Protestors marched outside of City Hall in Lower Manhattan to voice their opinion against the Bedford-Union Armory development plan. Photo by Claire Tighe
On Thursday morning, Vaughn Armour, 67, stood outside City Hall wearing a shirt that read, “Bad For Crown Heights,” with bold emphasis on the B, F, and C.
“I made up this up myself,” he said.
Armour and fellow New Yorkers were continuing a months-long protest against the redevelopment of the Bedford-Union Armory. The project, led by private developer BFC Partners, would convert the former National Guard building in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, into a mixed-use neighborhood complex, featuring rental apartments, condominiums and a public recreation center. The city gained ownership of the building in 2013. It has remained mostly vacant ever since.
Armour, a Crown Heights resident of 17 years, worries that developing the armory will further gentrify his neighborhood.
“That armory is one of the biggest gentrification projects in Brooklyn,” he said. “So it’s going to have a big effect. (Developers and new tenants) come in and the longtime residents like me and my neighbors will be pushed out.”
Earlier this week, the City Planning Commission approved the plan to redevelop the armory. The City Council will review the plan before the end of the year. It currently has Mayor Bill de Blasio’s support.
Protesters chanted, “kill the deal,” a refrain of encouragement geared toward Laurie Cumbo, City Council Member of the 35th District, where the armory is located. Cumbo’s office said in an email statement that the Council Member’s position on the deal has not changed. She voiced her opposition in May 2017 and still plans to vote no.
Protesters say that the city council is likely to follow Cumbo’s lead about whether to approve the project.
“That’s not by statute, but it’s local tradition,” said Esteban Giron, 39, a Crown Heights tenant. “The city council follows whatever vote the local council person has.”
BFC Partners’ current plan offers the neighborhood 330 rental apartments units and 60 condominiums. Half of all the units will be considered affordable by city standards.
In statements to Commercial Observer and Patch, BFC Partners spokesman Sam Spokony said, “We’re committed to providing a new affordable recreation center, affordable office space for nonprofits and affordable housing for the Crown Heights community. As the Bedford-Union Armory continues to sit vacant, this is an opportunity to make it a place that truly serves local families.”
Demonstrators gathered in Brooklyn Plaza for the March for Racial Justice yesterday. Photo by Claire Tighe
Like many people of color in New York City, Raheem Fayson, 35, of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, comes into contact with law enforcement too often.
“I get stop-and-frisked on a regular basis,” said Fayson. As “a black man from inner-city Brooklyn, I be guilty by association. I can think of a million ways that racial injustice be impacting my community, but it’s all about what the masses is gonna do about it.”
Fayson joined thousands of others in Brooklyn Plaza, just below the Manhattan Bridge, for yesterday’s March for Racial Justice NYC. It was a demonstration aimed at bringing attention to issues affecting people of color, like gentrification, broken windows policing and immigration.
Many marchers voiced concern with recent tweets from President Donald Trump about NFL protests and his response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico.
One demonstrator in the crowd wore a Colin Kaepernick jersey. Protestors held up signs that read, “Kaepernick for President,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Respect Women of Color.”
Denisha Jingles, 29, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, said the fight for racial justice wasn’t just about her as a black woman. It was for everyone, including black people, women, LGBTQIA folks, Muslims, and “our Jewish brothers and sisters.”
“New York City is a place full of what the world sees as diversity, but people still have their individual struggles,” she said. “Children are being suspended from schools and they’re coming into contact with police officers more often.”
Jingles also raised concern at the thousands of people arrested annually for jumping the subway turnstiles. According to a report from the state of New York, 89 percent of turnstile jumping arrests in 2017 were African American and Latino men.
That’s a problem,” said Jingles. “New York is great for the different amount of people we see, but New York definitely has work to be done.”
Under the banner of “racial justice,” demonstrators drew connections between the struggles faced by people of color locally in New York City and the actions of the federal government, especially those of the last week.
Destiny Arturet, 27, a Puerto Rican woman from Crown Heights, said she was present at the march to support people of color, especially Puerto Ricans, who weren’t receiving the care they needed after Hurricane Maria.
“The way that Trump has reacted to what’s going on in Puerto Rico is heinous,” she said. “People are dying. We have people who are without homes, without water, without food. I don’t feel like our federal government is acting the way that it should. It feels a bit devastating.”
Christopher Jackson, 30, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, thought it was important to respond to the federal actions he felt were “promoting hatred.” For Jackson, racial justice was a long time coming.
