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by Kaara Baptiste

Shootings in the NYPD’s 60th Precinct, covering Coney Island, Brighton Beach and Gravesend, jumped nearly 85 percent last year, spiking to 24 incidents from 13 in 2012. The incidents included two fatal shootings in Coney Island within 48 hours of Christmas Day. Community leaders soon met to discuss collaborative anti-violence efforts, including a “violence interrupter” program, modeled after ones in Chicago and other parts of Brooklyn, to keep feuds from erupting into bloodshed.

The so-called “interrupters” stay close to the streets to diffuse conflicts and steer youth toward a productive path. The Coney Island Step Up program, as it is tentatively called, just received a $15,000 grant from the city.

Ronald Stewart, a Coney Island resident since 1955, is one of these interrupters. Stewart, 63, is a New York State parole officer, serving in Brownsville since 1992. He founded Men United for Change, a mentoring program for adolescent and teen boys. Here, he shares his thoughts on Coney Island’s violence and why intervention is crucial.

Coney Island has long had a reputation for crime. What’s different about the latest spate of shootings?

Coney Island is a unique place. Crime happens everyday here, like other places. But because Coney Island is so small, the deaths are really magnified. The violence happens in intervals, not consistently. It’s mostly young people. They might have a beef; it may be drug related. But ours is much different than other parts of Brooklyn, like Flatbush, Brownsville, because those are bigger places and crime is more consistent. So we’re trying to take some of what [organizations such as Man Up!, in East New York, and Chicago Interrupters] are doing and develop it to something that fits Coney Island.

Violence interrupter programs rely on relationship-building to reach at-risk youth. Why would the young people in Coney Island listen to you?

[These young people] will talk to me before they talk to their mother. As we developed Men United for Change, I realized that we don’t talk to our youth. Other cultures have communication between young and old. But we’ll walk by our young people and not say anything to them. We feel intimidated. We see their pants sagging down; they look tough, they look mean.

I have developed a certain amount of respect among them because I never talk down to them. James Baldwin, the great writer, once said young people don’t listen to what you say, they watch what you do. This generation is quick to tell you, “Don’t preach to me!” They want you to communicate with them.

What kind of intervention does the team of interrupters have in mind?

We’re going to concentrate on doing street walks. We will target the different places where young people congregate – street corners, lobbies in project buildings, McDonald’s, the Chinese restaurants. We’ll pass out fliers with imagery and a few bullet points about what violence does to the community. The message is: “This is your community.” But we also plan to talk to them, just “What’s up? What’s going on, man?” Black males feel so vulnerable because no one talks to them. Then we want to go into the junior high schools.

Why target junior high schools?

These are the age groups where beefs are starting to happen. They’re at the crossroads of their life. They’re very impressionable and easily distracted. We’d like to do assemblies, even bring in former gang members, to let them know violence is not the way to go.

How did community work become such a consistent theme in your life?

In my adolescent years, Coney Island was in transition due to urban renewal. My mother was involved in community work and would take me to the meetings. There’d be a lot of shouting, people organizing protests, making sure people were involved. I was involved with Coney Island Youth Development program, and I became a member of the Nation of Islam in 1965. At the time, the Black Panthers and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were active. Then Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and that caused a movement! And I was part of all that. It gave me a sense of consciousness and activism. And it was a lot of fulfillment for me.

Why did you become a parole officer?

I saw the ad in the Amsterdam News [in 1990] and read the description and qualifications. It talked about dealing with ex-offenders and bringing them back to the community, helping them be better citizens and making the community safe. That’s part of what I did anyway [as director of the Carey Gardens Community Center, at one of Coney Island’s housing projects], so I said “Ohhh…”

How did Men United for Change start?

I thought that young black males are at risk. They are, all over the country, whether it’s violence against each other or from others. So I felt we needed to have a program that addressed the needs of young black males; that’s how Men United for Change started.

In your opinion, why are black males at particular risk?

