At Witt’s End: A Bed-Stuy Tale of Gentrification

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Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Herbert Von King Park on Sunday June 5, 2022. Photo by Alex O’Connor
Stephen Witt

If you want to get a look at Bedford-Stuyvesant’s new white gentry there’s no better place to go than Herbert Von King Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Young picnickers sit lazily in the grass, their dogs scampering about – all enjoying the jewel of a park that Black lawmakers invested in for years.

And if you want to see how life is in one of Bed-Stuy’s nine public housing developments, walk two short blocks from the park to the corner of Lexington and Marcy avenues where 29-year old Lateek Poindexter was gunned down May 31 in a drive-by shooting. 

The site is across the street from NYCHA’s dangerous low-rise Louis Armstrong Houses. 

The violent Black-on-Black crime in Bed-Stuy NYCHA developments and other pockets of the neighborhood is worrying a lot of longtime Black residents.

It’s the reason why Bed-Stuy’s Democratic District Leaders Henry Butler and Kenesha Traynham-Cooper last week convened a community meeting with officials from the 79th, 81st police precincts along with public housing cops from Police Service Area 3. 

Both Butler and Traynham-Cooper grew up in Bed-Stuy NYCHA developments. Towards the end of the virtual meeting  City Council Member Chi Ossé showed up to complain. “These folks need to do other things besides committing crimes and robbing and killing.”

Ossé, 24, is a rising star in progressive politics. The gay son of a noted attorney, he beat Butler on a Black Lives Matter/defund the police platform in the city council race last year. The new white gentrifiers and far-left progressives in the neighborhood were his political base. 

The same white people who last week organized a picket in front of Assemblywoman Stefani Zinerman’s brownstone – which has been in her family for three generations – because she dared to stick up for Black small property owners in the neighborhood.

Screenshot from a New York City Democratic Socialists of America tweet of the protest in front of Assembly Member Sefani Zinerman’s family brownstone in Bed-Stuy on May 21.

Ossé won the city council race with a plurality and not majority of votes. The neighborhood Black vote was split between Butler and Tahirah Moore – also a product of public housing. Ossé won fair and square, though, and this column is not sour grapes. 

But here’s a piece of advice for the young lawmaker. When people are getting shot up and killed in your district, respect must be paid. Show up to the crime scenes. Comfort the victims and their families. Develop a partnership with local cops to devise real-time strategies to confront Black-on-Black crime.

White gentrifiers are not the only people that enjoy Von King Park. Local Black residents also use the park. The difference is they are very ‘woke’ to their new neighbors.

The question is are the new neighbors – many of whom protested against the murder of George Floyd and have Black Lives Matter signs in their window – aware of Lateek Poindexter?

Or that his murder two short blocks away from where they picnic remains an open investigation?

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