“When you don’t treat a wound for a long time, it becomes infected and starts to kill the body,” he said. “I think that’s happening now.
As Kendrick Lamar’s song “We Gon’ Be Alright” started to blare from the speakers, Jerin Arifa of Elmhurst, New York, spoke about her experience as a Muslim woman who was almost run over after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“I look around the march here and see people of all races,” she said. “We’re only going to get through this if we’re together and if we really understand that (we are) very, very connected.”
The demonstration ended with a march across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall. A sister march in Washington D.C. drew thousands of protesters to the Capitol on Saturday.
Bahaa Ellaithy (Left) and his friend Ashraf Gad after their prayers in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Photo by ANG LI.
In the southwest corner of Brooklyn lies one of the most diverse city neighborhoods, Bay Ridge. A traditionally Irish and Italian neighborhood, it has witnessed an inflow of large numbers of new residents from Mexico, the Middle East and Asia. Yesterday neighbors were outraged over Trump’s latest executive order temporarily banning travelers from seven mostly Muslims countries and permanently barring refugees from Syria.
Muslims from Bay Ridge participated in recent protests against the ban and are still in shock that Donald Trump was elected president.
“This guy…I don’t know how he won,” said Bahaa Ellaithy, 46, an Egyptian Muslim who teaches math in an Islam private high school. “Until this moment, I couldn’t believe that he became the president of a country like America.”
He strongly objected to the ban saying that it’s unconstitutional and against the values that the country was based on. Ellaithy joined the protest at Battery Park Sunday and had protested in front of Trump Tower ten times.
The nationwide protests give Ellaithy comfort and hope.
“I met a lot of wonderful people in the protests who really believe in freedom, believe in dignity, and believe in that people could live together from all races, religions and ethnicities,” Ellaithy said. “It makes me feel that I’m welcomed and accepted in this country.”
Ashraf Gad, 45, also an Egyptian Muslim, thought that the unprecedented ban was dangerous for all Muslims. He did not understand why those seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen) were targeted. He assumed that the selection was due to Trump’s personal views or business interest.
Gad, a pediatrician, wasn’t able to join the rallies because of his busy schedule at the hospital. But he would make some time for upcoming protests regarding this issue.
Paul Khoury, 62, a Lebanese salesman, came to the US at the age of 17 and has been living in the neighborhood for about 30 years. Back from a 10-day vacation in Spain last night, he was surprised to see the large number of people protesting at the airport. Khoury was worried about the direction where the nation was going and his children’s opportunities as policies became less friendly towards immigrants.
“My life is almost at the edge of it,” Khoury said. “I fear for my kids, not for me. They need a peaceful world than this world to live in.”
Bay Ridge residents from other ethnicities also expressed their anger towards the “Muslim Ban.”
Sally McMahon, 63, an Irish American, said for a country of immigrants looking for a better life, she found the whole ban ridiculous. She felt proud to be active in the protests including the Women’s March on NYC.
“I think that the nation is going a terrible way,” McMahon said. “I think the nation will go in a way of fascism and authoritarianism. And I’m very afraid for myself, for the people, for the country and for the world.”
Diana Balcazar, a 43-year-old Mexican mother of three children is concerned about Trump’s next move. She was afraid that she might be forced to go back to Mexico.
“Honestly, this is my country,” Balcazar said. “I’ve almost been here for 30 years. My whole life is here now.”
The Christmas lights in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, are as bright as Times Square without the billboards.
“I love taking people to see these lights, everybody’s happy and they become a kid again,” said Angela Christianson, Tour Guide for A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours, which charges $50 for a tour of the spectacle.
The predominantly Italian-American neighborhood has become a mainstream holiday tourist attraction with thousands treking from Manhattan to Brooklyn each year to see a handful of houses that spend thousands on Christmas decorations. Front lawns are covered in decorations from a 15-foot tall Santa, to carousels, to snowmen, angels, toy soldiers, reindeer, and hundreds of lights in green, red, and white.
“We joke around Rockefeller Center? FUHGETTABOUDIT, but when you come here to Brooklyn you’re seeing what homeowners are doing whether they are doing it themselves or getting companies to pay,” said Tony Muia owner of A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours. “Its sort of like a different feeling than being rushed on those sidewalks of Manhattan to see something Christmas related whether it’s the windows or the tree.”
Many homes participate in the neighborhood Christmas decorating tradition, but some take it over the top.