[Many are] raised in families where they see a lot of fighting but no crisis intervention. Sometimes they take that anger out on their peers or people around them. They must see themselves as being valuable in society. But they don’t see that, so they feel outside. In school, the curriculum is not about them and most of their teachers [white females] have no idea how to relate to them. So they carry a lot of pain and disillusionment. That translates into lashing out in anger and they’ll fight quicker. Even the ones [who are] going to school, trying to navigate society without conflict, feel afraid because they don’t fit in anywhere.

You plan on retiring as a parole officer this spring. What are your plans for retirement?

I want to devote more time to Men United for Change. Plus, I want to travel. I never had the chance to travel, believe it or not [outside of parole duties]. I want to visit Mexico, Brazil, Arizona, to see the Hubble telescope. I love science. I’m writing a memoir about growing up in Coney Island. It’s called The Other Side of Dreamland: Growing Up Black in Coney Island. I want to put more time into that.

Roytman with a moose skeleton from Maine.

Roytman with a moose skeleton from Maine.

by Vanessa Ogle

Wheelbarrows, dirt and a vision are all someone needs to make a difference in the community.

Jacqui Roytman, a former dance teacher, is known for combining science—often in the form of plants and photosynthesis—and art to transform neighborhoods and derelict plots of dirt from listless land into places of pride.

Now she’s obtained control of a lot on 26th Avenue to bring locals a community garden, green laboratory and event space.

“This is an amazing story to tell you the truth,” Roytman said. “It’s unbelievable.”

roytman2Roytman began SNAP to Grow! more than 10 years ago and she’s still shocked by how much it has grown.

Inspired by Roytman’s interest in the connection between the sciences and the arts, SNAP stands for Science Nature Art Projects and combines everything from chemistry to robotics with arts and crafts.

The studio Roytman uses, lent to her by the Shore Parkway Jewish Center (8885 26th Avenue), is filled with artists’ biography blurbs, children’s books, maturing plants, paint-covered smocks and enough ingredients to make elephant toothpaste—which the kids in her workshop have done before.

Roytman is expanding the ideas from the inside studio with an outdoor community garden.

She is helping improve a small section of land, where she hopes to transform it from a forgotten space into a place for teaching people that it’s possible to grow food in a city.

“Whether you have a fire escape or whatever—as long as you have a lot of sun, there’s many ways to grow food.”

But this piece of land for Roytman to transform was especially astonishing.

“I looked at this piece of property and my jaw dropped because it was just huge and not used and all I could see was a farm in my head,” Roytman said of the Shore Parkway Jewish Center’s large yard’s potential.

A serendipitous meeting—it was a rainy Thursday, Roytman recalls—brought a new partnership together with ideas as big as the yard.

Roytman met Arielle Hartman, the garden coordinator for Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders, which focuses on the importance of fresh produce, while she was on her way to pick up pizza.

She saw Hartman and two students standing in front of Layfette High School, selling produce under a blue tent.

Roytman pulled her car over and invited Hartman to join her in planting produce at the Shore Parkway Jewish Center.

It was because of this partnership, Roytman said, that New York Cares, which provides funding to the Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders and the Bensonhurst Greenmarket, became involved.

“Look, I have four wheelbarrows, two 20-foot ladders—I’ve got material that is off the charts,” Roytman said, pointing out all the different donations from New York Cares that are being used to transform the yard.

The yard is going to be divided into sections: the front will be the Art Garden; the back will hold the sun-powered greenhouse that is currently under construction; the long rectangular patch that connects the front to the back will be an urban garden with programs designed for children and senior citizens; and the inside studio will continue being used for science and art projects, while also implementing adult art nights.

The garden, which is wheelchair accessible, will be open year-round.

“What I’m studying is using cold greenhouses,” said Roytman, unafraid of winter closing the garden. “People up in Maine grow food all year long. We could do it.”

