverty.

Crime in the 67th has sharply decreased since the height of the crack era. But resentment over a range of NYPD actions still simmers. Another flashpoint occurred last June, after the fatal shooting by police of Shantel Davis, an unarmed 23-year-old who crashed a stolen car and struggled with an officer. Despite disclosures about her criminal record, scores of residents joined weekly nonviolent protests last summer.

Among the participants was City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who represents East Flatbush. Williams told me at the time that the protests signaled an effort to highlight disaffection over NYPD policies. He hoped the protests could spark a dialogue. Yet it was hard to miss the symbolism: barricaded protesters assembled across the street from the station house, facing officers standing in a wall formation. The conversation seemed over before it began.

Williams sparred with NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly after Gray's killing this week. The question is as urgent as ever: Can the pleas of the community's sensible voices, advocating for change, be heard in the weeks and months ahead?

Curtis Stephen, a journalist who reports on the criminal justice system, lives in Flatbush.


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