The Karounos home sits on 84th Street between 11th and 12th Avenue in the heart of the neighborhood. Their two family home is decorated with a blow up Santa, nativity scene, and the words Merry Christmas written in green and red. The family has been living in the neighborhood for seven years. They had different decorations two years ago that fell apart, so they switched it up by adding the inflatable decorations.
“It’s always been going on and my Dad and us eventually did it too,” said Elias Karounos, 13. “We love it, we help decorate, and it’s really fun. Everyone comes down the block and it’s all happy.”
Two doors down from the Karounos’ lives the woman who is believed to have started the whole tradition in the area, Lucy Spata. During the tour Christianson, told the story of Spata and how she moved to Dyker Heights in 1986 and began her Christmas tradition by putting up 40 angels in honor of her mother.
Christianson said many neighbors complained about Spata’s bright decorations and wanted her to take them down, but she would just say to them, ‘If you don’t like them well then move.”
No one moved and Spata, in spite, began putting up even more decorations, Christianson said. Eventually more neighbors started putting up decorations and created competition.
“Someone started with one Santa then somebody came out with Santa and reindeers then the other came out with Santa, reindeers, and frosty,” said Joe Igneri, 62, of Dyker Heights.
Today Spata’s home is completely covered, head to toe with Santa’s, angels, bright colored lights, toy soldiers, and snowmen. It is so bright it takes a minute for onlooker’s eyes to adjust. There is a gentleman’s agreement and the lights go off at 1 a.m. so neighbors can sleep.
“She does this for joy, she’s done this all her life,” said Joe Spatola, a friend of Spata who helps her decorate. “Even if nobody came she would still do it.”
It takes a lot of time to turn Dyker Heights into Christmas Town.
“I spent $5500 on my decorations,” said Angelo Branciforte.
Branciforte hired B&R Christmas Decorators. The company has worked on over 80 homes in the area already this season and it takes them around 30 hours to finish a large home.
Some of the homes in the area are worth millions of dollars and tourists love to gawk at the Christmas bling.
“We were reading on the Internet and saw the lights,” said Laura Romera, of Madrid, Spain. “It’s very different and it’s very nice too.”
Some neighbors like the tours.
“It brings a little satisfaction to them when they see that people come to the neighborhood,” said Tony Muia, owner of A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours.
But others find it chaotic.
“Just talking about the lights, we really like that people come, but sometimes it’s just really hectic,” said Noel Girgenti, 22. “You get the attention but then you have to deal with it, to pull out of the driveway is the hardest part.”
The Girgenti family, who have lived in the area for 50 years, do their own decorating. They have seen more and more people venture to Dyker Heights each December. But as more people come there is more traffic and parking spaces have been taken away for home owners and replaced by tour buses at night.
But not all the homeowners fill the need to join the display.
“My wife and I she feels like inside is better than outside,” said Igneri. “I’m not here to show off or anything. It’s a more personal thing than a more elaborate thing.”
Oxfam America, a global organization that addresses poverty, hunger and injustice arranged used refugee life jackets on Pebble Beach at Brooklyn Bridge Park. The display was on the eve of two United Nations summits that will deal the refugee crisis. Photo by Julie Liao
Scattered on Pebble Beach at Brooklyn Bridge Park, just under the Manhattan Bridge, were 400 worn refugee life jackets. One hundred of them were worn by refugee children. Some of them were ripped up and covered in dirt. Some of the refuges who wore them did not survive. The life jackets were collected from the beaches of Chois, Greece, where refugees from war torn countries struggle to make it to their shores. These tattered life vests were what they wore.
Most of these refugees came from Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Afghanistan. The conflicts, civil war and terrorism threat in the Middle East drove them to flee their homes.
But today, these life jackets stood as a symbol on the eve of United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants and Leaders’ Summit hosted by President Obama at the United Nations Headquarters.
The jackets were a symbol of hope, remembrance and action.
Oxfam America, a global organization focusing on addressing poverty, hunger and injustice issues, came up with an idea of displaying the life jackets to catch the attention of global leaders and as a call for action against global refugee issues.
Marissa Ryan, 32, advocacy and campaigns manager of Oxfam Ireland, saw theme as a testimony to the thousands of refugees who died while seeking refuge.
“If you look closely, the tiny life jackets belonged to babies who drowned, which is continuing year and year in the absence of any coherent or sane response to global migration from world leaders,” she said.
According to a report by the UN Refugee Agency, 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015, which was the highest number since World War II.
After today’s event, the collection will be sent to the United Kingdom, to bring attention to this worldwide crisis.
