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May 20, 2012

Park Slope in the 1970s: abandoned buildings, empty lots, and tough-looking kids who could be dissuaded with a bat

Atlantic Yards Report

On the day of the annual Park Slope House Tour, here's a reflection on Park Slope in the 1970s, written for Dominion of New York in reaction to the Trayvon Martin case. Prof. Mark Naison's main aim was to suggest the right way to deal with "suspicious" people:

During the late ’70s, when I moved to Brooklyn, the Park Slope neighborhood I settled in was a tough place very different from the gentrified community it is now. There was a long row of abandoned buildings along 7th Avenue south of 9th Street, there were abandoned buildings on Garfield Place between 7th and 6th Avenue, and 2nd Street between 4th and 5th Avenue looked like a block in East New York or the South Bronx, with only three apartment buildings left standing amidst vacant rubble filled lots. There were tough working class kids all over, mostly white, but some black and Latino too. And muggings, break ins and car thefts were common. The street that I moved to was 6th Street between 8th and the Park. It had a mixture of old residents, artists and hip professionals. It also had a block association and I was soon recruited to help organize a security committee to protect block residents –especially senior citizens, who were especially vulnerable.

For this purpose, I kept a large metal bat near my door. When a group of tough looking kids whom I didn’t recognize came on the block, I would come out of the house with my bat... In all of those confrontations, never once did I have to use my weapon. There were a couple of times that I had to bang my bat on the sidewalk to remind them that I was serious, and potentially dangerous, but my most effective weapon was ironically, the respect with which I addressed them. (More)

It's hard to argue with Naison's lived experience, and his comment that George Zimmerman overreacted when confronting Martin and shooting him.

Putting aside the race issue, which surely compounds the level of paranoia Naison ascribed to Zimmerman, I suspect that another difference is that, back then people really did often settle disputes with fists, and young people were more amenable to Naison's offer to get to know them and perhaps coach them.

That's not to say that sports and other activities for teens aren't necessary these days, just that the best time to recruit them is before they go out looking for trouble.

But the most important difference, I suspect, is that more "neighborhood watch" people are armed, especially in states like Florida with their dubious "Stand Your Ground" laws. So a bat may be less of a weapon.

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Posted by steve at May 20, 2012 11:02 AM