All the outdoor sections will hold various community events, like compost nights to show everyone just how easy it can be.

Roytman, bobbing her head as she motions to the yard, talking about its completion that’s expected in April, also envisions weddings, concerts, dance performances and poetry nights in the Art Garden.

“It’s going to be awesome,” she says, looking around the yard with still-melting snow. “Can’t you see it?”

Correction: The original version of this article misidentified the location of the planned garden. It is not the Ocean Parkway Jewish Center, it is the Shore Parkway Jewish Center. The article has been corrected.

Source: fawlty128 via flickr.com

A 45-year-old woman from New Jersey jumped to her death from the Verrazano Narrows Bridge on Friday morning.

Responding to a report of an abandoned vehicle on the upper level of the bridge, police from the 68th Precinct arrived, discovering the driver laying on the rocks below, according to the Home Reporter.

The MTA announced that two of the Verrazano’s Staten Island lanes were closed by 10:47 a.m., with one reopening an hour later and all lanes reopening by 12:47 p.m.

SLive.com reports that the Verrazano “has been the scene of at least eight suicides and six more attempts since December 2011, according to Advance records.” They add that the “suicides have come in clusters — two in a one-month stretch from December 2011 to Jan 2012, three more between May 27 and June 28 in 2012, and two between March 30 and April 14 of last year.”

In November, Bensonhurst Bean shared dramatic footage of police rescuing a suicidal man. We previously reported on plunges or suicide attempts in September, June and April.

– Vanessa Ogle

CIviolence

Mathylde Frontus led the meeting at the Urban Neighborhood Services

by Steven Volynets

Following the second fatal shooting in as many days, Coney Island residents and local leaders met at the Urban Neighborhood Services (UNS) office (1718 Mermaid Avenue) on Friday to voice concern over the growing number of gun deaths in the area.

On Christmas Eve, 17-year-old Yaquin English was shot to death in front of his home in the Gravesend Houses at 3144 Bay View Avenue. Just two days later, a man was shot dead on Thursday inside a Coney Island high-rise building on West 27th Street and Surf Avenue.

Shawn White, 25, was found on the fourth floor stairwell with several gunshot wounds to the head, torso and leg at approximately 9:30 p.m. First responders pronounced the victim dead on arrival, according to the NYPD.

Shawn White was found shot to death on Thursday in a building at West 27th Street and Surf Avenue. (Source: Google Maps)

Shawn White was found shot to death on Thursday in a building at West 27th Street and Surf Avenue. (Source: Google Maps)

The spate of deadly shootings has left community members grappling for an effective response to the violence, which UNS noted seemed concentrated in public housing.

Community members, including parents, a teacher and local clergy, discussed drafting a letter to local officials calling for more cameras and greater police presence throughout Coney Island neighborhoods.

“What can we ask of our State Senator Diane Savino? What can we ask of our Congressman Hakeem Jeffries?” said UNS Director Mathylde Frontus, who organized the event. Congressman Jeffries’s representative Lee Church and Victoria Lynch, president of Coney Island Site 8 Residents Association, attended the meeting.

Gravesend Houses, where Yaquin English was shot to death on Christmas Eve (Source: Google Maps)

Also present, Rhonda Brown Moore, board member of Man Up, a Brownsville-based neighborhood improvement organization, said Coney Island could benefit from one of their anti-violence programs.

“We have men in vans patrolling the neighborhood in the middle of the night, talking to some of the people doing the shootings,” Moore said.

Frontus also stressed greater involvement of local business owners and corporate interests.

“A lot of money is hovering over us, but nothing is trickling down to the community,” she said. That money, she added, could fund programs like Man Up, as well as art, music and sports activities for Coney Island youth.

Gravesend Houses (Source: Google Maps)

Gravesend Houses (Source: Google Maps)

A 17-year-old was shot dead across the street from a Coney Island playground on Christmas Eve.

