When America is faced with what seems to be an endless stream of police brutality, discrimination, and gentrification toward black and brown individuals, sharing an article for the fifth time can start to feel fruitless. Those of us who continue to see this kind of gut-wrenching news on our social media feeds can start to wonder what exactly we can do to help.
Governors Island is more than just another out-of-the-way-ish New York City nook. After years of abandonment, the island’s only recently embarked on a steady climb towards reclamation and it remains largely stuck in the past, having missed out on years of the progress seen by the rest of the city while interned as an exclusive home for military officers, then a coast guard haven, before it was abandoned altogether in 1996, left to hang in an off-limits sort of limbo, with nature serving as its only developer.
Fresh off the ferry, you might be only 800 yards from Lower Manhattan, but as you make your way inland, the Manhattan skyline starts to disappear, obscured by the super old Fort Jay, untrimmed trees, shrubs, and rolling grassy hills. The sirens fade into the background too, and time itself seems to slow down.
Depending on where you look, North Brooklyn is still replete with rusty reminders of its fairly recent manufacturing past, but as that history recedes farther off into the distance, pushed along by developers mining the cityscape for residential conversions (and now, slick new tech office space too), the memory of what stood there before is fading too. The area’s transformation has proceeded so quickly and dramatically that many new residents have no idea that they’re living next to an old pencil factory, or in some cases a Brownfield site.
It was difficult to ignore the fluttering signs at last week’s Bushwick Community Plan meeting. Sure, they were black-and-white, only about as big as two sheets of computer paper and just as flimsy, but there were tons of them. As City Council members Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal touted their community-driven alternative to developer-led change, almost everyone sitting in front of them seemed to be holding a flyer reading: “EVICT THE RICH.” The rallying cry may have been more Mao Tse-tung than #BushwickBerners, but the Brooklyn Solidarity Network (BSN) couldn’t have been more serious.
Later on tonight, you might be brushing your teeth and instead of that familiar googly-eyed likeness staring back at you (everyone has that problem, right?) you’ll see nothing less than an animal abuser, or perhaps even a slave owner if you choose to be really honest with yourself. Your French bulldog Greg will suddenly seem like a sullen prisoner in that skin-tight raincoat you force him to wear on the reg, even when it’s a cloudless, sweltering 90-degree July day and he’s emitting piercing, parrot-like screams as he struggles to escape. And those Bob Evans sausage griddles you chased with a tall glass of heavy whipping cream for dinner? Well, your Wienerwurst Wednesday tradition might seem, suddenly, very disgusting.
Last week, Elliot Caldwell was fatally shot outside of Campos Plaza, the NYCHA public housing project where he’d grown up. An EV Grieve commenter noted that the 23-year-old had been arrested in 2013 when the Manhattan DA busted alleged members of the Money Boyz, a coke-dealing gang based out of the East Village housing project. DNAinfo wrote that a woman claiming to be Caldwell’s aunt told reporters: “He was a great father. He changed his life for his son. He just got caught up in a bad situation.”
The NYPD told B+B that the suspect in Caldwell’s shooting is described as a “black male wearing a red hoodie,” who “fled from the scene on foot.” So far there have been no arrests, and police say the investigation is ongoing.
“Have you been to one of our shows lately?” Reverend Billy asked me. The answer was– no, I have not. Not ever. In my chat with the eco-activist, author, and radical preacher who “prays to life on earth,” I was curious to know what in heaven’s name a Reverend was doing on the calendar at a Bushwick DIY venue like Market Hotel. But Billy’s explanation brought everything together for me. “They’re a little like mosh pits,” he explained. “It’s a punk gospel for life. It’s a laboratory for getting going again.”
A teaser like that is hard to turn your back on, and so is the Reverend’s larger environmental message: consumerism and “nation-state allegiances” stand in the way of our relationship with the Earth. As the effects of climate change become increasingly apparent, there’s a new kind of urgency to changing our ways, and Reverend Billy believes that calls for physical, direct action are the only way to foment radical change. But when he’s not putting his body on the line to preach against the further slaughter of the earth, the Reverend is hosting shows like the one happening this weekend at the Market Hotel. “I’m trying to preach here,” he said, exasperated. “And along with the choir, we’re trying to inspire activism in our audience.”
The Reverend himself was supposed to be at the Wythe Hotel for Wednesday’s screening of Big Al: a Week in the Life of the Reverend Al Sharpton, but he ended up ditching out for a special civil rights summit convened by President Obama yesterday. Which, I guess is understandable. Instead, a big-screen version of Sharpton in his heyday filled the room.
At an emotional Lower East Side town hall meeting on Saturday afternoon, hundreds of concerned residents, a number of small business owners, and representatives of community organizations were visibly upset. Instead of being met by Mayor Bill de Blasio himself, they were greeted by a representative from the administration. “We have been reaching out to him for months,” Jei Fong, a coalition representative, told B+B. “We personally invited him to this meeting. This is a real slap in the face.”