Letter From Bedford-Stuyvesant

by

04/29/2005

Franklin Ave & Hancock St, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Neighborhood: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn

An urgent tapping sent me scurrying to the front window of my brownstone garden-floor apartment located in Bedford-Stuyvesant. I peeped through slats of the wooden shutters and saw two T-shirt clad white men with badges hanging around their necks.

“Yes?” I inquired.

“Police,” they called out authoritatively.

“Someone upstairs must have called for you” I yelled through the slats.

“We want to talk to you.”

“About what?”

“An incident that happened.”

On my way to the front door, I deliberated whether I would talk to them through the gate. I decided to be courteous and opened it.

“We’re investigating an incident that happened,” one of the men said.

“An incident? When?” I asked with pretend alarm.

“About an hour ago.”

“I just woke up from a nap. So I didn’t hear or see anything,” I responded earnestly. “What happened?”

“A guy was hit over the head two buildings down.”

“Was it a robbery?” I asked with less than genuine concern.

“That’s what we’re investigating.”

I came back into my apartment and looked at the clock on the wall. It was 9:45. After a quick calculation, I figured it had to have been around 8:30 that Sunday evening that someone was attacked on my lovely tree-lined block that is part of a designated historic district.

No way it could have been a random mugging, I thought. It had to be someone the victim knew. My mind went back several months to the time when I broke up with my boyfriend. He joked about how he was going to sit with a baseball bat in his SUV in front of my house and wait to see if a man left my apartment. I chuckled for even entertaining the thought. But my brownstone and several that adjoined it did look similar. Suppose my ex mistakenly…”Don’t be ridiculous,” I chided myself.

The sound of muffled voices outside my window sent me back to peek out through the shutters. The two detectives stood by my stoop talking in low tones and remained there for the next ten minutes or so. When I ventured another peek, I saw that a yellow tape had been wrapped around the balustrade of my stoop, pulled across the sidewalk to the curb, draped along the parked cars, pulled across the side walk again, and tied to the balustrade of the building two doors down, forming a perfect rectangle.

Real alarm then took hold. Wasn’t a yellow tape only used when some one had been killed? I slipped into a hooded sweatshirt and went outside. A few people had gathered on their stoops. I searched their faces to determine the degree of gravity of what had taken place. But none of them had that “what a pity” look that onlookers wear when they’ve witnessed a tragic event. I stepped out and peered around the two detectives to get a view of the cordoned off area. I half expected to see a puddle of blood, but all I saw were small pieces of paper strewn about.

Refusing to stand around gawking like the rest of my neighbors, I went back inside my apartment. I figured whatever happened would fan through the neighborhood the following day. Or there would be something in the newspaper. Unbelievably, I heard nothing about the incident the next day. It was then I lamented the fact that my former neighbor, a woman whom I had dubbed the nosiest woman on earth, had recently moved out. Keeping her out of my business had become an arduous undertaking. Since she did not work a regular job, she was home most of the time. “You’re home early today, she would stick her head over the railing and say if I arrived earlier than my usual time. I went out of my way to avoid her, and she went out of her way to engage me. My conversations with her were guarded and purposely kept short. She felt no embarrassment in coming straight out and asking about anything. She might say something like, “How’s your daughter? I haven’t seen her for a while.” You had to think quickly on your feet with her. Or you could end up telling her how you and your daughter had had a big fight and are not on speaking terms. But then there were those times that she passed on information I was well off knowing about. Like when she told me that the apartment of the lady on our block who drives the pink Cadillac was robbed, and that the UPS man had been ripped off. One morning when I was returning from the grocery store, she told me about a mugging that had taken place in the middle of the night.

“A white guy was mugged last night,” she said to me as I was unlocking the entrance to my apartment.

“Oh, that’s where those bloodstains on the sidewalk came from,” I responded.

“I haven’t been feeling so safe around here lately,” she said.

“Neither have I,” I said as I stepped inside and closed the gate.

“The only thing that’s going to stop gentrification is crime,” a friend said to me as we strolled leisurely through Fort Greene on our way home from dinner one night. Casualties of Fort Greene’s spiraling rents, my friend ended up moving to Atlanta, and I moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant. In moving to Bedford-Stuyvesant, I felt I was just a step ahead of gentrification. But after four years, it’s apparent that the turn over is not going to be an easy one. This was echoed in an article in Time Out Magazine entitled, “The Battle for Bedford-Stuyvesant. “ Many people living in Bedford-Stuyvesant are willing to make a last stand to stay here. Among them are the young men who I push by to enter a bodega or the Chinese restaurant. Where else are they going to go to ride out a sluggish economy, or survive a fifty percent unemployment rate? It is them for whom the moniker, “Bed-Stuy Do or Die,” has meaning.

From my front window, I am able to see the comings and goings of the neighborhood residents. A person interviewed in the “Time Out” article said in a radio interview that gentrification in Bedford-Stuyvesant wasn’t so much evident in a changing complexion, but in rising rental costs. But the slow complexion change can also be attributed to the fact that people are moving in and turning around and moving out. I soon will be among those who are moving out. My cute efficiency apartment with its sunny backyard that I pay just under a thousand dollars to rent is not enough for me make a last stand. Then, too, I’m not the “do or die” person I used to be.

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