Police responded to a 911 call at approximately 7:00 p.m. to find a male shot on Bay View Avenue, near the corner of Neptune Avenue.

The victim, 17 year-old Yaquin English, had multiple gunshot wounds to the leg and torso and was pronounced dead on the scene, according to the NYPD. No arrests have yet been made.

English was gunned down in front of the Gravesend Community Center building of the Gravesend Houses at 3144 Bay View Avenue, across the street from the Leon S. Kaiser Playground in Coney Island.  It is the seventh murder of 2013 in the 60th Precinct, which includes Coney Island, Brighton Beach and Gravesend.

– Steven Volynets

State Senator Marty Golden. Source: NYSenate.gov

State Senator Marty Golden. Source: NYSenate.gov

State Senator Martin J. Golden is initiating a series of new holiday events he calls “Holiday Senior Festivals,” which will feature the participation of numerous city and state agencies, free blood pressure screenings, entertainment and lunch, raffles, as well as a free shredding truck parked outside to shred old and sensitive documents, and a tree trimming.

Invited governmental agencies include Aging, Sanitation, Environmental Protection, Finance, the Fire Department, Parks and the Police Department. The events will also serve as collection sites to support the Toys for Tots campaign. Letters and cards can also be brought to the events, which will then be mailed to our American servicemen and women overseas.

The events, which are free and open to the public, are scheduled for:

  • Wednesday, December 18 from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at St. Francis Cabrini, 16th Avenue (entrance) between 86th Street and Benson Avenue
  • Thursday, December 19 from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at St. Patrick’s Auditorium, 9511 Fourth Avenue
  • Friday, December 20 from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at St. Edmund’s Preparatory High School, 2474 Ocean Avenue

For more, contact Senator Golden’s district office at (718) 238-6044 or email golden@nysenate.gov.

Andrew Gounardes (Photo by Carol Dronsfield)

The following is an opinion article submitted by Andrew Gounardes, a local attorney, vice president of the Bay Ridge Democrats and 2012 candidate for State Senate

Last week, the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption released a report detailing an enraging, though not surprising, level of corruption in our state government. The Commission’s report identified so many illegal activities, and incredulous abuses of legal activities, they can’t all be listed here. Here’s just a sampling of the worst offenses:

  • Pay-to-play politics – High-powered donors contribute to political campaigns in exchange for legislation that would reap a windfall on their business interests. One developer received a real estate tax credit worth $50 million last year just to build one luxury building in Manhattan.
  • Campaign finance loopholes – New York has some of the highest campaign contribution limits in the country, and yet many donors skirt those rules by donating through different corporate and LLC accounts. One donor was found to have used 25 different corporate accounts to make $3 million in contributions.
  • Misuse of campaign funds – There are no meaningful limits on what politicians can spend their campaign dollars on. Members of the legislature routinely use campaign funds to pay for personal expenses such as car leases and personal mortgages.

So what can we do to limit, if not outright stop, such blatant corruption? The answer is pretty simple and we already do it in New York City: public financing of elections.

Currently, the campaign finance system rewards big donors and the politicians they donate to. If we lower the amount of money someone can donate to a campaign, incentivize small-dollar donations through a public matching system, and limit how those campaign dollars are spent, we can break the corruption cycle of wealthy donors buying off politicians and politicians using campaign funds to pay for vacation homes and luxury cars.

Public financing will also make politicians more responsive to voters. Under New York City’s system, any contribution up to $175 gets matched by city dollars at a rate of 6:1; a $175 donation is really worth $1050. Under the current rules in New York State, one donor who contributes $1000 has more influence than five donors who each contribute $175. That’s ridiculous. If we replicated the New York City program at the state level, those five donors contributing $175 would outweigh the one donor contributing only $1000.

Opponents of campaign finance reform say that it costs too much money. They feign outrage at spending tax dollars on political campaigns and hope that if they scream loud enough, you won’t notice why the really oppose reform: because they benefit enormously from the status quo.

