Last week, news came that Starbucks would be opening up a branch of its ubiquitous-in-Manhattan-if-not-yet-Brooklyn coffee house in Crown Heights. And because I despair at the thought of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods succumbing to the mall-ification that plagues much of Manhattan, I lamented the arrival of Starbucks, imploring residents to seek out the many locally owned coffee shops that have long-been in the neighborhood, including The Pulp and the Bean, owned by Tony Fisher, whose family has operated a grocery store and Franklin Avenue for more than three decades. Perhaps predictably, many people responded with outrage that there should be any sort of outrage over the arrival of a new business to a neighborhood in which violent crime remains an ongoing problem.
And, in fact, DNAInfo revealed today that shootings in Crown Heights have risen dramatically this year as compared to a year ago: “Nine people were shot in Crown Heights from May 12 to June 8—the most recent period for which data is available—compared with just one person shot during the same time last year… and four more victims hit by gunfire within a 12-hour period this week will soon be added to the list.” This trend is in keeping with what’s going on citywide this year; recent data demonstrates that while homicide continues to drop to historic lows, “shootings are up 11 percent so far this year to 456.” But as NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said in a recent profile by the New York Times, “That’s something that we had to address and the mayor has to continually keep addressing because everybody is still waiting and watching.
However, Bratton then added, “God forbid we had 30 more shootings than we had last year. People tend to forget what this place looked like in the 1990s.”
The thing is, as evidenced with the outrage against my outrage at the arrival of Starbucks and other huge chains into neighborhoods that would benefit from historically minded preservation, people have not forgotten what “this place looked like in the 1990s.” Rather people—whether in Crown Heights or Bed-Stuy or Bushwick—who live in areas that long suffered from extreme poverty and violence and were neglected by every city agency except the NYPD (and then only in an offensive rather than defensive capacity) remember exactly what it was like in the 90s, and fear not a return to the past, but an even more fraught future.
When Bratton says things like, “Crime is not, interestingly enough, a big issue at this time in the city,” he is not speaking about the people of Crown Heights or the people of East New York or the people of Brownsville. He is speaking of the large swathes of New Yorkers who are now fortunate enough to live in areas with unprecedentedly low crime rates for big cities—or even small ones. He’s speaking about people, perhaps, who worry about the imminent arrival of a Starbucks or another Capital One bank on their corner.
But here’s the thing, those people (which include me) who worry about Starbucks? They also worry about an increase in shootings on their local streets. They also worry about an incredibly segregated public school in which the schools most likely to be considered failing are almost universally populated by black and Latino students. They worry about increased housing prices and closing hospitals and the homeless population and the lack of mental health care facilities. It is a false—and dangerous—dichotomy to presume that people aren’t smart enough to want to combat different problems that threaten the safety and sanctity of our streets. There is nothing wrong with bemoaning the loss of commercial real estate to a company that has little to no investment in the communities in which it’s located, and cares more about its brand than anything else. And it would absolutely be wrong to ignore the ongoing disturbing trend in this city, in which safety is a guarantee… unless you reside in certain neighborhoods. But what would be most wrong of all would be to talk about these issues as if they were two separate things, as if their were really two cities or two completely opposite sides of Crown Heights. In fact, these disparate aspects of the city are all just parts of a whole, and we should all be invested in making that whole a better and safer place to live for each and every one of us, and part of that means demanding better from everyone from Bill Bratton (which includes making him understand that crime is definitely an issue for thousands of New Yorkers) to the big box corporations that descend upon our streets (because, hey, sometimes David can beat Goliath). This isn’t, after all, a tale of two cities. Despite all its problems, New York is one city, for better or for worse. And we should all be working on making it better.
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