Lauren Hartnett, 32, the humanitarian press officer of Oxfam America, unpacked these jackets on Pebble Beach with her colleagues in the early morning. She said there were 300 jackets for adults and 100 for children. Although some of them were not very sturdy the refugees had used them to cross the sea.
“Some of them were tied together. You can tell (they were) from families that didn’t want to get separated,” she said.
Bogdan Krasic, 28, a Serbian researcher of Belgrade Center for Human Rights, helps refugees who seek asylum in Serbia and other countries. Serbia, serves as an intermediate transition on the road from Middle East to Germany or Austria.
Krasic said the majority of refugees were less educated, non-English speaking and even disabled.
While the number of displaced people has hit new records, Ryan pointed out that, the six richest world economies only accommodated nine percent of the global refugee population.
Krasic thought the most developed countries were very careful about accepting refugees. They resettled some refugees because of longstanding policies, but not because they truly cared.
As the largest economy in the world, the U.S. has always been expected to play the most significant role in solving this problem.
But the U.S. government has resettled 79,560 refugees, not enough according to Krasic and Hartnett.
“I mean we’re always wanting more,” said Hartnett. “Especially Obama is hosting the summit on Tuesday. So we’re hoping for a huge announcement.”
But the presidential election has greatly impacted refugees who have already lived in America and those who are eager to settle down in this country. While Hillary Clinton fully supports Obama administration’s plan to accept more, Republican nominee, Donald Trump wants to temporarily ban Muslim immigration.
A Franklin Delano High School’s students drawing of the 9/11 attacks hangs in a social studies classroom. The Bensonhurst high school teaches 9/11 every year. Photo by Julie Liao.
It’s just after noon on Friday at Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Twenty seven students swarmed into their stuffy, 11th grade social studies class.
This was their last social studies class before the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that changed their city and their world. Michael Scherer, 38, their teacher, planned to teach his annual 9/11 class as he had been doing for the past five years.
“Raise your hand if you heard the word virtue before? What does it mean?” he asked the class.
He defined virtue as “doing what is right for the common good and expecting nothing in return.”
Scherer started a discussion about whether people do good deeds out of their natural kindness or for payback. He asked the students for their thoughts and the response was spilt down the middle.
“The point of today’s lesson is to kind of prove that wrong,” he said of those who believed payback was a reason to do good. Scherer had a very personal story to share about virtue and doing good for nothing in return.
Scherer’s father-in-law, Vincent J. Albanese, a veteran firefighter, was among thousands of heroic first responders, who rushed to the World Trade Center and helped to rescue trapped workers after the two planes crashed into the towers. For several months after the attack, he supported clean up efforts at ground zero.
But the toxic dust made Albanese sick, Scherer said. In 2010, he died of bladder cancer. He was 63.
“I watched him pretty much die,” he said.
Scherer isn’t the only teacher who emphasizes 9/11 education at the school. All the social studies teachers at FDR high school are required to teach 9/11 in their curriculum.
In fact, the first comprehensive 9/11 education plan for teenagers in New York City was released by a nonprofit group in 2009. Two years later, cooperating with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, the Department of Education of NYC provided online teaching materials for students from kindergarten to high school. Through stories, videos and interactive activities, the students would learn about the attacks in four parts, “community and conflicts”, “historical impact”, “heroes and services” and “memory and memorialization”.
But since it is not mandatory, not all schools teach it.
FDR high school administrators believe it is an important part of history and should not be ignored.
“We teach them those events and also some of the historical context in which they occurred to raise awareness about not only global terrorism,but about the resiliency of the American people after those events occurred,” said Christine Imbemba, the assistant principal of this school as well as a social studies teacher.
But 45 minutes is not enough to study 9/11. Although both Imbemba and Scherer said they are more than willing to spend the whole school day teaching 9/11, they have to comply with the school’s curriculum schedule.
After the discussion, Scherer had his students watch the documentary, “The Man in the Red Bandanna.” It is the story of Welles Crowther, 24-year-old equities trader working on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center during the attack. Somehow he found an escape route and led three trips up and down the stairs, even carrying survivors. His body was found in the rubble six moths later.
“… like what if that was me, what if that was my son, what if that was my brother,” said David Ismailati, 16, a student about the documentary. The teen believes terrorism is still a big threat.
Ismailati said he may do an oral history as his 9/11 homework assignment. His father was working about ten blocks away during the attack.
“He had to walk all the way from around the World Trade Center back to Brooklyn because there was no subway,’’ he said. “He came back covered in debris completely.”
Despite the limited time and resources, Scherer said he believes his students will understand his theme of selfless virtue and 9/11.