Here’s the truth: public financing of campaigns will cost approximately $41 million a year, or just $3.20 per taxpayer in New York per year. In other words, getting rid of corruption in New York State will cost $9 million LESS than the $50 million tax break that our politicians gave to that luxury building developer last year. Think about that: one fewer tax break to a wealthy donor can pay for a more honest government.

To me, the answer seems clear. Let’s start cleaning up Albany and start restoring faith in state government again by enacting true campaign finance reform.

Andrew Gounardes is an attorney, vice president of the Bay Ridge Democrats and 2012 candidate for State Senate

Source: Indy Trendy Skits/Flickr

The following is a press release jointly issued by Councilman David Greenfield, State Senator Simcha Felder and Councilman-elect Chaim Deutsch:

Following yet another ‘knockout’ assault targeting an innocent pedestrian this past Saturday, Councilman David G. Greenfield, Senator Simcha Felder and Councilman-elect Chaim Deutsch are calling on the NYPD to drastically increase its presence throughout the community, especially during Shabbos, which is when two of the most recent attacks targeting Jews have occurred. This request includes additional officers, temporary lighting at trouble locations and other measures to help prevent these attacks and catch the person responsible should another assault occur. In addition, the elected officials are reminding the public to be especially vigilant and aware of their surroundings at all times and to immediately report any suspicious activity to the NYPD.

The request for additional NYPD patrols and other measures comes after a young Jewish woman was punched in the head and knocked to the ground by an unknown young black male while waking near McDonald Avenue and Avenue M in broad daylight on Saturday afternoon. In response, Councilman Greenfield and Councilman-elect Deutsch met with officers from the 66th Precinct in Boro Park on Sunday to discuss the NYPD’s ongoing response and investigation into the series of unprovoked attacks, which now total approximately a dozen in Brooklyn over the past two months.

“More aggressive measures on the part of the NYPD are needed to stop this wave of brutal attacks targeting innocent victims. It is especially disturbing that people of all ages have been assaulted recently, including several elderly women. In addition, two of the recent attacks have occurred in our community on Shabbos, adding to the concern that the community is being targeted by these cowardly individuals. As a result of my meeting with NYPD officials, I am confident this pattern is being taken seriously and that we will have the resources necessary to finally put an end to this baseless violence,” said Councilman Greenfield.

“The recent ‘knockout’ attacks in our community are unacceptable and must be acted upon immediately. Inflicting violence on unsuspecting people is a cowardly act and a crime that must be punished to the fullest extent of the law. As a strong and united community, we need to show those responsible that these heinous crimes will not be tolerated. We cannot allow anyone to create unnecessary fear. We should walk the streets with our heads held high and not worry that anyone is being targeted. I have spoken with the NYPD and been assured that they are taking all necessary steps to bring these perpetrators to justice,” said Councilman-elect Deutsch.

“It is deplorable that people are still being terrorized by these knockout attacks. Every person has a right to feel safe walking in their neighborhoods, without worrying whether or not they will be bashed in the head for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The best thing people can to do to protect themselves from these heinous attacks is to be cognizant at all times of their surroundings. This means not being distracted by electronic devices and to also trust their instincts. Most importantly, if you are a victim of an attack or any crime, report it to the authorities immediately. Don’t allow yourself to be victimized twice by remaining silent,” said Senator Felder (D-Brooklyn).

As a result of the attacks, Deutsch, who founded Flatbush Shomrim 20 years ago in response to street crime, Greenfield and Felder are reminding the public of the following safety tips to help avoid becoming a victim of this senseless pattern of street violence, which has occurred in neighborhoods around Brooklyn, including Boro Park and Midwood. Residents are reminded to always be alert while walking around and to be cautious of suspicious individuals or large groups. Whenever possible, do not walk alone and try to use well-lit and populated areas with a lot of foot traffic. Always know your location in case you need to call for help, and do not hesitate to contact 911 if necessary.

“One of the great things about living in our communities is the safety that we all enjoy and take for granted. By coming together and working with the NYPD, we will reclaim our streets and ensure that residents can once again walk around the neighborhood without constantly looking over their shoulders,” said Councilman Greenfield.

“We stand together as one community of peace and harmony. Violence and hate crimes of any time are not acceptable. We must continue to join together to fight such vicious crimes so that we can continue to live without fear,” added Councilman-elect Deutsch.

The

Three bedroom with a balcony and, apparently, a sweet kitchen. (Source: Coldwell Banker)

Looking for a new place to call home? Bensonhurst Bean has got you covered. Our rental roundup is a new feature showcasing some of the deals on the market now. If you know of a great place available for rent or are a broker representing a property you want included, contact nberke [at] bensonhurstbean [dot] com. And if you live in or near one the places below, let neighbors know what you think in the comments.

One Bedroom
Price: $1,000
Location: 2121 82nd Street, Apt. 1C
Description: There are quite a few studios for $1,000 in Bensonhurst, so you might as well upgrade to a one bedroom, which are typically bigger and close to the same price. With this space, there’s laundromat and on-site super, which is more than most of us can ask for $1,000 a month.
Contact: Sam Fazilov of Zuz Realty, (646) 377-1181

Three Bedrooms and a Balcony
Price: $2,100
Location: 14th Avenue and 67th Street
Description: This apartment is near the N and D trains and has one-and-a-half bathrooms. There’s a broker’s fee and a security deposit. There must be a high demand – or shortage – of garages because you would have to pay extra to park your car in this garage.
Contact: Coldwell Banker, (718) 921-3100

One Bedroom and a Granite Countertop
Price: $1,199
Location: 120 Bay 37th Street
Description: If Brazilian cherrywood floors and a granite kitchen counter top are the things that you look for in an apartment, check this place out. Cats are accepted but dogs are not, presumably because cats are the only domesticated animals to appreciate the nuanced beauty of Brazilian cherrywood floors. The bathroom has high quality granite tiles, so those late-night calls can be memorable. The apartment is in a residential house.
Contact: (646) 450-3665

Two Serious Bedrooms
Price: $1,600
Location: 2069 85th Street
Description: Okay, get serious for this one because this guy wants “SERIOUS CLIENTS ONLY.” So if you like to laugh or employ shenanigans to waste time, Peter Chang, the contact, isn’t interested. Use of all caps is pretty intimidating so I wouldn’t test this requirement. This apartment also has many windows and lots of natural light to give you a better view of the outside world, where people are laughing and expressing joy and generally being less serious than you.
Contact: Peter Chang, (646) 778-2260

- Eric Jankiewicz

If you know of a great place available for rent or are a broker representing a property you want included, contact nberke [at] bensonhurstbean [dot] com

ritter

Bensonhurst resident Charles Ritter, outside of his polling station on election day, said he’s satisfied with the neighborhood’s police presence but has issues with stop and frisk. (Photo by Ashley Rodriguez)

By Scott Klocksin

Jacob Hunt was stopped by police and asked for identification as he left a parking lot in Bay Ridge several years ago. He fit the description of a suspect in a crime. But Hunt wasn’t worried.

“Ninety percent of calls you hear on the police scanner are ‘Hispanic, Black, 5-foot-9, 200 pounds. That’s me,” Hunt said.

“But if I’m doing nothing wrong, I have nothing to worry about,” said Hunt, a registered Republican who counts several cops as friends. “I don’t hold no animosity toward them. It’s a scary job.”

Hunt was one of dozens of people interviewed throughout Southern Brooklyn amid the November 5 mayoral election. The interviews revealed a wide breadth of views on policing.

Some expressed strong support for the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy. Others expressed personal bitterness over such tactics. But all agreed on the importance of safety.

Keep reading to learn about local stop-and-frisk data and what neighbors think of the policy.

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