“I know it was just like a small message, but I think it might resonate,” he said.
Supporters display at light up sign for Sanders at the Brooklyn Navy Yard before the Democratic presidential debate yesterday or Sanders. by Leann Garofolo
Bernie Sanders supporters brought a carnival to Brooklyn Navy Yard before yesterday’s Democratic presidential debate. There were homemade light-up signs, a customized “Bernie for President” computer game, a life-sized Bernie Sanders muppet and more.
They came from all over the country to take on the more subdued Hilary Clinton supporters who gathered on the opposite corner carrying the official “I’m With Her” signs. But it was the eclectic array of homemade Sanders campaign gear that stole the show on this chilly spring night.
“I have never come out like this for anybody,” said Kyle Cranston, of South Hampton in Long island, New York. He was decked out in a black “Feel the Bern” t-shirt, topped with a blazer sporting colorful Bernie buttons. His black fitted baseball cap said “Bernie for President,” and he carried a blue sign emblazoned with the same logo.
It was not Cranston’s first time braving the cold for Sanders. In February, he attended the New Hampshire primary, traveled to Boston for Super Tuesday, and has been making phone calls and canvassing for his candidate.
The stakes were high for the democratic candidates who both have roots in New York. Sanders were born in Flatbush, Brooklyn to Jewish immigrants, and Hillary Clinton was the city’s senator for eight years. She calls New York her adopted home.
Liz Sawyers, of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn, was the coordinator of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) members who attended the rally. Under her black winter coat was a white t-shirt that said “Bernie is bae”, with a sketch of the candidate’s face inside a red heart.
“Earlier this afternoon, just as the sun was going down, the CWA members marched down the street,” said Sawyers. “We had like, 600 CWA members here. It was great.”
As an independent business owner teaching public speech and rhetoric, Sawyers is passionate about fair labor. Earlier in the week, the CWA began striking back against Verizon after the parties failed to negotiate a fair contract.
Sanders showed his support and solidarity for the workers on Wednesday when he joined a crowd of 2,000 CWA Verizon and Verizon Wireless workers on the picket line in Brooklyn.
“Bernie was on the picket lines with them, as he was has been on the picket lines with labor unions and teacher unions for years,” said Sawyers. “He’s been consistent on these same issues for 31 years.”
But this rally was also interactive.
A Playstation was set up where kids and adults got to play Bernie “jumping” over obstacles to reach the end goal of being elected as president. A virtual Bernie was navigated as he jumped over things such as “Big Oil Problem” and “Dodged Another Bush.”
“You basically jump over corporate interest and Wall Street bulls and try and get to the end and try and get elected,” said the game’s creator, Grayson Earle of the game that was projected on a big screen. He made the game in just about two weeks in his spare time with The Illuminators, a political art project based in N.Y.C. “If you don’t win you just go back to the community and you reorganize and you try again.”
While many came to show their support, others came to rally for other causes that were near and dear to their heart.
Paul Schuberg, of Rockaway, Queens, stopped by with a “War Wagon” to support veterans.
His mobile cart was piled thick with campaign buttons, along with a donation jar adorned with the American flag. His goal was to sell buttons and raise money to donate to homeless vets who need food, shelter, and permanent housing.
While not an actual veteran himself, he called himself a veteran of “the war on poverty, the war on injustice.” Schubert said he votes based on the candidate, not the party.
“I am a voter,” said Schuberg. “I vote for the best person for the job after examining their history, their record, very carefully.”
Evan Siegel, of Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, came to support Sanders while distributing flyers to raise awareness about military spending.
“I think we need to have a conversation about that,” said Siegel as he continued to give out flyers to passerby. According to the flyer’s colorfully coordinated pie chart, 54 percent of federal income tax dollars are spent on the military budget, which Siegel viewed as a problem.
“Bernie at least says that we should freeze the military budget at its current level,” said Siegel. “I’m for protecting whatever is left of social equality in our country.”
A group called Black Men for Bernie also came out to support him.
Still, others at the rally just wanted to get in on the action.
April Brooker, of Sunnyside, Queens, had hopes of getting inside the venue. She carried a puppet of Donald Trump, who she referred to as “Donald J. Tramp.” Despite the puppet, she did not say she wasn’t a Trump supporter or which of the democratic candidates she supported.
“I’m investigating both sides,” said Brooker, mimicking the Trump puppet as though it were the one speaking. “I like a lot of what Bernie Sanders has to say, but I like the experience Hillary has, so that’s why I’m very eager to see how it turns out.”